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I come from a part of the country that is full of norsk heritage. I grew up in Northfield, MN, attended St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, and currently reside in Northfield, MN. St. Olaf College was founded by Norwegian immigrants for the purpose of educating Norwegians. Although St. Olaf prides itself on other things things now, including it’s internationally renowned musikk department and fantastic study abroad programs, the norsk influence is still very apparent. There is a norsk department that teaches beginning to advanced norsk language and litteratur, as well as kultur and historie. Approximately 50% of the student body hails from MN and probably about that very percent has blond hair, blue eyes. (lyst hår and blå øyner).
I went out east to New York to visit my brother at college once and all of his friends from the east coast couldn’t believe that I had real blond hair and blue eyes. There are very few people from that part of the country relative to the midwest that have these features (that aren’t fake, that is). Whenever I would talk about going to Norway, guys would always ask about the blond haired, blue eyed girls. I think most people assume that all Norwegians have blond hair and blue eyes. In fact, I thought so too prior to my first trip there.
Much to my surprise, there were many nordmenn (general term used for Norwegians, haven’t quite hit the point of political correctness concerning such words) with very dark hair and dark eyes. This is especially true of the coastal areas, specifically along the western coast. When I was in Bergen for the first time I saw a lot of people with dark features and initially assumed that they were foreigners. After talking to them, I realized that they were indeed natives.
I didn’t think much of it at the time until I took a Scandinavian history class and learned about the Hanseatic League or League of the Hansa. The Hansa was an alliance of trading cities spanning much of Northern and Eastern Europe. Bergen was one of the primary cities in the Hansa. It is my understanding that the influx of people from different parts of Europe are partially responsible for the greater number of dark haired, dark eyed nordmenn.
Of course there are still lots of blond haired, blue eyed Norwegians in Norway, but the stereotype is not completely accurate. Another common assumption is that Norway is an ethnically homogenous population. Although this was true until recently, there is actually quite a large immigrant population in Oslo. I’ll share more about this another day though!
Happy Halloween! I happen to be the only one at my work that is dressed up…..I guess everyone else was joking.