Sunday, November 22, 2009

On dugnad and bunad: a lesson in Norwegian(s) # 3

I apologize for my absence yesterday. I think I am trying to slowly ease into a “weekdays only” routine, but I am clearly not very good at it, as today is a Sunday. In my defense, though, it’s one of those Sundays that don’t really act like a Sunday. It definitely acts like a Monday. It’s raining, I have a feeling that I overslept (even though there was nothing I was supposed to get up in time for), and in general the world looks gloomy. I wonder if I’ll do that planned “Sunday walk” as all Norwegians are indoctrinated to do once a week from infancy… Right now, it isn’t very tempting, but as any Norwegian will tell you with an evil wink – det finnes ikke dårlig vær, det finnes bare dårlige klær [there’s no such thing as bad weather, there is only bad clothes].

To make my apology more credible, let me explain why I wasn’t blogging yesterday. I was out walking. Yup, that’s right – tradition breaker – my sister and I went for a Sunday walk on a Saturday! We visited a flea market and a fancy grocery store/café plus we walked for quite a long time (and talked even longer). The grocery store/café was nice and (expensive and) all, but hardly anything to blog home about. I thought I should elaborate on the flea market, though, as it reflects something very Norwegian.

Don’t worry. I know flea markets aren’t Norwegian by design, but there is something about the design of the Norwegian ones that makes me think they are Norwegian in spirit. They are almost exclusively run as a way of raising money to marching bands, sport teams or similar organizations. Basically, the flea markets are run by the parents of children in these teams or bands, voluntarily on a compulsory basis. It’s a dugnad.

Dugnad is one of the words Norwegian school children are taught you can’t find an equivalent of in the English language. According to my good friend,, dugnad is
a Norwegian word for unpaid, voluntary work. It might be like a Barn raising, where friends and family meet to help an individual, or the members of a club meet to build a clubhouse, arrange a flea market and so on.
 Further, there is another word – dugnadsånd [spirit of the dugnad] – which indicates the enthusiasm participation in a dugnad is met with (though frankly – this enthusiasm isn’t actually all that common. Norwegians love to hate dugnads). The idea still lives strongly in this country, though, as it seems to be expected of you, as a Norwegian, to participate in these “voluntary” activities. However, let me emphasize that I don’t believe in the implication some seem to put into the teaching that Norwegian is one of the few languages in the world that has a word for dugnad. We don’t have a monopoly on voluntary activities, and pretending otherwise is just stupid.

Another word that is exclusive for Norwegian has more of a natural explanation. Our national costume is called a bunad. (I wanted to comment on the relative similarity between these two words, but I can’t really think of anything to say. I still needed to say that I wanted to say something, though, before someone else comments... First!) A bunad is a dress-like costume, frequently made partly or entirely of wool, often with elaborate decorations on them. They are made to resemble clothes the rural population of Norway used to wear in the period and areas most cherished in our National Romanticism. With time, a number of designs were developed, usually constructed according to what was believed were traditions in the local area the particular design is from. My own bunad (you may not know it, but assuming you have visited this blog before, you have seen a picture of it several times. Take a look in the right top corner of this page. Ignore the silly facial expression...) is from my mother’s birthplace, Toten, and in its design you find patterns both from the beginning of the 18th and 19th centuries, and replicas of jewellery that was found in a Viking grave.

Not unlike other “cultural reconstructions”, though, there is no definite telling whether the actual results are anything like the original they are supposed to be reconstructed from. There is no doubt that the bunad is an extremely Norwegian cultural phenomenon, but it’s safer to say that it is a phenomenon of today, rather than a (concise) historical one.

Not all Norwegians have bunads, but those that have them (and can still fit in them – frequently, girls are given one for their confirmation at the age of fourteen. Needless to say, this means that a lot of them grow out of their bunads before they are fully grown...) mostly wear them for our constitutional day, at May 17th. Tune back in then for more reports on bunads...

The point of this post, though, was to enlighten any non-Norwegian speaking readers of these two words that are exclusively Norwegian. Learn them, and you’ll have a good starting point for mastering the rest of the language (or at least, understanding its speakers a little better).

Currently listening to: Min allra största kärlek by Richard Wolff (that I bought for 25 kroner at the flea market. Bargain!)

Currently reading: To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee. We finally figured out what book we decided to read for the book circle.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I love your saying about no bad weather, only bad clothes! In which case...I have alllll the wrong clothes since it doesn't really get cold here for very long.

Thanks for the education in Norweigian vocabulary! It's really interesting to learn something so completely different from the Romantic languages. Thanks for sharing!


Cruella Collett said...

I tend to pick the wrong clothes even if I have the right ones. It's ever so hard to figure out the proper amount of clothes to wear with the seasons changing all the time... So I don't really live by the saying (but I do believe in it - to a certain degree at least. There is such a thing as "bad" weather in the sense that it is only good to stay inside in...).

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