Christmas in Our Fridge

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Our fridge is full of Christmas!

Food is the main ingredient of a Norwegian Christmas.  There are only certain foods eaten at Christmas time so I find that many Norwegians have a hard-core schedule of dinner plans to make sure all the favourites are addressed in one way or another.

Our family has a tradition of four Christmas dinners.  We start on little Christmas Eve, 23rd of December, and finish on Boxing Day.  It does sound like we eat a lot but we buy small portions of each meal to stop over consumption, otherwise by the fourth day we would be rolling around the house.  The four main dishes we have for our Christmas dinners are usually pinnekjøtt, ribbe, lutefisk and salmon.  However, this year, instead of the salmon we are going “Australian” with a cold spread of meat cuts, ham, cheeses and fruit for dinner.

So here are some of the typical Norwegian things waiting to be eaten at Christmas in our fridge:

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Berries are a Norwegian thing and thanks to importing we are able to have fresh berries at Christmas.  Before this most berries were preserved for the Christmas season as jams.  Nowadays many people freeze their fresh berries from the autumn for Christmas.  We have a whole freezer-tray full of Norwegian blueberries (bilberries).  Berries are important because they provide essential nutrients and vitamin C during the winter.

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Christmas yoghurt is a fairly new thing.  We’re trying the hazel nut, fig, chocolate and caramel flavours this year.  Apple and cinnamon is also a popular Christmas yoghurt flavour.

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Mustard herring is a bread spread or a side ‘salad’ to be eaten with a platter of other foods.  The more traditional version is the pickled herring, but Moose prefers the mustard one.

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Smoked trout is an everyday food often served with the standard Norwegian cold cut platter.  It is an alternative to salmon and has a milder flavour.  We usually have this for Christmas day breakfast on top of scrambled eggs and croissants.

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Pølse, the Norwegian frankfurter, is certainly a tradition at Christmas.  In Norway you have everyday pølser, and then there’s Christmas pølser which are much bigger and have different seasonings.  Pølser are usually served with the Christmas rib roast.  There are generally two types, a white pølse that has more pork meat, and a brown pølse that has more beef and usually smoked.  Moose prefers the Vassakorv, which is not necessarily a Christmas sausage but has a stronger flavour and firmer texture (aka, not as ‘cheap-flavoured’ as Christmas pølse).

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Christmas rib is a side of pork with good crackling skin.  The fattier the better.  I’d say it is THE traditional Christmas dinner in Norway.  Prior to your family Christmas dinner, you would have had already several party dinners with roast rib – work party, Christmas parties, community or sports club dinners.  It is usually served with Christmas pølse, gravy, and sauerkraut and boiled potatoes as sides.  Apples are becoming popular too.

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Pinnekjøtt is salted and dried lamb ribs.  It is quite expensive.  It is usually served with swede, potatoes and mustard.

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Lutefisk is dried cod soaked in caustic soda rehydrated by boiling.  It smells… it just smells.  This is not everyone’s favourite, but I find the North doesn’t mind this as much as the south, especially communities that have a history of fishing.  It is usually served with butter soaked bacon and mushy peas.  The sauce is highly dependent on geography – in the north they grate brown goats cheese on top, in the west they have a white sauce, and the south and east, a mustard sauce.

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This year we are introducing rack of lamb to our Christmas dinner line-up.  I got a little nostalgic when I saw it was from New Zealand.

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Swede is quite an important winter vegetable in Norway and is a feature at Christmas time.  It is a root vegetable that stores very well.  Swede provides important vitamin C during the dark season.  It is usually eaten mashed, sometimes with carrot.

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Strandaskinke is Norwegian cured ham similar to prosciutto.  It is a regular on any cold platter and works really well on pizza.  in-the-fridge-7

Cream and butter!  It wouldn’t be a Norwegian Christmas without them.  Two years back all the Swedes on their Low Carb diet created a Christmas-butter crisis.  Since, I’ve got into the habit of hoarding butter over Christmas to make sure we have enough to last!

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And what is this??   Well, today it is a smultringer mix (doughnut dough).  Every day we seem to have some sort of dough setting the the fridge – pepperkaker, kakemen, smultringer, etc.  Putting the dough in the fridge over night helps the mix to thicken and makes them turn out more fluffy when cooked.

Of course, there are a lot more other foods and dinner traditions from Norway – it all depends on geography and tradition.  Each county, each city, each town and even the group of houses on the other side of the river, all have their own traditions.  What’s your special Norwegian Christmas food tradition?

Healthcare is NOT Free in Norway

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There is a misconception that healthcare is free in Norway.  Not quite.  The only people who get absolutely free healthcare are those under 16  and those who are pregnant (and that is only for pregnancy related healthcare!).    The rest of us has to pay up to a NOK 2040 cap per individual a year.  Those who require physiotherapy, special forms of dental care and rehabilitation are also required to pay another NOK 2620 cap on top of the regular cap.  That means every individual has to pay for all their doctors appointments and specialist appointments, such as gynecologists, until they have paid all the excess.  You have to pay for the doctors time, the instruments used, even the bandages.  Like any insurance, the Norwegian National Insurance requires people to pay an excess.  The National Healthcare does not include any regular dental care.  This applies to ALL residents in Norway – Norwegians and Internationals.  On top everyone also has to pay higher taxes to cover healthcare costs for the country.  All non-residents have to pay the expensive charges whether pregnant, under 16, or not.  After you have paid your NOK2600 or NOK 4660 excess you can get a ‘exemption card’ that allows you to get the rest of your healthcare for free only for the rest of the year.  For prescriptions, certain people qualify for medication on a so called ‘blue prescription’, which allows them to only pay an excess of NOK520 a year.

What this means for the average family, say us:

We don’t pay for any health care appointments for our kids ages 4 and 6 – no doctor appointments, dentist, eye doctors, ear doctors, or the like.  However, when Lil’ Red injured himself (a glass mirror fell on him in a costume room) and was taken to the emergency ward at the hospital, we had to pay for bandages and equipment.

Me, an international with permanent residency status – I have to pay for every appointment I have – a doctors appointment is around NOK140 during the day and NOK 235 at night, a specialist is NOK315, and my gynecology appointments for just a general paps smear are around NOK600 because of all the lab tests involved.  Even if I have to go to the doctor just to get a doctors certificate for sickness to give to my work, I have to pay.  I have never surpassed the excess user fee, so have had to pay for everything every year.  I also have to pay for all my dental, flat out (it isn’t covered in the health insurance).

Moose, a Norwegian National – he has to pay for everything too – general doctors appointments, specialists, and everything dental.  He is lucky enough to have a doctor at his work and is covered by corporate healthcare.  But then again, that doctor just recommended for him to see his own (pay) doctor for a check up.

http://helfo.no/privatperson/frikort/Sider/default.en-GB.aspx#.UpxwAWRDs5s

***Please note: prices and policies correct at time of publication.***

Advent Sunday

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The Silence in Bilingual Families

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I haven’t written much on living as a bilingual family.  It’s not that I haven’t wanted to but I have been scared to expose my failures.  My own Norwegian language inadequacies have made the subject a little painful for me.  I have lived in Norway now for eight years.  I have earnt the standard language hours that fulfill my residency status, I’ve had countless study hours and social interactions, I even work and interact with hundreds of Norwegians weekly, but still, I struggle with the language.  I would certainly not be able to pass the Bergen’s test (a standard Norwegian language test that confirms ability, required for university entry and some workplaces).  I am still a basic speaker of Norwegian.  This makes me feel guilty.  I have worked really hard to learn the language but there is just something that doesn’t click.  I’m slowly coming to a realization that I need to be OK (and so does everyone else) with making a life in Norway without Norwegian.

Language has become an obstacle for my young family.  I speak English to my two small children, Lilu and Lil’Red.  I want them to learn English and have a native understanding.  I feel this is something very valuable that I can give to my children.  Moose speaks Norwegian to them and sometimes English so I can be included.  I often use Norwegian to confirm simple commands and ideas from English but I do not use Norwegian when I’m talking creatively or from my heart.  Norwegian kills my personality, my humour and my confidence.  Moose speaks English as if it was his native language so it is difficult for us to speak Norwegian all the time – we just forget, we are too tired, and most often communication between husband and wife is more important than teaching opportunities.

My kids understand basic English but still need Moose to translate me at times.  They speak a little English back to me, with an accent, but mostly Norwegian.  They are very curious and active in learning English words, (it has become a magic trick for them pulling out English words here and there to get a delighted reaction from me), and they are very keen to also translate me into Norwegian.  I often catch the kids discussing between themselves, figuring out what I just said.  Their Norwegian is OK, but not as clear as other Norwegian kids.  They also have a slight ‘immigrant’ accent (not that I can tell).  The kids went to kindergarten (barnehagen) from three years so they could learn Norwegian more thoroughly to prepare for school.  There was a kerfuffle for a little while as the barnehagen put Lilu into a Sami speaking group.  Lilu would often speak Sami, English and Norwegian in the same sentence.  (No wonder I couldn’t understand her!)  Lilu, who is now five and has started school, can read Norwegian well.  Even still, at school she is put into an ‘immigrant’ reading group simply because she has an immigrant mother and at home we speak English.

Our unique bilingual language environment certainly has its challenges.  Much of the time I don’t understand my kids and they don’t understand me.  This limits my ability as a parent.  I cannot properly use teaching opportunities to explain to my children why we do or don’t do things.  I cannot tell them stories about my own life and childhood.  I don’t know when they are speaking Norwegian inappropriately, and even if I did pick up on it, I wouldn’t be able to appropriately teach them to stop or do things another way.  My children cannot tell me about the intricate things of their lives, why they dislike an activity or how a sibling fight got started.  They can’t relay to me the five-point set of instructions that their teacher gave them for their homework and they can’t explain why they were left out of an activity at school.  Language just gets in the way.

Our lives are centered around misunderstandings.  However, everything that is said is forgiven.  No one gets offended at a wrong word or meaning, there is no point.  So we live our lives without the trickiness of words.  We know that there are things more important than language – like, our hearts.  Even though our life is language-challenged, that we cannot really say what we mean, there is no doubt that we love each other.  Love is certainly more than just words.  I can express more love by sitting next to Lilu, my arms around her as we look at pictures in a book, or laying next to Lil’Red watching the snow fall in the window or even making warm chocolate for everyone after a play outside in the cold snow.  Touch and action has been my language of love.  Looking at them with beaming eyes as they beam back at me, speaks all the words I need to feel loved.  There will be a time when my kids and I will understand each other completely and we will be able to talk about normal things taken for granted by most parents, but until then, I will cherish our silent love.

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