Preparing for 17th May 2014

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This year Norway’s National Constitution day, 17th of May, should be a big deal.  It will mark 200 years since the signing of the Norwegian constitution in 1814, a day remembered in Norway when the country took a stand to claim independence from Danish rule.  However, the day is turning out to be just a regular 17th of May.

From what I’ve seen, preparations from around the country have been quite modest, and it seems this 17th of May will be treated just like any other 17th of May.  I’ve been asking around my city if people know of anything extra special happening.  No one seems to know, that paper isn’t saying anything, and the general idea is that it is up to Oslo to do something special (and pay for it).

Experiencing a 200 year celebration while in my home country with World expo 88, a year long celebration with exhibition houses from all over the world, I’m a little perplexed as to why not much thought and effort is going into this years 200 anniversary celebrations in Norway.  I’m presuming there will be a grander TV presentation and likely a tour around the country by the Royal family, but other than that I think Norway will just celebrate like any other year.  I’m afraid this special event will reflect Norway’s claim for independence in 1814 – one big anti-climax.  (If you didn’t know, a couple of months after Norway claimed independence in 1814, Sweden ‘acquired’ rule over Norway again until 1905.)

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Our family will likely do the usual too, ‘when in Norway…’, so to speak – watching the preparations from around the country on TV while we get ready for the day, attend the gathering/activity at the local primary school before the parade, marching in the parade and then gathering in the city centre for the regular speeches and band music before going home for a pølse BBQ, ice cream and bløtkake.  A very casual day really.  The day is considered a family and community day so activities are not usually grand and extravagant; the day is primarily focused for the kids, the day is their day.

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However, our family is preparing to put a few extra smiles on kid’s faces.  Our dogs always walk with us in the parade.  It started out as training for them to get used to big crowds but now they have become a fun feature in our parade group.  This year we are going all the way with our dogs having their own special dress.  We had planned on making Bunads for the dogs but they are both males dogs and our city doesn’t currently have a Bunad for men.  So, the Norwegian flag will just have to do.  It took a little while for Bear, our Saint, to realize that we were dressing him, not playing with him, but I guess that is what dress rehearsals are for!

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If you are looking to put a little Norway into your 17th of May, visit our Celebrate Norway pages for some ideas and more info on traditions and culture.

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.***

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