Why do Norwegians lose it during the Winter Olympics?


It’s been the Winter Olympics for over a week now and Norway is on the edge. The edge of glory or the edge of a national crisis. As a foreigner not particularly into the Olympic Games I can feel a palpable change of mood in Norway since the beginning of these games. Every new day of competition can bring either tears of joy and pride in the heart of Norwegians, or anger and desperation. What is it about the OL that make Norwegians act like I have never seen before and lose it, just enough to become a little angry (when a Swede wins), a little arrogant (when a Norwegian wins) or a little depressed (when they haven’t won three days in a row)?

First change was in the media. Usually covering regular news, suddenly Norwegian TV channels, radio programs and newspaper articles talk 80% about the OL and 20% about all the other stuff happening in Norway and in this world. Stuff like fires, wars and floods. I guess this IS important then.

New debates come in the public arena which seem surreal for anyone who isn’t Norwegian. Should employees be authorized to watch OL (Winter Olympics) at work during working hours (I think this is quite an important detail)? Fabian Stang, Oslo’s Mayor, said that no, the 55,000 employees of the Oslo district will not be allowed to watch the games during working hours. Then a “leadership expert”, whatever that might be, was invited to say what a bad idea it is to forbid watching the games.

How would you react if you got an automatic reply from a public service saying “Your message might be answered with a delay due to the Winter Olympics”. “Oh that’s fine, my tax money is obviously used for a very good purpose as the staff cannot wait for their lunch break to find out whether Norway won the Gold medal or not”. The best part is that all this is tagged under “work life” and “labour conflict” by the newspapers. If a country comes to consider this kind of issue as a labour conflict, it must mean all the other real conflicts have already been solved, which is kind of impressive.

Then, us foreigners find out about jobs that we have never heard of before but that obviously have a huge responsibility in the collective happiness of Norwegian people, such as a smøresjef. In English it’s called “head wax technician” says an American newspaper. This guy is apparently blamed for not having waxed the skis of the Norwegian team properly or used the wrong wax (?). I don’t fully understand what went wrong here, as there is apparently a team of 25 experts on waxing in charge of this. But when I asked about it my friend stopped all discussions by saying “this is an ART”. Okay okay no more questions asked. Anyway something about waxing that made the Norwegian team lose despite the 25 million NOK invested. Glups, that one is hard to swallow. Now some papers are wondering if this is a conspiracy against the Norwegian team. Ahem. First the labour conflict issue, now the conspiracy theory because your team is not winning. This is what I call losing it.

Dear Norwegians, I am starting to understand that this is very important for most of you, but the definition of skiing competition is not “a game where Norwegians win every time”. Otherwise other nations wouldn’t bother participating. Is it possible (and please don’t throw stones at me) that maybe the Norwegian team didn’t win because the other teams were…better. You know, the whole point of competition being that some win and some lose. Sometimes for the wrong reasons, but still, it’s a game. Nothing, I said nothing at all. It was all because of the waxing, and he better fix it or he’ll be in deep trouble this head wax technician.

Second, I’ve noticed the Norwegians around me are getting strange. If Norwegians are usually humble, polite, peaceful and calm, Winter Olympics seem to give them a space where they can literally lose it. “Det er ikke tull, det er OL!” screams the guy in front of me while I laugh a little at all this craziness. No more shyness here. In these games the Norwegians are not there to participate and maybe win by a few seconds ahead. They are in it to rip apart all their competitors, be in front of everyone, show the Norwegian colours and scream at the arrival in a big choir with all those watching or listening on their TVs, smartphones or radios. From home, from the t-bane or from work (come one let’s face it everyone is following from work, whatever Fabian says about it).

But thinking about it, I give it to the Norwegians that the Winter Olympics are the only moment when they can forget about being humble and nice and be on top of the world. Good for them. We all need our 15 minutes of glory even if it only happens every 4 years. Everyone is allowed to be proud and arrogant and scream of joy for the success of your national sports team. Norway is a small nation and cannot, for obvious reasons, produce as many high-level athletes as populated places like China or the US.
And Norway is probably offering the best terrain in the world for all these cross country skiing and biathlon competitions: Sweden is too flat. Let’s not even talk about Denmark. Finland and Russia are busy trying to see who will die first in sauna competitions, and Canadians are too busy winning in ice-hockey. So the Norwegians have to win these competitions more than any other because this is THEIR game, they invented it and they are the best at it.

But you know how games go, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. When they win Norwegians become a little less humble than usual, and when they don’t win the gold medal God forbid a Swede got it. Because losing is rough, but losing to a Swede is worse. Or the French who won because he is training in Norway. “That is SO unfair. I think his medal should be taken away from him because he obviously took advantage of training on our terrain” is the kind of conversation I can imagine hearing in lunch pauses.

But then again, I am from Marseille, the city in France where football fans’ attitudes vary between insanity and violence (never leave a car registered in Paris parked outside on an evening when there is a football game, it will most probably be destroyed by the fans). So seeing the Norwegians change a little and get passionate about their teams doesn’t seem that bad after all.
Still, can’t wait for the end of this for everyone to get back to being humble and newspapers to cover regular news. And I wish all the luck in the world to Fourcade who apparently wants to settle down in Norway next year. If you continue winning over the Norwegians in skiing, watch your back!

A Frog in the Fjord: One Year in Norway Book

39 thoughts on “Why do Norwegians lose it during the Winter Olympics?

  1. Haha. Great article. I don’t think Norwegians are actually THAT humble. They just aren’t culturally allowed to be “braggy” like we can in North America. 😉 But the Olympics gives them a chance to let that “braggy”, competitive side of themselves have a loud voice. And us gentle, apologetic Canadians get pretty crazy during this time too!

    1. Re “apologetic Canadians”
      As an American observed during the Vancouver Olympics, Canadians are remarkably unhumble about their humble ways. With the Vancouver swagger it was as if they were making up for decades of being in America’s shadow. And going into the Sochi Olympics the swagger (Own the Podium, #WeAreWinter) took on even greater proportions, with John Furlong (head of OwnThePodium) claiming to the intl media that Canada will finish no.1 in medals. Now that the prospect of that is fading, the hand-wringing has started, with CBC going back to its old ways of focusing on the great “effort” of 5th and 6th finishes, and positioning bronze medal winners as world champions by ignoring reference to the others on the podium!

      It feeds people’s need to feel good about themselves.

      A cynical view from a Norwegian living in Canada!

      1. “…Canadians get pretty crazy during this time too!”

        Your anti-Canadian rant is kind of pointless, Scott, given JK fully admitted that Canadians “get pretty crazy” about the Olympics and also talked about North Americans being “braggy.” As for the “…decades of being in America’s shadow…” comment, that’s pretty bold coming from someone whose entire country is often mistaken as merely “the capital of Sweden.”

      2. To Lilac (not able to reply directly to your posting):

        I acknowIedge that my rant was a bit pointless. I also think you’ve interpreted me more negatively than I intended. I was merely trying to suggest that Canadians and Norwegians exhibit very similar nationalist characteristics when it comes to sports.

        As for “decades of being in America’s shadow”, I was referring specifically to the Olympics. Until 2010 in Vancouver, Canada’s medal haul had been pretty modest and far below that of the US.

        I don’t disagree with your comment about Norway being often mistaken for Sweden. Moreover, I find Norway’s relationship vis-a-vis Sweden very similar to Canada’s vis-a-vis the US. Like the younger sibling.

  2. Most small nations hunger for a bit of international attention and grab it desperately on those few occasions when the opportunity arises. Canada and hockey is one example, Denmark and football/soccer is another. The Winter Olympics has always been Norway’s arena, and it took on an even greater significance after the success of Lillehammer in 1994, and further still in recent years as they consistently beat their “bigger brother” Sweden. It’s amusing and fun – sometimes. But also sad and pathetic at other times!

  3. Let me otherwise commend you on a great blog. Smart and funny. Your observations on Norway and Norwegians are astute and right “on the money”.

  4. Angry when the Swedes win, and arrogant when Norwegians themselves win? And an alleged conspiracy? Come on… a bit of exaggeration can be fun, but this makes me wonder what people you mix with in Norway 😀

    I mean, “Frasier saves NATO” is also a great story, to be sure. Pity about the facts 🙂

    But perhaps you mistake a rather friendly rivalry amongst Scandinavians with the long and feverish struggle of the French to defend their culture and identity in an Anglo-Saxon world of economic liberalism and globalisation. But hey – no such tense things up here in the north, we compete for fun and there is no Waterloo to be bitter about 😉

  5. On the other hand, you can surely say the Norwegians these days are world champions in ‘Skisyting’.. (sorry, cannot translate that pun)!

  6. I was a volunteer in 2002 and I attended several of the events. I am a big fan by Anerican standards, but probably only an interested bystander by Norweigan standards. It seemed to us that ALL the Nordic Countries were a little off the scale in their appreciation of the games. We were lucky enough to score tickets to the Gold Medal Paralympic hockey game. Wikipedia says it was Norway and the US but I thought it was Sweden and Norway. I do remember the Queen of Norway coming out to present the medals and thinking that was a little unusual, but the crowd seemed thrilled. It was clearly a BIG DEAL.

  7. So funny. I lived in Norway during the 2010 Olympics and ALL we did at school was watch curling (it was the year of the crazy pants) and cross-country skiing.
    Back in own country now and I refuse to watch either event – Norwegians made me watch enough of them for a lifetime. Not once did we watch a sport that Norwegians weren’t good at. Such an awesome country – so weird during the Olympics 🙂

    1. “Not once did we watch a sport that Norwegians weren’t good at.”

      Hardly a surprise though, huh? You’re not suggesting CBC/CTV do anything different? 😉

      Tickets for the XC and biathlon stadium at Whistler had to be given away, and certainly never featured live on main broadcasts. If at all, they get sent on the web or some obscure cable channel. In Canada it’s all about hockey, figure skating and curling – and that roller-derby known as short-track speedskating.

    2. I spent the 1992 Olympics studying in England. BBC had a huge covering of ‘WC in Lawn Bowling’ at the time of the Olympics, whilst more or less nada about the Winter Olympics. So – to each their own, I suppose?

    3. And I’m sure your country doesn’t cover much or bother to watch something you’re not good at/interested in.. Seriously? Give the Norwegians some slack..

  8. I love your blog! Your say it in a funny way. 😀 However I have to point out that most of the Scandinavian countries go a little nuts during the Olympics. I guess its our tradition. We “hate” the Swedish and they “hate” us, or at least in the media. The Danes are rooting for Sweden since they dont like us 😉 Its the same in every Scandinavian country, I guess its because this is, as you say “our” sport, this is were we can be good and be noticed by the world. The rest of the time everyone else believes Norway is the capital of Sweden or that Denmark is the name of our country.
    Just breathe, one week left and it will be over until next time 🙂
    In the mean time: congrats to the winners! So very proud of the efforts you have made!

  9. I so agree! Being the foreigner in Norway, the very first time I saw Norwegians not being humble, polite and calm was when they won in football over Brasil! It was crazy.

    1. My Norwegian pride is coming out: Norway is the ONLY team in the world that has never lost to Brazil. I believe we’ve won more than tied, so we’ve got the right to be a bit crazy about that 😉

  10. Funny and astute, but you do not really get us. You see, the reason why get so involved has to do with tradition. When we see e.g. a relay, we see ALL relays we have participated in, we consider the long-running ‘adelskalender’, we know that if Things go belly up we will relive the moment of pain forever, as we will cherish the moments of glory likewise. That is why we go crazy. It is all about love…. And where the love is great, so is the pain. If you are a sports fan, you will understand. Since you are French the test may be how you remember a certain football match in 1982. If you know which one I am talking about you may understand what I mean. If you do not then you will never understand a ‘fan’, let alone us Norwegians.

  11. Another observation: I saw incomprehension and disrespect when I announced to my Norwegian colleagues that I don’t follow the Olympics as I don’t have television. /another frog in the fjord

  12. “Why do Norwegians lose it during the Olympics” ? Do you mean like when the Norwegian salmon is cheaper than the French, and the Norwegian trucks are stopped by French salmon farmers on the Auto route and 100000 salmons are spread all over the place, and the driver is lucky to escape alive ? Do you mean that kind of “lose it” ?
    Ørnulf, do you mean the semi-final in Spain between West Germany and France ? France lost in the end on penalty kicks, and I almost cried that evening. I still remember names like Trésor, Six, Tigana, Giresse and Platini.
    I am a Norwegian living in France, and I have a lot to say about you TV’s coverage of the winter Olympics, but I will leave that for later.
    Norwegians love their winter sports, and have always done. Let’s list some facts from the last Olympics in Sochi. (Sorry, I am an engineer and I love numbers).
    Norway won 11 gold-, 5 silver- and 10 bronze medals. Since there are several persons from the USA and Canada on this blog, I have to add that Canada was ranked no. 3 with 10 gold medals, and the USA no. 4 with 9 gold medals. Let’s look at populations. USA 318 millions, Russia 144 millions, Canada 35 millions and Norway 5 millions. And you guys wonder why we are proud of our winter athletes ?
    When it comes to the “quarrel” between Sweden and Norway, it is all in a good way. We tell bad jokes about them, and they tell bad jokes about us. In the end, we are brothers and sisters with a common background. I was really disappointed when Sweden lost the ice-hockey final to Canada, but they lost to a better team, fair and square.
    Smoeresjefen has my deepest sympathy. I have learned that green wax is for very cold weather, blue wax for cold and dry weather. Violet is for temperatures around zero, and red is for wet snow and “mild” weather. Then you got some “sticky” stuff you use when it is really mild weather and ice in the tracks. What do you use when it is summer temperatures above +10 degrees ? I don’t know, and I guess it must have been a bit of a “puzzle” for the smoereteam.
    Anyway, the Norwegians love good athletes, so if Martin Fourcade wants to live and train in Norway, I am sure he will be very welcomed.
    Personally, I didn’t like the way he gave up during the mixed relay, and “strolled” out of the shooting arena, when he knew a medal was out of reach. When you do a relay, as a part of a team, you give everything you got until the end. I guess his teammates would have preferred a possible 4th position instead of the 6th position the French team got in the end. Otherwise he is a big star, and my guess is that he will dominate the biathlon scene for a long time to come.
    Heia Norge !!!!

  13. Sorry, forgot to say that Russia “won” the Olympics with 13 gold-, 11 silver- and 9 bronze medals. And for sure, Martin Fourcade don’t have to “watch his back” if he visits Norway. He will get a heroe’s welcome, as the great winter athlete he is !

  14. I agree with Trond. I am French and the equivalent of OL for us is world cup football where we can lose temper and turn wild. Moreover there is violence in football that we dont see in winter sports. No reason to be depressend for Norwegians because Norway is the big winner of the OL even if Russia won more gold medals on the very last day of the competition. Strange. Whatever, Norway is still the winter sports greatest nation in proportion of the number of inhabitants.
    Good that they didnt win the overall number of medals because they might have invaded Sweden thereafter like Putin’s Russia is doing right now with poor Ukraine !

    1. Right.. I am now officially bored of reading your negative perspective on Norway and Norwegians! You have some good points and obviously picked certain things up here and there but I’m stunned over the fact that you have so little understanding for the different topics and cultures you have raised and how funny you think it is to offend a nation like you do on here. If you got nothing else to do than picking on Norway (where you supposedly live) and Norwegians; I honestly think you should get out of there asap!!! It’s obviously getting on your nerves and you might as well go and point the finger at a nation you truly know/ represent!!! Picking on how Norwegian media coverage has lost their marbles and don’t cover the ‘more important’ issues across the world, is a low blow. They do! The important topics are being covered as much as they would’ve been even if the Olympics wasn’t on!! Yes, there will be a lot of coverage of winter sports in Norway (100% understandable, right..?!) but what you need to understand is that there will always be more coverage of certain sports and topics in a country as they got different interests and perhaps compared to what YOU are used to.. What about GB during their summer 2012 Olympics?! What about Tour de France coverage ESPECIALLY in France?! I lived in so many different countries and there will always be more basketball on tv in spain compared to in the UK, more equestrian sport will be covered in Germany than Norway.. Come on, dude! Are we really not allowed to enjoy our winter sports without having pathetic people like you offending us (who btw seems to be rather unhappy with their lifestyle situation if you really are as narrow minded as you come across as when you write all this scrabble?!) If you really think Norwegians turn in to horrible individuals during these games: go back to France where the majority of the population will be judging you every step you take and every word you say. It seems to me you belong there and not in Norway. Perhaps there’s just a culture clash for you that you find difficult to accept and respect.. But hey! Don’t take the mick out of a nation because you got nothing else to do! Get a life (or at least some life experience that can open your eyes and your narrow minded attitude).. You will never get the Sweden thing because you obviously don’t know all of the history behind it! If you really are french, I’m guessing the french has a similar perspective on another certain nation?! At least Sweden/Norway’s conflict are more for the banter and just considered as a part of their relationship now. The end of the day: Sweden gave Norway a lot of emotional support after the Breivik Shooting and both countries has recently showed a lot more respect for each other than what other nations may be aware of! In the end of the day, there is a little more to it than the superficial side of your blogs about a proud nation that you are desperately trying to put down!!! Have a good one! But not in Norway:)

  15. Ha ha ha ha!!! Laughing so much I almost wet my pants!! At my work in the ICU at the hospital the change of workers was postponed by 10 minutes because we all wanted to watch the final minutes of World Championship in skiing! Ha ha! No one thought it was strange at all!

  16. The Norwegian Ski Federation had been an opponent of establishing World Championships and Winter Olympics because they felt it would take away the prestige of the Ski Festival.

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