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!