What is a Butter Boss (smøresjef) and other Norwegian lessons from the Winter Olympics

A Frog in the Fjord: One Year in Norway Book


Every “happening” in Norway is an opportunity for us foreigners to learn about Norwegian customs: wearing a bunad for the 17th of May, drinking oneself to death and sleeping with one’s colleague for the Julebord (Christmas party), living in one’s underwear without taking a shower for 4 days during a hyttetur and so on.

More recently, the Winter Olympics made me realise that sometimes Norwegians are proud of their nation and how they show it (see Why do Norwegians Lose it During the Winter Olympics): with a little more craziness and passion than usual (I am not criticizing, I love crazy and passion, I am French remember).

I wanted to write more in detail about this one guy that has been on everyone’s lips for the past few days. This job that no foreigner (except maybe the Swiss and the Swedes?) has ever heard of before, and who is monitored by the whole nation during the games if things go wrong: I am talking about the smøresjef.

Now as a new beginner in Norwegian language you might think that smøresjef means “head of the butter”. Maybe because of the logical association of the two words “smør” (butter) and “sjef” (head/boss). Just like “julebord” (Christmas table) or “ekteskap” (real closet). And remember, it is not that long ago that Norway went through a “butter crisis” where supermarkets were empty with butter and everyone was panicking about how we would bake our Christmas pastries. It sounds a bit funny now but it was considered a real crisis in Norway in December 2011 where the Norwegian cows not producing enough milk and the low-carb diet making so many addicts. I would have thought this could call for a responsible person, a head of the Norwegian butter, who would make sure the supply matches the demand of butter is always ensured in Norway for Christmas. But then again, Christmas is far away, and why would the Norwegian skiing team need a whole team to manage the butter? It just makes no sense at all.

Plus, it turns out “smør” can mean many things in Norwegian: butter, wax but also oil. For example in “å smøre hjula” means to oil the wheel, a metaphor to “ease things up”. I first thought it sounded exactly like “smørejula” (to butter the Christmas) but forget about that, it doesn’t make sense either. In case you guys hadn’t noticed yet, Norwegian is not an easy language to learn.

Anyway, this smøresjef is paid to make sure that the skiis of the Norwegian team are properly waxed. This is no joke at all, because a good waxing is, as I understood, almost as important as a good training for the sportsman or a having the best skis. So if one doesn’t have the best waxing it can actually make your team lose (and believe it or not, it did). This can involve dozens of different types of wax on the same ski! It can also make a lot of people very annoyed at you if you don’t do it well, because loads of money were invested in the project of having the best possible waxing and you just took away their joy of winning a medal. Also, I secretly believe that this guy is getting criticized a lot because every Norwegian who was raised on skis knows how to wax his skis (or thinks he knows). So expert come out of everywhere to say publicly “he should have..”. Not so easy to be a smøresjef.

So when the Norwegians did not win last week end everyone went crazy because Norwegians HAVE to win in the skiing competitions otherwise what is left? Certainly not football (Okay wait just a bit to throw stones at me for that one. I am joking wink wink :-)). So everyone looks for excuses: we didn’t have the best skis, the weather is not the same than in Norway, we didn’t access to the same wax other nations get. EXXCUUSSES excuses. Come on Butter Boss get your shit together, do your job and win those medals the Norwegians deserve.

Because the Winter Olympics, like in any game, has winners and losers. And when the time comes to count the medals one cannot call for all sorts of excuses such as bad waxing. I guess this smøresjef is going to have trouble getting his next job. Or maybe he can really become the Head of the Norwegian butter, maybe he would be better at that kind of task. And there will surely be an opening soon, Christmas always comes sooner than we think. But don’t worry, I am just being a smart ass, because the butter boss did put his shit together and Norway has been winning a lot since this butter fiasco apparently. So now we are on top. WOouuhh great mood for the vinterferie.

Because big things are at stake here: the “little” brother wants to show the “bigger” brothers (especially Sweden) that they can be better than them in sports. Also to the US and all these big nations that we, too, can be on the top of the world. Maybe a bit like when Senegal won over France in a football game. Things just went crazy in Paris as all Senegalese let their joy explode. Or when Norway won over Brasil in the 1998 Worldcup. I don’t remember that game, but every single Norwegian I meet makes sure to remind me about this, as it happened in my hometown, Marseille.

So Norwegians, keep it up. And don’t ever accept that Trøndelag becomes an independent country otherwise you’ll have to count down your expectations on medals in the Winter Olympics!

6 thoughts on “What is a Butter Boss (smøresjef) and other Norwegian lessons from the Winter Olympics

  1. The butter boss is of course cake head, sorry to say the butter boss had some dairy problems in the beginning of the olympics , but now it looks like the chocolate cake is bak on track.

  2. Reblogged this on Lenas (snart) digitale klasserom and commented:
    I simply HAD to reblog this one! ”A Frog in the Fjord” has some great cultural reflections about Norway, and I think most of us Norwegians can identify with numerous aspects from her blog 😉 I actually laughed out loud when reading about the “head of butter”, the butter crisis, and her political tip that Norway must never accept Trøndelag as an independent country if we want to continue having high expectations for Olympic medals!

    In this blog post, “A Frog in the Fjord” writes that every “happening” in Norway is an opportunity for foreigners to learn about Norwegian customs. This refreshed my memory about the important aspect of understanding ones own culture through foreign eyes in order to achieve an intercultural competence. This is also very relevant for aiming to promote my students intercultural competence. This gave me the idea that when my class in a few weeks are entering culture related topics, I will present this blog and use it as a point of departure for discussing cultural differences and challenges for foreigner and immigrants in Norway. Perhaps we also can use this blog post to work on idioms, since we Norwegians obviously use “smør” for a numerous things?

    Also check out the blog post about ‘How to make things “koselig”’ – since the English translation “cozy” doesn´t even begin to cover everything “koselig” express!

    1. The same subject on a Swedish/english axis is even funnier, since ski wax is … wait for it … “fart”. Scope for endless amusement.

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