Where on Earth is Syden?

Writing on a wall on the Beach in Bygdøy
Writing on a wall on the Beach in Bygdøy

When one asks a Norwegians where they went on holidays, some reply they had a great time in “Syden”. “Oh Syden! Yeah right. Everyone knows where that is”. Mmmh well, Norwegians all seem to know, but it doesn’t really ring a bell for foreigners.

My Indian friend knew the answer right away. When I told him I was writing a blogpost on Syden he said “Oh, so now you take a break at writing on Norway and start writing on Sweden”. “Not Sweden, SYD-en”. As I said, crystal-clear for everyone.

So why is it tricky for foreigners to understand where on Earth is Syden? (Not as tricky than understand what is koselig, don’t worry).
First of all because even when one knows what Syden means in Norwegian (the South), it doesn’t really help. For us, the entire world is South of Norway, except maybe for the North of Greenland and some puffin who got lost between Svalbard and the North Pole.

Second, when you ask the locals they give you mixed signals about where this place really is. When you ask the same Norwegians where they went on holidays, to get a hint of where on Earth is Sweden – Sorry, Syden – they answer “We were at Palma de Mallorca (alternative is the Gran Canaria Islands), such beautiful weather there”. Okay that’s clearer, so Syden is Spain and its islands. Then they usually add “And you know what, it’s amazing, I met this guy I was in class with at videregående there, on the same beach we were on”. So the whole country goes there at the same time with the same charter tour to the same place. Amazing indeed.

But then when I tell them where I come from, Marseille, they reckon that because it is so close to Nice (300 km difference but still on the same coastline) then it means I come from Syden. Wait a second, wasn’t Syden in Spain?
Their usual question after that is “If you come from Provence, why did you move to Norway?”. Well, it’s not because there is sun and cheap Pastis that it means there is a good economy, jobs and gender equality. You might not always want to live permanently where you spend your holidays (just saying). Then they are usually very content to hear that I would rather live in their country because of everything Norwegian society has to offer rather than live in my own sunny hometown. But that’s another story.

If you type “billig sydentur” in Google, you will find hundreds of links for cheap all-included trips promising you sunburnts and cheap cocktails next to a blue sea. There are no names of countries, just resort names associated with the magic word “Syden”.
My simple explanation is that Syden is a term qualifying a big blob of merged sunny locations with undefined boundaries because it evolves with whatever new direct flights Norwegian or Ryanair open from big Norwegian cities. Who cares where it is, what language people speak there, what is the national dish and what is the government, as long as we come back with a tan.

Partly I understand. Norwegians live in a country where sunny and warm weather is very unpredictable. So when the winter comes they need to recharge their vitamine D batteries and fight winter depression in places where sunny weather, sandy beaches and cheap drinks are totally stable and predictable: Croatia, Greece, the French Riviera, Corsica, Spain, Portugal, Malta, Italy, Egypt, Tunisia, even Turkey. Libya has a Mediterranean coast, but it’s a war zone so it doesn’t qualify as Syden. Same with Syria and Israël I guess.

What is tricky is that in the winter one can understand why people (all of us, Norwegians and non-Norwegians included) need to see the daylight. But then, oh when the summer comes they also go there to be sure to have a warm summer. Having a good summer in Norway is also unpredictable : never sure whether the summer will be sunny or rainy and cold. Just to make sure they do have sun at some point of their summer, they take another trip to Syden. And when the Autumn comes they go there to prepare their tan for the winter, and when Spring comes same same but different. Yes, Norwegians go to Syden as often as they can afford it.

But I do have a question: what about Bangkok. Is that included in Syden? There are direct flights going there from Oslo, but it is not in the Mediterranean. However there is still sun, sandy beaches and cheap drinks (and prostitutes in this case). Norwegians have full villages there with holiday houses, just like in Spain where even NAV Offices have opened because of the incredible amount of Norwegians pensionists settling down there 8 months a year – who would blame them…do you want to spend you retirement years putting those spikes under your shoes not to slip on the ice in Norway or smøring sunscreen over your tanned body and face? Exactly.

Conclusion: Syden is anywhere around the Meditarennaen coast, where it is sunny, cheap but close enough geographically to fly wihtout a stop.
But if I can give you a tip, bragging about your great summer in Greece is worth nothing compared to bragging about your amazing sunny month of July in the Lofoten islands or in Jotunheimen, where you bathed in warm lakes, ate outside every single day while enjoying your hytte, and got a tan from hiking anywhere in Norway because the weather was SOOOOO beautiful this summer. All those who left THAT summer to go to Syden will think “damn it”. Because trust me, if there is anything Norwegians love more than the sun anywhere in the world is the sun in their own country.

26 thoughts on “Where on Earth is Syden?

  1. I just absolutely love how you capture the peculiarities of Norwegian culture on this blog, and have recommended all my Norwegian friends with husbands in toe from other countries to get into this blog..my own husband included. You have saved me many awkward moments of trying to explain norwegian phenomenons to my husband that are ‘too close to home’ and difficult to give an objective answer to, and find your blog a real education into my own culture! Thank you!!


  2. I find the concept of “syden” to often be disrespectful to the host country. So many times I have heard someone knowing the name of the hotel or area they are staying, but not the name of the country they are going to. It’s just “syden”! The least you can do is to acknowledge the country that’s hosting you. Your description of the phenonmenon is fairly accurate. People usually call it “syden” when they are travelling charter and staying somewhere all inclusive, sunny and with a white beach.


  3. Almost right! But it is one thing that is confused, and that might make it easier to grasp. This: “My simple explanation is that Syden is a term qualifying a big blob of merged sunny locations with undefined boundaries because it evolves with whatever new direct flights Norwegian or Ryanair open from big Norwegian cities. Who cares where it is, what language people speak there, what is the national dish and what is the government, as long as we come back with a tan.”

    No – it is not Norwegian and Ryanair. It is “chartertur”. It is one company, Ving Apollo, Star Tour or others, renting a whole plane to take you to hotels, bungalows or apartments they use. If you go to Spain by yourself, making your own arrangements, it is not “syden”, it is Spain. Unless you now own your own apartment there, or your parents do. Or your friends do.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Syden er generelt syd-europeiske land (inkludert Tyrkia), spesielt de spanske, greske, italienske og tyrkiske øyene, generelt referer man til ferie-plasser (bygder/landsbyer som eksisterer mer eller mindre spesifikt for turisme), drar man til en by som Marseille, tror jeg man heller ville sagt det, eller Frankrike.
    Nordmenn er veldig late når det gjelder dette her, og syden blir et slags catch all begrep for et hvert europeisk land som er varmt.
    Jeg pleide å undre meg over hvorfor man ofte kan se en slik samtale mellom amerikanere: -Hvor skal du i sommer? -Jeg skal til Europa! -åh! Så spennende! Der begge parter ikke viser noen interesse for hvilket land i Europa de faktisk skal til, som om det ikke spiller noen rolle. Men jeg antar vel at det er mye av det samme vi gjør.


  5. Are Kalvø has written a book called “Syden”, in which you can learn more about Norwegian holiday habits. It’s written in New Norwegian, and I don’t know if it’s translated into English or French. Great blog! Always amusing to look upon oneself through the eyes of a non-native!🙂


  6. I disagree, I wouldn’t call Egypt and Tunisia Syden, because they’re a litte to exotic and different to be a proper Syden country. And also because of the revolutions that happened there a few years ago.

    I think the definition of Syden might be different depending on whom you ask. I guess my definition is an area where you’ll hear a Scandinavian on every street corner (depending on where you go. I usually go to Greece, and often I’ll hear more Norwegian/Danish/Swedish than Greek during my stay), and where the restaurant owners and hotel owners all know a phrase or two in Norwegian.


  7. It’s very funny ! I’m Norwegian Egyptian and the term Sydenham always drive me crazy? I always ask but where is Syden? This is spot on and fun to read! I’m happy you included Egypt in the Syden list!


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