The first myth about Norwegian people that we broke in this series “Busting Norwegian Myths” is that Norwegian people are cold. Myth #2 we will try to break now is that Norwegians are all tall and blond.
This is a misconception about Scandinavians in general and Norwegians in particular. When you think of Norwegians pictures showing tall blond women with braids, and tall blond men with broad shoulders and white teeth pop up on Google and in our minds. Small blond children running around, called Hans and Sigrid.
And to be fair, for those of us living in Norway, we all know people who look like that. Quite a few of them. However Norwegian people is not a homogene group. Even those claiming to be Norwegian for generations.
The Vikings were blond, right?
“Yes but Vikings were tall and blond”, you might say. “And Norwegians descend from Vikings”.
First of all, new research shows that Vikings were probably dark haired. In addition to that, “Viking” is not an ethnicity, but most probably a job description. Third, Vikings were not exclusively Norwegian or even Scandinavian. There were Vikings with all sorts of ethnic background, from Baltic, Sami, Danish, or Swedish descent.
Also, Viking era was about 1000 years ago, many things happen in 1000 years of history. Especially when that place has such a long coast line as Norway does.
Different ethnic groups
Norway does not historically have one ethnicity. There are the Samis (many different groups) which have been living in northern Norway, Finland, Sweden and Russia and moving inside the borders of their land, called Sapmi, not too concerned about international borders as long as nobody bothered them. The Tatere or “Norwegian Travellers” are a people few talk about, even in Norway. They are an ethnic minority linked to the Romani people. Another minority nobody talks about are the Kvens. They are a Balto-Finnic ethnic minority in Norway. They descended from Finnish peasants and fishermen who emigrated from the northern parts of Finland and Sweden to Northern Norway in the 18th and 19th centuries. They have a minority status in Norway since 1996.
Lots of genetic input from Europe
There has also been a lot of genetic input to Norway in the past centuries. Norway has a long coast, and an ancient history of trade – if not raid. For example in the 14th century Bergen was an international harbour, and a ship entering Bergen carried the Black Death that spread to almost the whole country and killed over half of the Norwegian population.
In Northern Norway Spanish or Portuguese ships have sailed to the North of Norway to trade fish (the Portuguese bacalao is made with cod from Northern Norway), and abracadabra now some families look like Sicilians: shorter and with dark hair.
Hvor kommer du egentlig fra?
Lastly, despite the word “ethnic Norwegian” (etnisk norsk) being used loosely in everyday conversations, in fact the word does not exist legally or even statistically in Norway. SSB, the Norwegian statistics central bureau, has several categories regarding immigrants/Norwegians: immigrants (born outside of Norway with parents born outside of Norway), Norwegian citizens born in Norway with immigrant parents – i.e. born outside of Norway, and Norwegian citizens. These categories have in fact nothing to do with ethnicity or DNA. It is about where you are born, where your parents are born and whether you hold a Norwegian citizenship. For example in my case, being born outside of Norway, with a son born here with a Norwegian citizenship, his children will be considered 2nd generation immigrants, but their children will be counted as Norwegians on the same level as Guri Strand from Trøndelag. (made up name and person).
May I remind also my readers that the King of Norway himself is not Norwegian (he is Danish) and his wife Sonja has dark hair. So no, Norwegians are not all tall and blond. And no they don’t make one “untouched” ethnic group. The neverending question “Hvor er du egentlig fra?” (Where are you really from?”) is a question many Norwegians hear every day. When Norway is actually a mixed country from way before.
Credit illustration: Raphaëlle Taschet