Busting Norwegian Myth #2: Norwegians are all Tall and Blond

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

5 thoughts on “Busting Norwegian Myth #2: Norwegians are all Tall and Blond

  1. My father was Norwegian and me mum was a Brit. I was conceived in Bergen, but born in the U.S. which is where I still live. I think I would have preferred either of my parent’s homelands.

  2. First , Thank you so much for a Magnificent blog ! I love checking in and reading your stuff ! ✨✨✨
    I am Norwegian, My family on both sides can be traced some hundred years back as Norwegians ( with a tater or two, and a couple of Swedes added) .Two of my sisters ( I have five ) have features you would call Middle Eastern , one of them look very much like the Nordic myths, two are Celtic red haired ( many Norwegians are ) – and then there is me , who most people ask if I am Spanish or Italian. My father is dark haired, and my Mother is a very light skinned red haired lady. I guess there has been some fun with sailors back in time with my Dads ancestors – and that`s of course true with most Norwegians , living of – and by the sea for generations . Most Norwegians with blond hair has family who are darker and red haired. And a lot of girls has of course simply dyed their hair blond . So no – we are definitely not a blond nation 😀 ( Actually, looking at your picture , you could easily have been family – you look so much like my beautiful Auntie ! 🤩 )
    I married a tall dark man, his father is Hungarian and his Mother Norwegian – so there you go ; That`s who we are 🥰
    France too, of course , is a mix of nations . Most Western- and seafaring nations are, I think . I believe the myth about the Nordic people being tall and blond even is a myth in Norway ; because why else do they keep asking the general dark haired Guri Strand where she is really from ?!!?

  3. Don’t forget to include Orkney Islands (and probably Iceland) in the group of “vikings” (read the Orkney saga in the link below (Orkneys is the link between Norway and Britain). Plenty of the sceletons found in Norse style graves on the Orkneys and other places vikings annexed turned out to be of proto Irish origins pre “viking” era. The influx of that particular group among the vikings also portraits the haplogroup found in most of the Norse graves found (under the haplogroup R1b1a2a1a2c) which is the most common male haplogroup in the coastline of Norway as opposed to I1 which is consentrated among the Swedish border and woods.

    https://no.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orkn%C3%B8yingenes_saga

  4. Of course, like most myths, there is a grain of truth in this. The average height of Norwegians (and Swedes and Danes) is a couple of centimetres taller than the average height in the UK or France. ( https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Average_human_height_by_country ). And on my own observation, there are a lot more blondes in Scandinavia than in the UK or further south. My own children (50% UK 50% Norway) all started out as very light blonde, but have got progressively darker as they got older – but then, so did I, growing up in England with two English parents, and so did their mother, growing up in Norway with two Norwegian parents. Go figure 🙂

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