One of the best parts about studying French at an international language school is making friends from all around the world. Not only does this give me an excuse to travel – as if anyone ever really needs an excuse to travel – but it also gives me a taste of many different ways of thinking. It’s from meeting people of dozens of backgrounds, hearing them speak their native languages, and sharing your cultures that you learn what is impossible to teach with a textbook in a classroom.
Interestingly, every month the amount of students at my school from one country or another changes. Although there are always many Germans, Swiss, and Belgians, the number of Brazilians and Argentinians went up drastically during January and February, when it was their summer vacation, while March and April felt like a Scandinavian takeover in my school. One of my closest friends in Paris, Nikoline, is Norwegian, and within the first couple weeks after she arrived in January we’d already talked about my trip to visit her in Norway on “The 17th.” Norwegian, and moreover Scandinavian, culture is not a major focus in American high school history classes, and since before I came to Paris I had never even met a Norwegian, I really didn’t know much about what was going on up north. But finding myself surrounded by Norwegians these past few months has given me a greater interest in understanding the culture of ice, fjords, and really clean tap water that comes from that tadpole shaped country. So I booked my flight for Norway; I was finally going to celebrate the 17th, a day I’d heard (too) much about.
Verden’s Ende (World’s End), the tip of Tjøme, an island in Norway. Watching the sunset from this spot was unreal. You look out and all you see is open sea and clear skies. Continue straight and you’d reach Denmark!
But what is “The 17th”? I’m glad you asked! This day marks the signing of Norway’s constitution on May 17, 1814, declaring Norway an independent nation from Denmark and Sweden (even though they were still in a union with Sweden until 1905). All across the country, on the morning of the 17th, Norwegians wake up early, put on their bunads, and start their festivities. Schoolchildren march in parades in every city, high school seniors enjoy their last day of russefeiring, young adults open their bottles of champagne at 9am, and the royal family stands on the balcony of their Oslo palace to salute the public. Best of all, this holiday coincides with the beginning of spring, so that everyone is våryr, full of spring fever. Simply, it’s one day during the year where the entire nation is purely happy.
Upper left corner: Adeleine (also Norwegian, also went to EF Paris), me, and Nikoline
Lower right corner: classic bunad pose (p.s. completely normal, almost obligatory, question to ask each other where they got their bunads from)
At first I thought Norwegians had a beautiful amount pride for their homeland, but then I realized that I was seeing their world on an abnormal day of the year and that if I went to any country on its national independence day, I would believe they too had an incredible sense of patriotism. And maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to travel the world, only seeing countries at their best. Boarding the plane back to Paris I asked myself, what if I spent a year traveling the world, jumping from one country to the next, just to celebrate and experience their national days?