That was the first question I asked on my trip to the Kingdom of Norway last winter. ‘What trolls?’, was the puzzled reply. ‘You know, those big, ugly, hairy trolls that live in the mountains and steal princesses to scratch their head at night’, I said, ‘haven’t you heard the stories?’. That’s when I realized that I knew more about supposedly local trolls than the local people did…
Oh well, just goes to show how different sometimes our impression of a place or a culture is from those of others. I blame it on stereotypes. For example, many people think of Norway as the land covered in snow and ice year-round, often devoid of sun and blue skies. I happen to capture this ‘stereotype’ sometime during the creative drawing-and-coloring age of 8 or 9.
Now, compare that to actual place in Norway…Beautiful, isn’t it?
Interestingly enough, when they say that skiing is a national pastime, that stereotype is absolutely correct with a caveat that (as usual) it does not apply to 100% of population. There are always outliers who chose beer and TV over snowy tracks although that doesn’t mean they don’t at least own a pair of skis. Just in case.
Here are five other things I discovered during my trips to Trondheim, Norway, that stroke me as curious.
- It’s empty. When approaching the airport of one of the major cities, you see vast, uninhabited land and mountains with no hints of roads or villages. With a total population of mere 5 million, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it still does. Growing up in Texas (which I always jokingly refer to as a desert), I thought I knew the meaning of empty land. Turns out I didn’t.
- Beer is a prized possession. If you are not carrying a duty-free plastic bag with cans of beer from whatever international airport you departed, you must be a tourist or a visitor. Norwegians try to take advantage of lower beer prices elsewhere and max out their alcohol allowance coming back home. If you don’t know what birthday present to bring to a party, bring beer.
- Vikings are not strolling on streets. Well not just the streets but elsewhere in general. Perhaps its just me, but I always had this image of tall, blond, blue-eyed gods in heavy armory, carrying a freshly-slaughtered elk over their shoulder. Yeah, that’s not really the case. People look, well, quite ordinary. In fact, they remind me of Germans or other northern Europeans.
- Architecture can be impressive. It’s not unusual to find massive cathedrals in European cities from Spain to Italy. One could say it’s almost expected in those places. What is not expected, however, is finding anything more than simple wooden houses and cabins north of Oslo. So stumbling upon the Nidarosdomen (Nidaros Cathedral) was very exciting. If only you didn’t have to pay the ridiculous entrance fee of 70 NOK (roughly $12).
- Food options are scarce. To be more specific, vegetarian food is lacking. You can get variety of raindeer sausages, raindeer steaks, smoked or dried raindeer, and of course dried cod or halibut at the local farmers market. Then you’ll see couple of stands with cheese, bread, and kale. The end. In grocery stores, the situation is only marginally better. Things like paprika (bell peppers) come carefully and individually wrapped in firm plastic and sell for the price of gold (well not really but you get the point). Unless grown locally, vegetables will be either expensive or on the brink of dying, or both. I did however discover a little gem called ‘geitost’, a brown cheese made of goats milk that I export in large quantities and eat with crispreads, apples, and almond butter. The advantage of this cheese is that it can easily outlive even my ancient Parmesan without a hint of ‘life’ on its caramel-colored surface. Amazing.
So why aren’t there trolls in Norway? Just like the vikings (or the polar bears), trolls are just needed to lure you into this beautiful land that people believe is filled with magical creatures. Besides, if you do happen to come across a troll, it’s guaranteed to snatch you and bring you into his mountain cave. Forever. So how would you tell anyone?