Unclear idioms: Telefon fra Hamar

Man answering call in phone booth.

Photo: Staachi & Staachi for Norsk Tipping
Telefon fra Hamar advertising campaign winner, Bergen.

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

In Norway, the phrase Telefon fra Hamar literally designates a telephone call received from Hamar, a city in Hedmark County on the eastern shore of Mjøsa, the country’s largest lake. But in the everyday vernacular, the three words also are a short phrase meaning a notification by telephone of a win in Lotto, the national lottery, in which players are registered.

The caller giving notice of a Lotto win is Norsk Tipping, a gaming company in Hamar, one of two in Norway permitted to offer gambling to the public. The other company is Norsk Rikstoto that offers horse race betting. Both Norsk Tipping and Norsk Rikstoto are wholly state-owned companies under the Ministry of Culture and Church Affairs.

The Lotto pot has 34 numbers, of which seven plus one additional number for a consolation prize are drawn live on NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting) on Saturday evening. The top prize of seven correct numbers (for which the registered player is called) may be NOK 10 million ($1.25 million) or more; there are other prizes, down to the smallest for four correct numbers, NOK 50 ($6.25). The chance of winning the top prize is 1 in 5.4 million. So Telefon fra Hamar has acquired the metaphoric meaning of a stroke of luck against all odds.

Faced with increasing competition from online gambling offered by gaming companies in other countries, Norsk Tipping mounted an advertising campaign to promote Lotto in August 2015. From the 17th through the 31st of the month, a Telefon fra Hamar call was to be placed to one of the 100 iconic Riksen telephone booths (Further reading) in the country, awarding the person answering a prize of NOK 1 million ($125,000 USD).

It was one of the most successful advertising campaigns ever, reported on by 65 newspapers across the country and featured on radio and TV, as people camped by the telephone booths waiting for the Telefon fra Hamar. The call was placed on August 26. The first two Riksen booths didn’t answer. But the third call to a Riksen telephone booth in Bergen was answered by a local man who had camped beside the booth and was rewarded by a voice from Hamar saying that he had won a million kroner. Indeed he was lucky, as Norsk Tipping was fortunate in seeing its Lotto turnover thereafter increase by about five percent.

Further reading:
Norwegian design: The Riks telephone booth,” The Norwegian American, August 25, 2017.

M. Michael Brady was educated as a scientist and with time turned to writing and translating.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 20, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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