“I hear the strangest things about Norway and Norwegians”

An Aussie expat tourist guide and blogger in Bergen shares her perspective

Emma Vestrheim

Photo courtesy of Emma Vestrheim
As a tourist guide, Emma Vestrheim offers a unique perspective as an Australian transplant.

Emma Vestrheim
Bergen, Norway

When I moved to Norway from Australia five years ago, guiding wasn’t the job I had in mind. However, I figured it would be a good way to learn about my new home, Bergen, and make some expat friends. Five years later, I’m not only a local guide in Bergen but a tour leader all across the Nordic countries. I’ve been to every corner of Norway and have fallen in love with this beautiful place. 

During the pandemic, I have been forced out of work. I decided to start blogging about my experiences and places I’ve been to throughout my job on my website, www.ilovebergen.net. When I research a new place online, I read many strange things that I would never tell my groups (who are mostly American). When I work every day, I hear the strangest questions, like, “Can I see the northern lights tonight?” which someone asked in July in Bergen. 

The first thing any tour guide or website will tell you is “Bergen is the rainiest city in Europe.” The rain isn’t that bad, and it rains everywhere in Norway. Every time I get into a taxi in Bergen and the driver detects my Aussie accent, I’m immediately asked: “Why would you leave Australia for Norway? It rains all the time!”

Vestrheim

Photo courtesy of Emma Vestrheim
Emma Vestrheim is proud to live in Bergen, Norway.

 I was guiding a British group on one of those miserable days in Bergen. Ever the optimist, I greeted them with a big smile and a “Good morning!” Each one would look at me, frown, scoff, or respond, “It’s not a good morning, is it?” If you want the sun, go south, not north! I get bad reviews in my tour surveys for it being too rainy in Norway.

Travel blogs say that Norwegian food is flavorless and just variations of fish and potatoes. I have found Norwegian food to be varied, and my groups are always pleasantly surprised at what is offered here. One blogger said, “Brown cheese tastes like salty liquorice rubbed down the side of a goat.” 

I make sure my groups leave with a different opinion; many take Norwegian food back home with them. (I remember helping one American buy stockfish at the fish market!) I love the food in Norway; it’s fresh, high quality, and seasonal. While it is more expensive than other countries, you know you are always getting quality. Did you know that Norway eats more pizza per capita than anywhere else in the world? Thanks, Grandiosa. My Americans love this fact to the point that they seek out a supermarket just to see how much freezer space Norwegians dedicate to pizza. And they take photos. 

There’s a lot of strange blog posts suggesting it is easy to travel around Norway. Geiranger is just a short drive from Bergen, for example. Every article fails to mention you will constantly be delayed by construction work, road closures with no alternatives, or slow trucks on a road without overtaking lanes. 

When I took a group to the top of the Fløibanen, one man pointed at the island of Askøy and asked, “Is that England?” People think Norway is small.  Also, the internet romanticizes hikes in Norway without explaining their difficulty. Trolltunga—Troll Tongue—is often recommended as a day trip from Bergen. When I did it in 2015, I barely made it to the top without collapsing, and there were tourists wearing flip flops and jeans. I tell my groups to remember there’s a difficulty level for Norwegians, and then a difficulty level for the rest of us!

There is this perception that Norway is a cold country, both in temperature and in attitude. As an Australian, Norway is not that cold. I once found myself hiding in the fridge section of a supermarket to get some relief during one of the heat waves. Tourists are shocked when they discover hotel rooms don’t have air conditioners to the point I have to mentally prepare them.  

Vesterheim

Photo courtesy of Emma Vestrheim
Bryggen is Bergen’s tourist destination No. 1.

So many travel blogs say things like “Don’t get close to a Norwegian,” and some even say, “Don’t make eye contact.” How did Norwegians get this reputation? I have never found it to be true! Ever since moving here, Norwegians have always been friendly and helpful. I think Norwegians are like Australians: yes, you wouldn’t want someone sitting right next to you, but if you strike up a conversation, Norwegians are incredibly laid back.  

On my tours, I make an effort to stop a local and ask them some questions about life in their town. In Brønnøysund, for example, I give my group a challenge: I give them a shopping list with clues like “What do Norwegians take when hiking?” or “What do we eat on Fridays?” and ask them to find the items in the local Coop grocery store. They are supposed to ask the locals the questions. Every time the locals, who are just trying to do their shopping, have embraced my clueless Americans and guided them through the supermarket, explaining the food items, translating, and talking about Norwegian culture. 

I do miss tourists and their crazy questions. However, it’s nice to see that most of my tourists take an interest in learning about Norway and experiencing the culture. While the last 12 months have been miserable for small businesses in tourism, there is light on the horizon, and  I hope I can see them and experience Norway with them again this year. 

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 29, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim was born and raised in rural Australia. In 2015, she moved to Norway. She writes for her blog, I love Bergen, and is a tour guide for English-speaking tourists in Bergen.

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