Norway beyond rosemaling and lutefisk
The MeetNorway tour introduces Norwegian Americans to the Norway of today
The Norwegian American
Are you a Norwegian American who wants to experience the land of your ancestors? Do you want to do more than see the tourist spots but take part in the story? You want to meet “real” Norwegians and learn all about the country’s culture and industry? If you answered yes to these questions, then the MeetNorway tour was designed for you.
This new fully guided, all-inclusive tour introduces Norwegian Americans to Norway, focusing on the country both as it was before your ancestors emigrated and as it is today. In addition, the organization works with ancestry researchers to provide information on who your ancestors were and where they came from.
The 15-day tour journey visits Oslo, Lillehamer, Røros, Trondheim, Ålesund, Skei, Flåm, Balestrand, Førde, and concludes in Bergen, the home of MeetNorway and what they consider to be—in their admittedly biased opinion—a highlight of the tour.
To learn more, I spoke with Frode Fimland, the co-founder and partner of MeetNorway, who has a 30-year background working in film photography and production in Norway.
Molly Jones: What inspired you to start MeetNorway?
Frode Fimland: When I did the shooting of my last documentary film, Siblings are forever—The Grand Journey, I was strongly reminded of our emigration history—how strong the bonds are between Norway and Americans with Norwegian roots.
We were reminded of, and questioned on, Norway everywhere we went and by everyone we met. I believe all who ended up in the film have Norwegian roots.
This gave me the idea of making experiences that go beyond the screen. Real experiences where Americans can meet Norway and the people here and see the way we live—get to experience contemporary Norway beyond the nostalgic rosepainting and lutefisk.
As a photographer I have reported and documented from all over Norway, for both domestic and foreign audiences. I want to make use of this experience and the knowledge I have gained in our tours through MeetNorway.
MJ: What makes the MeetNorway tours different than other guided tours?
FF: Our tour goes through eastern, central, and western Norway. We have designed a tour that first of all is slow paced. No longer distances that for some would seem busy and stressful. We will still cover the most beautiful of what the Norwegian nature has to offer: mountains, fjords, glaciers, lakes, and one of the most magnificent coastal stretches in the world.
What perhaps differentiates us the most is that, in addition to getting to know Norwegian history, we will get to know what industries are important in Norway today: fishery, fish farming, petroleum. The modern Norway that perhaps not all Americans know very well today.
MJ: Why do you feel it is important for Norwegian Americans to travel to Norway to learn about the country of their ancestors?
FF: I have followed Americans coming to Norway and seeing the place their forefathers left and what kind of experience that has been for them. It gives them some next-level reasoning as to why their ancestors left—especially since it to a great extent was a matter of not having enough food for the family. That was the reason for my grandfather to leave for the vast and prosperous America in 1922.
This relation is thus a personal story for me. Many Norwegians emigrated to the USA. In my family my grandfather left when my mother was one. He never returned to Norway and died at only 44 years old. This was not talked about much in my family, but it has probably affected my family a lot more than I have known. Today my mother is 94 and of course cannot remember her father, but she gladly tells stories about her childhood. Shooting the film in Minnesota, I have been reminded of these stories by the many wonderful people we met who are so proud to say that they have Norwegian roots. It has indeed been a memorable experience.
MJ: How do you combine the more traditional aspects of Norwegian culture with aspects of contemporary Norwegian society?
FF: We will eat locally sourced and produced traditional foods, see old crafts, and experience our most traditional buildings—the stave churches. We will visit museums highlighting fisheries, polar history, and hunting and gathering to see how Norwegians have exploited the resources available to us to survive. In contemporary Norway these industries have modernized, and fishery and oil production will represent this.
MJ: You say you want people to meet “real” Norwegians. What do you mean by that?
FF: We will meet fishermen, farmers, and entrepreneurs—people living and working in those industries in Norway, not just guides talking about them second hand.
MJ: I see that you also offer a tour for Norwegians to visit the Midwest and New York. Can you tell me a bit about this tour?
FF: Our basic philosophy is the same; we want to show Norwegians some of the places our forefathers emigrated to and where they settled. We want to tell the story of how their descendants live today by meeting real Norwegian Americans.
MJ: What’s been your favorite experience thus far?
FF: This is our first season, and we are very curious of what the reception and feedback will be from our participants. But when we presented the tour at Norsk Høstfest in Minot, N.D., last fall, it was very exciting to meet so many Americans with Norwegian heritage. I believe the feedback we got, and just experiencing Høstfest, has been the greatest experience this far. And of course getting to know the great entrepreneur and loving Norwegian-semi-American Stine Aasland of Nordic Waffles along the way.
This article originally appeared in the April 7, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.