Norwegian hospitality around the world

Photo: Drew Voigt. A Norwegian flag hangs outside of Baan Chang bar, Cha Am, Thailand.

A Norwegian-American student traveling abroad finds that Norwegian hospitality extends beyond borders

Petra Hahn

Northfield, Minn.

In every nook and cranny of this wild world, one can find the warm, welcoming arms of a fellow Norski. As a proud Norwegian-American, who attends St. Olaf College, founded by Norwegian-Americans in 1874, I am blessed to find Scandinavian tradition woven into my everyday life. At St. Olaf, we eat lutefisk dinner the first weekend in December, we celebrate Syttende Mai, we even fly a Norwegian flag right alongside the Stars and Stripes.

As much as I adored my blue-eyed, blonde populated college, I ached to explore beyond its Minnesotan borders. I spent this past semester studying infectious disease and healthcare in China, Viet Nam and Thailand with a group of 19 Oles and our professor and his wife. We climbed the Great Wall, boated through Ha Long Bay and hiked to more mountain temples than my feet care to remember; we also took classes at local universities and visited dozens of clinics, labs and hospitals. I soaked up every glorious minute of it, diving in to the Asian culture that was so different from my own.

After months of fumbling with chopsticks and making friends who lovingly forgave our Western attempts at acclimating Eastern culture, we landed in Cha Am Beach, Thailand for a Thanksgiving vacation. We had just finished a week long, un air-conditioned bus tour of Thailand’s ancient capitals. Under the blistering heat of the Thai sun, we gratefully collapsed out of the bus and onto the sandy beaches of Cha Am. We slurped up the sun and salty spray, feeling bad for our frigid friends back home in the snow. After dinner, we walked back to the hotel with sand between our toes and smiles plastered on our sunburned faces. While trekking back to our rooms, we heard raucous laughter and disco music echoing from a nearby alley. Following our ears, we found a charming outdoor bar bearing a Norwegian flag, slowly fluttering in the warm sea air.

Surprised to find the flag of our school and heritage literally thousands of miles from home, we stumbled into the affectionate arms of a Norwegian man, Karl, welcoming us to his bar, Baan Chang (Thai for elephant house). The bar was absolutely packed with people, a lively mix of people dancing and singing. We huddled to a table in front of the motely group of Thais and Europeans playing live music, mostly rock classics. Karl asked us where we were from, and when we mentioned we were students at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, his smiling face broke into a great guffaw. He laughed as he pointed to a table populated entirely of elderly Norwegians, enjoying rounds of akvavit. “Those folks are from Trondheim, where Saint Olav’s bones are buried!” he exclaimed in accented English. I laughed at the absurdity of the situation: here I was, on a remote beach in Thailand, being hugged by a bear of a Norwegian man introducing me to Norskis who lived in the city my Norwegian school’s namesake was buried!

I have never felt so at home as I did that night, embraced by the warm ties of Scandinavian heritage, even though I was literally thousands of miles away from any semblance of it. It was then I realized what a blessing it is to be Norwegian – for wherever you go, you are bound to find a Norski brother or sister, waiting with open arms and an embrace that feels like family.

This article originally appeared in the Mar. 8, 2013 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.