Poolside vs. Fjord-side
When the editor of the American Coordinating Council of Norway Community Guide asked me to write a little something comparing American and Norwegian summer parties, I said, “No problem.” It’s very easy to generalize concerning both places, but of course I can only speak for myself and the parties I’ve experienced. I may not have my finger as firmly on the pulse of the party scene as I once did, but I’ve been around long enough to know that everybody likes good food. It’s often the main attraction at the gathering, no matter what country.
My yearly routine has brought me back home to the Ohio Valley every summer. My parents had a pool and a fridge full of beer, so they always attracted a crowd. Easy meals were often take-out pizza, if it was an impromptu food occasion. Alternatively, firing up Dad’s gas grill was for the more formal Saturday or Sunday pool party. With lots of nieces and nephews (often not big eaters), supper was basically cheeseburgers and hotdogs. Being partly German, my Mom would offer brats or metts. There were soft drinks or Kool-Aid for the kids and canned beer for the adults. Mom stored pounds of hamburger patties in the garage freezer and it was quick work for someone to run up to the grocery for more buns. Hosting a crowd for dinner wasn’t an occasion, but more of a lifestyle. Having attended countless summer cookouts certainly qualifies me as your typical American. Beside my numerous Martha Stewart cookbooks, these meals are my main reference to American entertaining.
As the years went by and my sisters and I practiced our homemaking skills, we became a bit more savvy. If Grandma supplied the burgers, everyone would bring something to the party. The Coors Light was switched up to Corona with lime or white wine if we didn’t feel like sipping beer all evening. We would often still grill, but the snacks got heavier and heavier. Classic nacho chips and pretzels were now supplemented with warm artichoke dips, bruschetta, or gooey things made with cream cheese. My Norwegian kids were shocked when Americans could put an inch size chunk of cheese straight into their mouths. The lettuce and tomato garnishes were also elevated to real salads and other vegetables or potatoes, maybe macaroni and cheese for the kids. My only complaint was how rich the appetizers became and often everyone was no longer hungry for the actual meal. If Norwegians like to offer natt mat (i.e., late-night food), Americans love the “before the meal food.” Happy Hour has eclipsed the dinner hour on many occasion.
I would venture that Norwegians like to cook on the grill in the summer as much as Americans. In the U.S., the motive is often to avoid the hot kitchen. For both cultures, it’s the best way to stay out in the yard when the weather is at its best. The smoke from the grill smells mouth-watering. Norwegians rely on the standards of hotdogs and burgers but are a bit more gourmet, grilling fish and pork chops. Norwegians also take a little more time and expense with the food preparation. This could be accounted for by the size of the group to be fed. Back home in Ohio we got together all the time and are a bit lazy in July. In Norway, if I had a friend over during the summer, I’m sure I would offer a nicer cut of meat or chicken. Happily, Norwegians do have an easy option of peel and eat shrimp, making your own sandwich at the table. Mayonnaise and loff as essential here, as ketchup and mustard are over there.
Summer parties are probably more relaxed in both countries. For a long time I felt Norwegians were too formal and the speech making was tiresome. Americans raise their glasses for a cheer, but that’s about it. Norwegians are punctual and expect the hostess to be prepared. Americans aren’t too ruffled if the cook is running behind as long as they’ve been handed a drink. Oddly, in a restaurant setting Americans eat quicker, expect fast service and want their tables cleared. I’m not sure if that’s what people want, but that’s what happens in most American restaurants.
Norwegians might be too formal and Americans too relaxed, but I believe a combination of both bring us down the middle way to a perfect party, taking the best from the Norwegians and the rest from the Yanks. I appreciate how the Norsk seem to have more of a sense of occasion. An invitation to someone’s home is special and they arrive with small gifts and big appetites. At my home I love to make great food and take the time to set a pretty table with flowers and cloth napkins. When you take the time to make homemade food, it’s very rewarding when Norwegians will linger much longer at the table. I think Norwegian children often have very nice table manners and are encouraged to behave as adults. Americans tend to clean away the plates too quickly. Jumping up from the table isn’t good for anyone’s digestion. Speeches should be kept to a minimum, but hopefully the conversation is easy and entertaining. The American in me tends to keep the mood relaxed and fun. American hospitality extends to making room at the table for new friends and new recipes, but not too heavy on the appetizers. I like offering wine, even after the meal is finished, usually because I’m finally relaxed myself. You’re welcome to stay a little longer, or we can call it a night.
This article was featured in the American Coordinating Council of Norway‘s annual Community Guide for 2012.