Winter is coming to Norway. As I write, on the shortest day of the year, the sun rises at 9:45am and sets at 3:30pm. Since it is common for children here to have to wear their woolen long underwear until mid-May, we have a lot of winter yet ahead of us.
Norwegian culture has developed coping mechanisms over the years to help people ‘stay cozy’ through long, dark winters and bad weather. “Koselig” (“Cozy”) is one of the first words one learns upon moving to Norway; the word, or some related root word, is ubiquitous throughout Norwegian culture. To say that you enjoyed a social gathering, you would say, “Vi koste oss,” “We cozied ourselves.” At the end of the week, people look forward to their “fredagskos,” their “Friday cozy.” When the weather outside is frightful, Norwegians love to “cozy themselves” in front of a roaring fire and read, knit, or veg out in front of the television.
Because the weather is so lousy in Bergen (25 days of rain in the last 30), we do watch more TV in the winter than we do the rest of the year. We mostly enjoy sports we didn’t get to watch at home, like Norwegian favorite biathlon (which combines cross-country skiing and target shooting) and the family favorite, ski jumping. My 4-year-old insists ski jumping is her future. I’m glad we live somewhere with free healthcare.
We watch winter sports on TV in part to fill the NFL-shaped hole in our lives and in part because, well, there’s not much else on that appeals to our still-rather-American tastes. Recently, Norway’s public broadcasting system, NRK, has started to garner international attention for being exceptionally, spectacularly slow. Earlier this year, the New York Times gently mocked their enormously popular program on firewood, featuring expert tips on chopping, drying and stacking it, followed by eight hours of a fire burning in a fireplace, “all night long, in suspensefully unscripted configurations.” Riveting stuff.
This fall, NRK aired a four-hour documentary taking viewers through the process of how a wool sweater is made, from the sheep shearing to the sewing of the final seams. They then devoted an additional five hours of airtime to an attempt to break the knitting world record. Said the producer, “it’s kind of ordinary TV but very slow, although they’ll be knitting as fast as they can” (Yahoo). Unfortunately, I missed the broadcast and so can only imagine the drama that five hours of fast knitting can create.
This week it was announced that “Slow-TV” (“Sakte-TV”) is the 2013 “New Word of the Year” here in Norway, and Television Business International has named Slow-TV the year’s “Best New Format” (TBI).
The thing is, Slow-TV is not really all that new in Norway. Their first live slow broadcast was in 2009, when they covered the scenic train trip from Oslo to Bergen, minute by minute, for 7 hours and 16 minutes. Thirty percent of Norway’s entire population watched. A year later, when the program was exported to Danish TV, 170,000 Danes tuned in, at a time of day when the channel was normally off the air. This suggested to the network that it “wasn’t just Norwegian patriotism driving viewers to their TV screens,” but a broader “need for a soothing, anti-overload experience” (NRK).
(Here’s a ten-minute clip from Bergensbanen, worth viewing in full-screen):
A year later, NRK cameras followed one of the Hurtigruten, the fleet of ships that has transported people and goods up the coast of Norway, from Bergen north to the Russian border at Kirkenes (1814 miles), for over 100 years. The resulting 134-hour broadcast can still be viewed from the program’s website, where they also discuss their reasons for producing such programming.
“Primarily because we’re a publicly funded Public Service Broadcaster with a responsibility towards Norwegian culture; a responsibility for covering things important to the inhabitants of a small country, a country that in spite of, or perhaps because of, our significant oil wealth has a vulnerable culture. And programmes like this aren’t economically feasible for a commercial channel; to a large amount of the public it probably seems completely useless, but to some of our viewers it can have a very high value, be something they wouldn’t get in any other way, and in twenty or two hundred years, it will be a strange document of life at the edge of civilisation from a different time” (NRK).
(You can stream the entire 134-hour program at nrk.no/hurtigruten/.)
Though I may not yet be sufficiently Norwegianized to sit through so many hours of fire crackling/sheep shearing/coastline passing, it’s not difficult to appreciate the state’s efforts to preserve these aspects of Norwegian culture that make Norway Norway, and provide such a koselig “anti-overload experience.” We might laugh at the slow hokiness of some of this programming, but as a friend of mine commented when I posted a status about this phenomenon on Facebook: “Remember this when you return to the land of bloodbath-and-misogyny network programming.”
I leave you with “The Cabin,” a video from the Ylvis brothers poking fun at cabin culture, another slow way Norwegians like to unplug and cozy themselves.