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Norwegian Hospitality

Any good trip involves a revelatory moment where you learn something about your hosts and, if you are lucky, about yourself as well. My short trip to Norway included two of those moments, both at my friends’ wedding reception.

The first arrived during the speeches. In Norway as in much of Europe, speeches play a big part in any wedding. At a minimum, the bride’s father, the groom, the best man, and the maid/matron of honor are expected to speak at length and with eloquence. These are no off-the-cuff toasts, but rather well thought out, scripted addresses. Often, other friends or family members stand to speak as well. At Sigrid and Jim’s wedding, that included two friends of the family, a cousin or two, and (I can’t help myself) me.

Given that Sigrid and Jim’s wedding included approximately 65 guests, 17 of whom hailed from the United States, the vast majority of would-be speech makers were native Norwegians. I expected them to speak in Norwegian, assuming that most would want to use their mother tongue for such an emotional affair. But that’s not what happened at all; every single person who delivered a toast did so in English so as to include all of the American guests in the festivities. Some did so in easy, idiomatic English. Others struggled a bit more. All carried on and did their best in a second language.

When I remarked on this, fellow guests demurred. “Well, we all know English” they’d say, or “It’s fun to get to practice our English”, but I’m just not buying it. Sigrid’s family and friends had to find it easier to speak in their native tongue, and I think it an amazing gesture of generosity and hospitality that they chose English instead. I could tell you much more about this warm, gracious, and erudite group, but I do believe this tidbit serves as a nice short-cut in illustrating the Rian circle’s elan. These folks are top drawer.

Then there was my schooling in Scandinavian egalitarianism. In the US, we tend to focus on things like pay grades and tax rates when we think of egalitarian societies. Being capitalist ourselves, it’s only natural to reduce the concept to the bottom line. Sigrid and Jim’s wedding provided a flash of a different understanding of the egalitarian ethos, one that transcends money.

After the wedding dinner and before dessert, the bride’s family stood and invited all of the servers and cooks who had worked that day to stand in the reception hall. At which point the entire assembled body of guests stood and applauded their efforts in turning out a terrific meal, and the staff all took a bow. I’m sure this happens in certain small settings in the US, but I have never once seen it at a large, catered affair. Not at a birthday party, not at a wedding, not at a bar or bat mitzvah, not at an anniversary bash. Not ever. And upon seeing it, I immediately thought two things:

  1. WHY don’t we do this?
  2. I am SO doing this at the next affair I host!

It’s rare to see something that at once seems revelatory and obvious, but this was it. My trip was far too short, but moments like these two will certainly linger in my mind and give me ample food for thought.

One Response to “Norwegian Hospitality”

  1. blg says:

    I want to do this at my next conference. Which is in 9 days.

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