When I was first told about 17 Mai, my naive British mind could not comprehend the thought of a “National Day”.
The UK has no national day, and it’s difficult to even picture what that day would look like.
I think most Brits are closet patriots, but the thought of going outside and waving British flags, singing “God Save The Queen” and other such events would probably cause a fair few of us to cringe. Maybe that’s a shame, I mean we’ve done some bad shit in the past, but there’s also a fair bit we should be proud of.
So I was fully prepared for 17 mai to be a huge nationalistic affair.
But it’s totally not.
A day for Norway’s future
After speaking to a few Norwegians, asking them “What does 17 mai mean to you?”, the vast majority answered that it’s a celebration of Norway’s future.
At the ridiculously early time of 07.15, the children of various schools start parading around, waving Norwegian flags and making a lot of noise. You then get to see some marching bands, do some filler activities before the Russ parade.
I think i’ll write a separate post about Russ, but in short Russ are teenagers who are close to finishing their final year of mandatory education. They typically start celebrating from the 1st of May right up until the 17th, getting shitfaced and forcing me to have sleepless nights.
So the Russ have their own parade, blasting out music with ridiculous levels of bass, giving out cards to children and showing off their russebil.
Then for some its time for a family dinner, and for others it’s an opportunity to have a few drinks.
17 mai for a foreigner
This is perhaps going to sound a little strange to a Norwegian, but as a foreigner I was absolutely bricking 17 mai.
I had this feeling in the back of my mind that this isn’t a celebration I should be taking part in. From my perspective I felt like I hadn’t really contributed to the future of Norway, and that because I’m not Norwegian, I shouldn’t take part in a day celebrating Norway.
I was panicking like crazy about the whole event. I knew I wanted to experience the day, but at the same time I was so worried I wouldn’t belong there. Anxiety over my choice of suit, my lack of ribbon or miniature flag, and my over-all lack of understanding of the entire event almost forced me to stay at home.
However I’m pleased to state that this was not the case. Eating pølse and icecream, getting a bit drunk and just enjoying the party atmosphere really put my fears at ease. At one point, I was washing my hands in a bar bathroom when some big burly man stood behind me, patted me on the back and shouted “gratulere med dagen”!
Not being used to strangers talking to me, I must have looked like a rabbit caught in headlights. A small mutter of a “gratulere med dagen!” back to him was all I could muster, but I must have ballsed up the pronunciation as he retorted back in English –
“Great to see you enjoying the day too”.
And that was that. Anxiety and fears gone. I did belong here.
If you have the means, go!
If you ever get the opportunity to see and partake in the 17 mai, I’d highly recommend you do so. Wear some relatively nice clothes, watch the parades, eat ice cream and hot dogs and enjoy the carnival like atmosphere.
Above all, remember this is a day for everyone to enjoy.