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April Showers

24 March 2011

I learned two valuable phrases early on in Bergen: Ut på tur, aldri sur and Det finnes ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlige klær. They translate, without the rhyme, as “Out on a walk, never sour (grumpy)” and “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” I only believe whole-heartedly in the first of these two phrases, but more on that later.

Norway is a nation of walkers. This is most obvious to me every time we return from a trip to the U.S., which is a nation of drivers (at least in the Midwest). A moment of surprise always hits me on our way back from the airport past streams of women and strollers, elderly women moving along with their shopping bags more quickly than I can walk without them – “Look!” I always say, “people go outside here!” Men in track suits with iPod cords dangling from their ears and dogs trotting along beside them, children loaded down with backpacks, teenagers telling each other stories with dramatic arm movements, not even stopping to take a breath.

On Sundays Norwegians walk, on sick leave Norwegian walk, in the evenings Norwegians walk – I don’t mean to the store or home from work, I mean simply walking to walk. The means is the end. Fresh air and exercise, health for body and soul.

Ut på tur, aldri sur is a guarantee. No matter what mood hangs over our family – a simmering argument over appointments not on the family calendar, two children strangling each other on the floor for a plastic milk cap (because there seems to be only one in the whole world) – once we are out walking together we magically turn into the world’s happiest family. Magically, with the big screen musical scores of 1930s Hollywood playing in the background.

Yet Norway as a nation of walkers never ceases to astound me because Norway has the worst climate I have ever lived in. Absolutely no contest. (I know, I promised that spring would erase all complaints about Norway, but please allow me just this one. I promise it leads to something positive!)

Take your mental images of the descriptions of walkers I gave a few paragraphs above and add rain. Pouring rain. If Norwegians didn’t believe in the second saying – no bad weather, just bad clothing – they wouldn’t leave their houses.

Ok, this is taken from behind a waterfall. But surely it gives the idea?

It rains in Bergen around 250 days a year. (Oh Seattle, token city of rain, what do you have to say for your piddling 158 days of precipitation?) And, by some curse of Thor, in our first full year in Norway, 2005, Bergen received over 3 meters of rain, or just under 10 feet. In the fall of 2006 it rained for 85 days in a row without stopping. I would like to underline the fact that this is more than double the amount Noah had to endure.

Although the story that the Inuits have 50 – or was it 50 billion? – words for snow is not true, I can testify to the fact that Bergensers have at least fourteen words for regn:

–         musk (“mist”)

–         yr (“drizzle,” also “spitting rain;” The Meterological Institute of Norway provides forecasts on the website “,” and I guess that is about all they, or I, need to say.)

–         duskregn (“light rain”)

–         striregn (“downpour,” “deluge”)

–         vanlig regn (“normal rain” … Now that’s amusing!)

–         regnbyger (“showers with wind”)

–         flobyger (“heavy shower with wind”)

–         høljregn (“raining cats and dogs” – and I promise this is a direct quote from my dictionary)

–         styrtregn (“torrential rain”)

–         pøsregn (“pouring rain”)

–         plaskregn (“splashing or pelting rain”)

–         drivregn (“driving rain”)

–         valleslette (“slush”)

–         sludd  (“sleet”)

(These words were listed in an article on “,” the weather website from TV2. Do you see a pattern here? Hurrah for Nordic candidness!)

To this list I will add another, fifteenth description: “drittregn.” And let’s just translate this as: “stupid stinky crappy rain.”

This morning I stood outside in the rain with a cold drop of water hanging onto the end of my nose searching for an accurate description of what I felt plunking down onto my rain coat. I contemplated the precise difference between “pouring rain” and “splashing or pelting rain,” certain that there was one. The speed, perhaps, the quickness? Or is it the stinging I feel on my cheeks as I try to look up to the sky that separates pelting from pouring? Can rain pelt and not pour? I see old men, hundreds of years ago, sitting under the roofs of their stone barns in their wet wool sweaters, making distinctions too subtle for me to take the time to notice because I am shivering and turn to go back inside, wondering if it really matters anyway. Rain is rain.

But … there is always a but, a second side to the coin of life in Norway: when returning from holidays to places with guaranteed hot, baking, unrelenting sun (Thailand, Spain, Greece) Bergensers will say they missed the fresh air, the fresh rain-purified air of Norway. And they are right. I aired our duvet out on the line a few days ago – when it was actually only partly cloudy! – and when I brought it back in I hurtled it towards my husband shouting, “Smell this! Smell this!” This is what Bounce tries so hard to reproduce with their April Fresh Scent and I have captured the real thing for free.

This morning on the way to the barnehage (daycare) my daughter cheerfully reminded me: “Rain makes the flowers grow!” My instinct was to sigh and say, “No, actually it drowns them. All of mommy’s flowers rot,” but caught as I always am by the infection of spring, of hopes, whether false or not, I smiled and said, “Yes it does!”

And with all the right clothing I am off for a walk in the rain. Because, oddly enough, walking in the rain is a way to conquer the rain and the bad mood it so often brings.

The right clothes for bad weather.

Or maybe the weather is just bad.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Paul Selig permalink
    26 April 2011 01:00

    Jena, thanks for your blog/diary! I’m scouring the ‘net for expat info. on Norway. I live in Ballard aka. Seattle, WA. I am a native of Seattle –born at Swedish Hospital in 1969. I am SERIOUSLY considering moving to Norway –Bergen specifically. So I can anticipate MORE RAIN? How about grey days? The vitamin B3 helps with that here in Seatown. What else can I expect? I want to emigrate with my eyes wide open…

    • jenaconti permalink
      26 April 2011 13:50

      I think one of the best things you could expect (given the economic downturn in the U.S.) is receiving all the social benefits of one of the world’s wealthiest nations. (See the end of my post: “It’s a rich man’s world” for more on this.)

  2. Paul Selig permalink
    26 April 2011 01:09

    More on Seattle: from October to May it is partly to mostly cloudy six out of every seven days, or cloudy an average of 201 days out of the year. Is it worse in Bergen?

    • jenaconti permalink
      26 April 2011 13:48

      Hi Paul, I haven’t been to Seattle, but a friend who lived in Seattle and then in Bergen for 1 year said Bergen is much worse! I think we really average about 300 days of rain a year. The weather service only gives days of measurable rain, so that misty stuff we get so much doesn’t count.

      I find the winters hard because we only have 4 hours of daylight anyway from being so far north, and combined with the gray skies it really can be depressing. But really, to live in Bergen is to accept the weather – whatever it is – and just go out and do things anyway. Bergensers still walk and hike and play outside in the pouring rain. Thus the “no bad weather, just bad clothing” phrase. And when the sun does shine in Bergen it is absolute paradise! Truly.

  3. Marcia Weadock permalink
    30 May 2011 17:14


    Your parents stopped by our house this morning for a break from their bike ride. They told us about your blog, so I did a search and found this. It’s great! I have often used your phrase, “not bad weather, only bad clothing” ever since your Dad told us about it. You need to seriously think about writing a book. Your descriptions are priceless! I can’t wait to read the rest of your blogs.


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