Lorelou Desjardins, author of “A Frog in the Fjord – One Year in Norway,” ended up writing the book she wished she could have read when she first moved to Norway. Desjardins is currently a lawyer working on reducing plastic pollution, writes articles about Norwegian culture in Norwegian and foreign newspapers, and is based in Oslo.
Twelve years ago Lorelou Desjardins, originally from Provence in France, got a job offer in Oslo and decided to move there despite her friends thinking she had gone mad. How would she fare in a country where she didn’t even speak the language?
Through her book A Frog in the Fjord – One Year in Norway, Desjardins invites you on a journey to discover Norway through fresh eyes. Filled to the brim with funny anecdotes, unique insights and useful tips, it’s a handy book for anyone interested in the Norwegian culture and way of life.
Norway Today caught up with Desjardins regarding the launch of her book, the inspirations behind it as well as her own personal tips for exploring the Scandinavian country.
What inspired you to write A Frog in the Fjord – One Year in Norway? When and how did you decide to write it – what was your process?
When I first moved to Norway I was lost and confused. Everything was so new, from working culture to the language or even dating. I would have loved to read a book about what Norwegian life is really like for a foreigner, but that book did not exist back then, so I thought: “Why not write it myself?”
I have always loved writing, so I started by writing a blog called A Frog in the Fjord. That really took off, so after a few years, I wrote this book. The book is, however, not a compilation of blog posts. Rather, it is the story of everything I went through during my first year in Norway, experiencing Norwegian traditions one after the other, failing at making Norwegian friends and then succeeding, surviving a Norwegian cabin trip with outside toilets, and much more.
I hope to show in this book that Norway is a wonderful but also complex country, with much more diversity than one might initially expect in terms of dialects, cultures, culinary diversity and more.
Who is the book intended for?
The book is intended for anyone who is interested in knowing more about Norway and Norwegians. It can be someone who wants to travel to Norway as a tourist and wants a deeper understanding of Norwegian society or even landmarks like the Lofoten Islands. But it is also a book for anyone who has some kind of connection to Norway, such as Americans with Norwegian heritage.
I also wrote it with many foreign partners of Norwegian people I have met over the years. Some live abroad and get a unique insight into their partner’s culture. “Oh, now I know why he lights all these candles although it is a tropical summer in Thailand,” a woman said to me once. Other couples end up moving to Norway, and I think they should get a heads up about what life feels like here before moving.
Lastly, I think people who just like a good story, or who want to read about a young woman trying to find her way through a society of quirky Norwegians can have a good laugh even though they have no intention of moving or traveling here.
Where can our readers get the book?
Amazon, Adlibris, BookDepository, Barnes and Nobles and more online platforms! It exists in both ebook and paperback format.
What is your favorite destination and/or landmark in Norway, that’s mentioned in your book?
Many chapters in the book occur in the North of Norway, and the reason is that I love that area, from Tromsø to Senja and the Riddu Riddu festival, an indigenous Sami festival. The nature, the people, the food and the changing lights – from the midnight sun in the summer to the Northern lights in the winter are just something incomparable with any other place on Earth.
What is your favorite destination and/or landmark in Norway, that’s not mentioned in your book?
The Old Town of Fredrikstad is a well-hidden gem in Norway. It feels untouched since medieval times and makes one almost travel back in time when walking its streets. To make it even more attractive, Fredrikstad has a great food scene especially known for their sourdough bread.
Do you consider your book a good way of getting to know Norway/Norwegian life for people moving to Norway and/or for tourists traveling to Norway?
Absolutely. There is actually no other book on the market right now giving you a personal story as well as so much information about how to move to Norway and how to get to know Norwegian life.
In terms of travel, I think tourists can also appreciate the book if they would like to get to know the culture better before visiting, but also because I visit many areas as a tourist in the book, such as Southern Norway, Telemark, Oslo, Trøndelag, Northern Norway including the Lofoten Islands and Tromsø. Some travels I did by train, others by bicycle and others by bus.
What was the best part about writing this book?
Once a person stopped me in the street. “Are you that French girl who wrote the funny book about living in Norway? I read it to my best friend while she was lying on her death bed in the hospital. We laughed so much!” That lady really stuck with me, she had both tears of joy and sadness in her eyes and it made me feel like even if I had written this book only for this lady, it was already worth it.
What was the most challenging part of writing this book?
I have a full-time job and a family so it has been a challenge to find time to write and edit. But luckily my husband has been supporting me, and that enabled me to sit in the library for long hours to write while he took care of everything at home.
What’s the best part of living in Norway?
Always having breathtaking and clean nature around you, not to mention that it’s easily accessible. Even if you are in the middle of Oslo or another big city, a forest, fjord, skiing slope or lake is never that far away.
What’s the worst/most challenging part about living in Norway?
I love all the seasons, but transitions between seasons can be tough. Take November as an example: It rains a lot, it gets darker every day and there is no snow. The first years I was in Norway I wondered every year in November why on Earth I had moved there, whereas now I am used to it ☺
What do you miss most from home?
Having my family close by, and especially being able to meet with my grandmother every Sunday for a cup of tea. Sometimes I miss speaking my native language at work because although my Norwegian is pretty good, I sometimes feel as if I don’t get my ideas across as clearly as if I had spoken in my native language.
What’s your favorite Norwegian food? What about drink?
I have so many favorite Norwegian foods! I love fårikål (cabbage with pepper and lamb), smalahove (smoked sheep’s head) and rakfisk (fermented trout). But my absolute favorite is skrei, this cod that has traveled over 1000 km which Norwegians then cook with cod liver and fish eggs. Skrei is just so tender, and it’s seasonal as well so I wait for it all year long.
What’s the quirkiest thing about Norway/Norwegians?
There are so many things to put on that list, but saying “Uff, da” when they hear a piece of bad news always makes me think they are quirky.
What’s the craziest thing that happened to you while living in Norway?
A few years ago I was invited by a friend to her father’s home in Voss where he taught me how to burn a sheep’s head to make smalahove. That was a crazy weekend.
Is Norway really the happiest country in the world?
I think so, yes. Democracy and freedom of expression are very strong here – even children have a voice. There are many people here who suffer from depression, anxiety and loneliness but I think that all in all the solidarity that exists, as well as the strong welfare system, ensures that nobody gets left behind.
What inspires you most in/about Norway?
The nature and how calm every place is, from Oslo’s main airport to a public park. The only day they aren’t calm is on the 17th of May, but then everything is allowed so it is just fun.
Your favorite Norwegian holiday and why?
It sounds cliché but I like the 17th of May. Firstly because I am born on the 16th so it always feels like everyone is celebrating my birthday! Secondly, because everyone is so happy that day and they’re all wearing their colourful bunads.
Your favorite season in Norway and why?
Fall is a wonderful season because the air is so crisp, the sky is white-blue and it gets colder outside. The colours are just wonderful, and I feel like drinking warm cups of coffee outside while there is no snow yet and taking long walks in the forest.
How to survive the Norwegian winter?
The Norwegians will tell you that you need a spoon of cod liver oil, a.k.a Tran, every morning, skiing every week and going on holiday at least once to a sunny and warm destination, a.k.a Syden. I think one also needs a lot of social activities to make it through the winter, and lots of woollen clothes! Having friends is key I think, and going outside even for 15 minutes per day to get as much vitamin D as possible and see the sun as much as you can.
How to survive the Norwegian midnight sun?
How’s the work-life balance in Norway?
It is wonderful. We get almost a year off from work for parental leave, dads get several months off and through all that we’re paid 100% of our salary. It is socially acceptable to leave work early to have a social life or enjoy time with one’s family. I think that due to this work-life balance we have in Norway, I would not be able to live anywhere else than Scandinavia.
One destination visitors to Norway can’t miss is…
Something every visitor to Norway has to try is…
Hot sauna islands on the Oslo fjord and then jumping in the fjord’s waters.
Something you can’t truly know or experience until you’ve lived in Norway is…
Seeing people with lots of power, such as the Minister of Justice walking down the street or the King of Norway sitting on a tramway with skis strapped to his shoulders.
Norway is a place for…
Norway is a place for having a picnic with your friends under the midnight sun.
Norway is a place to live in a cabin in the forest with no water or electricity.
Can you offer any travel tips for people thinking about or planning on visiting the country?
Remember that there’s a law in Norway saying that you can camp anywhere for 3 days for free (called allemannsrett).
Never underestimate weather changes. It is sunny in the morning but it can still snow this afternoon, even in the summer. Always take woollen underwear and hiking shoes with you.
Whatever amount of time a Norwegian tells you that a hike takes, double it for you unless you are in very good shape.
Can you offer any tips for people thinking about or planning on moving to the country? What should they prepare for?
Life is expensive here without a job paid in Norwegian kroner, so I would advise trying to get a job before coming. If you are a spouse/partner of a Norwegian, my number one advice for you is to find your own friends and crowd.
Making Norwegian friends seems hard at first, but as a friend once said, they are like Thermos bottles: warm and soft on the inside and hard and cold on the outside. You just have to get the lid open. You do that by inviting them for a coffee and joining all sorts of collective activities like berry-picking, mushroom-picking, ice-bathing, bird-watching, knitting, volunteering or anything you like.
Will you write any similar books in the future?
I plan to, yes. I have several ideas for new books. I became a mother last year and that has inspired me to write a new book about cultural differences around raising kids in Norway. I would also like to write a funnier book about Norwegian culture. I have many ideas!
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