Monday, 8 March 2010
This very day I am unfurling the Norwegian flag, ready to post it onto the house at dawn tomorrow. There it will stay until sunset, when custom obliges me to remove it. It will signify a birthday within the household, and will flutter happily for the day, an indication of the festive revelry that will be taking place inside.
You might ask why we are flying the Norwegian flag if we are Scots? The answer, apart from the fact that one is discouraged from flying flags other than the Norwegian one, is that our Saltire doesn’t fit the flag-slot. However, aside from the practicalities, the Norwegian flag is every bit as beautiful as the Saltire, and it is a delight to watch it dancing in the breeze. And anyway, it’s only polite.
When I first arrived here, I immediately set up a flag alarm system. It turns out there is a total of sixteen days each year when one is officially meant to fly the Norwegian flag (fifteen in a non-election year). Apart from Christmas, New Year’s Day, Easter Day, Constitution Day, and more, there are numerous royal birthdays to be marked. Added to this number there are personal dates, birthdays, baptisms, confirmations, and simply paying homage to the fact that the householder is in residence (presumably after some absence). So the flag alarm system is programmed for dawn on whatever date, and whoever is on duty according to the hoisting rota will be required to rush outside and secure the flag into the correct position.
This ardent flag-waving in Norway is impressive, but it is also delightful in that it is done with an attractive national pride and a quiet celebration of peacefully achieved independence. After all, it wasn’t always like this.
It is a long and complex story, so try not to glaze over while I attempt a very short summary. In the Middle Ages, amongst other things, a series of inter-Scandinavian royal marriages had led to closer political ties with Denmark and Sweden. In 1397 the union of these three crowns was formalised at Kalmar in Sweden. By 1537 Norway had become a Danish province. This was to remain the case until 1814 when a new Norwegian constitution was adopted at Eidsvoll. But Norway was still united with Sweden, and remained so until a referendum in 1905 led to the end of that union. The Swedish King who had overseen Norway’s independence predicted that bureaucratic incompetence would soon result in Norway wishing to return to the union, a view that could be said to have acted as a spur in ensuring that independence was going to work. So the flag is important, and is flown with reverence.
The trouble is, it’s such a groove of a design that people can’t resist it. Various fashion designers have struck upon it as an ideal motif with which to adorn all manner of trendy clothing. I was waiting at a bus stop when a youth showed up, complete with the requisite voluminous trousers delicately balanced around his bony hips, and only JUST staying up. His back view involved the obligatory sight of his underpants, but instead of a subtle strip of lycra, he was displaying great swathes of the stuff. It was most unsettling to see. Maybe it’s the maternal instinct in me but the desire to rush up behind him and give them a good hoik up over his hips was only just suppressed. You have no idea how desperate I was to cry out, ‘Pull yer breeks up, man, it’s minus 18 ....you surely can’t be doing the family jewels any good at all.’
But the worst thing was, my discomfort was added to by the fact that his underpants were decorated with several dozen Norwegian flags. As he climbed onto the bus ahead of me, I was treated to a full-on close-up, complete with builder’s crack, the memory of which has slightly skewed my delight in the Norwegian flag ever since. Taste-free, or what?
Posted by Returning Scot at 14:38