Updated: Feb 21, 2022
When you learn Norwegian, you notice that there are things that just aren't easily translated. Some Norwegian words are quite peculiar to the Norwegian culture and therefore, you won’t find them in English or many other languages. These untranslatable words add beauty and uniqueness to the language.
While most Norwegians speak English well and you might get by without speaking a word in Norwegian, if you don't speak their language, there are aspects of their culture and words like these that you would miss out on that would give you a much deeper insight into Norway and its people.
"Friluftsliv" literally translates to "free air life". Norwegians are nature-loving people and they are never happier when they are outside, enjoying the gorgeous Norwegian landscape and fresh air. "Friluftsliv" is a word (or concept) that encompasses all activities that are done outdoors, like camping, hiking, fishing, mountain climbing, etc.
Connected to “friluftsliv” is “allemanssretten,” which is the name of a principle enshrined in Norwegian law that every man has a right to access Norwegian nature.
It is important to note that this is NOT limited to just public land. If you own land out in nature ("utmark") in Norway, you can't just build a fence around it and slap on a "Keep Out" sign. That would actually be illegal. So, what if you have a lake cabin or something in the forest on private property; can people just walk through your private property and put up a tent? Why, yes, they can. There are laws, however, about how close they can be and for how long they can stay.
Another word or concept connected to “friluftsliv” is “søndagstur”. Norwegians LOVE to go for a hike. In fact, there is a longstanding Norwegian tradition of going for a hike with your family/friends on Sundays. While it may sound like just any ol' regular hike, in Norway, this is the equivalent of going to church on Sundays for many families.
And yet another word associated with "friluftsliv"... Come spring and summer, Norwegians are like “Ahhhhh, the sun is finally out, let’s utepils”. They religiously follow the tradition of enjoying the fresh air and warm sun with a chilled glass of beer!
When not enjoying the outdoors, Norwegians love to be cozy. So much so, they have a word that for all things yummy, warm, and cozy - "kos". Picture a snowy day outside and you're inside with the people you love, sitting by the fireplace with a good book and a nice cup of hot cocoa... That's "kos". It's not just in a nice holiday movie; that's any evening during the long winters in Norway.
While it literally means the inner corner of the sofa, the "sofakrok" is more of a concept. When one says they're sitting in the “sofakrok" it means they're sitting in the coziest part of the sofa.
Another great Norwegian word... You know those butterflies you feel when you're first falling in love? That euphoric feeling of being head over heels smitten? That's "forelsket".
"ldsjel" literally translates to "firesoul". An "ildsjel" is active about a cause and wants to contribute to society. Norwegians are very proud of being of service to their community. And it celebrates "ildsjeler" by awarding them (Ildsjel of the Year) for their inspiring and positive role in society.
This is probably one of the most popular Norwegian words and one with an incredibly positive connotation. "Dugnad" translates roughly into communal work. It is volunteer work you do as a community in service to one common goal; whether it's neighbors organizing themselves to take care of common areas, or school parents organizing a school event, a "dugnad" is a long-standing tradition of people getting together to help each other.