Has anyone given any thought in advance to asking at what times people normally eat in Norway? I honestly didn’t.
The last thing I would have expected was for my thoughts to turn around this matter. And if I am honest again, I would never have thought that I would have difficulties in Norway with a matter related to mealtimes. Much more with the food itself, maybe.
Before my stay I thought a lot about what I would eat in Bergen. A lot of fish? Many potatoes? A decadent amount of coffee? A lot of bakery products? Yes! And I love fish, I like potatoes, I drink a lot of coffee and I can’t live without pastries and bread. That means so far so good 😉. Even very good, because concerning food nothing was new for me, when I arrived in Bergen.
The challenge was the mealtimes and yes, I use past tense, because meanwhile I have adapted well, and I even like it 😊. But let me explain how it works.
Norwegians eat breakfast early, like I do in my hometown in Switzerland. Then they eat lunch at around 12 o’clock, like most Swiss people too, I guess. Then the riddle begins. Always when I was greasing my “z’vieri” bread or cutting an apple for my afternoon snack, my four Norwegian roommates were all busy preparing their dinner or already eating it. At 16 or 17 o’clock. I thought to myself the first days that they certainly didn’t have time to eat lunch and were therefore already hungry. But it went on like this every week. They never asked me why I only had an apple or a slice of bread while they were having a big meal, so I didn’t dare to ask anything either.
At the same time, I became more and more attentive to when the restaurants were fullest, and this was at normal dinner time around 19 or 20 o’clock. Why did my roommates eat dinner so early? (And it’s not that I only have two roommates. I have four and all eat dinner early). I couldn’t get any more confused as I was by then. My confusion even increased when my Finnish fellow student told me that she was always having a snack later in the evening before going to bed. So did my roommates! I still didn’t want to appear suspicious or cheeky and didn’t ask.
The resolution came then during my Norwegian course, when we went through the food and meal topic. “Frokost, lunsj, middag” and “kvelds”, these are the four Norwegian meals a day, exactly in this order. The teacher explained that “middag” is dinner and “kvelds” is an evening snack. At the same time, she translated “kvelds” to supper, which literally means dinner.
Determined to solve this mystery, I asked my roommate. She explained to me that Norwegians indeed eat dinner very early and then before going to sleep only have a small snack. Put simply: Norwegian dinner takes place at our Swiss “z’vieri” time and they eat our “z’vieri” in the late evening.
Did I want to adapt to this habit? Could I adapt? I didn’t know. I tried not to tense up and just ate day after day when it suited me best. Without thinking a lot about it. Now I eat breakfast and lunch like a Swiss and “z’vieri” and dinner like a Norwegian 😉.
These insights into the ability to change one’s eating habits reinforce my belief that one adapts one’s own habits to the surrounding culture and the way people do normal daily things. Yet, whether this is due to conscious decisions or unconscious influences, however, is unclear to me.