Inside the Twin Cities’ no-pressure way to practice your Norwegian (or Icelandic!)
By Anna Oksnevad | Norwegian American
Minneapolis | January 11, 2018
If you’re looking for a way to practice your Nordic language skills but don’t want to go to class or have homework, this is it. The Twin Cities Nordic Happy Hour is a casual way for individuals to practice their Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic, Finnish, and Danish skills with others. Hosted once a month, all levels of experience are welcome. The location rotates to different breweries and bars, making commuting convenient for as many people as possible.
I recently attended my first one at Norway House in Minneapolis, where I met a number of people with interesting journeys that brought them to the happy hour.
Jodie Larson has Norwegian heritage on both sides: “My grandpa was Norwegian, which is what got me interested originally. I had worked in China for a while and couldn’t pick up the language as quickly as I thought I would, so I decided at that time I would pick a language that I had more personal interest in,” she said. We connected on the desire to learn more about both our families and ourselves and feeling that learning the language is a great medium to do so.
Ross Johnson introduced himself saying, “like a lot of Swedes, I’m a real character.” The previous get-together had been hosted at a brewery where Johnson works. “I learned a little bit about the group and found out it was open to everyone, so I thought I would check it out.” I asked him what he thought and his response was surprising, but fitting: “I am shocked at how many Norwegians in America don’t like pickled herring!”
Since typically these events are held at breweries or bars, drinks are purchased as desired, however this event was BYOB, and individuals got creative. Christina Melander brought her own cocktail to share “I named it Julebrus. It is a mix of apple cider, cinnamon, bitters, and Bulleit Bourbon.” She offered a taste of the Julebrus to each attendee.
Richard Skarie took Norwegian for five years at Mindekirken Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church in Minneapolis, Minn., until there were no longer classes left. He enjoys the meetings because “when I travel to Norway I want to practice Norwegian, but as soon as I get stuck on a word [his relatives] switch to English, and that is the end for me.”
We learned that we both have relatives on the island of Karmøy and swapped other training opportunities. “I listen to NRK news podcasts,” Skarie said. “I may understand all the words, but still not understand what they are talking about. I need context to help fill in the gaps, so I read one crime book in Norwegian every couple of months to keep sharp.”
Typically the event is mostly just conversation and making connections, according to Ethan Bjelland, Marketing and Development Assistant at Norway House and one of the coordinators of the event. “It often starts out with more language practice, but after a few hours it ends up being mostly English.” We both speculated that the switch was correlated with alcohol consumption.
Bjelland also mentioned that there is typically an Icelandic group that comes together at the event. “I think they text each other and plan to come as a group so they can ensure they have someone to practice with.”
Members have varying reasons for attendance. Lis Brotten said she attends happy hour to maintain her roots, while Robin Cole, the Administration and Membership Development Manager at Norway House, remarked, “We at the Norway House want to get a different population more involved at the museum. … Hosting a happy hour just made sense and, personally, it is a platform for me to explore my Norwegian-American roots.”
Cookie Lithyouvong is there for the friends: “I was told about this group through another member and thought it would be a great way to network and make long-term friends.” Lithyouvong doesn’t have Norwegian roots, but that’s okay. The group welcomes anyone and everyone.