Norwegians use a ‘dice throw' system for rating new films and books out of six. Even school work is graded out of six! Here's the story of Norway's strange obsession with dice.
One of the odd Norwegian habits I've yet to adapt to is scoring things out of six. All my life I've defaulted to “out of ten”, or perhaps a five star system. After ten years in Norway, that still hasn't changed! Perhaps it never will.
It strikes me as odd that dice take such prominence in a country where gambling is so highly regulated! So, I had to look into it some more.
Confusion in a pub
As all the best stories do, we start in the pub! In my first year in Norway I was asked to rate a beer. It was alright, but nothing special.
So I shrugged my shoulders, and said: “a six.” Looking up, all I saw on the faces of my Norwegian friends was confusion!
“What about yours?” I asked one with a particularly odd expression. “It's definitely a six, this one is my favourite,” he said.
Now it was my turn to look confused! It was one of those moments when you truly realise you're living in a foreign country.
Of course, you expect some things to surprise you. Perhaps there's different food in restaurants or people take their lunch at a different time or what have you. But ranking books, films or beers out of six? That one totally threw me!
How the dice rating system works
It's probably fairly obvious, but the system rates items from one to six. One is the worst grade, while six is the best.
The system is most commonly seen in Norwegian newspapers, both online and in print. Here, ratings are almost always identified by using the face of a red die, with white pips showing the number. Here's a screenshot from the book reviews section of Dagbladet:
So common are the dice ratings that they are often included in advertisements for books or movies, usually with a selected quote about the item in question.
Grades in Norwegian schools
But what surprised me most is that a 1-6 system is also used in schools! At ungdomsskole and videregåendeskole level, grades are given from 1 to 6, as follows:
- 6: Outstanding competence
- 5: Very good competence
- 4: Good competence
- 3: Fairly good competence
- 2: Low level of competence
- 1: Very low level of competence
Several Norwegians who grew up in different parts of the country have confirmed to me that they did have homework graded out of six, so it seems as if this is nationwide and has been around for a while.
I'm not super clear on whether this is directly related to the dice ratings in newspapers, but it does help to explain why Norwegians are so comfortable grading things out of six!
The history of Norway's dice ratings
I'm having to rely on Wikipedia for this piece of information, so take it with a pinch of salt. According to the online encyclopedia, dice-based ratings were introduced by film critic Arne Skouen.
Writing for VG in 1952, he stated the need to characterise a film in a “short, concise form.” He first used imagery of a six-sided die to achieve this, with one marking the lowest possible rating and six the highest.
Over time, the concept spread. A 2005 academic paper said at the time it was used by about forty Norwegian newspapers, numerous magazines and TV shows for review purposes.
As with many things I find ‘different' about living in Norway, I had expected to find these “dice throws” elsewhere in Scandinavia. But they are not so common outside of Norway, found in just a handful of newspapers in Sweden.
What do you think about Norway's “dice throw” ranking system?