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A Norwegian Children’s Party

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Norwegian children in stereotypical national dress

There is so much to learn about Norwegian lifestyle by attending a children's birthday party in Norway!

Have you ever been to a kids party in Norway? Yes? No? Don’t have kids? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then I believe I have some interesting insights for you, my discerning reader.

Whether or not you have children, sometime in the future, you may be faced with a decision of attending a child’s birthday party. This may seem like a simple undertaking, however, do not be fooled.

There is a host of unspoken truths that many fail to mention. You must actually experience those truths to understand.

You will endure humiliation in some form or other without understanding the infractions that you committed. When I say you, I mean me.

UPDATE: Ado has written an update to this post, which you can read here.

Notes from a father

To preface, I write from the seasoned perspective of a father of two children, and husband of a very sweet yet firm wife. When I say firm, I mean completely in charge.

We have lived in Norway for the past four years, raising our two girls exclusively in the wonderfully family friendly and relatively socially inclusive environment that Norway is famous for.

My wife is an original American, as my family says, and I am Bosnian-American, as I say. We do not speak Norwegian yet. Some may frown upon that, however, every time we consider picking up classes we have the same conversation; “How long are we going to be here, really?” “How useful is it for us to learn?” This issue is only becoming more urgent as our oldest daughter learns Norwegian in barnehage.

Balloons

Each time we have this conversation I picture myself sitting in a bar in southern California (where we came from and most likely will return eventually). I randomly come across Norwegian tourists, distinguishable by their capris shorts and sandals, and I amaze them because this random American guy they just met speaks fluent Norwegian.

Read more: Are Norwegians Rude?

Unfortunately, the dream quickly fades, considering that the Norwegian I do speak is limited to a few select phrases. “Har du Vipps?” or, “Dommer er du seriøs?” As you can tell my interests are paying for things I probably don’t need and playing football a bit too vigorously.

This sets the stage for the insights I wish to share with you. You can’t judge a book by its cover but you can judge a dad by his behavior at a kid’s birthday party.

To drink or not to drink?

We have been to several birthday parties over the last three years for children ranging in age from 1 to 4 and we have seen both alcohol-friendly and alcohol-free occasions. The challenge at these things comes from understanding the social cues regarding whether or not it is okay to drink something other than boxed juice.

Most people that I have encountered seem to have the same semi-guilt that I do when drinking a beer around other people’s kids. The rules do not seem to be explicitly clear. This appears to affect both hosts and guests.

Read more: Alcohol in Norway

At times it appears the hosts serve alcohol because it seems right. Most of the people we know are new parents so, like us, they just look back at what they did the last time they threw a shindig and go with that.

Guests who tend to be relatively new to the experience also do what they normally do, bring a sack of beer and guard it with their lives.

Statues of children playing at Oslo's Vigeland Park

As we expand our network and attend more kids parties we see a range of differences. Adult bevvies have been replaced with organic hand-made juices and other items found on Pinterest.

Themes are announced well in advance and there is a herculean effort put into the whole event, making me feel slightly insecure.

What is normal?

Is this normal? Is this what we need to do every time? Now there is nothing wrong with having a bit of pizazz at your one-year old’s birthday party.

All I’m saying is that expectations need to be clear, especially when considering the big kids that will be attending. Is it okay to drink or will I be voted off the island if I take a sip of something that does not contain coconut water.

For example, when I brought my own beer, to share of course, to a kid’s party I did get a few looks from some of the moms/grandmas. The looks were not, “Awe, look at that selfless handsome man bringing beer to share with his friends.” They were more sinister in nature.

The husbands, my so-called brothers in arms, were visibly defeated as they politely declined my incessant offers to share my bounty. This left me to do what I normally do at these types of events; play with my daughter, possibly to her detriment, as there are plenty of other children around to play with, so that I can avoid having awkwardly silent conversations with the locals.

Therefore, to be clear, hosts and guests alike need to know the rules prior to the event. We should make people feel comfortable and free to enjoy themselves with their children and not set unnecessary expectations. Nobody wants an Uncle Martin, passed out on the swing set, but we do want people to come and have a good time. This may require a bit of education.

The Norwegian fun switch

Norwegians, in my singular opinion, seem to have a switch. Before they have children it is almost obligatory to get so inebriated when they drink that Oslo literally turns into an episode of the Walking Dead every Friday night through Sunday morning.

The only reason I know is that I have had to take an early flight and, let’s just say that, I made sure my door was locked. When the kids come, the switch is hit, and they are now supposed to be responsible adults that frown upon consumption and excess. No middle ground. Why can’t we have the best of both worlds, bit of fun and the kids?

To my own dismay, I have experienced, what appears to be, the disapproving gaze of the Norwegian neighbors, watching our party escalate. I offer you a choice, my otherwise very friendly and polite neighbors who appear to not support the choices I make as an adult, don’t look at us roasting a lamb in our common area with bewilderment. Come try it.

The expectations or the rules, are pretty simple and relatively clear when attending our Balkan/American children’s party. You may drink wine, beer or juice. While we are at it, you can even drink water. The only thing you can’t do is be irresponsible, not because you’re old enough now to know better, but because it’s just bad form, come on Uncle Martin.

In closing, a brief message to our readers that are planning a children’s party, think about the adults too.

UPDATE: Read Ado's follow-up on parenting in Norway.

About Ado Fazlic

A Bosnian American who lives in Oslo and works in marketing, he spends most of his time being an amazing Dad (not his words). Apart from family, he has a potentially unhealthy interest in sports, food and loud conversations (not in that order).

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12 thoughts on “A Norwegian Children’s Party”

  1. As an American who’s lived in the North of Norway off and on since 1983, I have never seen any alcohol served or parents attend with their kids. Cake, Pizza and Hot Dogs are the rule. Up here it’s drop your kids off and we’ll see you in about 3 or 4 hours, leaving the poor mom of the birthday child to watch 20 kids and then do the clean up later. I’m glad my kids are past this and I have gladly passed this on to the next generations?

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  2. Kids parties are for the kids. My daughter lives in Norway with my three grandchildren. This has never been an issue. Kids are dropped off and picked up later. This article seems to be more about you then your kids.

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  3. Æh…kids pary is 1,5-2 hours of fun for the kids. Hotdog/pizza, soda, juice or wather. Sweets, cake or ice, baloons and thats it. Later a game or two. If parents need to attend you sit in the sofa with a cup of coffee, you can offer help if you like. Older kids go by themselves. Familyparty a different story. Then you do as you like. I am norwegian and this is not our way, but young parents migth have a cake theme or costumeparty but nothing to fancy…that would be very american…

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  4. Every thing in Norway is about the kids. The whole family revolves around the child’s needs. Its a theme. Which includes those childrens parties . PS Learn Norwegian. Respect your luck. My Norwegian husband can’t get a visa to come back and live in the country he spent the first 35 years of his life. We speak Norwegian in the family in Australia.

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  5. This is a strange post. I expected to learn about the customs of kids’ birthday parties in Norway, and how they differed from places like America or the UK. Instead, this was about whether the author can or should have a drink at a kid’s birthday party. He suggests that it’s entirely normal for there to be alcohol at such events in America when it is most definitely not the norm. I think he might have a bit of a drinking problem. And four years in, he should definitely have taken the Norwegian lessons and be speaking passable Norwegian. I’m sorry, he seems kind of the reason Americans have a bad name in Europe.

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    • Please don’t judge all Americans by what you see on television or by tourists’ behavior. We live in a small town (1400) in a rural area of the Midwest. We are appalled at the behavior of tourists who come from the big cities to vacation in our scenic area.

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  6. This is so true. As an American I have given up on trying to fit into this society. Everything does evolve around the kids (annoying), there is no thought put into the adults coming around so yes one does want to drop your kids and run why stay and help the poor sod hosts. There is no balance when it comes to drinking in Norway either drink to be drunk or sober as a judge. Not much socializing happens either way as they pretty much stick to the 1.5 friends they have had since they were 3 years old.

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  7. I ran into a problem with an unwritten rule around birthday parties. I think it might have been communicated in the parents’ meetings at the start of the year, but as my Norwegian wasn’t very good in those days, and there was no written summary sent out, I missed it completely.

    For his birthday, I sent my six-year old son to school with invitations to his five best friends. I say best friends, but the reality was that he had very few friends. I think three came. One of the children said they weren’t coming and left it at that. The other told my son that his parents were not letting him come, as a point of principle, because I hadn’t invited all the boys in the class. That made me feel really sad. I felt they were punishing my son on his birthday because I hadn’t understood the expectation .

    I also got a message from the school. Apparently it is not allowed to hand out invitations at school unless you invite either the whole class, or at least all the boys, or all the girls. No punishment, but it was made very clear what we had done was unacceptable. If we wanted only the few children who were friends to my son, we had to find out their names and addresses and take them round individually, even though they lived over three separate villages.

    I mostly love living in Norway, and do see the point in the party social contract, but the unforgiving attitude to someone who made a social faux-pas, who they knew was new in Norway, and the attitude of not allowing a child to come to a party because of it, was very off-putting.

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  8. Accept for family occasions, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of parents in the States making a birthday party for a group of kids where alcohol was being served. It’s not as much a Norwegian parent’s taboo- it’s every parent’s taboo. It goes without saying.

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