Thyra Dane

Author of Romance. Blogs about Scandinavia, Vikings and books.

The Ylvis brothers (yes, the ones making us all wonder what the fox says) just uploaded another video, this time about the Norwegian phenomenon called “hytte”. It made me realize that I had to write about the craziness that Norwegians surround themselves with when it comes to their life in the cabins.

Sweden and Denmark

Now, Swedes and Danes have cabins too. In Denmark they are usually situated close to the beach and called “sommerhus” (summer house). If you look at a map, you`ll understand why. Denmark is small and has a lot of coast line due to all the islands. These summer houses are usually close to one another and leave you with very little privacy – as I said, Denmark is small.

Swedes also have a lot of cabins along their coast line and on small islands but, like the Norwegians, they also have cabins in the mountains. Swedes are not as extreme as the Norwegians, though. No one is.

Norwegians are crazy

Norwegians are crazy. Say that one more time: “Norwegians are crazy.” You might as well just accept the fact – at least if a Norwegian ever invites you to his or her cabin. Why, you say? Here is why:

  1. You have to struggle to get to the cabin.
    Now, this is not really true for all Norwegian cabins anymore but if someone buys a cabin where he can park his car just outside he`s either very embarrassed about the fact or he has “too much money” (the general complaint about people who buy fancy cars and fancy cabins). A “real” Norwegian cabin is situated a place where you have to walk for three hours on skis to get there.
  2. You have to struggle when you are at the cabin.
    You think you can go to the cabin and take a shower? Have hot and cold running water? Electricity? Haha, you don`t know Norwegians. A “real” cabin has none of those things. You can walk hip deep in snow to get to the outhouse and if that was good enough for grandpa Bjørn, then it`s good enough for you. The fireplace will heat up the cabin in just ten or twelve hours so stop complaining.
  3. You do not change anything at the cabin
    You want to paint the walls white, you say? Or hang some new pictures on the walls? That is impossible. Any Norwegian cabin needs to look as it did when it was built in the `50s – which means pinewood walls and odd brass decorations.
  4. You have to own the cabin with at least three family members
    Most Norwegian cabins were built a generation or two ago and the people who built them are now dead. Their children and their childrens` children can not let go of the cabin so they own it together – which makes for some intricate systems for deciding who gets to go to the cabin in the Easter vacation – the major cabin vacation. Hey, you had the cabin in Easter of 2006 – it`s my turn now!
  5. You do not wash yourself or your clothes when you`re at the cabin
    You`re used to a shower in the morning and whenever you`ve worked out? Well, tough luck. Since there is no running water and no shower – there is also no way to keep the hygiene standards you`re used to. Go for a fifty kilometer ski trip and use a wash cloth under your arms afterwards. Then use the same clothes when you go for a ski trip the next day. It`s good for you. Or something.


Getting back to the roots

Cabins are very precious to Norwegians and I think you would have to look hard to find a Norwegian with no access to at least one cabin. In spite of the new wave of more modern cabins with running water and electricity (blasphemy!), most Norwegians still swear to the more old-fashioned version of the cabin. My husband owns a cabin with two siblings and we`ve really struggled to get both of them to agree to us having running water there. The water pipe ran right next to the cabin but apparently running water was “wrong”. Same goes with the small road we`ve made all the way to the cabin. When I first came to the cabin I had to walk knee deep in snow and I hated it – but apparently that was part of the fun.

Why is that, you might ask. And I`ve asked myself that question as well, since I`m not Norwegian myself. It`s all about getting back to the roots. Norway was an incredibly poor country up until a few generations ago and it`s as if Norwegians are almost embarrassed about the money they stumbled upon in the North Sea (= the oil). So, like the masochists they are, they need to make life as hard upon themselves as possible whenever they can – which means when they have a vacation from work and can go to their cabins.

Please remember to turn back time

So if a Norwegian ever invites you to his or her cabin, just remember to turn back your watch to 1930 or 1950 and you`ll do wonderfully. You`ll be reminded of all the fun card and board games from your childhood and you`ll enjoy the “slow time” in front of the fire place.

Because that`s the nice things about the Norwegian cabins. You do forget about your everyday stress and you have time to just empty your brain of all the clutter – which is probably why Norwegians love their cabins so much.


45 thoughts on “Welcome to my Norwegian Cabin

  1. I stayed in a place like this. It was a friend’s aunt & uncles’ ranch in Montana, USA, not just for vacations. I agree with the shortcomings, especially the outhouse. gv

    1. thyra10 says:

      I`m not sure whether outhouses are worse in the summer or the winter. In the summer the outhouse stinks and in the winter you have to walk through deep snow to get there. I know this was how people lived back in the days but I must admit I was thrilled when we built a bathroom with a toilet at our cabin two years ago. No smell and no snow to walk through. Yay 🙂

  2. Koe says:

    The above is all true, I can attest to it. Especially the “crazy” part. And if you don’t believe me, Thyra hasn’t really touched upon the whole outhouse-tradition that comes with cabin life. You know, the part where all the share-holders/relatives argue at length about who’s time it is to clean out said outhouse. I’ll leave it at that.

    1. thyra10 says:

      Oh, don`t remind me about cleaning the outhouse. We bought these special “pellets” that would magically transform everything we did into dirt. We weren`t allowed to throw out toiletpaper and it was all so messy. In the end we still had to empty the outhouse by hand. Ugh.
      Another reason why I`m thrilled to now have a real toilet at our cabin!

  3. Chocolate Crackle says:

    Maybe the point of the walk/skiing in is to make sure you’re nice and warm while you’re waiting for the fire. And of course, you’ll have to chop some kindling, which should warm you up. I wonder if complaining about being cold is the way to ensure you’re nominated for the job?

    Are there also arguments about how to stack the woodpile?

    We had a shed on our family orchard that sounds a bit like this experience…. There was ‘running’ water – there was a windmill to pump it up from a bore, which was mostly for irrigation, and there was electricity, but when it’s 40+ during summer you really can’t make do without some sort of refrigeration for food. There wasn’t even an indoor stove, let alone indoor plumbing, and we all had to sleep in tents. Everything in there was scrounged together from 1950s cast-offs.

    And there were always spiders and snakes. I can’t claim that it’s a common thing over here, but obviously my parents rival Norweigans in the crazy stakes!

    1. thyra10 says:

      Oh, indeed. You`re certainly warm when you get to the cabin. The problem is that you`re also wet in your boots from walking through high snow and you reeeeaaaallllly want a warm cabin … now! Lighting the fireplace was always my job but then at least I didn`t have to take those extra two rounds back to the car to pick up the last couple of bags. Sneaky me 🙂

      Many arguments about how to stack the woodpile! You know, the most popular book here in Norway last year was about chopping wood and making woodpiles. I kid you not!

      Luckily we have no snakes and very few spiders – and I can deal with the mice and the sheep and the moose. Lol at the crazy stakes!

  4. Liliput says:

    Wow! That really sounds extreme. I’m not a very outdoorsy person so I don’t think I’d sign up for, let alone survive, any of that. I’ll take a city for a vacation any time!

    When I moved to Ontario, Canada, I was introduced to the fine tradition of cottaging. Many families passed their cottages down through the generations, and back in the day, whole families would take the train up north where they would get on a boat that would transport them across a lake or up river to their cottage for the summer. They did it to escape the heat of the city, and most of the cottages were as you describe in Norway.

    Nowadays, there are highways & roads so people mostly drive causing huge traffic congestion on the weekends. Most cottages have been renovated to have electricity & running water. There are even huge mansions pretending to be cottages with helipads for those who fly in! But there are still a few holdouts. I have a friend who has running water, but no electricity at her cottage and she stays the entire summer with her kids. She enjoys the peace and quiet of the “no motor” lake they are on, and the time spent in nature.

    Myself? I find it creepy to drive onto smaller & smaller roads to end up on a trail that leads to a small, dark “cabin in the woods”. It’s like the plot of every horror movie I’ve ever heard about!! No one would ever hear me scream. 😉

    1. thyra10 says:

      You just have to bite the bullet if you ever marry a Norwegian. My husband isn`t the most outdoorsy of Norwegians and even he has to visit the cabin from time to time – and he has to take the 50 kilometer cross country ski trip. I think it`s something about feeling Norwegian. I can certainly join him there for some fireplace coziness and I`ll read a nice book while he`s out proving his citizenship 🙂

      Oh, don`t make me think of horror movies. I was just enjoying my book and the nice fireplace….

  5. anaman says:

    hahaha!!! so so true! I totally picture the cabin of my aunt and oncle! 😀

    1. thyra10 says:

      Hehe, I imagine most Norwegian cabins look the same. Very cozy and very … brown 🙂

  6. Reblogged this on Something to Ponder About and commented:
    I personally loved the down time in my friend’s Norwegian Hytte, but it was at Beitostølen, a slightly more civilised ski resort. But it would not have worried me where it was. I am a city girl, so for me, it was an adventure, getting your water from the spring in the forest, tramping through the snow, my own private ski run outside the door, more snow than you could poke a stick at, a glorious view down the valley, and the sounds of almost nothing, except the fire crackling. Ah! Bliss. If Norwegians are crazy, then I can’t wait for the madness to start!

    1. thyra10 says:

      Hehe, I must admit that I`m not entirely negative to the Norwegian craziness. After all, I`ve lived here for more than half of my life and I do love Norwegians. I`ve also loved going to all the cabins I`ve been invited to even if I`m also a city girl. And I`ve invited plenty of central European city people to our cabin – and all of them have loved it especially for the simplicity and the feeling of being all alone (even if our cabin isn`t exactly the only cabin in the area). I even had one German friend spend a Christmas all alone at our cabin because he didn`t want to leave when we were going back to Oslo on the 22nd of December.
      The whole cabin thing is still kind of weird 😀

      1. weird or traditional? The Norwegians I know are kind of hung up on tradition.

      2. thyra10 says:

        Oh, absolutely. Just check out what they eat for Christmas. I mean, we all eat traditional for Christmas but they insist on traditional food from a time when Norway was super-poor. Who else would eat sheep heads and lutefisk for Christmas? :-/

  7. Have re-blogged this because of the tongue in cheek humour. I have to disagree though, as I loved my time in the Norwegian cabin, and would gladly go through the shortcomings of no running water and the stinky, freeze your ass off toilet, just to go back there. Thanks for bringing back the memories.

    1. thyra10 says:

      Thank you for re-blogging. And thank you for seeing the tongue in cheek humor. I do love the Norwegian way of life – crazy as it sometimes may seem to us foreigners 🙂
      I hope you`ll get more trips to a Norwegian cabin in the future.

  8. ReefChic7 says:

    I’m always so excited to see a new post from you explaining what life is like in Scandinavia. Not to mention your funny comments, I just love them.

    1. thyra10 says:

      Thank you! 🙂

  9. Wonderful! I love Norway – anyway…Vi har bott i hytte många gånger och älskar det. Det är bra för oss…Jag tror faktiskt inte att det är nyttigt att duscha flera gånger om dagen som vi i väst gör…men å andra sidan blir det lite för extremt att aldrig göra det…

    Det här var mycket, mycket roligt!

    1. thyra10 says:

      Du har nok rett. Vi dusjer alt for mye og det er ikke godt for hud og hår. Slik sett er litt hytteliv nok veldig godt for oss 🙂

      Glad du syntes det var morsomt! (roligt blir jo noe litt annet på norsk :-D)

      1. Precis!

  10. gwynwyvar says:

    Ok I’m an Aussie, specifically the southern state which is an island.

    Generations back, my family lived in the mountains, and this just brought back memories! Parking the car and walking 30 minutes to get to the cabin. We didn’t even have an outhouse. We had a deep hole in the ground that had to be dug in a new spot everytime, and covered over at the end of the trip.

    Eventually a box was constructed, with a toilet seat on top. So yay for something to sit on! Then a bigger 3 sided box with a slanted roof, for some privacy… The movable shelter eventually got a shower curtain door!

    The kids were usually given ‘water duty’ to slog through the bush to fill the buckets at a creek a 5-10 min walk away (depending on snow). There was a deep basin of water that was filled with fresh hot water once/day. Thats what was used to wash hands. Even if it was really cold, which it usually was lol.

    Ahh the hardiness of the shack. So many memories. It still doesnt have running water. But it does have solar panels to run small 12v lights 🙂 oh and a gravel path to drive up beside it. Yay!

    Thanks for sharing your experiences, and helping me relive my memories 🙂

    1. thyra10 says:

      Wow, that sounds like quite an experience! And you would definitely be ready and experienced for a Norwegian cabin 🙂

      Thank you for sharing. I just love hearing about life in other parts of the world!

  11. hankristine says:

    You are so right! Well written:)

    1. thyra10 says:

      Thank you! 😀

  12. Kari says:

    Fant bloggen din ved en tilfeldighet. I really enjoy your observation on being Norweagian. I’m Norwegian living in Ontorio in Canada and married with an American. I have to admit I did enjoy some of Scandinavians men qualities as young but when I meet my American husband I really did enjoyed how he made me feel special. I also wish we had more of dating culture in Scandinavia I think it is a little more class and more fun!
    However I love my cabin ( yes old style) it something I miss the most about living in Ontario. So every year I will go back to my hytte. Sure they have cottages here but it is not the same,they are close together and not with a lot of hiking possibilities. To get a experience close to the hyttb (unplug and be close to nature) I have to start backcountry camping here in Canada and I’m not that hardcore outdoorsey (-: I also really enjoy going back in time it makes me enjoy our modern life more)


    1. thyra10 says:

      Sorry for my late reply. I`ve been traveling for Christmas and haven`t had any internet connection.

      I`m sure a bit of a dating culture would make it much easier for many Scandinavians because the non-dating culture we have today is pretty confusing. But it`s kind of charming too because you get to be who you are and not what you`re supposed to be. There`s not much class in it, though 😉

      I`m not really very outdoorsy either but I do enjoy hytte-life 😀

      Thank you for your post – a Norwegian in Ontario. I love it!

  13. U says:

    Don’t forget us Finns! The typical Finnish cabin (mökki) is by a lake, in the middle of the forest or on an island in the archipelago. The more remote the better. Then again, there can be lots of cabins on the shore of a small lake and everyone will see you when you go skinny dipping. No running water, you have to carry it from a well or maybe from the nearby lake with buckets. You need boil it to do dishes and wash yourself in the sauna.

    I think we Finns may be closer to Norwegians in our cabin habits, unlike those thin-skinned Swedes. 😉

    (Also I think we both enjoy making fun of Swedes…)

    1. thyra10 says:

      Not forgetting the Finns – just not including you in Scandinavia 😉
      But I’ve been so lucky as to have been invited to a Finnish cabin. Awww, the sauna and the skinny dipping – loved it 😀
      Yeah, those thin-skinned Swedes. They can’t even handle real cabin life (and yes, Norwegians also enjoy making fun of the Swedes!).

  14. Jeg heter Finn says:

    Hey, don’t leave out your fellow Scandinavian country Finland! 😉

    Finnish folk are known for their cabins too (cabin=”kesämökki”). It’s a bit of an institution here really. As Finland is the land of a thousand lakes, our cabins are usually by a lake somewhere deep in the woods (or in the archipelago if you’re rich and/or part Swedish). Big part of going to the cabin is to bathe in the sauna and then take a dip in the lake, no matter if it’s summer or winter. Just make a hole in the ice, if necessary.

    Otherwise the level of (dis)comfort when staying at the cabin is pretty much the same as you described. Outhouse, no electricity, no running water. We love it! 🙂

    Thanks for the post, and greetings from Finland!

    1. thyra10 says:

      *Blushes*. I must admit that I`ve left out Finland because I`ve never lived there (I`ve lived in all of the three Scandinavian countries) and so I would feel I wouldn`t do Finland justice. But I`ve been to Finland plenty of times and have Finnish friends and I agree with you – Norwegians and Finns are probably very much alike. Especially in how funny we find the Swedes. You tell Swede-jokes too, right?

      1. Jeg heter Finn says:

        No need to blush, I gathered as much, which is why I thought I’d shed some light on the Finnish cabin-lifestyle. 🙂

        It does seem Norwegians and Finns have something in common, although I personally know just one Norwegian dude. And yeah, Swede-jokes and stereotypes are a thing. I think I made a joke about them in my earlier comment just out of habit. 😀

        Funny thing I’ve noticed reading comments on Ylvis’ videos – some people from other cultures find them rude and harsh at times, which doesn’t even occur to me. Their banter and jokes at each others expense seem very natural and familiar to me. Must be that we Finns and Norwegians have a similar (twisted) sense of humour then.

  15. U says:

    LOL, two practically identical comments from two Finns! High five, fellow country(wo)man!

    Swede-jokes are an essential part of our joke repertoire. One of the first jokes I learned as a kid (but didn’t of course understand at the time):
    What’s the world’s thinnest book called? “Swedish war heroes”.

    Don’t worry Swedes, it’s really a sign of affection. 😉

    1. Jeg heter Finn says:

      High five to you, U!
      That was uncanny – are you me, am I you? 😀

    2. thyra10 says:

      I`ve heard Swedes tell jokes about Norwegians (and the same jokes Norwegians tell about Swedes) but do they tell jokes about Finns as well?

      1. U says:

        I think the Swedes do. In their jokes Finns are always stupid/drunk. 🙂 Can’t remember any right now… I guess Finland and Norway are too far apart geographically (!) to tell jokes about each other.

  16. Tulla says:

    Loved the entry! But a very important part to remember about the Norwegian cabin is that you NEVER throw away any magazines brought to the cabin. This makes you keep on reading KK from 1985 and Familien from 1950 over and over again, just to remind you of how great things were in the old days.
    The cabin is also the place where you store gifts you do not want to keep in your house: e.g. blue ceramic seagulls and everything made of copper and ugly bedsheets. It´s also a place to store old, comfortable clothes that “would be a shame to throw away”, ensuring that you´ll always have clothes to wear if you forget something or if you get wet after tumbling around in the snow. Last Easter we found my mum´s morning robe from when my brother was born in 1979 still almost in perfect shape. However, the home video of him shooting something brown from his behind into one of the robe´s pockets made us quickly throw it back into the “kiste” (old fashioned box made of wood with a very solid lock). Maybe some guests will feel for borrowing it one day when feeling a bit cold after taking a cold shower (yes, we have water in our cabin, but it´s a bit unreliable)?

    1. thyra10 says:

      Absolutely! No cabin without really old magazines. You can never get tired of stories about the young princess Sonja or wondering about the love life of actors who’ve died years ago.

  17. Iris says:

    This is spot on! Thanks for an amusing read!

    1. thyra10 says:

      Thank you 😀

  18. My son and his young children (13 and 10) live in Norway, so I am interested in most things Norwegian. I blog about our Norskies from time to time, including hyttes. In a post in July 2012 titled “The Weather in Norwegian” I wrote:
    ‘I’ve learned not to call a hytte a hut, unless it’s a basic overnight refuge for cross-country skiers; otherwise, it’s a cabin – or, if it doesn’t have running water, a shack. Ross’s [he’s my son] is a shack – no disrespect.’

    And in a later one (“Not the Swiss Family Robinson” in August 2013, comparing his new cabin with his treehouse in Guatemala): ‘We look forward to the day when flush-toilets and septics will replace the present camp-toilets traditional in Norwegian cabins. Then, there will be no ritual daily burning of the family toilet paper, for the first time in the girls’ young lives. Sigh. Hasten the day!’

    Did I get it all about right?

    1. thyra10 says:

      We still called our cabin a cabin when it didn’t have running water (we only had that installed a couple of years ago). And I can still remember the stench from that loo that was only emptied once a year (yikes) and how my son insisted that I go with him there so I could hold his nose (he needed his hands to read 😀 )

      And I think you got that right!

  19. I am so glad to have found this engaging blog of yours! As a kid in Russia I grew up on Scandinavian books by Hans Christian Andersen, Selma Lagerlof and, of course, Astrid Lindgren. Karlsson was my dream-buddy, Peppi – an ultimate hero. Growing up, I admired Knut Hamsun and his “Hunger”. However, Russians often have strange perceptions about foreigners, especially their Scandinavian neighbours, often describing them as “too rational”, “cold-minded” and “soulless”. From my personal experience, Sweedes seemed overly satisfied and lacking originality. Despite this conclusion, I still kept wondering about the land of forests and misteries. It’s incredible to learn about the Norwegian passion for “extreme” ways of spending spare time, about Jante law and about the cabins. But the cherry on the cake is the humor! Ylvis convinced me they are the sharpest guys 🙂 I seriously think I could even feel home there.

    1. thyra10 says:

      It’s really strange this interest and prejudice between Scandinavia and Russia – because I think it goes both ways. We are fascinated and yet have all these perceptions.

      Personally I find Russia a very interesting country. I learned Russian back in high school because of this interest (I have unfortunately forgotten most of it now) and also studied Russian history and culture at the university. But Russia also scares me sometimes.

      I suppose it’s because we’re very close and yet far away? We have a lot in common, culturally and historically, but we also took different paths. I don’t think we’re that different, though, and I’m glad to meet a Russian person interested in Scandinavia. And yes, Ylvis are very funny 😀

      1. No wonder Russia scares people – it is too hardcore even for myself. I’m living in Malta now – a tiny island state in the heart of Mediterranean and have become pretty much a mixture of cultural influences. I sincerely wish that Scandinavian mentality had a stronger influence on the rest of the Western world as a balance to the North-American. It’s great to respect modesty and not to over-prize personal success.

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