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They came, they saw, they minded their manners


In Monday's Today section, a feature story about Norway contained inaccurate information. Norway gained its independence from Denmark, and the name of a Norwegian dish, Lapskaus stew, was spelled incorrectly.

+ The Sun regrets the errors.

These are my people. People with blond hair and sun-spared complexions. People named Lars, Oscar, Olsen and Hans. Norwegian people who love vowels and whole-grain breads more than life itself.

"Give us more stories about Norwegians!" readers frequently ask The Sun. We listen, so we looked for those wily Norwegians. Although Baltimore is known for its vibrant ethnic neighborhoods, Scandinavian settlements were scant here. Shipping did lure some Norwegians to Maryland, but where do they keep themselves? Up north, naturally.

We found a polite gathering of them in Freeland yesterday celebrating Norway's Independence Day. Among the fjords of northern Baltimore County, Norse Park in Freeland is home to Lodge Nordkap, No. 215, Sons of Norway. The Baltimore chapter of the Sons of Norway was established in 1921, but you knew that.

More than 200 families came to the festival -- where the Norwegian flags were flapping, an accordion was crooning, and the Lapskav stew was, well, whatever Norwegian stew does. My father's side is Norwegian, but I know little about the culture. I've never been to Norway, but I've now been to Freeland.

Turns out about 500 families of Norwegian descent live in Baltimore County, and many of them are members of the Sons of Norway or the Norwegian American Club of Maryland. The few, the proud, the Norwegians.

"It's been difficult to keep the language alive," said Scandinavian Ellen Hjelde, of Baltimore. "And we used to have a Norwegian church in Patterson Park, but it had to close, sadly." A Norwegian Lutheran minister from New York now comes down for the monthly service.

Still, Ms. Hjelde said, Baltimore's Norwegians maintain strong, sweet ties to their homeland. And these people can party! Yesterday's festival was covered by all the major networks. Isn't it about time Norwegians got some "positive" ink?

Local readers are tired of all the "negative" news stories: Norwegian drug lords in East Baltimore; Norwegian businessmen busted on the Block; Norwegian skinheads terrorizing the 'burbs; and rowdy Norwegians ruining good, clean times for others at Camden Yards.

"We're not very glamorous, are we?" said Hjordis Kellerhouse, official greeter at the festival. "I don't think people are curious about us." Not true. Readers often say, "Boy, we wish we knew more about Norway!"

Norway is a freezing, squeaky-clean finger of a country in Northern Europe. Norwegians are the true Northerners -- Arctic Circle Northerners. In Norway, the nation is called Norge, which means "the way north" or "way the heck north."

Norway gained its independence from Sweden in 1814, and ever since both sides have been razzing each other. Here's a common "joke" told about Norwegians: Did you hear they closed the Oslo library? Someone checked out the book. (Go ahead, you can use the joke if you want.)

Kjell Rasmussen, manager of the Norwegian Seamen's Mission in Baltimore, quietly told one about Sweden at the festival.

Why did the Swede move his house two meters? To make his clothesline longer or to stretch his clothesline or something like that. The point is the serious man laughed, then he officially noted the presense of Swedes at the festival. "See, we are peaceful," he said.

Norway boasts not only the smallest body of humor donated to the planet, but many unique national treasures: Trolls, for instance. Reindeer. And cruise ships. Norway is known for canned sardines and other fishies with names such as Torsk and Rakfisk. The country also produces Gammelost, which literally means "old cheese."

Norway is proud to have discovered the oldest known picture of a skier -- a 4,000-year-old rock carving. Norway's greatest sports celebrity was Sonja Henie, who did the country proud until pictures of her chumming around with Hitler showed up. If Nike had a "Be Like Sonja" campaign, it never would have caught on.

Norway, a founding member of NATO, sees itself as a global peacemaker. Norwegian Trygve Lie was the United Nation's first secretary. Trygve Lie isn't the only household name; Norway has produced other notables such as explorer Leif Erikson, playwright Henrik Ibsen, and Edvard Munch (no relation to Richard Beltzer of "Homicide"), whose painting "The Scream" is Norway's greatest artwork.

Erikson is credited with coming to America 1,000 years ago. "Had he stayed, everybody would speak Norwegian," said Mr. Rasmussen at yewterday's festival. He told a story of a Viking ship unearthed when crews were building I-695. Yes, our Beltway.

Famous Norwegian-Americans include Walter Mondale, Knute Rockne, Hubert Humphrey and Eric Sevareid. And when you look closely at those men, one Norwegian characteristic pops out: Flamboyance! Norwegians are admittedly shy and chronically polite. But they can put on an Olympics, bub. For the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, the host Norwegians were wonderful sports.

"Before the Olympics, not many of my neighbors knew about Norway. Lillehammer made a big difference," said Lars Mannes, a Timonium resident who works for a shipping company in Baltimore. He was cutting a wedge of Norwegian salmon when the subject naturally turned to bread.

"That's the problem," Mr. Mannes said, politely. "It's hard to get real Norwegian bread here."

Then he snapped, going berserk in Norse Park because it's hard to get real Norwegian bread around here. The Baltimore County Police Department had to be called, and the Independence Day festival was ordered over. Which, of course, didn't happen at all. It's a "joke" that no true Norwegian will probably like.

So, have you heard the one about the Swede moving his house two meters?

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