Source: "The Social Guidebook to Norway"

I was invited to the cabin of a Norwegian businessman. I was looking forward to a day enjoying the sight of colorful leafs and to feel the cold autumn wind on my face. Early on Saturday morning the little family woke up. I came out of my room and saw the two children siting on the couch under the duvet looking at me with a big smile, actually they were trying not to laugh. They had been spared for the day. My hosts stood in their bathing suit, a towel in their hands.

It is time for “morgenbad” said the man. I had no choice. It was a manhood test. His wife was also going, and it seemed like she was used to jumping into icy fjords, she also is a successful Norwegian business woman.

Birken is taking place today, a 54 km race on skis over mountains and valleys in the cold Norwegian weather carrying a 3,5 kg bag.

Birken is a meeting point for Norwegians top figures, and for good reasons. Showing endurance and resistance to physical pain in Norway gives you instant respect, credibility and makes Norwegians trust you. I had no choice but to jump into the water on that windy cold autumn morning – my business relation depended on it.

Seldom is the term “elite” used for anything positive in Norway; except in sports, and that includes Birken. When you perform well in Birken you are referred to as the “Men elite” or “Women elite”. Norway’s most respected newspapers will list your name together with your professional position in an exclusive full page. If you win Birken, your professional title will not appear – you will be referred to as “winner of Birken” which provides a higher status than any other title you may hold!


On the Monday morning your colleagues and employees will praise you for your performance and you will get public acknowledgement, maybe at lunchtime in front of the whole company. This is in contrast to the usually subtle feedback loop in the Norwegian professional life.

Top leaders from around the country and even the Norwegian Crown Prince makes it to Birken. Norway being such a safe and open place, it may well be the only country in the world this is at all possible. The Norwegian way of linking social status to physical fitness is a very clever way to keep the elite healthy!

This is the English translation of an article that was published in Aftenposten. We share it with you again today after another great Birken weekend!


Read more: "The Social Guidebook to Norway"


By Julien S. Bourrelle

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