Monday, 9 November 2009

Travels around the World (Showcase) - Norway

(This is probably going to be the longest-ever blog series in ANYTHING at the rate I’m writing it!)

As we travel around the virtual World Showcase we have already stopped in Italy, Japan and France. Today it is the turn of Norway – one of the newest pavilions and one that inexplicably hosts Princesses these days.

Norway is probably one of the most unusual countries for the average US tourist. It doesn’t have the heavy cultural weight of somewhere like China, isn’t accessible to them like Mexico or Canada and doesn’t have the effect on the imagination of France or Italy. It probably doesn’t figure on most US citizens’ “must visit” list and they probably know very little about it.

I must admit I was the same. I knew nearly nothing about Norway other than it was probably very cold, it was somewhere up north and had Vikings in its history. I could probably only name Leif Ericsson but no other famous Norwegians. I had no idea about the culture, industry, architecture or food from there.

As soon as I arrived in WDW as a cultural representative I had a crash course in Norwegian culture: it may seem odd but Norwegians and Mexicans are generally very good friends in the International Program – the pavilions are together and cast members from both countries share a cafeteria so that is probably why. As a consequence people from both countries become fast friends and there have been more than a few Mexico-Norway couples that have gone on to get married, have kids, etc.

But anyway, the thing is I suddenly knew more about Norway than I ever thought possible and not only because of my fellow cast members (and my incredibly gorgeous Norwegian roommate) but also because of the pavilion itself. I, like countless other Epcot visitors, can suddenly learn all about this country in the pavilion. We can discover their knits, their trolls, their industry and that beautiful stave church. They have some of the yummiest pastries in World Showcase and one of the few dark rides in the park, including probably the highest number of hidden Mickeys. The film presented is a bit dated and weird but it is also quite informative – especially to those of us that knew nothing about Norway!

Being one of the newest pavilions also means that it has a very nice layout, well thought of design and arguably the most gorgeous cast member costume in the park. It also had – until those Princesses took over – the most exotic restaurant experience in all of World Showcase. Where else do you know that does Norwegian food? And you know what? It was delicious!

A few years ago we had the chance to go to Oslo for a few days, to visit one of those Mexican-Norwegian couples I mentioned before. We had a great time – and great weather! – and it was nice to once again have the chance to compare the real country to its Epcot counterpart. So how do they compare?

As always, the Norwegian pavilion doesn’t really manage to convey the beautiful scenery that is prevalent in the country but it does a great job, I think, in portraying what the country feels like. Not just the architecture but the costumes and the goods in the shops all can give visitors a glimpse into what Norway is all about. I do think the film is very dated but it does go someway to show the landscape that Norway is famous for, and is very difficult to recreate under the humid Florida sunshine.

This pavilion is one of my favorites now, not just because of the ride and the yummy pastries but because of the way it ‘feels’. I think that most visitors to the pavilion have no real preconceived ideas of what Norway is like and in this case the pavilion works well. As always, Norwegians think that it is too full of stereotypes and inconsistencies but that is a feeling that all natives felt about their own pavilions.

The definite best part of the Norway pavilion was its food and I can not write a post without saying that I think it is a travesty that the native fare has been replaced with more ‘theme park’ stuff and filled with Princess character dining. It really doesn’t fit (which Princess exactly is from Norway?) and detracts from the authentic experience that World Showcase is trying to create. But I understand that the more typical Norwegian food is still available, just not all the time so if that is the case, I guess it’s better than nothing.

Overall, I think the Norwegian pavilion is the perfect example of one that is truly a ‘commercial’ for the country it represents. It really made me want to go and visit there someday and see all these amazing places, as well as enjoy the warm hospitality of the people. I am glad we went and hope to visit there again someday.

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