Hearts & Outhouses

Once upon a time, a new neighbor walked across the street to introduce herself when she saw me knitting on the front porch. I was working on a “traditional Norwegian pattern,” and she asked if I was “of Scandinavian descent.” Uh oh.

To make a long story short, she insisted on both summarizing four generations of family history (rooted way back in Norway) and showing me her collection of what she described as Norwegian folk art. On one wall she had several pieces of rosemåling (decorative floral painting) on wooden plates as well as several bright red wooden hearts. Each heart had a phrase painted on it: “God Jul” (Merry Christmas), “Velkommen” (Welcome) and “God Påske” (Happy Easter).

Pointing to the hearts, she said, “You’ve probably seen lots of these, haven’t you?”

Well, not really – not like that. (I didn’t say that out loud, but I thought it!)

Yes, I’ve seen a lot of red wood hearts with sayings on them and many hearts on doors – but only on the doors of outhouses or bathrooms – certainly never hanging proudly (and openly) on a dining room wall. And the hearts never had welcoming messages or holiday greetings written on them!

On the right is a picture of a heart decoratively positioned on a door of a building in Norway.

But note this building is an outhouse.

Growing up in the U.S., our bathroom always had a wooden red heart hanging from the door. I don’t remember exactly what was written on the heart but it was some saying about det grønne grasset (the green grass) never growing as well as behind [the bathroom].

Here is the red heart hanging from the one of the bathroom doors in my daughter’s house. (She took it with her when she moved out.) It reads: “There is no way around.” 🙂

Now, back to my garrulous neighbor. It turns out she also liked to knit and was proud to show me her most recent project – the first sweater she designed herself. The knitting was neat, and her tension looked good (straight stitch). In the middle of the front of the sweater she had designed a big red heart with the word “uff” in the middle. Uff (which translates to “ugh”) is something I heard from my mother when she was exasperated and/or disgusted, as in “Uff, Karen, what were you thinking?” I can’t imagine knitting that into a sweater.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her about the hearts. 🙂

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About sweatyknitter

Fiber art devotee, author, and amateur artisan bread baker.
This entry was posted in Norwegian Upbringing in U.S.. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Hearts & Outhouses

  1. Fun, yes, but also embarrassing if the “real” use comes to light. 🙂

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  2. Yes, I’ve since had other occasions to see the (bathroom door) hearts hanging in places of honor … I just smile and say, “What a great bit of color on the wall!”

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  3. Oh man, stuff like this is why I love teaching ESOL. All these awesome little bits of culture that don’t always come through with heritage or language are about the most fun thing ever.

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  4. Ahhh, shared childhood memories. 🙂

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  5. Hey, I’d laugh! 🙂

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  6. Ickleed says:

    There is a heart like that on my parents bathroom door. I am not sure what the actual words are but the translation is….
    “When the door with the heart you find,
    Your needs and worries are left behind!”
    My uncle is Norwegian, and I have lots of Norwegian relatives too. The sound of that heart clanging against the door was my alarm clock for years.

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  7. Julia says:

    In my childhood home, there was a heart on the attic door that said “No, this isn’t the door you’re looking for” (in Swedish.) Advanced humor!

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  8. I really enjoyed your story about the hearts. Sometimes it is just best to not say anything. Although the heart on the outhouse does dress it up a bit. lol

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  9. Curls & Q says:

    I did forget to mention that I NEVER saw hearts hung in my Norwegian-side homes! I can’t even think of heart- shaped, straw Christmas ornaments. 😎 I do love that they are on outhouses! and the saying on your bathroom door. LMAO!

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  10. Wow – I’m flattered! Thank you!

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  11. I do not know. I know Scandinavians put hearts on a lot of things … it’s the hearts that are traditionally hung on outhouses being given places of honor on living room walls that always takes me aback!

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  12. Curls & Q says:

    Maybe it’s the Danish that are more into hearts? I visited there one Christmas and wove hearts with the daughters. I was in Copenhagen and there were hearts everywhere. It could just be a Christmas “thing”? I do have 2, out of 3, hearts with the Swedish Children’s prayer written on them that I found in odd places. I do need the third heart. 😎 Fun post!

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  13. Congratulations!!!!

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  14. Tracey says:

    I’ve nominated you for the Beautiful Blogger award. Info here: http://traceybaptiste.wordpress.com/2012/05/16/blogger-awards/
    Enjoy!

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  15. If someone doesn’t know the cultural context for the little hearts, I guess there’s no problem hanging them in your kitchen … 🙂

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  16. My daughter’s father and his wife bought a house on a northern California beach and proceeded to decorate it in “beach” style – numerous minature sail and row boats decorating endtables, multiple paintings of ocean views, ceramic lighthouses wherever you turn, guest towels with seagulls on them etc. My personal favorites was the fishing net with glass floaters dumped decoratively in a corner (no, I kid you not), and, right outside the guest bathroom, a gaudily painted 4 foot high mermaid. I had to bite my tongue to keep from snickering through the whole visit.

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  17. Louisa says:

    Oh well, at least she didn’t ask you to try it on! I love the outhouse, we too have many of those kind of hearts (and outhouses) here in the French Alps and I sometimes get sick of them, esp. when I see yet another chalet done up in that style, with net curtains with cows and bells on, edelweiss and Christams trees……. Uff!

    Louisa

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  18. I guess there’s no accounting for taste 😉

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