Each spring, the tenants in our apartment building in Oslo come together for an afternoon of unpaid, voluntary, organized community work.


This is a dugnad , a Norwegian tradition in which a bunch of people, in this case neighbors, join forces to spruce up their public, shared spaces. In my opinion, this is a beautiful concept, like a barn-raising, but on a much smaller, less sweaty, less Amish scale.

As it was our third time at this rodeo, Jonathan and I knew the important stuff: where the box of gloves and cleaning supplies is kept, that we should bring our own ladder and paper towels, etc. Stuff we hadn't a clue about the first year. Some people trimmed trees and hedges, some scraped the weeds from between the stones on our walkway. Jonathan and I raked leaves (and cigarette butts) on the front lawns, then completed the task we look forward to each year: cleaning the front door.

We have this beautiful door on our building. Lots of burnished wood and glass. Together, Jonathan and I scrubbed and squeegied the thing until it shined. One of our neighbors called it "Jonathan's Masterpiece." I didn't mind. It was Jonathan who risked his life on the rickety ladder to reach the high spots!

My favorite thing about dugnad is that it gives us the chance to meet our neighbors. Classically, Norwegians aren't the most overtly friendly people, especially within apartment buildings. The joke is that you could pass your neighbor on the steps in your building for 20 years without getting so much as a hello, but if you ran into the same guy on the ski trails outside of town, he'd hail you down and chat you silly. That's only partially our experience in Oslo. A couple of our neighbors know us by name; everyone makes a point to say hello. But the spirit of the dugnad sparks teamwork and breeds organic conversation. Plus, there's always someone new to meet, and that's a pleasure.

The main reason so many dugnads happen this time of year is in preparation for Syttende Mai (17 May), the big national day celebration. We all want our buildings to sparkle as we celebrate Norway's independence. At the same time, I like to think we're celebrating that a country like Norway, one which puts such a premium on teamwork and equanimity, thrives in the world today.

More on Dugnad from other Oslo bloggers:

It's a Dugnad! via Northern Natterings

The Dugnad: A Big Community Clean Up via A New Life in Norway

Dugnad via My Feelings For Snow