May-Britt Jenssveen is the “Last Norwegian,” the holdout. While most of her countrypeople have visited Stockholm, Göteborg, Malmö or other corners of Sweden, this sports-loving mother of two simply has had other things to do — a problem Sweden intends to fix.
Jenssveen is not the only one, of course, but the blond, blue-eyed 48-year-old from Lillesand on Sørlandet has just been nominated to represent the remaining few.
A whopping 97 percent of Norwegians have been to Sweden.
Seven percent have never stayed the night, but 4 percent of those have mustered at least a day trip, according to Swedish tourist information bureau VisitSweden, which means nearly all Norwegians can claim they’ve breathed some Swedish air. Thinking that everyone should have a chance to escape the fjords and mountains for a bit of Swedish shopping, castles and architecture, Axel Wernhoff, Sweden’s ambassador to Norway, recently signed a contract with VisitSweden’s Norwegian tourist manager called “Zero Vision.” The deal says any Norwegians who wish to visit Sweden should be able to go. To English speakers, the campaign’s name sounds uninspired, but it’s a common Swedish expression that means “we’re gonna go all the way,” says Louise Winberg, VisitSweden’s Oslo-based PR manager.
Sure, it’s a shameless marketing ploy for Swedish tourism, but it also highlights something Winberg says is “unique in the world.” Finns and Danes tour Sweden in huge numbers, but not at Norwegian levels, whose overnights account for a quarter of all Swedish stay-overs (a whopping 3.5 million last year alone). And do Swedes return the favor? Not so much — Norway doesn’t collate those numbers, Winberg says, but estimates peg the figure at around 50 percent. The tradition just isn’t the same; Swedes tend to go to Norway to work or see the fjords, while Norwegians go to Sweden to relax, tour and shop. Some Norwegians nip over the border simply to buy groceries, thanks to lower Swedish food prices.
VisitSweden’s hunt for the holdouts began last month on national television in Norway, with calls for those who’d never been to fess up and explain why. Stories ranged from fear of flying to having always gone further afield and simply never gotten around to visiting their neighbor. Which brings us to Jenssveen. Far from a homebody, this holdout has visited most European countries, the Caribbean, the U.S., Canada, Australia and even Korea. She has also managed to live abroad, in Switzerland, and was a hostess at the Olympic Games in Calgary in 1988 — such is her international street cred. But Sweden? She admits that she’s tended to look for “sun, beach and stable warm weather” for her holidays, so “Scandinavia was not an option.”
The “Last Norwegian” status is about to change, though. Jenssveen is going on a weeklong trip, stopping at Sweden’s big cities, with such highlights as having the entire Liseberg amusement park to herself, meeting Sweden’s national soccer team, cooking with Michelin-starred chefs, staying in a castle and visiting Bohuslän, the famed wilderness archipelago on the west coast.