There is an air of peace around the Norwegian church premises in Pattaya. Happy faces, friendly greetings, and warm welcomes and hand shakes are all around. From the moment one sets foot on the property, it is clear that this is a place where everyone is welcome, and it almost feels like you have made everyone’s day by showing up.
This is despite the fact that the priest, Jan Olav, is practically on his way out the door as he has a long, well deserved vacation in Norway ahead of him. However, before he can go anywhere, the chapel is about to be invaded by children from the local community. Tonight is the night of the weekly “barn grupa”.
It is almost a universal rule: bread, sausages, and ketchup are sure to keep a group of children happy, and that is exactly what is on the menu tonight.
Before long, the hungry children are happily munching along. It is just about as Norwegian as it gets:
“It is almost like being back home,” says Anne who works at the church and adds with a laugh:
“But the sausages are normally not this thick.”
She is right, of course, but nobody seems to mind, and for the next five minutes the chapel is quiet with nothing but the sound of children chewing, the clattering of plates, and the occasional asking for more.
Good old classics
When the food is gone, the kids obediently sit down in a circle on the floor as they spot Jan Olav and his guitar. But before the singing begins, everyone introduces themselves in Norwegian.
As soon as the singing begins, it is clear that some children are regulars at the Thursday night event. They eagerly sing along to “Bro Bro Brille” and “Min Hat Den Har Tre Kanter” which appears to be one of the favorites. Everybody laughs as words are gradually omitted from the song and are replaced by hand signals. The kids might not speak the language, but they do know their Norwegian songs.
After the popular classics, it is time for a few songs about God and Jesus, and still the children sing along – as happily as ever. This is a church, after all.
A touch of Norway in Pattaya
The Thursday night event at the Seaman’s Church is a great way for the children to get their weekly dosage of Norwegian culture. Even though they do not look like the sturdy, blond, blue eyed Viking – the stereotype of Norwegians worldwide – there is still a part of them that is Northern European, and it is important to the parents to maintain that part.
They bring their children to the church because they appreciate and value the contact and being together with people from the same culture and who wish for their children to understand what it means to be Norwegian in terms of language, culture, and values.
Most of the children have some kind of Norwegian – or at least Scandinavian – connection.
Little Elin was brought here by her Swedish foster grand father Jan. Together, they attend the “barn grupa” every week, and according to him, she loves it:
“She just has to take one look at the priest, and she immediately touches her head,” he says with reference to the song about the hat with the three edges.
Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. Parents with their coffee outside, children with their activities inside.
On Thursday nights, the Norwegian church is brightened up with the multilingual chatter and laughter of children, and as one walks away, the sound from this oasis can still be heard. It is only when you reach the street that sounds of happy families are drowned out by Pattaya night life.