Ivy Trendwatch: Northern Exposure

If you’ve ever wondered where my patronym comes from, the answer is Norway. My paternal grandfather came over in the ’30s and settled in San Francisco, where he married my grandmother, who had about the plainest English name imaginable: Betty Jane Smith.

We’re one of only two Chensvold families in the US (the other is in Iowa), and I’m the last virile male to carry on our branch of the family tree. And as I have no plans to reproduce, I can honestly claim to be the last of my kind. Without progeny, I will have to live on through my work. “He was a blogger,” it will say on my tombstone.

But back to Norway. Recently I was interviewed by a Norwegian reporter on assignment for the weekend magazine of the newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv. The result arrived in the post yesterday and is a fascinating look at the PITA trend’s growing global reach: a massive 14-page cover story on American style touching on “Take Ivy,” prepdom, “Mad Men,” JFK, Ralph Lauren, “Gossip Girl,” and the Ivy League.

Click here for a PDF of the article and to see the effort involved.

With a little knowledge of German, plus help from the Norwegian cognates and the many American terms employed, it’s actually possible to “read” the article. For example, you can probably get the gist of this:

USAs eldste herrekjede, Brooks Brothers… har en 192 ar lang historie med tradisjon og innovasjon…

It quickly gives you a headache, though. — CHRISTIAN TJENSVOLD

17 Comments on "Ivy Trendwatch: Northern Exposure"

  1. Marginal Preppie | October 30, 2010 at 12:34 pm |

    I tried reading it with the Google Chrome translator. Still somewhat murky, but I got the gist. The usual parade of types.

  2. I can usually slog through Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, or Dutch with my bit of facility in German. My German friend swears that this is impossible, as even Dutch is so far removed from the mother tongue as to be unintelligible. When we were in Amsterdam, I had to deal with the occasional Dutchman would didn’t speak English.

  3. Christian;
    Do you know where your last name is from? I live in Stavanger, very close to a place called “Tjensvoll”. Sounds like your name originates from the Stavanger area, is that correct?

  4. Interesting! I’m going to see if I can find the article. Should be a good read.

    If you know some of one of the Scandinavian or Germanic languages you can, to a certain extent, understand the others. They are all closely related after all. Though it’s easier to read than to understand the spoken language. It wouldn’t be impossible at all to read Dutch if you know German. You may not understand all of it, but you’ll get the gist of it. I find that it’s not that difficult anyway and I speak English, Danish and German.

    I think the PITA trend has been here for quite some time now actually (years I’d say). It’s still catching on more and more obviously and it’s almost come to the point where it’s downright trendy (not necessarily a good thing). I believe the Close Up and Private project has played a great part in bringing the trend here – the artist lives in Denmark. It certianly has affected the circles I’ve been in. The look is especially popular in the young academical world (the univerities), which is very fitting seeing that it’s partly where it originated in the US.
    Unfortunately some people tend to look like they’re wearing a costume when they embrace the style without “knowing” it. It is as if there is a lack of foundation for them to base it on. It becomes more a look than a lifestyle.

  5. Yes, my grandfather was from Stavanger.

  6. Fun facts to know and share about the Germanic languages!

    * If you can read German and English, you can be taught to read Dutch in one day. (Speaking is another matter entirely.)

    * Dutch looks like an “alternate universe” English, one in which all the Old English words which died out en route to modern English were kept, and all the ones that were kept died out.

    * Although English and German are more closely related to each other than English is to the Scandinavian languages, it’s easier for native speakers of English to learn a Scandinavian language than German. (Has to do with the nature of the changes in all the languages involved.)

    * Even though Swedish is more closely related to Danish than to Norwegian, Swedish and Norwegian are so similar as to be, for all intents and purposes, two dialects of the same language.

    * Although Danes can understand Swedish and Norwegian quite well, the opposite is not true: Danish is fairly opaque to Swedes and Norskis. (Some wags claim that the real reason is that no one really cares what a Dane has to say… rim shot!)

    Too bad you have no plans to marry and have children, Christian. It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, and I’ve only been at it a few years.

  7. BTW, your prediction has finally come true: Urban Outfitters, via J Press, is offering a superfluous buckle on the rear of some pants:


  8. Never said anything about marriage, only reproduction.

    But if I do get married, I’d prefer a small wedding. I’d like to save my money for the divorce.

  9. Jancis Robertson | November 1, 2010 at 9:12 am |

    ….and the relevance to ‘Ivy Style’ here precisely is, other than a huge ego-trip?

  10. When I want a huge ego trip, I read FNB Talk Ivy.

  11. My two years of German were enough to help me get a general idea, but it’s headache-inducing.

    In reference to the bit about Dutch, I can attest that while studying in Spain (at that point having only a year of German under my belt), I was able to read a Dutch girl’s book and understand most of it with some hints here and there. It takes a little creativity, but it’s a wild experience.

  12. Jancis, this is a blog. It’s all about what one person finds interesting–and what is more interesting than ME?

    I’m surprised this has to be explained to anyone.

  13. @Henry: I don’t know what nationality you are but you seem to be misinformed.

    “* Even though Swedish is more closely related to Danish than to Norwegian, Swedish and Norwegian are so similar as to be, for all intents and purposes, two dialects of the same language.”

    This is completely false. Written Danish and Norwegian is almost the same, and for an outsider it would be extremely difficult to tell the difference. Swedish varies greatly from danish and norwegian however the swedish and norwegian prenounciation are very much alike, which is why the two nationalities understand one another better.

    The scandinavian languages are some of the most difficult languages to learn in the world. It would be much easier for an english speaking person to learn to speak german.

  14. Go to this link using Google Chrome as your browser and it should be able to translate the article pretty well.


  15. Hi, Chris,

    I said that Swedish is more closely related to Danish than Norwegian, which you decried as “completely false.” In fact, Swedish and Danish are descended from Old East Norse, while Danish (and Faroese and Icelandic) are descended from Old West Norse. My statement is correct.

    You are right that written Norwegian (Bokmål) and Danish are very similar, but that only makes sense because Bokmål was based on written Danish. Then again, I was talking about the spoken languages, not writing.

    As for ease of learning, how hard a second language is to learn depends on what your first language is. As it so happens, the US gummint put some very clever heads together, and came up with the ILR (Inter-agency Language Roundtable). These folks put together a set of objective standards by which to rate someone’s language proficiency, and also came up with a rating system for how hard a specific foreign language is for native speakers of American English (that being their concern). The basic criterion was, how long does it take a native speaker to attain a certain level of proficiency in a given foreign language? The longer it takes, the harder it is.

    For native speakers of American English, most Western European languages, including French, Spanish, Italian, and also the Scandinavian languages, are classified as Category I: easiest. German is next up the scale, at Category II (Indonesian is also here). Most other languages are Category III, and the very hardest are the Category IV languages: Arabic, the Chinese languages, Japanese, Korean, and Pashto.

    While you may believe otherwise, decades of objective data support my claims and refute yours.


  16. Um, re-reading my comment, I realized I put a confusing typo in there. Here’s how it should read:

    “I said that Swedish is more closely related to Danish than Norwegian, which you decried as “completely false.” In fact, Swedish and Danish are descended from Old East Norse, while NORWEGIAN (and Faroese and Icelandic) are descended from Old West Norse. My statement is correct.”

    While we’re on the subject, there is some disagreement among linguists for how to classify southern Swedish. Is it a dialect of Swedish, or a dialect of Danish? There are good reasons for both interpretations, but the main point here is that it further supports the notion that Swedish and Danish are more closely related to each other than either one is to Norwegian.

    But back to the clothes.

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