Ask someone from Norway where they went this summer on vacation, and there’s a good chance they’ll say they went to “Syden.” The same is true the rest of the year, as Norwegians make use of their 25 state-mandated vacation days. Syden, however, isn’t actually a place, but a state of mind.
In a new book called Southbound, photographer Knut Egil Wang documents the phenomenon. “Syden doesn’t translate directly,” he says. “I could translate it as ‘south,’ but to a Norwegian it means a lot more. If you say ‘Syden’ to a Norwegian, they will immediately get pictures in their head.”
In a way, it’s partly like the American conception of a booze-filled spring break, though it can happen in any season. People take direct flights somewhere warmer and sunnier–not a hard thing to do in the winter, when you’re next to the North Pole, but popular even in the summer when Norway isn’t reliably hot–and let loose.
“When you board the plane in Norway, everybody seems like normal,” Wang says. “But something happens during that flight, there’s a shift in some people’s minds. Some people also start drinking on the plane. By the time they land, the party is already on.”
Wang spent four years traveling to popular “Syden” locations, like Spain and Thailand, documenting sunburnt holiday-goers at beaches and poolsides. For some, he says, the experience is less about partying and more about seeing the sun. “Some people might go for a walk, go to dinner, watch TV, and go to bed,” he says. “The big difference from home is that it’s warmer.”
In the book, Wang tries to capture the feeling of Syden, from wild to mundane, to share a part of Norwegian culture that others rarely see. “I usually photograph ordinary people and everyday life. This is also ordinary people, and kind of everyday life,” he says. I like that people are just doing their thing.”