Tromsø’s history – "The Paris of the North".
Life in the town in the 1800’s.
Whilst the town was still relatively new, and in a period of growth and development, several more countries came to be important to Tromsø as trading partners. Through dealings with these traders (France, for example) the inhabitants of Tromsø became more aware of the prevailing European ideas about furnishings, fashion, deportment and sociality. In addition the were a number of foreign immigrants, and in the summer months there were often visitors from overseas. All this shaped the social development of the town.
Giving Tromsø the official title of "town" associated Tromsø with other towns –
Language and culture
It was quite normal for local people to speak a foreign language, and several foreign words and phrases have been absorbed into the local dialect, e.g. trottoir (pavement) and jetée (jetty). An influence on the development of language abilities was the fact that to be accepted into the higher social ranks, one had to master the languages of trade. There were French, German and Russian language societies. The French language society even allowed women as members, in order to stimulate their social development. This was of course highly unusual, given that a woman’s role was quite limited in those days.
Cultural activities were varied, despite the town’s size. In addition the the regular activities such as newspapers and schools, there were the Round Table, literary, musical and drama societies. Tromsø was visited by travelling artists, acrobats and musicians, and travelling dance and music instructors.
Many visitors were fascinated by the "uniqueness" of Tromsø. In letters from 1827, a traveller wrote: " As one goes around the charming houses, looking at the large, well-stocked warehouses, and see the dockside full of ships with the raised flags of many nations, listening to the characteristic sound of the Russian sailor’s songs as they row back and forth, as one sees the activity and life in the streets, hearing the sounds of worker’s hammers, and see the elegantly dressed ladies and gentlemen strolling – it’s hard to imagine one is in a town that first emerged as a trading post in 1794!"
In another travel diary from 1841: "No other place in Scandinavia’s northern region has drawn such attention as Tromsø. No need to look among the milling crowds, take a look at the lively trading, the easy-going social tone, the rapid rise to success – in the new life that thrives within this flowering town"
The domestics in Tromsø dressed in the same style as seamstresses in Paris, (although a couple of years behind, fashion-wise). The summers were short and intense, creating an almost continental atmosphere – people were often out and about until late into the night. Married women would sit on the house steps, sewing, knitting or just chatting to the neighbours. The domestic staff would make the most of their free time by staying out well into the small hours. The boys and youths would hang around the quayside, and the towns "upstanding gentlemen" would meet in the streets, to discuss the latest news. All this caused travellers from the southern regions to characterise Tromsø’s inhabitants as "flighty" *
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