Hairspray and Vikings

I’m back in Edmonds now, finished with research and filming for the year. Like a big-game fisherman, finally back in port, I am pleased that we have six great shows in the cooler.

When filming I don’t give my wardrobe a second thought (obviously). The idea of putting on makeup is laughable. And I’ve never put anything on my hair…but the hair causes me problems. While I’m not picky about other things, I don’t like my hair blowing funny. If the wind is coming at me head-on, it’ll actually give me a good wind-blown look. But if it’s blowing against the grain, we have to wait for the wind to die down before we keep shooting. For a decade we’ve been waiting. We routinely lose great on-camera bits because of the wind and my hair. A couple times I’ve toyed with “product,” but I just can’t bring myself to use it.

As we were wrapping up our last show of the season, we were grabbing some glorious sun in windy Stockholm for on-cameras, and my hair was causing everything to grind to a halt. The weather was changing and we had to get the on-cameras shot. Someone said “hairspray,” and our local guide popped into a fancy hotel and bought a can. Simon, my producer, took me aside and spray-painted it all over my head. I stood on the pier with the wind coming at me from the wrong direction, nailed the on-camera, and the hair was perfect. It was like I’d just discovered hairspray. For ten years I’ve been fighting the wind. Now, as we wound up this shoot, I finally discovered hairspray. I have a new (and unlikely) friend.

Along with hair, I worked on taming Nordic history. I discovered how Scandinavians define their Middle Ages (which they do differently from the rest of Europe, because there was no Roman Empire to fall up in the north). The Viking Age is defined by the first and last Viking raids on England: 793 and 1050 A.D. And in Scandinavia, medieval times are also called the “Catholic Era” — stretching from the end of the Viking Age and the coming of Christianity (around 1050) until the Reformation (1527).

I got some more clarity on Scandinavian history. There were different Viking groups in each country. As Vikings, Norwegians went west to Iceland, Greenland, and America; Danes went south to England, France, and the Mediterranean; and the Swedes went east into Russia. (The word “Russia” has Viking roots.)

While Swedes went abroad readily, they were slower to open their doors to non-white immigrants. But Sweden has come a long way when it comes to accepting immigrants, as a popular story illustrates. In 1927 a black man worked in a Stockholm gas station. For Swedes who hadn’t traveled, he was the first black person they’d ever seen, and people journeyed from great distances to fill their car up here, just to get a look at him. (Business boomed, and his job was secure.)


10 Replies to “Hairspray and Vikings”

  1. Rick, thanks for the history nuggets on vikings plunder paths, timelines of dark and lighter eras, and social/racial isolation patterns among scandianvians. History makes this traveler’s day, so keep those nuggets coming. Larry from springfield who chose the huge swimming pavillion, wearing trunks, in Baden Baden.

  2. I am glad you have tackled Nordic history. In anticipation of a trip to St. Petersburg, Finland & Estonia next summer, I have been doing a little history research. There are not a lot of available library books for the region. The ones I have seen contradict each other. It became a big muddle to me. I am waiting for Nordic History and Art by Rick Steves.

  3. I am a hairdresser and my husband who hates his hair out of place, uses Crew for men. They have a non aerosole spray that works great and you don’t even know you have anything on your hair.

  4. I think it’s great that there’s still stuff for you to learn about Europe after such a long time! Before a trip I always like to read up on a little history before I go, but it’s not until I’m there that it comes alive. So I actually read / research more AFTER I come home, which leads me sometimes to go, “Oh man, I wish I knew that while I was there,” or “If I’d have known that I would have put that place on my itinerary.” I guess the best way is to read up WHILE I’m there.

  5. And another thing—–!!! As a businessperson, marketer and “celebrity” (albeit for a relatively small demographic), I think RS realizes the medium IS the message. I can’t think of any other travel guru (except to a lesser extent Hal Taussig of UNTOURS) who is a more important and effective proponent for travel. People constantly mention others like tv personalities Andrew Bourdain, Samantha Brown and Zimmerman but they are lightweights and newcomers compared to Steves. He is not “hair” today, gone tomorrow. And without his boyish charm persona(at least in front of the cameras and with his customers – I don’t know how he is with his employees) his company would not be as successful. So forget hairspray. Just remember when the hair starts to go, Viagara is reputed to help regrow it. bill k

  6. Hi, I’m from Sweden and I have seen lots of Rick Steves previous travel programs. Mostly thanks to Internet because they don’t show them on any Swedish TV channel yet. I find it hilarious to learn how exotic we scandinavians are – well not me but the others ;) – in the eyes of foreign turists and travellers. Too many up here in the north of Europe think that “we are the normal guys, everyone else is strange”, so it’s refreshing and important with another perspective. I can’t wait to see your new series, specially the one about Scandinavia. Thanks Rick Steves for your Travel tips and your Travel as a political act. Carry on your good work! /Tom

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