Feb 012011
 

Although both of my stops in Norway were brief, I ended up with an unusually large number of “observations” in my blog notes, thanks in no small part to Peder’s fantastically informative walks through Oslo:


• As strange as it feels to someone from California – a coastal desert that regularly suffers from water shortages – water in Norway is more or less unlimited. Drinking fountains in parks don’t even have buttons (they just run all the time), and while washing dishes or shaving it’s perfectly normal to leave the sink running and go into the other room. To me, water conservation is so ingrained in my psyche that the sight of a running sink just makes me cringe. “How wasteful are you?” I keep wanting to say. But here, it truly doesn’t matter.

• Norway feels insanely prosperous. Perhaps my perspective has been slightly skewed after having just spent over a month in Eastern Europe, but on arriving in Oslo I found it almost shocking: huge green parks, glimmering skyscrapers, luxury cars, well-maintained landmarks, and not the slightest hint of dilapidation. The message is clear: Norwegians take care of their country. Well.

• I was quite surprised to learn how conservative Norway’s government is; far more so than Denmark or Sweden. Everything is very strictly regulated: there are rules for selling alcohol, rules against how late supermarkets can stay open (not late at all), and even Redbull was illegal until just this year (because of its high caffeine and taurine mixture). Now that it’s legal, it’s only sold with a special toned-down recipe developed specifically for the Norwegian government. And just like California, nightclubs have to close at a surprisingly early hour – it’s the only place in Europe I’ve experienced with such a law.

• In Norway, everything that should be free is free: education, water, healthcare, all the basic necessities of life. They even provide free bicycles for people to get around town, and none of the museums charge admission. Nice! Maybe next time I’ll actually have a chance to visit some of them πŸ˜‰

• On the other hand, I did find life in general to be frustratingly expensive. Peder has often told me that Norway isn’t as costly as most people think – that you can live quite affordably if you exercise just a little financial prudence. And while that may indeed be true, on a whole I still found prices to be pretty suffocating. It is true that if you prepare all your own meals, never eat out, carefully choose where you shop and what you buy, and avoid hotels and taxis, it can be no more costly than elsewhere in Western Europe. But to me that’s a pain. It just feels so limiting, not being able to pop into a market and grab a popsicle or stop at a restaurant for a quick afternoon snack. Even fast food like shawarma – a common cheapie throughout Europe – is on average twice as expensive as in, for example, Paris – a city known for its unusually high prices. Is it possible to live affordably? Certainly. But on average, my personal opinion is still that it’s one of the most expensive countries I’ve ever visited.

• Oslo is extremely multicultural in comparison to nearly everywhere I’ve been in Eastern Europe. I didn’t notice it so much before, but after arriving in Norway it suddenly became obvious that I hadn’t seen even a single black person – and virtually no Asians – for well over a month. Here, you find all the colors of the rainbow. Especially Thai. There are lots of Thai in Oslo.

• Interestingly enough, although you can easily cycle across Oslo in an hour or less, it’s technically one of the largest cities in the world by land mass. How could that be? Only the very urban center is compact; the rest of the city’s size comes almost entirely from its vast natural preserves that sprawl in every direction, but are still considered part of the city proper. It’s a city where urban life and unspoiled nature are all rolled into one, where you can go for a beautiful mountain camping trip right in your own backyard. No complaints here πŸ™‚

• From my brief tour of central Oslo, the impression I got was that it’s a city under constant renewal. Construction is everywhere – it’s almost as noticeable as in China – as infrastructure continues to spring up, from new underwater tunnels to sparkling grand opera houses.

• Throughout my entire trip through Norway – and indeed the whole of Scandinavia – I was blown away at how perfectly everybody speaks English. Those of you who know me know that I tend to talk quickly. Yet no matter where I was, no matter who I was talking to, everyone seemed to understand 99.9% of what I was saying. Many didn’t even have a perceptible accent. How they’re so linguistically skilled I can’t comprehend, but I’ll tell you one thing: it sure makes travel easy.

• Although each Scandinavian country has its own unique flavor, my brief taste of the region left me with the impression that they’re actually all remarkably similar. The languages sound similar, the people are similarly friendly, even the look of the cities is similar with their cobbled walking promenades and town squares centered around big fountains with young people hanging out and socializing. It all feels very clean, pristine, and pleasant – in fact, throughout my entire visit I can’t recall having seen even one single homeless person, anywhere. I wonder if this is what America was like back in the 50’s? πŸ˜›

  10 Responses to “Norway Observations”

  1. that thing about the water is wierd

  2. Ok, time for a few comments. I wish you had run this post by me first so I could have corrected a few things.

    Of course we don’t turn the tap on and leave the water running while we roam around the house. I remember clearly the conversation I had with you regarding this. I said I *could have* left the water running if I wanted to, but there is no need to waste it. Sure, water is abundant and free and noone will complain if I did waste it, but that does not mean that people do act like this. Hot water is expensive since it comes from my own boiler.

    Then you say supermarkets close early by law. Well, most major supermarkets are open until 23:00 so I can’t see how that is so early. Aside from that there are smaller supermarkets that can stay open outside of those restricted working hours and *noone* goes shopping for groceries at 7Eleven. It’s as strange to me to do that in Japan where there is one on every corner, as it is to you not to be able to do it here. But sure, if you wanna pay 3x the price for convenience in order to not walk an extra 200m, then that’s a choice one makes and should be happy with (without complaining).

    Discos and bars close at 03:00-03:30. Sure, I’d wish they stayed open longer, but it’s not *that* bad πŸ˜›

    For the same reasons as mentioned above, your main concern is that you don’t wanna pay extra for convenience. Well, in many countries the market situation is such that underpaid workers can keep costs low in order to keep overall low prices no matter what. Here I think even a burgerflipper at McD has a minimum wage per hour of $20-25 or so. So the economical picture is entirely different. Some people ARE willing to pay extra for that convenience so naturally that drives the prices up. Economy 101.

    Oslo is compact. Yet you can cover Oslo by bicycle in far *less* than your postulated one hour. In fact, I bet you could *walk* across Oslo in one hour.

    Finally, you’re right that Oslo is green. It’s the greenest capital in Europe and those areas are well preserved. Since everything is so regulated, there is little chance a tall building will be built anywhere since it would block out the sun.

    As for homeless people, unfortunately, we have them here too. And loads of beggars (mostly from poor EU countries) that loiter around since they can now legally cross the Schengen borders without visas. I heard stories that in Denmark they’re shipped out of town if they ever try to beg on the streets there. Not sure about the situation in Sweden. We also have our share of women from Nigeria with questionable professions, as well as their competitors from Russia. So it’s not all good, but no place is perfect. I’m sure you know I do think Oslo is perhaps the best place to *live* in the world even though I’d be the first to accept there are loads more wonderful places on this planet.

    So I don’t agree with all of the above, but I’m glad you had a good time.

  3. America’s the best!

  4. >>Supermarkets

    Well, while I don’t remember specific times anymore I do distinctly remember that it was an issue getting food in the evening, and we always had to plan in advance and make SURE we didn’t get caught shopping at any of the “late” markets which charge significantly more. When did that Coop store near your place close? I do recall that in Denmark (different story, I know) almost everywhere closed between 6 and 8, some places 9. And remember in Sweden when we had to rush to the store to get that burger stuff, lest we get caught after the “normal” stores close? In any case, those are different countries; still, you say there are smaller markets opened 24/7, but if they charge 250% more than a normal market (but 50% less than 7-11), my statement pretty much stands πŸ˜›

    >>if you wanna pay 3x the price for convenience in order to not walk an extra 200m, then that’s a choice one makes and should be happy with (without complaining).

    That’s not what it’s about at all, and I’m sure you know it – that’s a pretty ridiculous statement actually. It’s simply about *being able* to find things when you want/need them. If it was just a matter of walking 200m to a normal store whenever you need something, I wouldn’t even bother to mention 7-11’s because they’d be totally irrelevant. As it happens, they aren’t. There were plenty of times I was hungry, wished I could grab a snack, but the only places available were those 3X-normal-cost shops. Perhaps you just didn’t realize that I was often hungry and wishing for a quick bite, but not wanting to pay $1,500 for a popsicle πŸ˜›

    (Note: you don’t need to correct the precision of my price; I know it isn’t really $1,500).

    >>I’d wish they stayed open longer, but it’s not *that* bad

    Nope – and it is an hour better than Cali! But it’s still the only place I’ve been in Europe that does it.

    >>even a burgerflipper at McD has a minimum wage per hour of $20-25 or so. So the economical picture is entirely different.

    Of course. But as per our email(s), I wasn’t addressing the reasons. Simply the fact that eating anything not-prepared-by-you is prohibitively expensive (from my perspective), right down to the fast food.

  5. LOL Nick πŸ˜›

  6. On a related topic, interesting article on McDonald’s in Norway:

    http://kimboal.ba.ttu.edu/MGT%205384%20FL%202010/001/McDonalds%20in%20Norway.pptx

    • Only country in the world where McD’s is Gluten free
    • Starting wage for age 20+: $22.76
    • Most expensive Big Mac in the world

  7. >>Supermarkets

    I’d say 70-80% close at 22:00 or 23:00. That Coop place across the street closes at 22:00, but I normally walk the extra 100m around the corner to Kiwi where prices are on average a few percent lower. And they close at 23:00. I think we did rush once to make the beer-sale (which closes at 20:00), but shopping for groceries after 23 is still pretty unusual if you ask me. The “alternative” shops are pretty much the same price as the other supermarkets and often have good offers to boot. So it’s no real biggie to shop there either. You might end up paying an extra $1-2 on your bag of groceries, but I can live with that on a rare occasion. The only places to really avoid shopping is 7Elevens and gas stations (that double as combinis). *That’s* where you find the rediculous prices. But who cares? Most peple never shop there anyway unless there’s a crisis.

    As for Sweden and Denmark, I honestly don’t know for sure. I’m sure they have late supermarkets too, only we didn’t know where to go. Keep in mind we usually spent less than a day in each place we were. In Sweden we had to hurry because we knew about one option (that was closing at 21 I think), and did not want to get stuck roaming around trying to find others and waste time. After all, we were going BBQing in the park among the (stupid) penguins πŸ˜€

    >> that’s a pretty ridiculous statement actually

    Really? We have supermakets litterally *everywhere* here. At least 20 within five minutes walking from my doorstep. If you happen to drive a car and happen to fill gas and happen to not be bothered making the extra trip to the supermarket to save money, sure, those are the people that spend (realistically) 60-70% more per item they shop for that convenience. I’d do it too if I was just getting a single item.

    >> There were plenty of times I was hungry, wished I could grab a snack

    We talked about this. You can get a $1.50 burger or hot dog or i.e. fishcake. Kebabs here are more like massive meals that are far more filling than a dinner (Pakistani-friend will split his into two dinners). Aside from that we don’t really have baiten-style foodstalls so there aren’t alternatives. That’s why I always bring my own.

    >> …interesting article on McDonald’s in Norway

    Yep, I guess that pretty much sums it up. I don’t think I’ve had a Big Mac in Norway in my life. They’re like $6 or something (and that’s not the meal, just the burger). But hey, maybe that’s why I’m slim and fit, and Americans are… πŸ˜›

    http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_SQyNg2aULm8/SjJUXn085MI/AAAAAAAAE2o/dsITqnlMlEY/s400/european-american-women.jpg

  8. I LOVE that photo – I was literally just thinking about it yesterday! While writing a blog post about Thailand, I think πŸ˜†

  9. As I read this post, I was already laughing over thinking how Peder was going to reply.

    oh and of course, U! S! A! U S A!

  10. Hahaha tell me about it πŸ˜›

 Leave a Reply

(required)

(required)


(required)

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

jfb_p_buttontext

Contact | Terms & Privacy
©2004-2019 Justin Klein
whos online
Feedburner
HTML5 Valid
07-18-2019 07:41:42UTC 0.24s 72q 5.11MB