At the time of tapping this out I’d been living here in Trondheim, central Norway for the best part of 14 years. I’ve now been here nearly 20, and decided to revisit this classic post before I write more on this subject.
It’s been quite a roller-coaster ride as most of you know, but during this time I’ve become integrated. I know this to be the case because I passed the test which involves having to answer yes to the following questions:
Do you accept that dinner is eaten at 4 p.m.?
Do you consider rice pudding to be a main course, not a dessert?
Do you consider skiing to mean cross-country, not downhill?
Do you take your shoes off whenever you go into someone’s house?
Have you stopped converting all prices back into pounds and then nearly dying of shock?
On that basis I feel I am eminently qualified to impart some pearls of wisdom and unusual facts about Norway and its lovely people gained during my years up north.
You do start thinking and dreaming in Norwegian.
It’s true. I remember our German teacher telling us that this a sure sign you had turned the corner when learning a new language. I was 13, disliked German, disliked the teacher even more and absolutely did not believe her. I’m sorry for doubting you, Miss *****.
You actually can get to like brown cheese.
Perhaps even harder to believe for ‘outsiders’ trying it for the first time, but let me say this: if my Norwegian wife can get to like Marmite, you can get to like brown cheese. Just don’t think of it as cheese.
You can walk diagonally over crossroad junctions.
This warrants an explanation. At crossroads, often the lights go green for pedestrians simultaneously. So to save time you can walk across the junction diagonally. This blew the mind of a mate of mine when he was visiting and is indeed rather neat. I still can get slightly nervous doing this though as it just seems, well, wrong…
You can’t just spontaneously go and buy a bottle of wine.
No. Anything over 5% alcohol and you have to plan a little. You can only buy such strong stuff from the government-run liquor stores which close at 6pm (at least they do here in Trondheim, if you live in a smaller place you may need to travel to buy it.)
Despite all the restrictions, the streets of every major town in Norway resemble the ‘Night of the Living Dead’ when the clubs and bars close.
Shuffling zombie-like through the streets, drunken folk try to make their way home via the local (and exceptionally tolerant) kebab shop. And you thought it was just in Blighty…
If the holiday falls on a Sunday, you’re screwed
In England, if a public holiday falls on the weekend you get the Monday off instead. Not here.
There is no such thing as ‘going out for a drink’.
Many years ago I made the mistake of inviting two people from the restaurant I worked at ‘for a drink’ after work. Within fifteen minutes it had escalated into an all-night session with about 17 participants. There is no ‘soft’ drinking culture or pub tradition, and only a minority drink sociably or because they actually enjoy it. Or at least it seems like that. And don’t even think of taking your children to the pub on a Sunday for a family outing.
You get paid a lot.
Yes, you do. My hourly wage for making pizza was higher than some middle management friends were earning in the UK. But it is more expensive of course. But you still get paid a lot.
The social benefits are astounding and the taxes are far lower than you think. Don’t tell anyone…
Maternity leave can be a year (a YEAR) on 80% salary or 10 months on 100% salary. Sick leave can last 12 months if necessary and my total deductions are less than in the UK. Shh!
Packed lunches are thoroughly depressing.
The Norwegians will whip out a ‘matpakke’ (packed lunch of sandwiches) pretty much anywhere. It’s a strange tradition in such a rich country, but starts early (few schools have canteens). I guess it’s a good thing, but sweaty cheese on limp bread in a plastic box that’s been festering half the day should only be for emergencies.
The Norwegian sense of humor is very close to the British.
And generally very good. Obviously I’m generalizing about both and just like in England there is of course a dividing line between run-of-the-mill and alternative – or good – comedy. Get on the right side of the line and you’ll be fine.
Not everyone has a cabin and a boat.
Contrary to popular belief, not all Norwegians have country cabins and a boat to zoom around in. Either that, or I managed to marry into the only Norwegian family that doesn’t…
People really do wear the bunad (Norwegian traditional costume) although not all the time.
Yes they do, especially on 17th May (Norway’s national day) and for other major events like weddings, confirmations etc. And there is a version for men, which I am told would suit me. That’s not going to happen.
The paper boy comes early, but the postman comes late.
For some inexplicable reason Norwegians expect to be able to read the daily paper at 4.30 a.m. but consider it fine to wait until they get home from work to read the mail (which is delivered around 1 p.m. in our case)
Not everything is great…
It’s cold quite a lot.
-but most things are.
It’s way warmer than you’d expect too. And it’s true what they say, at least to an extent: “There’s no bad weather, only bad clothing”. Yes, that sounds better in Norwegian.
I could go on, but I’ll leave it there for now. A follow-up piece is surely on the cards, probably before too long.
For a great introduction to crossing cultural boundaries, look out for ‘Lilyhammer’ with Steven van Zandt. Yes, that one, from the Sopranos and Bruce Springsteen’s band. A rather different tale than my own (thankfully) it does however highlight many of the ‘typically Norwegian’ traits we foreigners face when moving here. If you can’t get to see the series, at least watch the trailer:
I believe Norway should be on every traveller’s list for both its culture and scenic beauty. You can even find some ready-made holiday packages on Cleartrip. Here are some coupons that you can use to get discounts.
What have I missed? What have I got wrong? Probably plenty on both counts, so let me know by adding your comments!
All images obtained from Flickr.com under Creative Commons License. From top: (c) xoiram42, per/color line, Henning Kumle. Video (C) Netflix/NRK