Only in Norway…some lessons I’ve learned from living up here

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 under Creative Commons License. From top: (c) xoiram42, per/color line, Henning Kumle. Video (C) Netflix/NRK

Andy Higgs
Andy Higgs

I know what it's like to go from being a crazy backpacker without a care in the world, via being a vaguely sensible parent to being an adventurer once more. In other words, evolving into a Grown-up Traveller.

Like everyone else, I love to travel, have visited a lot of countries and all that but my big thing is Africa.

I also own and run The Grown-up Travel Company as a travel designer creating personalised African itineraries for experienced adventurers

Articles: 1268


  1. Hi,

    What have you found is the best way to learn the language? Before moving that is… I want to move to Oslo with my girlfriend (Mona Løkke, she says hi!) and want to have the best grasp of the language as possible before I go.

    All the best,


    • Hi Sandy – sorry for not getting back to Mona yet via Facebook, I will get around to it! I didn’t try to learn before I got here, but the total immersion technique is best. By which I mean telling everyone they have to speak Norwegian, having the radio and TV on a lot, trying to read the paper etc. You can probably get a night school class in the UK too which would help but it’s really when you get here that you can make best progress. I have no experience with language courses but in this day and age there ought to be some good multimedia stuff out there, with audio and video? You’ll love it here I’m sure, but why Oslo? Awful place…:-)

      • Just for jobs I think. Mona thinks that it will be easier to get jobs in Oslo (even though I have fallen in love with Trondheim already!). How easy/hard was it for you to get a job with limited Norwegian? How long did it take before you could hold a decent conversation in Norwegian?

    • Hi Sandy! Like Andy, I’m an immigrant, since 1979! I’ve tried other places (USA and Italy), but there’s no place I’ve been that I prefer to where I am right now (Kongsberg). Before I moved here I played an audio language course in the car on the way to work every day, but I don’t think it really helped. What I do think helps (based on learning 2 new languages) is to read. Go to the local library when you arrive and borrow children’s first level readers. Boring as h…, but they do teach you the most important words without all the grammar (which isn’t important in the first instance, what you need first is communication!)
      I think reading helped me because I like to have a mental picture of a word before I say it – and of course the bigger your passive vocabulary is, the easier it is to understand others, even if you can only say simply things yourself.
      You’ll be surprised how fast you can progress through age classified books. Don’t look up all the words, you’ll understand most of the important ones after a while (they turn up often) – overusing the dictionary just kills the desire to read – and in any case most books have an enormous amount of “fill”. When you finally hit a fairly “adult” level, go for titles that have been translated from English – the language is usually simpler. I’d recommend light crime / action at that point; Agatha Christie, etc. Stay away from comics, they’re tempting but there’s far too much slang.
      Good luck – and have fun skiing, either alpine or the real kind:-)

  2. Well perhaps, but it depends what you want to do. Lot of high tech stuff here, not sure what you do but if you just need to get working the restaurant business is the easiest, Mona can tell you all about that. I got a job with practically no Norwegian at all, not a problem. Then learned it fast through working and aforementioned tactics (also did brief language course when they were free here). I guess I was able to converse after a few months, everyone speaks English so you can always fall back on that in the early days.

  3. Great blog, reminds me of my son who now lives in Prague for the last 3years with his Czech girlfriend – he has found it difficult to learn the language as everyone, even in business speaks English to him but he is on a mission this year to change that… I have never been to Norway but of course love all those great “thrillers” coming out of the country, reading all of Jo Nesbo’s books at the moment.

    • Thanks so much for the praise Cynthia. Yes that is the biggest drawback with English (or rather the fantastic ability of other people to learn English) if you want to learn the local lingo. You should definitely visit Norway, and keep an eye on this site as we will be publishing lots more travel ideas about the place. The film version of ‘Headhunters’ came out here last year and is excellent, it should be quite a hit when the English version finally emerges (in April in England I think) so look out for that – I hope the Norwegian tourist board capitalizes on it by providing location information too. If you like Scandinavian crime check out these two posts as well: one on ‘The Killing’ and one on ‘Wallander’. New post about Stieg Larsson coming soon 🙂

  4. Dear Andy –

    I love Norwegians.

    Years ago, I was in a partnership with one. We had not one thng in writing. It went on for several years and there was not a dispute about anything. His word was good.

    When a Norwegian is your friend it is for life.

    I loved this post.

  5. A great post! Reflects most of my “feelings” about Trondheim 🙂 I have lived here for a year now (in Trondheim) and it is very true what you wrote here. Really made me laugh and smile wide 🙂 Thank you!!!

  6. You gave me a great laugh… 🙂 But most of it is true. Unfortunatly.

    I would like to comment on some few things: you tell us not to think of brown cheese as cheese… it is NOT a cheese. It is maid from the remains when cheese is maid. So all the cheese is gone. :-)It is only whey left.

    And the mail cant be delivered before it arrives in Trondheim… or anywhere else in Norway. It is transportet during the night. Do you get your mail in the morning in Britain?

    Again.. thank you for finding out thing I actually knew, but never thought about.


    • Thanks Merete, glad you enjoyed it. That’s true what you say about the brown cheese, but it is called brown cheese, right? Funnily enough in Britain or in the EU it probably would have to be called something else as it isn’t technically cheese. Still I love it, whatever it’s called! Yes in Britain the postman comes very early – where I lived the mail arrived before we woke up, about 7 a.m. Postmen start work at 5 a.m. in the UK; it’s not a job for everyone! It will probably all change though (my parents tell me the post comes later these days) given the competition from email etc.

      • Then maybe the mail is two days old (or more)? In Norway, about 80% of A-mail is from the day before (like a guarantee). They strive to reach 90% 🙂

        • Actually the UK overnight delivery quality is around 93%, a lot better than Norway which is currently about 83%. But geographically Norway is more challenging…the reason I know these boring facts is that I’ve been translating the Posten Norge annual and quarterly reports for the last six years 🙂

  7. It is so nice to hear that you guys have such positive experiences from this guitar shaped country. I live and grew up in Trondheim and even though i like vacations in the tropical parts of the world, i really love living right here in beautiful Trondheim.

    Did you know that Trondheim was originally named “Trondheimen”, and before that “Nidaros”..? When vikings ruled the land Oslo also had another name, wich was “Kristiania”. I personally think the older names were prettier. Don’t you?

    Have a wonderful day 🙂

    Stein Arve.

    • Thanks so much for your comment Stein Arve. Yes I agree about the names. I think Nidaros is a great one, maybe we should start a campaign to get them changed back?

      Have a great day too (I’m off to clear the snow from the drive again :-))

    • Not quite right 😉
      The original name for Trondheim is “Trondarheim”, simply meaning “The home of the Tronder”. The name was changed to Nidaros but later changed back again. Nidaros is still the name of the bishopric, however.

      The old name for Oslo is Oslo, which may very well be derived from the old norse word “Arslo”, meaning high plain. The word probably points to Ekebergsletta. When the townsip of Oslo was first establishet, Ekebergsåsen offered the township shelter from the north and the oldest ruins we have are found at the foot of the hill.

      And Oslo is a great city to live in:) I should know – I grew up in Trondheim…

      • I’m sure you’re right here Berit – thanks for clarification! I’m sure Oslo is great too. I’ve visited a number of times and will be doing so again. Have a great day, Andy

    • Stein Arve Berntsen: I beg to differ.

      Oslo is the old name, period! Well, possibly it was called Viken before Oslo, but that is disputed. To begin with, the city was founded around 1048 by King Harald III. After the plague The Black Death, Norway became a failed state and became part of the Kingdom Denmark-Norway.

      Christiania is what the Danish King Christian IV called Oslo – after the city was rebuilt due to the great fire in 1624. Very long after the Viking era.

      From 1878 till 1925 Oslo (!) was called Kristiania, and then renamed itself again to Oslo.

      Personally I think Trondheim and Oslo are the good and solid names. Nidaros too. Christiania or Kristiania are the ugly ones. However, Kristiansand and Kristiansund are OK, but only just 😉


  8. Walking diagonally over crossroad junctions: It really is very neat, but these ‘myldrekryss’ aren’t found all over the country. So far, I’ve only seen them in Trondheim and Tromsø.

    • Really? I didn’t know that, thanks for the heads-up. That means we should be careful trying that trick in other towns then!

  9. Great blog, Andy!

    Taxes are bad here – if you consider all the “hidden taxes” like VAT (25 % in general and 15% on food)and all the duties on beer, wine, spirits and cars. They say in the eastern part of Norway that what you think is the morning fog is actually steam from all the stills! “Heimebrent” (moonshine) is quite popular in rural areas – AKA Lilyhammer.

    Gammelost (literally old cheese) is a real cheese made from the curds, but not as popular as brown cheese which is reduced whey.

    I seem to remember that there are some diagonal pedestrian crossings in Minneapolis, but then they are all Norwegian there anyway.

    One more thing – Oslo was probably called Oslo in the Viking age. It was called Christiania after the Danish kings Christian when the Danes controlled Norway (1380-1814) – which they did not do in the Viking age.

    Have lived in the Stavanger area for just shy of 40 years.

    • Thanks for the comment Patrick! Well, it’s true that taxes are high but if comparing directly to the UK (my main point of reference) I’d say the UK beats Norway for ‘stealth taxes’. National Insurance on top of income tax, VAT has actually gone up now too and all the council taxes and other ways they get you are pretty nasty. Norway ain’t great either but it’s a bit more upfront – you know you’re going to pay but you get something back; comparing the social security systems Norway wins hands down. Another well-kept secret for ‘outsiders’ is that you get tax relief on interest payments. Not just your mortgage, but even credit card bills etc. This makes for a healthy discount on your tax bill, if you’re in debt – which most of us are! I like gammelost too – one of the big problems is that I love cheese and the variety that actually has real taste here is limited or very expensive. I defer to you all over the place names – not my strong point! Never been to Stavanger but will try to get there this year as I am aiming to boost the number of articles about Norway on this site. Have a great day, Andy

  10. Thank you very much Andy,
    it’s so true, I am French and I live in Trondheim for a year and a half and you reflects very well life here. When I arrived what shocked me most was the fact of letting babies sleep in strollers outside when it is very cold, but now my daughter does and she likes it! Although today I did not even find my dream job (I’m a nanny, in France I was a manager of a restaurant!) I feel very good about this country and this city, with the people who for me has understood something very important, family life is their highest priority. These are all reasons why I love Norway, especially Trondheim. So thank you Andy!

    • Thanks for the kind comment Marie, I forgot about the ‘fresh air’ thing! I got a shock when my wife insisted on keeping the window open throughout the winter too – but I got used to it and now can’t sleep with the window closed! I started here as kitchen help in a pizza restaurant but after only a few years was able to start my own ‘dream job’ as a translator – which would have been hard in most other countries I think. So keep at it, you’ll get there! I totally agree about family first – for me it has always been my priority too which is why I feel I fit in here, while many in my home country work themselves to the bone without getting to spend any time with their family. Have a great day, Andy

  11. Thx Andy for an interesting read, as a Norwegian living in the same town, I value some insights from people who sees us from the outside. We somtimes forget that our kind of life nessecarily is not the only way to live, we are very well protected in our country from outside influence except that this has changed very much the last generation, and I`m glad it has opened up.
    The funny thing is that when you travel around in Norway you`ll see that people have some fairly different cultural upbringing; while our education- and political system tries to make us as similar to each other as possible. Standing out or being different has not really been appreciated and in certain areas of Norway the “Janteloven” is well webbed into its social structure.
    Coming from Northern Norway, having lived in 4 of our 5 regions(Northern-,Mid-,West-,Eastern Norway)and by experiencing some of its different flavours, find it difficult to somewhat label the typical Norwegian and stereotype them. That`s why I liked reading your insights, since you are spot on the topic 🙂 it gave me some good laughs. Have a very good week 🙂

    • Hi Marius and thanks for your words. It’s true, it can be healthy to look from the outside now and again. It’s also true that there are a lot of cultural differences even in one country, and it’s fun to see what people have in common too. Glad you liked the article, stay tuned for more later! All the best,

  12. Thanks for an very interesting and insightful comment on the Norwegian society. I often find that these kind of comments tend to be exaggerated or too obsessed with particular details. This, however, is balanced.

    The mailman usually comes between 9 and 10 in the morning in Hamar, where I am from, so this clearly varies, but the size of the country and scattered population will explain some of it, centralized sorting of the mail will explain the rest.

    Some other things which I believe are typical for the Norwegian society are:
    – A lack of a strict hierarchy in companies
    – A lack of great differences in income (a minister in the government only earns twice as much as a teacher)
    – A passion for the outdoors, preferably without the crowds or a lot of development around it
    – A feeling that extravagance is sinful (even though this attitude is slowly disappearing)
    – Mutual trust (pay your taxes and put money in the box when you grab a coffee)
    – An idea that your home is your castle (few people spend more on improving their homes, usually owned, than the Norwegians)

    • Thanks for your kind comments Christian, and I agree with your points. The national addiction to coffee is also worthy of mention – I think a Part Two for this article is on the horizon!
      Best regards,

    • Great reading, Andy. We’re a dual national family as well, and my son (studying in Trondheim) correctly surmised that I would enjoy the blog when he found it. I almost died laughing about your list of “are you integrated” questions! Christian’s list of extra “Norwegian typicals” is pretty on the ball, too. If either of you ever get the chance to listen to Pellegrino Riccardi on the cultural differences between UK, Norway and Italy, I recommend going. He’s very funny, and throwing Italy into the mix really brings out some of the points.

      • Thanks so much Pete, that’s great to hear! I had such fun writing it and have plenty of material for part two 🙂 I will look out for the Italian gig you mentioned, sounds very interesting. Hope you keep following the blog, much more on the way! Cheers for now, Andy

  13. Not sure whether to laugh or cry! You’ve covered most of the fundamentals there; but after 12 year here myself I find cynicism creeping in to fill the cracks in OECD’s utopia. I know a great many norwegians who are hard working and fantastic people, but unfortunately I realise they are in a minority. Here’s my additions to your list:

    Try & get a norwegian to take real responsibility for anything. Impossible. They’ll always form a committee or eventually blame something else.

    The guys in ‘3 in norway by 2 of them’ had it right regarding the norwegian labour force.

    The Vegvesen constructs roads with poorer quality that Nepal (I’ve been there & compared), and then sets speed limits that are too slow for even a funeral procession on a donkey.

    Most notably however must be that norway’s attempts to bludgeon all it’s problems to death with fistfulls of oil money, is match only by it’s society’s ability to squander it, resulting in a society that’ll be total screwed as soon as the oil is gone.

    • Yes! I understand now… Setting aside wast portions of the oil wealth for future purposes instead of heating the economy by spending them right now on fixing roads, especially the more than good enough roudas on Østlandet, is what is going to screw up the society…

      Andy: Delightful article. One thing I’d mention though is that Norwegians introduce themselves in social situations. This may be very good to know for foreigners trying to establish contact with the natives. We are generally very friendly, but you have to come to us, not the other way round 🙂

      • Thanks Bjørn for you comments, glad you liked it. That’s true about having to introduce yourself – also something I noticed early on was that if I was with my wife and we met one of her friends, they would chat together without introducing the friend to me; I found that a little strange as I stood there not knowing who the person was. But it’s all part of what makes living in another country interesting!

  14. Thanks for your post. I’m an American who’s been in Norway for 18 years, the last 16 in Oslo (married to a Norwegian, 3 kids). I think I agreed with every one of your points 🙂 It’s a good place to live.

  15. A great read Andy, made me chuckle as I said yes to all those too 🙂
    I’ve been living in Trondheim with my Norwegian girlfriend and 2 kids for 5 years now and feel reasonably integrated but do believe one has to own a coop card, have owned at least two statoil cups and drink the black stuff before accepted 🙂

    That’s one thing Norway’s injected into me, coffee. Before moving here, just like the rest of England I drank tea, proper black tea like my life depended on it (which I actually think it does) and well, I still do that except when I’m at work and there it’s pure black strong coffee at 9am, it’s become a must 🙂

    The thing I first found funny when visiting was the selling of hot dogs in every news agent, every time I smell it now it reminds me of my first time here.
    That was in the summer and me being quite silly had someone how picked up from some very bad source that Norway’s summers never actually got that hot, so there I was in blistering temperatures with my jeans glued to me :/

    Oh and back to tea. Every Norwegian household are very pleased to serve/offer a cup of black tea with a big smile to an Englishman, only to learn that Lipton and Earl Grey are not what we live for. I quite like buying my 750g bag of PG Tips from the Thai import shops though, makes it feel extra special 🙂

    The one thing I do miss is the pub culture we have back home, there’s always a cosy, welcoming pub in every nook and cranny we can just pop into for a quick pint with a friend for a chat or watch a bit of footy, or even have a decent meal for the family at a great price and have a garden for the kids to play in, but as you say when they go out to town, they go out to town. My first job was in a bar and it was either very quite or very busy.

    So many thing are different here yet we’re very similar too. We’re lucky us Englishmen, as we don’t have to go too far to fit in unlike other people/cultures. The biggest challenge is the language but after a certain stage it all gets fun though the Norwegians learn English from a young age and when they learn you’re English they then love to speak it and that makes us feel great, but we learn even less Norwegian 🙂

    • Good to hear from you Dan and glad you liked the post. Haha great points you make too – the Statoil cups and Coop card are definitely obligatory 🙂 Agree about the coffee, I adapted easily as we were only a once a day tea family and coffee was more our thing (comes from my parents time living in France I believe). But the quantities have increased to the ridiculous. My Mum can’t stand the tea here though and brings her own…
      And that is another point – the hot summers. They may not be so long but have been some of the hottest I’ve experienced – we set off on a road trip to Kristiansand on the hottest day of 2005 when the temperature was over 40 degrees! I am totally with you on the pub thing – I touched on that about how you can’t just go for a drink. I never realised how unique that part of British life was until I travelled away from it and it’s one of the first things I do when I visit London – hit the pub…
      You’re right about the cultural similarities too – it’s easy to fit in but hard to learn the language unless you insist everyone speaks Norwegian to you – hard at first but you’ll get there.
      Have a great day (despite the weather right now)!

      • Hi!
        Love to read your blog! 🙂 Always fun to know what you guys think about us, a smal country far north in the world! About the pub; it looks so nice on tv, like in “Heartbeat”, so why doesn’t anyone open a pub, a real english pub? Would be nice… Nice of you to be a real friend of Norway! 🙂

        • Hi Monica and thanks so much for your comments, glad you like the blog! It’s true, a real English pub would be nice but it just doesn’t seem to fit with the Norwegian drinking culture. I guess we have to get people to enjoy a drink rather than focus on ‘flatfyll’…there are several pubs in Trondheim that come close but in fact the nearest is not the English pub (run by an English guy) but an old bar on the river called Den Gode Nabo. They have the right atmosphere; but it’s so expensive in Norway that people don’t often go our for a casual pint like we do in England. One day, maybe…:-)

          • Personally, I don1t care very much for the ordinary pubs in Norway. Even less for “Football Pubs”. I like a real English pub, but then in England (and Scottish pubs and pubs in Wales). They are perfectly situated as they are – and with pub lunches, they are perfect. Almost impossible to arrange in Norway – culturally and price-wise . . .

  16. 1. Rice pudding has never been a main course for Norwegians, you must have some strange Norwegian friends if they made you believe this :p

    2. Most Norwegians aint back from home @ 4pm, I would push dinner time back to 1700.

    3. Although you think our tax rate is low, you forget that we have fees on about everythink in addition to normal tax, thus making the taxation realisticly closer to 70-80 % of your income.

    4. Although we dont get monday off if a holiday is on a sunday, we do actually have more vacation/days off then most other countries in the world.

    Other then that you are not so far of 🙂

    and to the dude above, I am curious as to how you mean we squander or oil money, we are hardly allowed to use any of it, and have somewhat like 3000 billion NKR in the oil fund. Sorry, not seeing it be gone in the near future. And when the oil runs out, we will have so much invested in other things we wont need the oil. Its a reason we are one of the few countries that hardly noticed the “financial crisis”…

    • Hi Dan and thanks for your comments. Rice pudding is the closest translation for ‘risengrynsgrøt’ which is served as a main dinner course by every family I’ve been to, often on a Saturday and more in the winter, eaten with spekemat. Maybe I have strange Norwegian friends but they all seem to find this quite usual. Dinner at 5 pm is still quite unusual for us, but yes of course it is often pushed back. Every country has a mass of duties and fees, these are not income tax though as not every earner pays them (car licence fees, etc.) By this rationale every country’s tax rate is high, but I can’t really understand where you get 70-80% from. The oil fund issue is true, there is enough there for a while yet. But it’s a shame there’s not more focus on creating other businesses outside traditional sectors. There is way too much bureaucracy for start-ups here.

    • Hei Dan,

      Don’t misunderstand me, I choose to live here, and I like it. Just voicing opinions, in this case I’ll rise to comment upon Oil fund administration:

      Essentially norway is forced to invest, or the NOK would be instantly de-valued so as to be worthless due to it’s surfeit.

      Typical investment senarios go something like this:

      1. give a bunch of snivelling kids fresh out of school ridiclouslky high bonuses for fund administration even when ‘their’ funds lose huge amounts of money.

      2. Invest in a 3rd world dictatorship, then void the debt when righteous norwegians complain about norway forcing eternal 3rd world debt.

      3. Invest in ‘dirty’ industries like weapons manufacture, then void the debt when righteous norwegian complain about norway earning upon warzone kids.

      4. Every time the government requires the fund to exist from a particular market, it is leaked beforehand and the exit time constrained, so that those share values plummet causing yet more huge oil fund losses.

  17. Having a Norwegian Mother and a British father, I pretty much grew up with the differences you mention, my family is from a place an hour south of Oslo, Horten. On saturdays it was not a proper cooked dinner but a fried egg, ham, or pancakes (closer to crepes, than UK pancakes) not ris pudding but same principle you ended the week emptying out what was in fridge or pantry to start a new with a great sunday meal. I also have a unique distinction of having done 9 years in the British Army and about 10 in the Norwegian so the cultural differences are much more apparent in such an environment, for example the lower ranks have a “Tilitsman” and are like Union guys, it can seem very strange to someone having been in the British first to have a Norwegian private storm in and say to a 2Lt …”What the hell have you got me out of bed for !!”……….and the amount of Brit guys who have come with me to a party and translated into English it is “foreplay”……….to get the reply only in Norway is foreplay drinking 🙂

    • Thanks for your comments Patrick, that was so interesting. I had no idea it was possible to serve in both national armies, and the idea of a tillitsman (employee rep?) was hilarious and typically Norwegian at the same time. I worked for the British Army as a civilian employee in Berlin for a couple of years so am quite familiar with the way you could expect to be treated if you questioned a superior 🙂 Great quip about the Vorspiel too; I will remember that for later use!

  18. I was in Berlin too, my Battalion was there 1978-80, I joined half way through that tour out of the depot. Battalion was in Brooke Barracks and for part of us in Smuts, Spandau Prison with Rudolph still alive was in between. Whilst I am not the only Ex Brit to have been in Norwegian Army, I meet two others during my time. I think they changed the rules after me and you can no longer get in, I asked to go in better than being unemployed and I wanted to go to Lebanon, they were not used to people asking to go in normally a lot of Norwegian kids try and get out of it……..

    • Hi Evert, glad you liked the post and that I managed to cover a lot of stuff you agree with. Your list there was very good too; I will be writing a follow-up piece to this article in the near future and will be sure to include some of your points as well.

  19. I’m a fellow ex-pat who’s been living far North in the frozen wastes of Hammerfest for roughly two and a half years now. Really liked this article as pretty much all of it can be related to my own experiences, even in a much smaller community, so I had to comment.

    As much as I love this country I have to agree that their very liberal use of the word “middag” which, when translated directly, means “mid day”, is used to describe dinner or the general time of day surrounding 4pm, quite odd!! And even though I am of Irish descent, I must confess my astounding respect for the Norwegian’s stamina when it comes to a night out on the town, I’ve often found myself at an “after party” wondering if I was the only non-insomniac present! 😛

    One thing that I have found incredibly enchanting about “small town Norwegian life”,especially when compared to London Borough life, is that it’s almost impossible to have a walk around town without running into someone you know. Quite a refreshing change from walking the streets of London staring almost exclusively at ones feet. Not too sure if it’s the same in the slightly larger towns, but I have spent a fair amount of time in Tromsø with my girlfriend and she always seems to run into an aquaintance when we’ve been out and about.

    Also I have to add/agree that one should never under-estimate the sense of satisfaction one gains from learning another language and as I have found in Norway at least, the locals will have great respect for you if you make the effort to learn their language 🙂

    So thanks for the article Andy, put a smile on my face and was great to hear of another fellow foreigner’s tales in Norge. Quick question, have you ever had the desire to move back?

    • Thanks Michael, glad you liked it. Wow that IS far north – I haven’t been any further than Namsskogan yet but am hoping to get all the way to Svalbard in the summer. You reminded me of something else too – the expression ‘ettermiddagen’. This is an incredibly vague term so when my wife says we are expecting visitors and I ask when, she will often say “i løpet av ettermiddagen”. Which can mean anything from 12 pm to the evening, making it rather tricky to make plans…Even in big old Trondheim (I’m joking of course, we have about 160,000 people) we generally meet someone we know every time we are in town, and it’s nice but I would find it hard to live anywhere much smaller as I like to be a little anonymous too. As to your question, no to be honest I have never even contemplated moving back – with two children (11 and 10) I couldn’t think of a better place for them to grow up. But I’ve no plans to be here when I’m really over the hill though – I think warmer climes would suit me more in my senior years 🙂 Shuffling around in sub-zero pensions with my walking stick doesn’t really appeal, but then nor does Croydon either 🙂

  20. Hah! Good write up and insanely accurate.

    I have lived in Trondheim for around six years now and read most of the above whilst nodding and smiling.

    I have to disagree with one thing though, this Yorkshire lad has always classed rice pudding as a main meal, in a large bowl and stiff enough to stand a spoon up 🙂

    Talking about food, I used to cook for Three Lions and did a St Georges week there once, Toad in the Hole was popular as hell but the Bread and Butter pudding was seen as plain odd by the Norwegians and gobbled up by the ex pats, lol.

    We should go for a beer sometime!

    • Glad you liked it! Yeah I should perhaps clarify that my perspective is a London one… 🙂 Interesting that you used to work at Three Lions, we may have met although I don’t go there often. Bread and Butter pudding is amazing, I do miss that! And yes, definitely up for a beer sometime – I’m a big fan of Den Gode Nabo as they have some proper beers… All the best, Andy

      • Den Gode Nabo sounds like a plan, either there or Mikrobryggeriet.

        Your name rings bells btw, Dougie often mentioned an Andy so maybe that was you, if it was then yes, we have met.

        Hope to talk soon mate, we can show these guys how to socialise in a pub 🙂

  21. Oh so you’re a Croydon boy? Poor you! 😉 Well as some friendly advice from one Brit to another, those who come from the district of Finnmark are extremely liberal in their use of colourful language. So if someone calls you a “jævla hest kuk!” they’re probably just saying hello! So if you find yourself travelling up here then try not to take too much offence 😛 But I guess you’ve heard plenty a story about the slightly coarser folk ambling around in the Northern parts of Norway.
    Agree on Norway being a good place to grow up, I can very much see the appeal of raising a family here 🙂 Can’t honestly say I’ve thought about moving back either, the extremely superior tap-water quality being a deciding factor, among other things 😉

    • Ah, one of the first insults I ever learnt 🙂 What is it with horses and, erm… large attachments around these parts 😀

      • Hehe, Norwegian swearing never fails to paint a horrible mental picture in some way. The best ones come from watching a football match with Finnmarking Norwegians in my experience 😛 Not quoting any though, I wouldn’t want to subject any of you to the filth I hear on a daily basis 😉

  22. I am a Scot who has lived in Norway for more than half her life (26 with a baby when I moved here)and in Trondheim for nearly 20 years. I agree with all your comments but would add 2 things that surprised me when I came: the total inability to QUEUE, which used to be even worse before queue “lapp” came along and wonderful warm floors in bathrooms. I am only a few years from retiring but am planning to stay near my children and grandchildren and happy that even if I should become senile and forget all the Norwegian I know all the carers will still understand me. . 😉

    • Thanks for your comments Laurie, that’s true about queueing – at my daughter’s school they actually refer to the business of waiting in a line for your turn as that of being in an “english queue”. Given the confusion between English and British I think it’s safe to assume they mean “British” here, as the Scots are equally polite 🙂 Warm floors are great too – when we had our house built we actually had underfloor heating put in all over the house, which is wonderful in the winter. And I like your positive spin on spending your golden years in a Norwegian care home!
      Best regards, Andy

  23. […] Only in Norway: Some lessons I’ve learned from living up here by Andy Higgs is a fun examination of the many quirks and wonders of what its like to live in Norway. According to the article, even though not everyone has a cabin and a boat to zip about in (as the rumors say), everyone can get up to a year of maternity leave. Yes, a year. And on a completely unrelated note, the Norwegian brown cheese apparently does grow on you. (Not literally, though!) […]

  24. Oh man, you can have my lifetime supply of that brown goo they call cheese here. Many good things here, no doubt, and I really enjoyed your post!

  25. Hi Andy,

    I just wanted to say thanks again for submitting this to the BT Blog Carnival, and also congratulations! If you didn’t already notice, this article was one of only three that were highlighted. Thanks for submitting and retweeting this article. This article made me laugh, and I’m looking forward to your submissions next time. 🙂

    • Thanks Andrew it was great to be included. Am working hard on articles for the next carnival!

  26. Loved it!

    Id say you got Norwegians pegged, hands down.

    I belive you vrote something about a follow up? I will be watching for that for sure.

    Have a good one

    • Hi Jon Harald and thanks for the response – glad you liked the article! Yes, I’ll be putting out a follow up article before too long, so keep an eye on the website for an update!
      All the best,

  27. You can actually get to like the brown cheese…? I’m not so sure about that, but hey, I only have two years under my belt. The social security system in general is great as well, as a (fairly) new mom I have truly enjoyed the loooong maternity leave! It was great to see you at the TBU in Porto, maybe we’ll meet again in WTM in London!

    • Haha, yes maybe you need to give it a few more years! It’s (really) very good with jam on top, have you tried that? 🙂 Anyway my tastes may be a little extreme given all those years in Africa; that’s probably why I like it…yup I shall be at WTM (any excuse to get to London at the time of the James Bond film, even if I’m seeing it first here it’ll be better at the IMAX on a screen the size of 5 double decker buses…) so see you there!

  28. Hi,
    There is a lot of truth in this article – very funny, and honest – Norway does have a lot of good points. I have to defend brown cheese – the trick is to eat it on hot toast, and avoid the 100% goat’s milk version.

    I have another question for your test:

    Do you have a pair of matching stressless chairs to watch tv?
    (We bought one, and everyone asked where was the other one)

    Regarding the diagonal street crossings – they have them in Tromsø as well, but only ones “owned” by the city council! Crossings maintained by the county council (Troms) are not as forward thinking. The weird thing is there are examples of both on the same street.

    Thanks for the smiles

    • The stressless chairs question is brilliant. We have 2, of course.

      As for brown cheese – ever tried it with hot lime pickle?


      • Yes like that – we are clearly not fully integrated yet without our stresslesses. I remember contemplating one some years back but the price knocked me down (I was still thinking in pounds)…hot lime pickle huh? Now that I will have to try. Also I love the 100% goats’s cheese variety – strictly for the hardcore 🙂

  29. Thank you so much for this post. It made me laugh. So true. I’ve lived here 7 years and still can’t get completely used to it. I miss the UK terribly, but I have to admit the pay is better here and so are the state schools.
    It is lovely to hear the views of others in the same situation. It makes me be a bit more upbeat about living here. I have the language now, but there is no way in hell I’m ever going to actually “enjoy” Norwegian food: Pinekjøtt and Ribbe? Is that the best they can come up with for Christmas?

    Will look forward to the follow up.

    • If it’s any help, Natalia, I came from UK in 1979 thinking 2-3 years. I’ve since moved to Italy and come back, moved to the US and come back, and now I’ve understood it – I was just unbelievably lucky when I decided to emigrate to Norway, and I’m not going anywhere else. I don’t miss UK at all. Of course, you have to go “native” 🙂 Speaking the language is a must, as it is in any country. If you’re somewhere with real winter then using some kind of sliding plank is a really good plan – I started snowboarding at 50, so age is no excuse! Now that we can get Branston pickle locally things are getting close to perfect – though we all, including my Norwegian wife and the children, prefer turkey at Christmas!
      And I agree, Andy’s blog and the odd new comment that appears once in a while are great amusement.
      PS If you’re anywhere near Kongsberg I’ll teach you to snowboard if you like, I took an instructor’s course entirely with friends and colleagues in mind. It’s great fun.

      • Thank you for your message Pete. I just saw it! Clearly not good at checking my emails. Sorry.

        Learning to ski is definitely on my list, so I will definitely think about snowboarding, although I’m in Oslo, so maybe difficult to go to Kongsberg for lessons. But thank you!!
        I sometimes enjoy it a lot here. Particularly in the summer. The winter gets me so down though that I take vitamin D in huge doses and plan my move back to England. By the time summer arrives I drop my plans completely. And every year I go through the same cycle. You have to tell me where on earth (in Norway) can I find Branston Pickle????? I found Christmas pudding in Oslo which made my Christmas, but have yet to find mince pies …and marmite, even though I don’t like it. I think that while the kids are small I can make an effort to stay here but I just can’t see myself growing old here. Where from England are you from and do you go to visit? Are you ever tempted to move back? It’s true this is a great blog and keeps your spirits up.

        • Instant reply, courtesy of our permanently connected smart phones. Dan’s right, Meny has Branston (and a bitter orange marmelade, Fru Bennetts, which is good). But I can get Branston at ICA as well, original or small chunk! Marmite is trickier – it came in for a while, but then disappeared again. It was banned in Denmark, believe it or not, because it had too much of some vitamin, and I guess the importers probably gave up Norway as well.
          One of our good friends here in Kongsberg makes fantastic mince pies at Christmas, I’ll ask her about suet, though I fear it will have been imported as they are back and forth to UK quite a bit.
          I’m from a military family so I have no geographic roots in UK, but I lived in the Worcester/ Warwick/ Oxford area before I left. We’re in UK perhaps every other year – for me it’s like Italy and the US, great for a holiday but home is here. I’m afraid the ills of the civilized world are arriving in Norway too, but I still regard it as an enormous privilege to be living somewhere where – in general – it’s safe on the streets, the air is clear, and 96% of the country is public access. As for growing old – retirement is just a few years off, and I’m planning to make good use of the 96%! I’m currently hooked on freestyle cross-country (skating) skiing, and am thinking about roller skis! Chin up, as they say – the place grows on you 🙂

          • Just to chip in; most branches of Meny/Ultra have Branston Pickle and mincemeat for mince pies at Christmas. But Marmite I’ve never seen anywhere – although I did once see Vegemite, for some strange reason…:-)

            Other things we miss are double cream, proper cheddar, proper bacon and decent sized Christmas crackers, so we get the latter as an Xmas pressie every year from my sis now 🙂

  30. Branston pickle can be found at Meny, but I’ve too not found mince pies yet. Did consider making my own but can’t find shredded suet here even though I swear I’d spotted it once :/

  31. Wow, I grew up in Warwickshire and lived there till I moved out to Trondheim 🙂
    I’ve always had the idea of taking my family to live ib England but it doesn’t seem to be getting any better there so would be very selfish of me to move my children away from the security and generaly better system that’s here foe them :/
    Retirement back home could be a yes though, seeing as I’ll have a norwegian pension to live off 🙂

  32. Loved reading it. I travelled to Trondheim two years back for ISFiT. Today I was scholling through my facebook as I suddenly got struck by some norwegian pics that made me miss Norway so bad that I google-d ‘why I love Norway.’ LOL

    I really wish to go back to Trondheim at least once in my life time. About packed lunch, brown cheese n cold. Yeah.. I remember all these 😛

    Thanks Andy for the amazing post 🙂

  33. I’m another Englishman and have lived in Trondheim for just over a year, it is a great place with great people but I’ve had a rough time finding work.

    Admittedly since language courses stopped being free (I’m told they once were), I’m not able to speak Norsk fluently, but I think it’s more than that, it just feels that there is some bias. I mean I can fully appreciate looking after your own, but when you want (and need) to integrate and just become part of the family it doesn’t make life easy to face one job rejection after another, or for the most part not even receive a reply.

    Facing the price shock when you arrive here is one thing, but then not having any income to survive in it; is another (there is no dole money here unless you’ve earned something like 150,000kr in the previous year) so to me there are some vicious circles you can get caught up in.

    I wouldn’t advise anyone to come here (to stay) without first having a solid job offer, or unless you have enough money to sustain yourself completely for an extended period of time.

    I must be unlucky because although I love the place, my overall experience is a negative one as it’s no good going to Disneyland if you don’t have any money to spend, if you catch my drift, so I’m gonna give it a few more weeks and if still no work comes up then I guess I’ll have to pack up and go back to the UK, at least the Government there wont leave me to starve whilst I’m looking for a job 😉

    • Hi Dave,
      No I’m certainly not advocating coming to Norway and being able to find work easily, after all Norway has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe so that’s something to consider. Also the same is true wherever you go – no country gives you money while you’re looking for work unless you’ve paid in before – a Norwegian trying the same in the UK would have the same problem. Or even a Brit after a few years – I got nothing after being away over 3 years. But if you can sort a job first it’s pretty unbeatable. Yes it was great when language courses were free (I benefitted from that) but linguistic ability isn’t the main problem, it’s the number of highly qualified locals looking for work with you. Where I worked in the restaurant business we had people who barely spoke Norwegian but they learned fast and earned well. I guess it depends what you are after though. Best of luck with it, you’ve done really well to have been here over a year without work.

      • I feel exited to see Norway when I read this blogs but on the back of my mind I feel frighten. I got my temporary residency visa to learn Norwegian language, actually I have limited budget for my study so I need to find a job as early as possible. one thing that frightens me is this question ” what would be my life in Norway ?”. now, i’m starting to review some Norwegian language but it’s quiet hard and sometimes I feel upset because on how effort i’m dealing with this , still can’t learn easily..i have read that there are institution offering free study of Norwegian language, that would be nice to lessen my expenses..

        hope you give me some advise

        thank you

    • Coming from another EU or EØS country, having worked before and being entitled to unemployment pay already, I am quite sure you can bring that entitlement with you to another EU/EØS country – like Norway. Maybe for only three months while looking for work in that other country. Check with NAV.

      Of course you cannot travel from country to country drawing unemployment pay. But when working legally in Norway, you build up rights quite fast. Some would say too fast. But earning NOK 150 thou one year will give you too little to live for as unemployed.

      Anyway – although some people complain about cost of living, we still thrive with high income and high taxes 🙂

      • Hi Olav and thanks for your comments.

        You’re right, you have to apply in advance and then you can take your national unemployment entitlement abroad for 3 months of job-seeking. The problem is that you get the same as you would in your home country, which is very little in Norway. In years gone by Brits would get their UK dole money paid in Greece for 3 months which gave them quite a lot of spending power, but I’m showing my age here as that wouldn’t go far now. And job prospects in Greece are even worse than Norway…

        The high income high taxes model is actually quite a good one – once you have a job of course 🙂

        • Hi Andy,
          I want to come to Norway for learning Norwegian. Because i want to have postgraduate education . What they had told me was i had to learn Norwegian first. And i have to pass Bergen test.
          Do You have an idea how long does it take to go on course to have Bergen Test?
          Do the language courses help for finding a place to stay? Or how how can i find a place to stay during attending a language course?
          Do You know about good language courses?
          If You could write me Your opinion, i would be very pleased. 🙂

  34. Hi Andy,

    I am 23 and i have just completed my Bachelor’s degree and i have lived in Denmark for 9 months. I would like to learn Norwegian! Do you think that study it alone it is possible?
    If i have a degree and i get to learn the language sufficiently do you think it’s possible to find a simple job in Norway?

    • I enjoyed this article! After 2 weeks online searching information about immigration laws, jobs in norway, sending c.v’s everywhere , it was the perfect break for me .
      Nice blogging Andy!
      Dimitris , Greece .

  35. I realize this post is sort of old, but I found it and just had to comment, because I was so extremely surprised that brown cheese clearly isn’t a hit with foreigners! I love brown cheese. Whenever I’m away from Norway I miss it a lot, the sweetness of it, almost a meal in itself – you can eat the cheese alone or on bread or waffles. I’ve always loved brown cheese and am a bit curious as to what people don’t like about it as that’s hard to understand by me. It just tastes good. 😛 And it should be said that I generally don’t like very many cheeses, for instance your regular “white” cheese such as Jarlsberg or Norvegia.

    • Well I suppose it is a little old but it’s still the most popular one I’ve written and is getting comments on a regular basis…so I guess it struck a chord with people 🙂 I too love brown cheese but I love cheese in general. The key to liking brown cheese is not to expect it to taste like Cheddar…

  36. Great blog, had fun reading that.

    I found this website when looking for “Branston pickle in Norway” via Google!

    After living a fifth of my life in this stunning country I still miss three things. Proper fish n chips with vinegar
    But i will never ever return… I just can’t…. I’ve killed too many people! (Joke before the webpolice get on board!) no, I just love the fact that I can get in my car and drive around ever corner and see a beautiful woman…. sorry…. I meant fjord (or did I?)

    Right…. I’m off to Meny to find some Branston!

    Cheers Andy!

  37. An interesting look at Norway, thanks for sharing. The standard of living in this country is very high, but I think the country is not very willing to accept immigrants.

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