7 Uncomfortable Truths About Living in Norway
1. We have an identity crisis.
It is true of any country that its people like to know how the country is perceived abroad. That is particularly true of the many countries that aren’t the first to be found on a map. But some countries can turn this into an obsession — one of them would happen to be Norway. We spent four centuries under Denmark and Sweden, and in many ways are still trying to establish exactly what our culture is and what we want to be known for. Some Norwegians don’t believe we can’t do anything right, some others believe we do everything right. Both kinds are likely to comment on this article.
We take out our identity crisis and insecurity by getting overly excited every time Norway is mentioned in the media. This came to a certain morbid head when swimmer Alexander Dale Oen died a few years back, and newspapers wrote up articles detailing how media around the world had reported on how much the swimmer meant to the world swimming circuit and to Norway.
2. It’s not the cold that gets you…it’s the wet.
When you think of Norway, you think of winter. Yes, it can get absolutely freezing in some parts. But in the coastal areas of Southern Norway, where most of the population lives, the temperatures are rarely exceptional. In Oslo, it rarely gets any colder than -10 — no colder than other cities at the same latitude such as Anchorage, Helsinki and St. Petersburg. Inland areas and the North are of course a different story. Summers across the country are generally quite pleasant. The most uncomfortable thing about Norwegian weather is quite predictable: it gets wet.
The city of Bergen is especially famous for its rainy disposition (almost half a meter of rain in January 2015), but every part of the country sees long, gray, wet spells that leave people in the same state of melancholy as the dark winters. The cold is mostly annoying. The wet gets to be depressing.
3. Most of us are head over heels in debt.
Norway’s oil wealth has given its inhabitants an unparalleled amount of prosperity. Homeownership rates are among the highest in the world, most Norwegians have a huge amount of disposable income, and access to well-paying jobs. You would think all financial worries could just go out the window. Well, unfortunately, that isn’t the case. The oil price remained high throughout the financial crisis, meaning that Norwegian consumers hardly noticed it — and kept buying homes and borrowing money. Housing prices have increased by over 50% in the country as a whole since 2008, and almost two thirds in Oslo. Household debt is among the highest in Europe. It should come as no surprise that the TV show Luksusfellen, where a pair of experts take over a family’s finances to get rid of unnecessary habits and items and try to help them out of debt, finds participants for season after season in the Scandinavian countries. Our high salaries are only helping us so far — and Norwegians are stepping outside their financial boundaries. All we can hope is that this bubble bursts…before the oil runs out.
4. Foreigners do our dirty work.
Much has been said about the Protestant work ethic. It has been given credit for the economic success of the Scandinavian countries, Germany, and even the United States. Turns out it was easy to throw out the window, once easy money was forthcoming. For well over a decade now, Swedes have held most of the low-level service jobs in large parts of Norway. Meanwhile, carpentry, painting, plumbing and other trades are increasingly being taken over by workers from Eastern Europe — Poland in particular. Why is this? Simply because fewer and fewer Norwegians are willing to take the work. We still work hard — we just prefer to do it from an office, and without getting our hands dirty. Again, we all know this can’t last forever.
5. We have a drug problem…
Unsurprisingly, the country with the highest rate of deaths by drug overdose is in Eastern Europe — Estonia, to be precise. Guess who is in second place? Norway. Oslo used to have a highly visible community of drug addicts — it still exists, but it’s been moved off the main streets. All our harbors and trade make it easy to bring dangerous drugs into the country, and like most western countries, we simply started looking the other way when the problem became noticeable in the 1970s. Most other countries in Europe have started moving on from simple “keep the problem out of my face” policies — Norway hasn’t yet.
This story was produced through the travel journalism programs at MatadorU.
6. …and a drinking problem.
This is common for all the Scandinavian countries, unfortunately. It used to be that you were either a complete teetotaler, or got totally wasted every weekend or two. Traditions have evolved greatly since then, particularly since the state alcohol monopoly started marketing more continental drinking habits. Norwegians now have a few glasses of wine with dinner during the week…in addition to getting wasted every weekend or two. Alcohol is in many ways the only thing that gets Norwegians sociable — we are a somewhat introverted people. It has also become a vitally important of the concept of kos — it seems hardly anyone can enjoy themselves in other people’s company without alcohol or something sweet anymore. This is not good for the body in the long run, and even in the short run the weekly sessions of binge drinking are causing problems: people have fewer restraints against doing stupid, harmful and illegal things when they have had too much to drink, it’s that simple.
7. We are still Puritans at heart.
Despite all the problems mentioned above, Norwegians still have a high sense of morals. We are still slightly skeptical to people drinking during the week, especially if it is something other than wine, which is a sign of higher culture. Many of us are also highly skeptical of anyone who use other drugs to enjoy life — after all, alcohol has been tried and tested for almost two millennia in this country. Why experiment and go against the norm? Speaking of which, for all the talk about the Scandinavian countries being the most socially liberal on the planet, look at what happens to divorced mothers, LGBT people, anyone with darker skin than normal and others as soon as you leave the cities. Fortunately, there are few places left that are openly hostile (mostly in the Southwestern regions of the country). Still, there are other reasons than jobs and leisure opportunities for young people to move to the cities.
Bottom line: our social liberalism only runs skin deep — only as far as it is comfortable for us.