Once again I’m an expat and this time I’m living in one of the most northern, well-organized, and richest countries on the globe: Norway. My earliest memory of Norway’s existence is from my 6th grade Geography class with Mrs. Lockard. She quizzed us on the world’s capitals and the one that stuck out in my mind was Oslo because it just had such a funny ring to it. Oslo. My hipster radar was already on point even before I hit puberty.
That’s where my knowledge of Norway ended until I met the “Norwegians” who taught me more about their homeland than I knew about my own. Now that I live here, I’ve picked up on even more facts and have formed some observations:
It’s an extremely rich country with one of the lowest wealth gaps in the world. In 1969 the Norwegians struck oil in the sea off their coast and since the 80’s have been living lavishly off it. Not Arab style though, nothing here is too ostentatious and the whole society is taken care of. The difference between the lowest paid worker and a CEO is among the smallest gaps in any country.
Globally, Norwegians have the 4th highest GDP and rank as the 2nd wealthiest country; their capital reserve (oil fund) per person is the largest in the world. Wikipedia calls it a capitalist welfare state and social democracy. Public healthcare is free and parents have 46 weeks of paid parental leave.
(I’ll pause while you swallow that)
It’s really huge and scarcely populated. “The rugged coastline, broken by huge fjords and thousands of islands, stretches 25,000 kilometres (16,000 mi) and 83,000 kilometres (52,000 mi) and include fjords and islands.” The population maxes out at a little over 5 million people. Matias grew up in a village of 50 people.
Very homogeneous. For once, I am considered non-native and totally exotic! Ok, not really there are African and Middle Eastern immigrants, but walking down the streets the general ethnic structure of most individuals is blonde hair striking Viking features. Locals are very well dressed, most people look like classic model-types. What really pops out to me is how the men have stick straight hair that they gel back or to the side.
They celebrate diversity within their own homogeneity, though. What I mean by that is while everyone is Norwegian, they get excited about Norwegians from all different parts of Norway. They love to point out dialectical differences. In Norway, everyone speaks and learns Norwegian but different regions speak different dialects. There are northern dialects, southern, western, and even more precise ones within cities like East Oslo and West Oslo (posh). Three out of every four Norwegians I meet with Matias point out to me that, hoo hoo, Matias is from the North and speaks like a fisherman. They say it like it’s a badge of honor. I’ve heard about the special laws applied to Northern Norwegian language speakers (they can use profanity at police officers without penalty) and their guttural harsh way of speaking more than any other cultural aspect thus far!
Unlike in Lebanon where the mentality of “Party like it’s the last day on Earth because who knows, we all might get blown up tomorrow!” ruled and bars would be packed on a Tuesday night, here in Norway it’s completely different. Nothing is going on during the week (at least in winter), a beer is so NOT cheap that you cannot just sit down and throw back a few, and it’s not like you’ll run into anyone you know on the way to or at the bar during the week.
Weekends are a different story. In Lebanon it felt like drinking was more accessible, that there were way more free shots, and more debauchery, yet people here in Norway get TOTALLY VISIBLY WASTED by 8pm Friday-Saturday. I think an average Norwegian drinks ten ½ liter cans in a night, I’m not kidding! And they drink all of these at someone’s apartment before they venture out because it’s too expensive to go straight to a bar. And they start the pre-party as early as 6. I’ve got a lot more observation to do on the party scene here. Stay tuned because there’s so much weirdness going on.
Religion. Technically 82% of the country is Christian yet it seems no one believes in it. Maybe more in the countryside. For example, I went to a kettlebell class and was worked so hard I muttered “Oh my god!” and the trainer looked at me and said “He’s not here.”
So many people I have met and know in Norway have worked or currently work at a psychiatric ward/hospital or kindergarten. These two kinds of institutions seem to be the ‘go-to’ job for people looking to make money in between pursuing a career. In the USA I don’t know ANYONE working at a house with junkies, psychos, and other mentally unsound people. It’s crazy! Don’t you need nerves of steel and special training? People here think it’s normal. Must be a reflection of an elevated society. Kindergartens are also widely popular. The thought of a zillion sticky screaming kids with white hair scares me, but stay tuned because I just might have to get a job at one.
While my homeland is in the process of legalizing the green, and Lebanon continues to produce bountiful fields of hash, Norway is toootally freaked out by it. In a country where I’ve seen more heroin junkies on the street — passed out in hospital gurneys, dozing off on the sidewalk, and walking down the road asking someone, anyone, to pull the needle out of their arm — the notion of marijuana is still spooky!
Sure, in the rest of the world you can’t just light up in front of your parents, but in Lebanon I felt it was revered and respected as a pleasure to appreciate, say, after a good meal. In Norway, average party people will get uncomfortable if you mention preferring to smoke over drinking tons of alcohol. These are two direct quotes I’ve heard so far: “Weed is as bad for you as heroin!” and “Hash is a gateway drug and triggers psychotic tendencies [if you were prone to them in the first place].”
On every Oslo corner there is a pizza shop and a kebab shop. The takeaway pizza special sale prices range from $25-$40 (GASP!) and are usually run by Pakistani, Iranian, or Somali immigrants. The pizza is sloppy but everyone still goes for it. Kebab shops are not meant to be frequented while you’re sober — I was half sober and discovered mayonnaise on my kebab and almost barfed. At least sushi is reasonably priced. In fact, sushi in Oslo is HALF the price of Lebanese sushi. Booya!
So much more but this is enough to chew on for now. Ha det bra!
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