This is the question I am asked in nearly 99.9% of conversations with new Norwegian people that I meet.
If you are an expat/immigrant, call it what you will, I guarantee you will have to get used to fielding this question so much you might want to get a metaphorical baseball bat to hit this inquiry straight out of the ballpark then you don’t have to waste too much time contemplating why they ask. The existenstial angst of asking yourself late at night “why DID I move to Norway?” could prove too much for a simple soul in a dark Scandinavian winter.
My response to this question is pretty pedestrian now, after some creative responses that went down like a lead balloon I usually answer in a cheerful and concillatory tone that “my partner is Norwegian”. No further questions asked but it leaves me looking a bit like the little woman – following her man around the world with no plan for herself, but this is ok as I am quite without ego now. Moving to another country will strip you of all ideas you have of yourself, it disarms you in ways you had not imagined. You are just you now but without the lanuage you wielded so well at home, struglling to find a place in a new culture and open to all new ideas. In some ways this is great, it makes you really who you are, a sort of stripped bare version of yourself.
The truth about why I moved to Norway is much richer and more difficult to explain – there were a few reasons I moved here and some have worked out and some have not.
Reason number one: The Wilderness (this one worked out)
For the last few years before I left the UK it was, for me, a sweat box of work, work, work and not enough space outside. Not enough open space. Not enough nature. Where are all the trees?
I lived in the city and worked in the city and played in the city and I longed for the green spaces, but I wanted pure wilderness not a city park full of teenagers lolling about but real unfettered, pure wild nature. Mountains, fjords, tundra, forrest – great expanses of nature. That is what I have found here and this is why Norway will always be heaven for me. Norway is beautiful full stop! If there is divinity in a landscape then it is here.
My time spent hiking, camping, living by a fjord, swimming in deep dark waters, climbing mountains and seeing seasons that actually are definite seasons is an experience I will take inside of me forever and whereever I go. So I hope my children born here in Norway love the wild as much as me for if there is a country with a beautiful landscape then this is it.
Reason number two: Norwegian Cosmic Disco (this one did and didn’t work out)
This is rather niche and I do not want to discourage any new readers to this blog so I will cover this in vague fleeting language that you can skip over if you like. Suffice to say I have been pickled in a genre of music since I was about 13 that emerged out of black America sometime in the early 70’s and tripped over the Atlantic and made every young Brit crazy for a period of years, it’s evened out and spread like a joyous wildfire in Europe. Turns out that the Norwegians have made some jolly good stabs at the current vibe of this genre in recent years.
So I came here to dance to this music in the nightclubs of Oslo and make some art and design work for it too. I did do that and it was great but then I had to get a job to make a living here (expensive place to live) and then I had children and you know the rest.
Reason number three: Digital Nomad (this one didn’t work out)
After I had been working, working, working for someone else in the UK for what seemed like my entire late youth, 20’s and early 30’s I decided that I could take my skills and set up shop as a freelancer. Buoyed up with various ideas from the progressive thinkers in the US about work being without place and anyone with a laptop and an internet connection could sell their wares globally on the internet I thought it would be an excellent idea to live in Norway and be a freelance designer. This was folly. Absolute total hogwash. 3 days after arriving I understood a block of cheese was around 5 quid and a beer around 4. Everything else you need to live was also an extortionate price – housing and food could eat away a decent salary in no time so to put your creative wares on the open global market where you are competing with India, China and even the UK was just impossible.
Why not live where you want and do the work you love in a global sense? Erm because Norway has an economy that precludes everyone that is not doing Norwegian business – you must work with Norwegian companies that pay Norwegian salaries or freelance rates – to try to compete with the world who have lower living costs and can price their work at much cheaper prices means you simply cannot afford to live here.
So don’t come here if you want the global digital nomad life, it’s totally impossible.
So those are my real reasons for moving to Norway but I think the question the Norwegians pose is actually more interesting than my answer. So why do Norwegians ask why you are here? Is it that weird to be here as a foreigner?
I have worked, studied and socialised with so many people in the UK who had come there recently from different countries and not once did I ask them why they came to the UK. Never. Not once. It never entered my head. It wasn’t political correctness or some social convention – it genuinely never occured to me to ask. Was I just a social buffoon who didn’t think about people’s lives and past cirumstances or was it something else, perhaps just a bigger place where there is a bigger acceptance of other people. I just assumed that they were here like millions of others to take part in the UK, to work, to live, to love, to have a brew and put your feet up. Maybe to escape, maybe to prosper but always without question accepted.
I wonder if it seems unusual for someone foreign to be in Norway whereas it is an absolute non brainer for someone “foreign” to be in the UK.
The Norwegian people I have given my standard reason for being here to are often super smart and worldly, so I am inclined to think that it is because Norway is so small and there are limited opportunities that perhaps it is a bit unusual to move here especially from the UK.
Once Norway stops thinking of itself as little Norway then perhaps people will stop asking me why I am here. It’s much like someone asking you why you are wearing a hat – because I like it and because it’s what I want to do. Implicit in the question is “it’s a bit weird you are wearing a hat”.
Norway wants to reinvent itself as a creative and progressive economy now the oil is gone and with only 6 million here perhaps not every answer is born here. Diversify and prosper Norway… you’re such a looker it’d be a shame not to.