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26 Things I Learned From a Year in Norway

Tromsø in winter

Observations on life in Norway after 12 months living in Oslo.

A whole year has passed since I packed my bags and headed north to Scandinavian lands. Some days I can't believe it's gone so quickly, other days it feels like I've been here a lifetime.

But rewinding one year, I knew very little about Norway. The experiences I've had since then, many of which I've described right here on this blog, will stay with me forever.

Here are 26 things I've learned about this wonderful country this year. Enjoy!

Averøya Island

A hell of a lot about global economics

Living within a high-wage, high-tax, high-cost society has taught me so much about different approaches to running an economy. For one thing, I now understand the Nordic model.

Norway is rich

I knew this before coming here, of course. But I didn't truly understand the scale. The oil industry dominates and much of the profit is saved by the Government.

The Government Pension Fund of Norway is currently worth 3,396,000,000,000 Norwegian Kroner (that's about £367bn) and it owns 1% of global equity markets. That is staggering!

Social politics rules…

If you want to study left-wing politics, move to Norway.

The main features are the enormous Oil Fund, high state employment, low unemployment rates, high personal taxation and employment benefits weighted heavily in favour of the employee.

But don't misunderstand social politics with socialism. Norway is still a capitalist country.

Oslo Labour Day parade

But for how long?

Despite socialism running through the veins of Norwegians, the political right has made significant gains in recent years with the Progress Party now holding the second most seats in the Norwegian Parliament.

Their main economic argument has been to use some of the Oil Fund now, to (rather ironically) invest in Norway's infrastructure, including transport, schools and health facilities.

Together with their wish to slash personal income taxes, it's not hard to see why the Progress Party have made such, er, progress.

Norway isn't that expensive… as long as you live here

This is related to that new found understanding of economics! If you earn Norwegian wages paid in Norwegian kroner, it's surprisingly affordable to live here.

As a tourist trying to buy kroner with your own currency, well that's a whole different ball game.

Norwegian krone coins

Scandinavia is remarkably similar to the UK

Norway, Sweden and Denmark all pretend to hate each other, but really they get along just fine, and have way more in common than they'd like to admit 🙂

Norwegians are football mad…

I thought the English were football mad, until I discovered the Norwegian obsession with English football.

…even though their own football is poor

The Norwegian Tippeligaen is of a poor standard and the national team failed again to qualify for the European Championships. No wonder every Norwegian follows English football.

Norway football match at the Ullevaal Stadium in Oslo

The English Premier League is a global brand

I was constantly told this in the UK, but you don't realise the true meaning until you're abroad.

Over here you see the Liverpool or Arsenal badge as often as you see the Toyota or McDonalds logo.

I'm not fond of traditional Norwegian food…

I don't see the attraction of brown cheese and I was too wimpy to try lutefisk.

Norwegian food is basic and easy to make, but not inspiring. They do make a storming fish soup though.

…but neither are they

Norwegians really dig tradition. Many of the unique delicacies are only eaten when they are “supposed to be”, e.g at Christmas. Without this compulsion, I don't think you'd find many Norwegians tucking into a sheep's head through choice.

Peer behind the curtains and you're far more likely to see Norwegians tucking into frozen pizza or their frankly bizarre version of tacos than anything from their own shores.

Norwegian Taco

11am is a perfectly acceptable time to eat lunch

Eating a large meal so early in the day took some getting used to. My body adjusted quickly and I now get hungry at about 10.45, but the psychology of it took some time to overcome.

But thinking logically, eating more early on when your body needs the fuel, followed by a lighter meal in the evening, probably does wonders for the body.

You can be proud of your nation without being racist

The 17th May celebrations in Norway are special.

Far away from St. George's Day in England, where if you fly the flag many people will assume (rightly or wrongly) you're a member of a far-right group.

The true meaning of togetherness

The way Norwegians of all ethnic backgrounds came together after the horrific events of 22nd July is burnt into my soul forever.

Flowers commemorating the Oslo and Utøya attacks

Sweden is to Norway what Australia is to Britain

Drinking in an Oslo bar? The barman's more than likely Swedish.

Scandinavian summers can be gorgeous

May and July last year were two of the warmest months I've experienced anywhere! The summers can be far hotter than you'd expect, they're just nowhere near as consistent.

Of course, one thing you're guaranteed in June is light, and plenty of it.

Norwegians are sun-worshippers

Every July hoardes of Norwegians head to their summer cabins in the south of the country or on islands dotted around the fjords.

In the winter, many take to the skies, with southern Spain and Turkey the most popular destinations. A tanned Norwegian in February is a more common sight than you might expect!

Midnight sun from Nordkapp

What a temperature of -23C feels like

Put it this way, it's not nice. When the winter finally came it brought one extremely cold weekend with it. This coincided with…

There is a sport called biathlon

When planning my move to Norway, I never expected to be stood outside in the coldest temperature I'd ever experienced watching a combination of skiing and shooting. But as it turned out, I quite enjoyed the biathlon.

You can dehydrate in the freezing cold…

…just as easily as in the sun. In fact, it's probably easier as you don't expect it. Or at least, unprepared Brits don't expect it! I suffered a funny turn in Lillehammer and only felt better after guzzling two bottles of water. Be warned!

Me at Lillehammer Station
Leaving the train at Lillehammer

English is almost an official language

I was told I would get by fine in English, but I wasn't prepared for multilingual announcements on the train, automatic greeting in English in some international chain stores, most government forms including the tax return available in English… it's made learning Norwegian difficult.

I rediscovered my childhood love of flying

Environmentalists cover your eyes, but I've taken 15 flights in the last year and rediscovered my love for aviation. It might not be green, but it's the only practical way to get around this country. However…

…the railway remains the ultimate form of transport

Despite the Norwegian love (and necessity) of air travel, the railway connects you with the country in a way flying never can.

The world-famous Oslo to Bergen journey links Norway's two biggest cities, serves several ski resorts, takes you across Europe's highest mountainous plateau and connects with the picturesque Flåm railway.

It takes seven hours and for at least four of those your eyeballs will be glued to the windows.

View from the Oslo to Bergen railway
View from the Oslo to Bergen railway

Blogging is brilliant

Through this blog I've met some fantastic people, crowdsourced travel tips, discovered new places to visit and a whole lot more. I'm very much looking forward to Life in Norway's second year!

Education matters

For most professional jobs you're expected to hold a Masters degree, plus professional certification relevant to your field.

Networking matters

The majority of jobs are not advertised. Getting a new job is all about getting your CV and your availability in front of as many eyeballs as possible.

The professional social network LinkedIn is used extensively. However, if you are job hunting, check out some of the jobs that are advertised here!

Thanks for reading!

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About the Author: David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a freelance writer for technology companies in Scandinavia.

36 Comments

  1. I have to agree, learning norsk *is* more difficult since the majority of folk here speak excellent English (with better grammar use than folk back in UK!!!)

    One other thing I’ve noticed is when you are speaking norsk, and having a perfectly good conversation, you get the inevitable ‘so where are you from?’ question. I actually play a ‘see if you can guess’ game 😀

    I’m now onto Icelandic, Danish, Finnish most times (in that order). So at least I’ve adopted a nordic dialect 🙂

    1. The majority of norwegians doesn’t want to speak english, and what’s so wrong with the «so where are you from?», perfectly normal question in a conversation with a stranger.

      1. What are you talking about? I prefer English! When I was at the US embassy to apply for a student-visa the caseworker insisted on practicing his completely useless English making the interview process practically impossible as I understood about 15% of what he was trying to say.

        And when I worked in with phone service, a man from Bergen refused to get help as we where based on Oslo and had no employees that spoke in a Bergen dialect, so he just hung up.

        And on a couple of occasions I’ve requested customers to switch to English because of their incomprehensible Norwegian dialects!

  2. Would love to see a post elaborating on “A hell of a lot about global economics
    Living within a high-wage, high-tax, high-cost society has taught me so much about economic systems”

  3. Just finished my second year here in Norway too, and I agree with most of this. It’s very exciting learning that many of the ideas and experiences you’ve been through in another country aren’t all that different to those of others. Yesterday, I was talking to a Danish, a Brazilian, and an Italian, and we all agreed in many things, and apparently so would you 🙂

  4. Congrats on being here a year! This is a great list – some things we’ve already noticed and others we haven’t but will keep an eye out for now =)

  5. Thank you once again for an interesting post!

    What you can witness in Norway today isn’t so much an expression of socialism, but rather an expression of an important Norwegian value: Equality. If there’s a core Norwegian value it must be equality, well, in addition to our high valuation of closeness to nature! More than that, it’s not just a highly held ideal; Norway is indeed a very egalitarian society! After the Second World War we have managed to create a modern society with small class differences, a large public sector and a high quality welfare state. All our oil and gas revenues in the last decades have of course helped tremendously to achieve this!

    This high valuation of equality might be explained historically: Norway has traditionally been a peasant society with few feudal or aristocratic traditions. Several mass movements in the 1800s and 1900s, such as the socialist movement, also contributed to the emphasis of equality more than elitism (so socialism has something to do with it …). The advent of the modern welfare state after the Second World also contributed in the same way.

    The notion of equality is a widespread held value, but is interpreted differently across the political spectrum. Even the Progress Party and other political parties on the right argue with “equality rhetoric”. The political differences between political parties are, compared to other countries, quite small (did I mention equality?). So whoever wins the next general election in 2013, it’s safe to say it will not destroy the basic values of Norwegian society. There might be certain changes but the Norwegian model will remain basically the same.

    Sorry for the long comment … Blame it on the professor in me …

  6. Hi David,
    Thanks for your comment over at my blog; I’m glad you did as I followed your link over here, and my, what an interesting and helpful post! I shall be sure to scour the rest in due course. I’m still learning after 6 months and looking for work. It’s been an eye opener and your point about having a Masters is spot on.
    Lots to absorb here – nice to ‘meet’ you!
    Helen

  7. I’ve lived in Oslo for almost 2 years now and I love the place. Just like you I got a lucky break to work in Scandinavia. Didn’t know what to expect as I had heard about Norway only in geography lessons as the land of the midnight sun.

    But it’s a really good place to stay if you enjoy peaceful evenings and beautiful landscape. The only dark side is the winter which can sometimes get a bit cold.

    I agree with you that learning Norwegian gets difficult because it is so easy to converse in English as everyone understands and speaks it. But I’ve stuck to it and can at least understand and converse in some basic Norwegian. I was lucky to attend some days at a training course in Oslo.

    1. Hi Kevin thanks for your comment! Now I’ve switched jobs I’m going to be taking Norwegian lessons which shall at least focus the mind… I’ll let you know how it goes. Nice blog btw!

    2. as a Norwegian teacher (and native English speaker) I find it very frustrating when I am in Norway and want to practice my Norwegian. I sometimes say when they switch to English, that I don’t understand English. Only Norwegian and Bulgarian — so far no one has opted to talk Bulgarian to me, which is good since I don’t speak it. It say it to get them to choose to speak Norwegian.

      I’ve been told that my Norwegian is the very strong and fluent (better than other ‘non-Norwegians’.

      I recommend my website it you want to see some resources and suggestions for learners of Norwegian. http://NorwegianLanguage.info

  8. Hello David,
    Thank you for your informative blog 🙂
    I was reading it for the first time tonight.

    My friend has lived and studied in Norway for 1 year now and is here visiting me.
    We were talking about economy and society as well.

    About economy, do you also agree that oil industry is the main source of country income?
    Don’t you think that the dominant oil industry which is said to have made Norway very rich, can be a threat at the same time?
    Originally coming from an oil rich country I’m totally aware of the trap of oil!
    Is the Norwegian government making correct plans for the future?

    What about technological advancements, innovation and development?
    Do they have any technology exports similar to Sweden and Finland?

    Well these were our main concerns while considering moving to Norway as a long-term destination.

    But we had also discussions about society, entertainment and public facilities.
    I’d be glad to know your opinion 🙂
    Do you think the Norwegian society is also open enough to the non-EU residents?
    Supposing the egalitarian values, equality should apply to all. right?

    I for myself have traveled to several countries in Europe and met different people.
    Happiness means differently for different people.
    One factor for me is living among people with rich ideas, culture and openness. This creates solidarity and satisfaction. Simply you can open an interesting conversation with others and feel close to them.
    Excitement and soulfulness in society is also another factor.
    So for me (and many other livings!) my pay check and pension is not the only thing defining my life satisfaction.

    Hopefully will take a trip to Oslo soon despite the crazy prices for a tourist! 😉
    I guess everybody should experience it for themselves…

    I hope this opens an interesting discussion…

    Best,
    Matt

    1. Hi Matt, wow what a fantastic comment, thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts 🙂

      Yes, without a doubt Norway’s primary source of income is oil. But unlike many oil-rich companies, the way it’s structured is ensuring the country’s future. It helps of course, to have a large coastline with a relatively small population!

      The culture and society here is not easily explained in a blog, but I do my best. People are certainly “happier” here than where I’m from (the UK) and it’s not always easy to pinpoint why.

      Your comment has given me some great ideas for future blog posts where I shall expand on some of your points – thanks!

  9. Thank you David for the info.. im from UK myself but left UK and now live in Dubai for the past 2 years… and recently me and my husband are both thinking of moving to Norway,, we had enough of Dubai.. I used to love the sun here,, but believe me after a while you get fed up.. its not easy… culture and everything here is difficult however salary is great and there is no Tax but the heat in here is another story.
    we keep searching for jobs but hardly get any reply… im looking in Insurance or administration or HR fields and my husband in Finance… please tell us is it difficult to find jobs in these sort of fields?? we can see a lot of Oil jobs in which none of us have no experience..im scared to just go there and find nothing… please advise… thank u

    1. Hi Maria, thanks for your comment! Speaking frankly, a Norwegian employer is unlikely to take a chance on someone who can’t speak Norwegian and lives in Dubai. There is a highly educated workforce here, all of which speak excellent English. Your best bet is to search the oil & gas industry which is a big employer of expats. If you choose to move here without a job you will need A LOT of money. But you will find it easier to find temporary unskilled work, such as in a coffee shop or café, to provide an income while searching for more suitable employment. Hope this helps.

      1. thank you David,,, for your quick reply… i will keep searching the net for expat jobs and see if we can get anything in the oil and gas industry… or do what you recommended… in the mean time we found norwegian language classes here in Dubai, at least we can start on the basic learning… after all we have motivations… me and my husband have particular passion about ski and mountains and out of all countries we have been to.. we have come to one decision … Norway… plus we will be closer to UK to visit our friends and Family….

        1. Hi,

          I also live in Dubai and am looking to take Norwegian classes because my boyfriend is Norwegian. Where do you take classes?

          Thanks

  10. Hi David,

    I have read all the blog and it’s been useful for me. I’m From Mexico, and in the next days I’m going to go Trondheim to spend one year in NTNU. So I’m something nervous because Norway is very very different in all the ways.

    Do you know something about latin community in Norway, specifically in Trondheim?, is there? ,

    Eduardo.

  11. hey, nice blog! Good to see you enjoy Norway as much as i do!

    I’ve been to UK before, nice place with alot of good people and fotball. Its true, our fotball is poor and boring to watch. That’s why we follow UK fotball. Much more fun and exicting to watch.

    Nice that you like Norway. It’s a very good place. Everyone is welcome here to our beautiful land.

  12. Hi!

    I came over your blog trough facebook. As a norwegian it was interesting to read your thoughts on our society! It seams like you have gotten to know us well!

    The theory that sweeds, danish people and norgewians dont get a long is more a rumor than a fact really. But I do think norwegians get along even better with the two than the other two does with each other. That might be do to the fact that the norwegian language is very much understandable to sweeds and danish people, but sweedish and danish language is more unlike.

    I hope you will have a nice second year her as well! And I am so glad you have already experienced the 17. Of may, We are so proud of the way we celebrate that day! Hopefully you will be in the country on that day this year as well.

    As for me, I am going to you native country for the summer to attend summer school at cambrigde law. Hope I will get to learn some about your society!

    Have a nice day 🙂

  13. Hello
    Sooooo interesting to read and follow this blog about life in Norway, by that I have a question to ask you whether is suitable for non E. U especially for black people

  14. Thank you very much for your nice article! It is very nice of you describe about Norway positivelly while ther are actually several immigrants who are unfortunatelly not satisfied in this country. I have been in Norway in 21 years and I have NOT at all regretted to come here (I am originally from Japan)! There are no countries without weakness and I do love Norway and am very proud of my Norwegian citizenship I obtained in 2008. Now I have been preparing to start my own Norwegian courses to immigrants in Bergen. I do hope I will be able to teach immigrants the fantastic Norway and hopefully it would help them to be integrated in Norwegian society well.

  15. Hi David,
    Very nice blog got to learn so much about Norway and life in general over there.I have some that i’d like to ask you about .
    I’m an undergraduate student studying in India so i’d like to do my masters over there in oslo.
    So what are the educational and immigration requirements that required to join a university over there in norway preferably the norwegian uni or the uni of oslo.
    Also i heard that its difficult to get a part time job in norway if you don’t know norwegian.Is it true?
    Thank you David,hope you’ll reply.

  16. It rocks as long as you are not a tall poppy or want to individuate. Norwegians worship mediocrity and makes sure they cut down anyone who tries to stand out or excel. Sameness is everything and makes for an overall good result and “peace” (see suppression or feelings), at the expense of people being brainwashed since birth to be like similar clones without personality or opinion. It’s nice if you like living in your mummy’s womb all your life.

    So happy I left that phony idyllic bs country. Rich. yeah because of OIL. They are soooo environmentally minded and also studies show that abroad, they are not so interested in clean air et c, only for themselves. Hypocrites.

  17. What a lovely positive post “Sophia”. Compelling arguments, and so constructively handled too!
    Sarcasm is not a very Norwegian thing, so you can tell that I am not Norwegian. This gives me a certain objectivity. I think what you wrote says a lot more about you (and perhaps your own failings) than it does about Norway.
    “No” Norwegians are not perfect, and their way of doing things is not for everyone, but “yes” they do lots of things in a way that many others admire (rightly). And also, to set the record straight, Norway would likely be perfectly well off even if it did not have oil (maybe not quite so rich, but lots of that is paper wealth in any case – as it’s locked up in the oil fund). The countries around it, which which Norway shares a great deal in common, do perfectly well without oil.

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