Mind-mapping: Mismatched living in Oslo

Written by Tiffany Naylor

Årvoll, North-East Oslo

It’s 6 am on a Sunday morning and the reverberation of the bed’s metal bars, which I once found so charming, shake me awake. Grumpy and angry at the world, this is how I started my days in Årvoll. The thumpings belong to the boisterous children of our landlords, who live above us, running back and forth, back and forth. It’s one of their favourite pasttimes. Yet it’s also the sound of the choice we made between a 10K per month, all-expenses-paid, 60 square metre apartment in a “quiet” neighbourhood over the more expensive, more cramped and, so we thought, more noisy options in central Oslo. Having both grown up in the countryside (me in Devon, him in Nesodden) we felt the suburban life would be a good first step in Oslo. It turns out we were a little misguided on what living in the basement of a house belonging to two young children and a dog would give us, lifestyle-wise.

Yet, our first adventure in Oslo wasn’t all that bad. Being the house of a Norwegian banker, we had our own small garden complete with miniature vegetable patch and roses winding up the archway of our front door. If we walked for five minutes we’d find ourselves at the foot of Grefsenkollen, where we could ski in the winter and take meandering lakeside walks in the summer. On the weekends, we could hear the cheers or cries of the nearby football pitch. But the area was beginning to be eaten up by concrete building sites and it felt like every night graffiti crept onto a new house. Life in Årvoll was changing and with the constant stampede above us, it was time to move on.

Majorstua, Mid-West Oslo

With a cushy job working in an up-and-coming game production studio, I had the stability we needed to move onto a street just off of Bogstadveien. Our apartment had the intricate plasterwork, wooden flooring and large windows that is so vogue in the Frogner area. We didn’t have a chandelier but we did have floor-to-ceiling double doors in each room that made me feel like an upmarket Aragon whenever I opened them. And there was a chandelier in every other window on the street. For a while, we lived like a typical stable Norwegian couple. I shopped on the stylish but somewhat soulless Bogstadveien high street, while he worked out at one of the many gyms in the area. But, just like my enthusiasm for the place, our time there was short-lived. It’s the area where we got engaged, where I had my first proper ‘now I’m an adult’ paycheck and where he got accepted as a student to BI. But it was also where I lost my job and I started to notice that the windows were lopsided, the paintwork spread onto the floor and the electrical wiring wasn’t exactly safe. It was all so falsely posh, which wasn’t very ‘us’ in the first place.

Nydalen, North Oslo

Nowadays, I stroll along a gravel pathway for the five minutes it takes me to get to work and lectures. We’re living in Nydalen, a stone’s throw from BI Norwegian Business School where we both have part-time jobs and degrees. Nydalen, translating to ‘the new valley’, is a glass and steel business park sprawling alongside Akerselva river. This time, we’ve positioned ourselves better to our current lifestyles. Looking at Oslo as a newcomer, it’s easy to only see the affluent, designer-clad twentysomethings in West Oslo or the bohemian very-chic artists in the East. Then, of course, there’s the saddening stories of homelessness and drugs you see everywhere in the city. We tried to fit ourselves into the never-worry-about-a-penny group, perhaps subconsciously and more on my part than his, because at first glance that seems like the norm in Norway. But there is another group, and we’re in it.

Our modest student apartment has one bar on the lounge wall where we can hang things and is filled with large, dominant furniture that suited our Majorstua apartment but sticks out so abruptly here. The front door is bright purple and the ceiling lights would look more in place at an office block. Our apartment is mismatched, just like our lives and it’s wonderful. Nydalen doesn’t have much to offer but our experience and story does.

As we’ve moved our way through the city, we’ve had some pretty challenging moments but isn’t that the point of experiencing somewhere new?

I fell in love with Norway when I visited during the fairy-light decked depths of Christmas, when all was white and pure. It was a shock when we made the move to Norway and found it was just like any place: It was ugly. And was also beautiful. You have to accept that wherever you are in the world, you have to live for the beauty and live with the dirty.

Illustration by Tom Lenartowicz

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Tiffany Naylor is from Devon, England. She moved to Oslo with her Norwegian fiancé in 2013 and is currently studying at BI Norwegian Business School. She is also running a new initiative called Incubate, which aims to support entrepreneurial students with business advice and inspiration. Follow her on Twitter @tiffanynaylor