At the end of April I arrived here in Norway to work for the “summer”, and people often wonder how an Australian ended up here. I have simply abbreviated my story to: “The money is good and the men are tall.” Even though I have lived in Europe for eight years there were still some initial surprises. And I guess I have not even started learning.
Written by Natasha Hecher
1. Duty free at the airport
Normally when I get off a plane I head for baggage claim. That is not how it is done here. At first I thought it was a 90% off Prada sale by the way those well heeled people abandoned their decorum to fill up their trolleys with “cheap” booze. It was a frenzy, and the queue was bigger than IKEA on a Saturday afternoon. But now I understand: you need a mortgage to go out for a night.
2. Lots and lots of parks and open spaces
Lush greenery everywhere: every few blocks it seems. Apparently people like to sit in parks and have a few drinks before they go out. Even though it is forbidden to drink in public spaces, law enforcement exercise empathy as it is logical to lather up slightly beforehand so that the €17 it costs for a glass of wine does not sting so bad. So unless you are causing trouble, you are OK. Although I haven’t experienced many afternoons in the park as it’s often been too cold. Which brings me to the weather…
3. No wonder the weather forecast is always wrong
How one could forecast what the weather is doing in the next five minutes, let alone for the whole week is beyond me. I was going to work the other day, and I looked up at the sky. There were some storm clouds, some normal clouds, a bit of blue sky, some sunshine coming from somewhere and a few drops of rain. All at the same time. How do you dress for that?
4. Where are the Vikings?
OK, so having a Human Resources major, I did a lot of studies on Scandinavian countries as their system of paid maternity and paternity puts the rest of the world to shame. But I guess I never really thought of the ramifications of such an egalitarian system. It seems to have given the men vaginas. Manly men are few and far between: it is not as though I was expecting animal hide loin cloths and unruly beards, but nor was I expecting fur collars adorned by men that clearly spend more time in front of the mirror than me. The aforementioned parks are full of these men, with strollers. Groups of them. I can’t understand Norwegian, but one gets the impression that they are in deep conversation about sleeping patterns, chafed nipples, and how smart little Frode is.
5. Australians are somewhat exotic
When I am working in Aker Brygge (the tourist area) I find that Norwegians (especially the older ones) are annoyed that I cannot speak Norwegian. But when they ask where I am from and I tell them Australia, they are immediately interested, more jovial and happy to be served. The regulars even call me Skippy. Every time one guy orders a beer he says, “And one for Tony Abbot”, and they love to tell me to “throw another shrimp on the barbie”. For them it never gets old.
6. The cost of eating out: A burger costs how much?
I resolved after eating out on my first night that there would be no more of that. A burger and a milkshake nearly set me back 40 Euros (50 USD), and it was not a swanky establishment. Work wise, I still have trouble delivering bills to tables, I feel almost apologetic until I remember that it is “normal” in Norway. Frankly, I don’t think I ever will be comfortable spending three days worth of living in Mexico on one rudimentary meal.
7. Salmon is cheaper than salami
So I figured if I am not going to eat out, I would have to find an alternative source for food. Apparently there is a thing called supermarkets for that, so I chose the middle of the road one called Kiwi. When I saw the prices of a loaf of bread, a carton of milk and a pack of salami, tears pricked my eyes. I found myself walking aimlessly around the supermarket thinking this is how Gwyneth Paltrow must have felt when she was on food stamps for those three days. But then I saw the price of fresh salmon. Surely it was a mistake? It was cheaper than my salami! That is the moment I decided I was going to learn to cook everything containing salmon. Like fish cakes. That is not working out so well for me so far – because I am a terrible cook – but I have no choice but to keep on trying.
8. Drinking laws: they exist
During the winter I live in Austria, and work in aprés ski bars, where it is a crime to not get people shit faced. They may be lying on the floor, but as long as they can semi-coherently order more Jägermeister, I oblige. I sometimes even assist by pouring it down their throats. However, it seems I am not in Kansas anymore: the laws in Oslo are strict to the point that the bartender is responsible if someone does not get home safely. I am not sure what “safely” is, but I am guessing that people making bad decisions and choosing to sleep elsewhere does not count.
9. There is a distinct lack of Starbucks
Hey, I am all for no Starbucks: it is right up there with McDonald’s as a symbol of globalisation. I just can’t help but notice I have only seen one or two. I don’t think it is because a grande latte costs about €10, I just don’t think it was accepted [ed: 9 Starbucks have actually opened in/around Oslo since 2013]. Instead they have a chain called Kaffebrenneriet whose coffee shops are a lot more colourful.
10. Lots of spring shenanigans
It was my first proper day in Oslo and I was walking through the park. I saw three girls meandering through, looking like paramedics dressed in red overalls. I thought to myself, “Shit! I hope nobody is hurt”. Then I narrowed my eyes. Wait a second. They were carrying no equipment, they looked a little drunk, and there was no urgency. Which left me thinking, “what the hell was that”?
It was the Norwegian graduation tradition called russ. History and Arts students wear red, Finance students wear blue and Tradesmen wear black. Having to identify your future vocational tendencies at such an early age is too much definition for me. You see red in some “hipster” suburbs and blue in the finance district. I wonder if they have mixers?
Anyway, they cruise around for a month in this gear making trouble, and the big night is the 16th, which means they are placated on the 17th much to the delight of Norwegian society.