Thinking about it from the perspective a couple classes introduced me to, I can’t avoid the thought that it means a high PPP distributed equitably among the population– a country making lots of money and making in a way that shares the money among the country’s population. But this definition doesn’t really fit. It’s not the oodles of money Norwegians make. It’s what that money means. For a lot of people, I think, money means things. But Norwegians, so far as I have seen, don’t really have more stuff. Some do, I suppose, and sure, a lot of them have nicer stuff, but that’s not what makes the standard of living here higher. The standard of living is instead how people are able to live here. Let me explain:
I had heard and read and thought that Oslo has the highest standard of living in the world. But do you ever really think about what that means? True, things are expensive here. But if you work, you make enough money to have a good life. And a good life here is the best in the world– to start with, the big stuff: healthcare is uniquely affordable here. Transportation is excellent. No matter where you are in the city or what time it is, there is a way to get home on public transit. Job security is great– the joke is that laziness and incompetence are fine (though in my experience unusual); you have to break the law to get fired. Education is paid for by the government, including a master’s degree. For everyone. These are huge things that dominate the minds and emotions of people I know in the states. And they just aren’t a concern for people here. Obviously as students, we have to budget, and life isn’t perfect, there’re tensions aplenty I’ll post about later on. But those huge hurdles that define can define people’s lives just don’t present themselves to people here. And then there’s the little things: there is a convenience store, bar, mall, park, grocery store, strip mall, club, cafe, kebab shop, and potential job 10 minutes or less from wherever you live. Because we are in the city center, we have it even better– we live close to a number of bars and clubs and schools, five minutes from a paintball range, 10 minutes from a rock wall as well as Opera house, water front, Nobel Institute, to name a few. A 30 minute train ride from anywhere in the city takes you into the forest to run, camp, ski, or spend the day. Even on a student budget (well, a Norwegian student budget, we have to be more frugal) you can afford to take advantage of all of those things. Name an interest, you can probably do it, find it, or start it, here.That’s a bit hard to fathom for a student used to life at PLU. That’s what it means to have the best standard of living in the world. To be (physically) near the actualization of almost anything you could desire, and to be able to seize it.
I am finally recovering from jet lag, and have started to settle into a bit of routine, so I thought I would share what life is Oslo is like, on a day to day basis.
The first thing I had to do once I started sleeping normal hours was buy the basic stuff like lamps, and that meant a trip to IKEA. Comfortingly, the store and product names are exactly the same as in Seattle, so, besides the huge price tag, everything went smoothly. There is actually a free IKEA bus that takes you from central Oslo to IKEA, which we took, but which our norwegian friends refuse to take. There seems to be a bit of a stigma against Swedish people among some norwegians. In my mind, there is some parallel between the stigma against Mexicans in America — one common complaint of the Swedish is that they come to work for a summer in Norway, and make enough money to travel the world the rest of the year — taking jobs from Norwegian students. I am hesitant to make this comparison though, because the same vitriol is not present — largely, even those norwegians who speak out against sweden will grudgingly admit (quietly) that Sweden isn’t really so bad, and that they have a couple swedish friends. And, despite this attitude, the IKEA bus is always packed.
So, after IKEA, I have some real pots and pans, lamps, and a desk organizer. So then I was introduced to Clas Ohlson, which is pretty much an in-mall Loews or Home Depot, sans the lawn mowers. We found the prices to be about those of IKEA, and bought the absolute essentials: a coffee grinder and coffee maker. On the way to Clas Ohlson, I was still having trouble walking down the street the Norwegian way — that is: looking up and to the side so you don’t make eye contact, but down far enough you can see where you’re going, and composing your face with a slight frown and so as you won’t be taken to acknowledge anyone else is on the street.
Unlike pedestrians, people driving cars are supremely aware of other people out in the city — despite traffic signals, drivers expect pedestrians to walk in front of them even if they have to slam on the breaks, which is something they do a lot. I’m told amsterdam is even more this way, but Norwegians definitely ‘share the road’… you are constantly inches from cars and trams in the street as you walk around.
So having made my room livable, I set out to do laundry, which, like evrything else in Norway, is done with a Sim card and piles of cash. We have a sim card to get into the laundry mat and to activate the washers and dryers. The washers are amazing, even letting you set the RPM. The dryers are not. We are sure now to set “extra dry” every time, because then we only have to dry a load twice (16 kr per cycle — so 4+ bucks to dry each load). With the costs being what they are, Ryan, David and I split the cost of an iron and ironing board — it’s cheaper to iron worn clothes than it is to wash them…
The next morning, I was getting tired of paying 50 kr for breakfast and coffee, so I ventured to the grocery store to buy breakfast food — where I discovered that not only is it common to have freshly baked bread, even the 7/11 down the street has fresh baked break every day. So now every morning I have a fresh croissant, apple, and cook an egg in the mornings. Not a bad way to start the day. At one bar we were at a girl asked if America has bakers. This is a good question I think– everywhere you go in Oslo there are opportunities to buy freshly baked bread!
This thought raised an interesting question about what a high standard of living means. Look for it in my text post!
Sorry about the lack of posts for the past couple days. I was introduced to the norwegian version of everclear, a bit unknowingly. That’s all I’ll say about that.
Moving on to the parts of my Norwegian Experience that will be repeated–
I left off with a few things last time:
Living in Oslo
We stopped at McDonald’s to grab a quick bite, and, according to the “Big Mac Index” Oslo should be around 4 times as expensive as Seattle. That’s about right, thinking about how much money I’ve burned through in the last couple days. The math is hard to get used to — In dollar amounts, everything you buy is at least 2x as much, but then it is also x6 from dollars to Kroners. Needless to say, we are pros at dividing by six!
As you might have seen photographed, there’s a man-made ski jump in Oslo we visited, that also includes the ski Museum. The museum was dedicated to the history of skiing in norway as well as those who had skied famously. Centuries ago, Norwegian’s skied on not much more than straight planks of wood, which were thick and look unruly. Skis then transformed into works of art in middle ages, thin, long, and intricately carved from top to bottom. What is amazing about the museum is that you move from those works of art to the equipment used by the first Norwegian arctic explorers, and their gear wasn’t much different from what they might have used centuries before. In 1893 Fridtjof Nansen trekked to the north pole on wooden skis, and with dogs, using gear closer to 1693 than 2012. (Meanwhile, in the US, the supreme court was declaring the Tomato a vegetable) The gear explorers used at the south pole is even more incredible — we saw one of the “boatst they used once near the pole — it was simply a cured skin stretched out in the shape of a bowl, held by a flexible wooden frame of 6 pieces of wood. Hello, hypothermia.
We were at this museum with Haaken and Lasse, and looking at that gear sparked an interesting talk about compulsory military service that would be continued at the Military Museum in central Oslo. I’ll put a picture up soon of where this, but these guys (and lots of other Norwegians) serve very close to Murmansk. We asked them how hard their military service in the woods once the snow began was, and their response was — once you have survived the arctic, everything else is easy. In the forest, there is potentially food everywhere, on the ground, the trees, animals, if you have the patience to catch them. Up near Murmansk, while you’re on patrol, there is you, and there is the cold. A bit of a dramatic answer if you ask me, but as a common experience among norwegian college students, this is certainly a striking cultural difference.
After the Museum and a little bit of walking around downtown (which has a TGI Fridays… very chic for some reason) we stopped for Kebabs, which are basically very spicy Pitas. By now, our conversation has moved from military service to our political systems. Lasse had left by this point, but Haaken was very interested to hear about our two party system. I haven’t done any research to confirm what he said, but he was very surprised that redistricting (and thus gerrymandering) occurs at all, let alone in the democratic united states. He was even more astonished that redistricting is often done by legislatures themselves. It was his impression that didn’t happen in Norway. But he had his own complaints about norwegian politics. It is his impression, at least, that norwegian politicians are precisely that — politicians in the modern sense. The minister of defense could very well be the minister of transportation, moving from knowing nothing about defense to knowing nothing about transportation (at least, lacking an education in those things). There are notable and popular exceptions of course, like the current defense minister, but it has been my impression that politicians tend to their political careers, and technocratic advisers tend to the state. More to follow on this in the future.
Things to look for in my next posts
Shopping in a city without Grocery Stores
Does America Have Bakers?
Laundry via Sim Card
A Green City with no Environmentalists? and other proof the US is behind the times
Exploring the City
Public Transport in Oslo
Oslo, the (resentfully) international city
Being an Illegal in Oslo
After talking to Haaken, our Bjorknes “norwegian buddy” contact, I met “a big and a little guy”. The big guy ended up being Stian, and the “little” guy is Lasse, though he’s taller than I am. I expected that being as jet lagged as I was, they would be taking me to pick up whatever stuff there was waiting for me at Bjorknes, and then take me to my place– a short day to begin recovery. It certainly was not, but in the best way possible!
After stopping at 7/11 for some coffee (I missed the only starbucks in norway… at the airport), we did go to Bjorknes, where I met Wanja, our primary contact at Bjorknes, who gave me huge IKEA bag full of stuff to get me through the first day. I also met Thomas, our academic contact for the semester, and a couple other profs. I think of PLU as small, but Bjorknes is SMALL. The administrative level is maybe 3500 sq ft and, including faculty, seems to house less than 30 people. The other thing I noticed, and then was spoken to about, was that from a norwegian perspective, Americans like me are far too stressed, and too busy. The atmosphere, conversations and relationships faculty, staff, and students seemed to have revealed an informal, what I would call laid back attitude about everything, from writing a syllabus a week before classes start to taking a 45 minute break to meet me to the casual way that profs acknowledged their classwork would take backseat to students lives at some points (read: drinking). On the point of American students being busy — while many college students like me feel pressure to excel in “extracurriculars”, norwegin students, even at the University of Oslo with its 30000 students don’t typically participate in clubs outside of local sports clubs, nor is it expected of them, and, it seems, desired of them. But, back to Bjorknes: It has a cafeteria next door but is across the street from a nursing home that has a cafeteria everyone uses because it is way cheaper, and much to my surprise one can just walk in and buy stuff there, as I did, to get another coffee.
As we drove and looked around, I learned that Struiss and Lasse were both students at Bjorknes who are studying in the 3 year old Peace and Conflict Studies program. Both of them are interested in security and counter terrorism, but from there I immediately began to notice the differences between PLU students and what seem to be fairly typical norwegian students. To start, they don’t have majors.. they simply earn enough credits to get a degree, and choose a specific major if they go to graduate school, which I think both of them intend on doing. They are also 24 and 23 respectively, while Struiss is a third year and Lasse is a second year. This age gap is because of compulsory military service in Norway. They were shocked to find out that I, as a 20 year old, am an average age for a junior. From my perspective, their age has only served to help them. Though they share some of typical mores regarding things like drinking, sleep, procrastination, etc, Struiss, Haarken, and even Lasse exhibit a mature attitude towards their schoolwork and a willingness to do what work is needed that seems less common among younger college students I know.
This blog will be a place for me to unload, talk about, and think about, Norway. I’ll try to explain all the awesome stuff I’m doing, as well as record my reactions to and observations about Norway and my experience here. Comments are of course an option, and if it seems like there is something I could write/think about that I haven’t yet, chances are I probably will want to , so drop me a comment!
This blog is also required by a two credit class I’m enrolled in at PLU, so it may get a bit dry at times, but bear with me, Norway is a fascinating and surprising place!
P.S. — wordpress has a pretty small limit to amount of free storage your allowed, so I am keeping all my photos on a Picasa online album, available at https://picasaweb.google.com/103624690128409475421