Updated: Oct 3, 2019
By Sandra Larriva
If you tell any non-Norwegian that you’ve moved to Norway, they will most likely comment on:
a) The weather
b) The northern lights
c) The high standard of living
If you Google “moving to Norway,” you will most likely read about how expensive life here is or how onerous some processes can be (i.e. getting a bank account, a credit card or a driver’s license).
But what about the other challenges that no one warned you about? I’ll share three here, along with some tips. (Stay tuned; the rest will come in my next post).
Lack of diversity
A couple of friends were surprised when I announced my move to Oslo. “Norway is a very homogenous country,” they warned. Even though that was close to a year ago, I am only now starting to fully grasp the meaning of that statement.
Norway is a “super high-functioning homogenous blob,” says Sean Percival, author of the book “The Loud American: Working With Norwegians.” “Society encourages the good of the collective over any one individual,” he adds, and this has “helped to create the peaceful, modest, and homogenous society of today.”
Homogeneity can mean equality; it can also kill diversity. This is, to me, the mothership of all challenges to life in Norway. [Insert stereotyping warning here] Norwegians are used to doing things a certain way, and they want to keep it that way. In other words, integration – for those with a different set of values, tastes and traditions – will require hard work, even if you’ve traveled the world and speak multiple languages.
Lack of diversity manifests in many ways, which segues into challenges nummer to og tre.
In his book “The Social Guidebook to Norway 2: Friendships and Relationships,” Julien S. Bourrelle cites three main challenges for foreigners living in Norway, the third one being the food. How can one of the world’s top-ranked countries not have world class food, one might ask.
In Norway, there is “not much competition in just about every industry,” explains Sean Percival. Monopolies abound and “the local sentiment is that products and services of high-quality are best built by Norwegians,” he adds. This paired with the fact that Norwegians “avoid risk at all costs” feeds into what Percival describes as “humble food traditions.”
And humble fashion traditions, humble courier traditions...You get the point. Few options, high prices.
Part of what makes Norway great is how well-run and safe the country is. That is due, in great part, to a strict set of rules that Norwegians follow to the letter. Learning to abide by those rules can be a long process, but not following them from the start could cost you friendships, a job, your reputation, your dog or even your children.
I’ll give a couple of examples: Dogs have been sentenced to death or killed for as little as having scratched or nipped someone. The Norwegian Child Welfare agency, known as Barnevernet, has been accused of having separated children from their families without adequate justification, prompting an international outcry. Note that this is
a highly polarizing subject you don't want to bring up at a dinner party, but definitely something to be aware of and come to your own conclusions about.
If you’re still with me after that last paragraph, this may be a good time to underline that the perks of living in Norway, me thinks, definitely outweigh the challenges. Nevertheless, challenges we face! Lack of diversity, few options, little flexibility: Three ways of saying the exact same thing: It’s not easy to blend in i Norge!
Here are some suggestions to do so with grace:
Don’t just hang out with people from your own country, connect with the international crew. Ironically, that is how you could make your first Norwegian friend: they could be dating that foreigner who happens to be your friend.
Katy Paus, a strategist at the Norwegian energy company Equinor, moved to Norway in 1985 and has since mastered the art of networking.
“The biggest determinant of life,” she says, “is the richness of the connections you have.” But because “it’s hard to break into the networks that already exist with Norwegians,” she suggests joining your local Chamber of Commerce or expat groups such as Internations or, for women, the Professional Women’s Network, Business Women Oslo and Global Woman Club. Also, want to get better at public speaking? Try Toastmasters.
“If you have a passion, find a group that does it,” she adds.
From doing improv comedy to kneading kanelbolle to making printed circuit boards (PCB), Meetup is your go-to resource. Don’t see what you’re looking for? Start your own!
Facebook is also a great networking tool. It was one of the most, if not the most important tool for me when I first moved to Oslo. Join groups, follow interesting people and go to every. single. event. you’re invited to. You’ve heard of the six degrees of separation? I got my first job in Norway because I went to a party, which led to a lunch, which led to a meeting, with led to another meeting, which led to a job fair, which led to a job. There, six degrees!
Norway may not offer the largest variety of products, but help is on the way! (The times are changing, fast.) Until then:
Support the so-called “international stores” in Grønnland, where you’ll find a range of globally-sourced products at affordable prices.
If you have a friend with wheels, drive to Sweden (i.e. Strømstad) once every few months and stock up on just about anything.
For organic produce, join an andelslandbruk, or community garden. You’ll get to know people, learn to grow your own veggies, and eat healthy.
Turn any international trip into a shopping opportunity; leave extra room in your suitcase and pack it with your favorite goodies.
A final word of caution to online buyers: The price you pay on Amazon or Ebay is never final in Norway. If you exceed 349 nok, shipping included, be prepared to pay taxes at your local post office when your goodies arrive. Use this calculator for an estimate.
Learn as much as you can about social norms and regulations and whatever you do, never slap or spank your children in public. (Or ever. I am not by any means a supporter of corporal punishment. I do remember being lightly spanked a few times as a kid and understand that in many other cultures, such acts are legal to some extent. Not in Norway, not even a gentle slap.)
See below for recommended resources.
English Language Newspapers/Newsletters
Guides to Working/Studying/Investing/Living in Oslo
“The Loud American: Working With Norwegians” by Sean Percival
“The Social Guidebook to Norway 1,” by Julien S. Bourrelle
“The Social Guidebook to Norway 2: Friendships and Relationships,” by Julien S. Bourrelle
“Working with Norwegians,” by Karin Ellis