I’ve Lived in Norway for 7 Years Now and I Want to Tell You About the Things That Still Amaze Me
My name is Veronika, and I’ve lived in Norway for 7 years now. I “had to” go to this northern country from Riga to follow my husband. Over the years that I’ve lived in Norway, many things about my life have changed. For example, my clothes have changed completely: I gave up on wearing high heels and dresses, and now I wear jeans, sweaters, and low-heeled shoes. I don’t work as much as I used to and the New Year is not much of a holiday for me now. Some of these changes that happened because of the culture of this country feel really organic, but there are some things that I still can’t get used to.
Especially for Bright Side, I’ll share the things about life in Norway that still amaze me even this many years after moving to this country. They are mostly positive things. And at the end of the article, there is a bonus for you — some information about the best time of the year to visit Norway.
Norwegians love nature.
In Norway, there is a law that says you have the right of free access to wild nature. It means that you can even set up camp outside of camping areas, and you can also walk, ski, ride a bicycle, and swim wherever you want. Norwegians love spending time in nature, at any time of the year. They even have a special word for it — friluftsliv which can be translated as living in the open air. However, they are very careful about nature: nobody throws trash around and there are no poachers.
By the way, about poachers: you don’t need to have a license to go fishing in salty water (the sea and fjords). The Norwegian law gives people the right to export about 30 lbs of fish fillets, and one big trophy fish. So, Europeans have a profitable hobby — coming to Norway on refrigerator trucks, living in tents or the cheapest houses, fishing for a couple of weeks, collecting the fish and leaving. But fishing in the lakes and rivers requires a license. You can buy it in most post offices or on this website.
There are no curtains on the windows.
Norwegians will continue to say that they have nothing to hide. This is why they don’t have curtains on the windows. When it gets dark, you can walk on the streets and see what is happening in the houses: here, they are having dinner, in the other house, they are watching TV, and here, they are playing with their children. A fireplace is burning, you can see the photos on the walls, and their piano.
Grass and trees grow on roofs.
In my opinion, it all looks very attractive and natural for Norway. As it turns out, the grass roofs appeared in Norway a very long time ago, back at the beginning of the 19th century. This surface (peat) was used (and still is) in order to help the home retain more heat in the winter and more cold in summer. On top of that, it also helps with soundproofing. They love to say that a green roof can withstand any storm.
If you want to build a roof like this for your house or cottage, remember that the first several layers should be dry tree bark that is soaked in sheep fat, then peat, then straw, and the last step is moss. These roofs weigh a lot, especially after it rains. The grass needs to be watered all the time, this is why these roofs are perfect for the Norwegian climate, where there is a lot of rain and snow.
In July, all of Norway is on vacation.
In Norway, a very interesting thing happens — vacation for everyone. It happens in July and the country looks like it is turned off: 80% (maybe even 90%) of all Norwegians go on vacation at the same time. Many people even have job contracts that state: out of 5 weeks of vacation, 3 must be taken in July. Kindergartens and schools are also closed during this time. In Oslo, there are no people on the streets in July. Norwegians travel to the South of Europe or to their cottages — wooden houses in the Norwegian mountains.
During this period, almost all offices are closed, many companies don’t work, and getting any service can be extremely hard. Several years later, we were moving from one town to another. The process happened in July — the time when everyone was on vacation. We had to live for 3 weeks without internet access in the new house because everyone was on vacation and nobody could come and hook up our cable.
It might seem like people in Norway don’t work a lot.
When I just arrived in Norway, I couldn’t understand why people here didn’t work a lot. All the kindergartens close down after 4:30 pm, but all children are picked up before 4 pm. After 3:30 pm, there are big traffic jams. And there are lots of people in the supermarkets because everyone is doing shopping after work. And after 5 pm, there are significantly fewer cars and people because many Norwegians have dinner at this time.
Here are several facts and numbers:
- The official working day in Norway is 7.5 hours. But in fact, most office workers spend about 6-7 hours at work.
- Almost everyone starts their working day early — at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m.
- Their lunch break is usually very short — 30 minutes (but Norwegians take coffee breaks every hour).
- If you don’t feel well, you don’t need to see a doctor, you can just take 3 free days off that the employer pays for and get some rest. You don’t need any papers that prove it. During a year, you can take 12 of these days. Many people use this right and extend their vacations by 12 days.
For Norwegians, a work/life balance is extremely important: they have enough time for work, family, sports, and hobbies. They are doing great!
Children sleep outside. No matter what the weather is like.
In Norwegian kindergartens, children sleep in strollers in the fresh air. They do it when it’s snowing, raining, when it’s windy, sunny, even when it’s −10 degrees out. The babysitters put the babies into strollers after lunch and take them outside to sleep. Some kindergartens have special tents for strollers and others don’t.
When my daughter started going to a Norwegian kindergarten, I was completely against the idea of her sleeping in the street, but afterward, I found a lot of advantages:
- Children breathe fresh air, and their risk of getting sick is much lower.
- Children sleep in the fresh air, so they have healthier and better sleep.
- Their immune system becomes stronger.
The facts about Norwegian schools
Children acquire knowledge while playing (especially in elementary school). For example, during math classes, children play “supermarket” with foods, toy money, and cash registers. And during English classes, they dress as the characters of different cartoons and play scenes in the English language. In schools, there are a lot of male teachers.
If a child lives far from school, a bus or a taxi comes to pick them up and then take them back home. “Far from school” is 2 km for 1st graders, and 4 km for 2nd graders and older. We live 7 km from school, so my daughter can keep going to school by taxi for many years to come. At least once a week (in our school, twice a week), children go camping in the forest or the mountains. The camp lasts for at least several hours, and sometimes the entire day.
A big disadvantage of Norwegian schools is the absence of hot food, or food at all. Every day, parents have to prepare lunch boxes for the whole day.
The tradition of making boxes with food
Every morning in a Norwegian family starts from making matpakke, or boxes with food. Parents make them for children to take to school or kindergarten for the whole day. Besides, parents make them for themselves to take to work. Usually, people make sandwiches with different ingredients — with brown or yellow cheese, caviar, vegetables, or pate. They also take fruit, small vegetables, sometimes yogurt, and pasta.
Aside from school, kindergarten, and work, you can simply open the box on the bus or the train and have a snack. Many people do that. When going camping, you absolutely have to take this kind of box. Norwegians have a ritual: when they climb a mountain, they sit down, open their food boxes, and eat, enjoying the view.
In Norway, there are foods that can be called weird. Here is my personal top 5 of the most inedible Norwegian foods:
1. “Old cheese” (gamalost). Traditional Norwegian cheese with mold that can be stored without a fridge. The smell from it can spread miles away and it costs a lot of money. And there are a lot of people who love it.
2. Sheep’s head (smalahove). The head is boiled and served with mashed potatoes and turnips.
3. Blood pancakes (blodpannekaker). While cooking, they add deer blood to regular pancake dough. The pancakes look brown.
4. Saukerkraut in milk (kålstuing). Cabbage is boiled in milk. It looks like milk soup with cabbage.
5. Lutefisk. Smoked fish soaked in an alkaline solution for several days. The fish smells really weird.
The delicious Norwegian waffles
In all fairness, there are a lot of tasty dishes in Norway. For example, brown cheese (brunost) that tastes a lot like condensed milk. There are fish soups that are creamy with salmon and codfish. And I have never tasted a better strawberry than in Norway (they’re sold in July).
I also love the hot Norwegian waffles that are served with the brown cheese, jam, or sour cream. For Norwegians, these waffles are like bread. They are made for any meal: breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert. They are served in all cafes and restaurants. They can be sweet and savory, they may be made of regular flour or coarse-ground flour. You can also cook them at home.
Here is the recipe:
- Whip 2 eggs and 100 grams of sugar, add 150 ml of milk, 200 ml of buttermilk, and 100 ml of water.
- Add 350 grams of flour, 1 teaspoon of vanilla sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom, 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda, and 1 teaspoon of baking powder.
- Mix all of this and let it rest for 15 minutes.
- Add 125 grams of melted butter and bake the waffles until they become golden.
The life of retired people
I will never forget how I met an old Norwegian woman. It happened last winter: my husband and I were skiing at a Norwegian ski resort. And then we were outrun by a group of elderly ladies, there were about 15 of them. All of them were in perfect physical shape and in a great mood. One of them asked me to take a picture of their group. She took out the latest iPhone and told us that their group of “girls” comes to the resort every week to spend time in the fresh air. The youngest of them was 68, and the oldest was 85. It was a pleasure for me to take a picture of them, the woman thanked me, and uploaded the picture on Snapchat.
Retired people in Norway look great and spend their free time in an interesting way, they have hobbies and they are in very good health. Norwegian pensioners live decent quality lives:
- They travel a lot — about 3-4 times a year.
- 95% of Norwegian pensioners have a car and they drive well.
- They have an active lifestyle: they ski, they go hiking, they are in hobby clubs.
- The average pension in Norway in 2019 is 20,000 Norwegian Krones ($2,000) per month.
Seeing a family doctor costs around $25, and they redirect you to all other specialists. Seeing a specialist costs $35-45. Considering the high salaries and pensions in Norway, this is an affordable price. Here, people go to doctors regularly, they don’t have to spend years waiting for surgeries because they don’t have enough money.
Once your medical expenses reach around $220 per year, you are given a special card that will cover all of your further expenses, all the doctor’s visits, specialists, many medications will be free for you.
The disadvantage: if you or your child are sick, you can’t call a doctor to come to your house. Even if you have a fever, you will have to drive to your family doctor or to the emergency room.
Prices in Norway
You can make money by recycling bottles and cans. The trash cans have special sections to make it easier for people to look for these containers.
Norway is an expensive country — it’s true. It is a normal thing to visit the supermarket, spend $200, and buy almost nothing. Services are even more expensive, like for example, a taxi or going to a restaurant. Gas costs around $2. But the average pay is $4,400 — $7,600 per month. So, the prices are really high for foreigners, but not for the locals.
But, despite the high salaries, Norwegians still skimp on many things:
- Heating. The temperature in apartments in winter is no higher than 17-18 degrees Celsius. When going to work, many people turn the heat off. They wear woolen underwear in order to not freeze.
- They pour the exact amount of water in the kettle — no more than they need at the moment.
- They control how much toilet paper is used.
- They make a menu for the week and buy only the foods they need for the dishes they planned.
- They buy foods in Sweden, where they are cheaper.
What tourists can skimp on:
- Food. If you have a limited budget, choose foods and products from First Price in supermarkets: the quality is almost the same, but the price may be 2 or even 3 times lower.
- Fuel. Try to fill up your car on Sunday evenings, Monday mornings, or Thursday mornings because this is when the gas and diesel prices are the lowest. And on Monday and Thursday evenings, it is the exact opposite: the prices are very expensive.
- Going to cafes. All the cafes and diners in Norway follow the same principle: eating in is 10% more expensive than takeout food. If you have a limited budget, stay in apartments or hostels where you can cook for yourself.
- All packaging, including bottles and cans. In Norway, the prices for the packaging are separate from the prices for the products. And the price of a bottle may be several times more expensive than the price of what’s inside. In supermarkets, there are machines where you can put bottles. If you load bottles and cans inside, you will get a check with an amount on it for the given bottles. When you show this to the cashier at the check-out, the final price of your purchase will be reduced by the exact same number. Many trash cans have special holders for bottles to make it easier for people to find them.
- Tax-free. You can get the tax back at almost any store if the price of the purchase is more than €50. You can get back up to 30% of the money you spent.
Baskets for lonely people in supermarkets
In Norwegian stores and supermarkets, there are grey baskets for lonely people. The idea is that if you are lonely and you want to meet someone, you can take this grey basket which will basically signal to everyone you are looking for companionship. Maybe the person you are looking for is just around the corner but you are just too scared to talk to each other. This basket can help you. Last time I was in the supermarket, I saw several ladies and men with these baskets.
Bonus: The best time to visit Norway
- January is a great month to go to the North (for example, to Tromsø) and enjoy the view of the Northern lights. The chances of seeing them then are pretty high.
- February and March are the best months for skiing. Amazing weather, the sparkling snow, a lot of sun, and a fairly long day.
- April. At the beginning of the month, go to the Lofoten islands to enjoy the beauty and see what is possibly the best fishing site in the world. This is where millions of codfish are at this time.
- May. On May 17, Norway celebrates its Constitution Day. Come here and you will see thousands of Norwegians in their traditional costumes, amazing parades, and many other traditional things.
- June. Come visit different towns of Norway (Bergen, Stavanger, Trondheim). Every single one of them has its own charm and atmosphere.
- July is the time to travel around the fjords. You will never forget this trip.
- August is the best time for mountain climbing and visiting the sights (Troll tongue, Preikestolen, and Lysefjord).
- September is when you can enjoy the fall and it’s the perfect time to ride a bike.
- October and November are the only 2 months when I don’t recommend coming to Norway. During these months, the weather is terrible, everything is grey, it’s rainy, not snowy yet, and there is very little sunshine. A lot of people I know that came here in November were very disappointed.
- December is the start of the skiing season. Also, visit Bergen to see the biggest town made of gingerbread.
Would you like to visit Norway? Or have you already visited this country?