Gateway to Norway: My First Scandinavian Experience

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Home to natural wonders with beautiful ancient fortresses, stunning fjords and some of the happiest people around, this place sounds all dreamy right? Well, it is. Traveling to Norway from my hometown Kuala Lumpur is easy. There’s a handful of flights that connects Kuala Lumpur to Oslo through a transit or two daily. You can also score a cheap airfare if you fly on certain seasons or months but that’s where the sweet stuff ends as here lies the problem, Norway is an expensive country. The cost of living in Norway is known to be one of the highest in the world. The reason is that the country has some of the world’s highest living standards in general. To most Norwegians, Norway is expensive but nothing too crazy but for a first timer like me, I almost dropped dead looking at price tags in Norway. So if you visit this country as a tourist one day, you will surely complain about the exorbitant prices.

Norway is a comparatively expensive country for most foreigners, due to high productivity, oil and most importantly low income differences. This eventually makes sense as I spend more time in Oslo and slowly understand how the economy works. It’s a fact that goods and services are taxed at a higher rate in Norway than in other developed countries like the US or Singapore, for instance. But I would argue that Norwegians actually get the best service out of this which is very beneficial to them. Having a society where fewer people fall into poverty (11 percent of the population under low-income level) is still a good sign, it is also a shared value across the political spectrum in Norway. So, after all this “you can’t mention visiting Norway without the issue of price coming up“, why am I still here? *update: because I’m married a Norwegian!

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Creating a Scandinavian utopia doesn’t come cheap, and prices for everything, including food often come as a shock to first-time visitors. In Kuala Lumpur, eating out has been a weekly habit for most people. A single decent meal at a good value restaurant only cost around USD5 but that’s not the case in Oslo where a Whopper (you know, the famous burger from Burger King) will set you back a whopping $10 – $15. Because of this, a culture of quick light bites has developed and why eating out on a daily basis is not a thing in Norway. Norwegians really love to cook! Cheese constitutes a number of Norwegian delicacies and the traditional food draws heavily on the raw materials available throughout the country. The only problem I have with food in Norway is nothing is spicy and coming from a place where every food is heavily spiced and flavoured, I find Norwegian food to be quite bland.

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Weather in Norway is something I (still) need to get adjusted to. On a normal sunny day, the temperature only reaches up to 24°C which is meh, but not too bad, you get to enjoy all the amazing view Oslo has to offer. It gets humid here and there but nothing too unbearable. It’s still a jacket kind of weather – you’re good with it or without it. When it rains, it rains like teardrops and the wind is terribly cold sometimes, even when it’s sunny!. It’s hard to predict the weather in Oslo, there’s no prior warning to when it’s going to rain and when the temperature drops, it drastically drops and sometimes it’s all sunny and nice but the next second it starts to shower heavily. On normal days, the temperature ranges from 16°C to 24°C which is amazingly nice and comfortable.

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There’s no language barrier here in Norway. Most Norwegians speak English but the only problem is buying things in the grocery store because everything, I mean every single thing is in Norwegian. Of course I know how eggs, bread and butter look like but buying creams – is this sour, light or full cream, I’ll never know. Trying to figure out which bus, train or station to stop is also another mild problem. Interested in knowing what the commercial on TV is all about? Not a chance! It’s not the end of the world as most Norwegians do speak English and they’re fluent but knowing a little bit of Norsk goes a long way!

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Healthy lifestyle is the most important element for all Norwegians. The best thing about Norway is the non-existent pollution – the air you breathe daily is as fresh as it gets. Norway is the land of the lean because of their healthy habit, from food intake to the regular pastimes. Infrastructure such as indoor stadiums and outdoor lighting encourage locals to get out and about even in the winter months and the most prominent thing I noticed is that they eat dinner as early as 5pm. I’m not sure I’m even done with my high tea. If the weather is nice, it’s best to be outdoor as much as you can.

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Norwegian people are some of the kindest people you will ever meet, but only after they get to know you. Norway is undoubtedly a society of conformity – they are known for being reserved, honest, humble and straightforward. I never take offence on the cultural differences because I have Scandinavian friends back home and I’ve accustomed to their culture which is quite contrast to mine. Asians are known to be all smiles, approachable and sugar-coated beings. We tend to beat around the bush instead of being straightforward for fear we would offend someone but that’s never the case for Scandinavians. Foreigners often find that Norwegians are difficult to get to know as they can be wary of strangers, which is quite true. They throw a smile at you but that’s about it. I’m quite reserved myself so I don’t have any problem blending in with the society because I will simply approach and ask the local if I need any help, or if I don’t understand something. Other than that, I will respect their space and privacy. I really embrace it because the people are so genuine once you get to know them and have no ill-will towards people.

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It’s always nice to experience living outside of Malaysia whenever I get the chance to. Although Norway seems like an odd choice for everyone especially an Asian like me where the contrast in prices is so immense, I still enjoy the other spectrum like the prodigious standard of living, the family-friendly state, the nature and the people in general. Although there’s nothing much to do or see in Oslo, I still enjoy the monotonicity and Norway should be experienced through nature. And if you crave for some (real) crispy Sun, jet off to the nearest European city like Rome or Barcelona.

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