As I round out my third full week in Norway, I figured I would start sharing some of the things I’m learning or the observations I’m making as I experience more of what Stavanger has to offer.
Although I have way more than just these seven things to share, this is a good start.
1. Umbrellas are Useless
Coming from Houston to an Arctic coastal town in the middle of winter was a shock to my system, to say the least. One advantage to this is talking about the weather is perhaps the easiest ice breaker I’ve had to rely on. When I think of “Norway”, I, as a typical American, picture a city like Tromsø or Oslo:
Stavanger, though, is not the snow-packed tundra a typical American may envision. Its coastal location makes it a much more “mild” climate (comparatively speaking) that receives minimal snow. The snow I have experienced here is much like what you’d expect in Houston: sleet, watery, barely-frozen rain that sometimes sticks to the ground for a while. There is, however, wind and rain. A lot of rain.
I don’t have a car here, so I currently rely on the city bus and my two feet for transportation – leaving myself quite exposed to the elements. Naturally, I came equipped with an umbrella – or at least I was equipped with an umbrella, until it broke in a gust of wind the first time I opened it.
I’ve since noticed people don’t use umbrellas here to get around. They’re good with walking around in the rain, donning a thick waterproof coat with a nice hood. I lament my good hair days. They don’t last long here.
2. (Many) Norwegians are total townies
In fairness, this rings true for the majority of people, regardless of where they are in the world. We tend to not go very far or explore very much. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – it’s just the way it is for so many.
I’m not sure why I held this romantic view of Europeans being seasoned travellers, but many of the Norwegians I’ve met just don’t leave Norway. Many of the locals are from a smaller town a few hours away, and they move to the “big city of Stavanger” (HA.) for work. They go home often, and they go skiing or hiking elsewhere in Norway for their holiday. Some go to Spain or Italy every year. Some have been to the US once or twice for work.
I’m aware this is a gross generalization, but I’ve met more people who fit this model more than I’ve met people who have “seen the world” (I’m not sure what that means, really; the more I see the world, the more I realize how little I’ve actually seen).
Although this is basically the same model in the US (Many don’t leave their home town, and / or vacation in the same few spots every year), it feels magnified here because everything is on a smaller scale.
I met a local Noggie on Friday who said he moved “all the way to Stavanger” from the next town over, which is 6 miles away. But he “tries to go back on the weekends”, when he can. That’s not much different than moving from Cypress to Houston – but 30 miles here is far more substantial to a local than it is to a native Texan.
Perhaps I expected too much when I pictured people who literally have 50 different countries in their backyard, 5-7 weeks off a year, and access to budget airlines. Why wouldn’t one go to Lisbon on a whim? I certainly hope to.
3. America is Cultural Mecca
One of the things I take for granted as an American is how dominant we are in the cultural sphere. Most people around the world have a general idea of who the US President is and can name a handful of US current events or political leaders. They’re aware of major US happenings, like shootings or natural disasters (When I was in Bangkok last September, a local asked me how I fared after Hurricane Harvey when I told him I was from Houston; I don’t exactly follow Monsoon season in Thailand). They consume our American-produced media, and follow our celebrities. Many even stay up into the wee hours of the night to watch The Superbowl. Seriously – some of my coworkers stayed up all night to watch Tom Brady and Justin Timberlake underwhelm on live TV.
Meanwhile, I didn’t know who the Norwegian Prime Minster was until I googled it on a whim. I didn’t even know what kind of government Norway had. I probably have more cultural or political acumen than the average American – but I didn’t know much about the Scandinavian political sphere (aside from Iceland’s 2008 financial crisis) until I started reading about it on the plane ride over here. I can’t name a Norwegian actor (
Thor Chris Hemsworth doesn’t count, unfortunately), and didn’t watch Norwegian television until I searched for a few niche shows on Netflix a few months ago. I’d never watched cross-country skiing until the winter olympic finals – only because it was on in the office.
America is the cultural center of the world. I’m grateful it gives me something to talk about with new people.
4. “Trykk En for Engelsk”
“Press One for English” is not something I’ve ever heard in my life until last week.
It’s true, English is the universal language of business. But Norwegians prefer speaking in their native tongue, when possible; I don’t blame them for that. I’ve been told frequently over the last few weeks that if I want to stand a chance at fitting in or finding a place, I’ll do my best to pick up some Norsk. After all, it’s no fun being the only person not in on the joke. Listening in on conversations feels like living in a Sims computer game, at times – and that’s with a few Duolingo lessons under my belt. I started taking Norwegian Language classes yesterday, and have every intention on picking up some Norwegian.
Wish me luck.
5. Free College: Masters in Market Saturation
I’ve learned that in order to get an interview with my company in Norway, you (allegedly) need a Master’s Degree.
Here I am, a lowly Bachelor’s with a few years of experience from the US.
From where I stand, there are a few natural outcomes (consequences?) to this expectation
First, college is free in Europe. If everyone gets a bachelor’s, the natural next differentiator is a Master’s degree – that is, until everyone else has one too. As long as it’s free, why not keep going? Had school in the US been free, perhaps I’d have a few more degrees, too – but from where I stand now, I personally don’t believe that to be the best use of time and resources. If a Master’s is the new Bachelor’s, then it seems that at least six years of university is now required to get your career started. Similar to a GPA requirement, it’s also an easy filter for employers – although I’m not too sure how I feel about that one, either.
Second, it’s a very interesting phenomenon to consider how the norm here is that your career (and to an extent, your life) doesn’t begin until your late twenties. I’m 3 years younger than some of my coworkers, and I have more work experience than they do. Life isn’t a race, and a Master’s Degree from a college in Europe sounds far more prestigious than my Business degree from Texas A&M; grad school just isn’t part of my story, and I’m comfortable with that. At 25, I am just grasping how valuable my twenties are. I’ve written about my priority to experience and grow as much as I can within my first five years out of school; I’m glad I was able to start my career, support myself, and experience the world at 22 rather than 27 or 28. Time is precious, and I’m grateful to be a special case to come work here without having written a Master’s Thesis.
6. Babies in the Cold
I’ve only been to two Scandinavian cities so far – Stavanger and Copenhagen – and one trait both share is how safe they are. I feel completely fine walking the city alone at night. Nobody will bother me. I would not do that at home.
As a young woman, oh how I appreciate that.
I was shocked, however, to learn that these cities are considered so safe that people will leave their babies outside and unattended while they go into a store to do their business.
I was in a coffee shop on my first full day in Stavanger when I watched a woman walk up to the door pushing her baby carriage. She left the carriage – with the baby bundled up, fast asleep – outside while she went in and had a relaxing cup of coffee and chat with a friend. Whatthefuck.
No seriously. This is really common. It blows my mind.
I don’t have any commentary about this, but please excuse me while I pick my jaw up off the floor and go on about my day.
7. Coffee & Alcohol: Nectars from Valhalla
I’m convinced Norwegians suffer from chronic dehydration.
Norway is #2 in the world for coffee consumption per capita, second only to Finland. In fact, Scandinavian countries make up the top 4 on this coveted list – and all are in the top 6.
Coffee is a staple in the office, with most making frequent trips to replenish their cups with bean juice well into the afternoon. I, myself, have quickly become a 2 cups a day gal – but I do like sleeping at night.
During the week, Norwegians drink coffee. During the weekend, they get lit. In 2/7 of their year, the average Norwegian drinks 21.7 gallons of alcohol. (And they aren’t even in the top 25 countries in terms of per capita alcohol consumption.) I don’t drink too much, but nightlife in Stavanger is filled with endless barhopping and all of the over-priced beer and wine you can ask for.
In my first two Friday nights, I consumed more alcohol than I have in the last 6 months. I know, I know – it’s the European thing to do; but I think I’m better off sticking to a Pellegrino for a night on the town – weird stares be damned.