All Norwegians passed 25 seem to be obsessed by the idea of owning a flat or a house. Any Norwegian party or diner has its share of conversations about the best time to buy an apartment, how unfair the OBOS system is with some Norwegians being members since they were born; and tips on how to use Finn.no (some have become true experts on this, spending hours comparing and rating apartments).
In the world where I come from, i.e. French middle-class; accessing private property is pure fantasy unless you have reached the minimum age of 35, have worked and saved money for some years and have a partner who can afford to share the mortgage with you. Being a civil servant will also help, as banks usualy prefer lending money to those who have a permanent contract (a rare commodity these days). This also means, if you decide to buy in Paris, that you might have to share a hybel and travel for more than an hour to go to work, and pay back the bank during 30 years.
But let’s come back to Scandinavia. Norway, unlike France, is not in any kind of apparent economic crisis. Here the population of a Parisian suburb is spread in a the equivalent of a wide fjord, and although Oslo is a capital city, you can still travel 20 minutes with the tube and find yourself in the middle of the forest. What I call luxury.
So tonight, maybe because I am becoming like Norwegians or maybe because I wanted to try it out, I went to visit a flat that is for sale in one of the only areas of Oslo that I can afford with my single salary: the east of the east, near Groruddalen. “Are you crazy? Why would you want to live there?”. All I have heard about this area is that it is very far frrom the city centre, with a high population of immigrants, and the neighborhood is ugly, full of blocks.
I cannot lose anything by having a look, so I go to the visning. I imagined blocks like the ones we have in suburbs of French cities, so wide and so tall that thousands of people can live in them. With common areas sad and empty, corners smelling like piss and nothing but betong. No trees, just a few cars and young guys making drug deals. To my surprise, Lindeberg is full of small blocks in the middle of the forest. I can hear the birds singing and children are running around with friends, throwing balls and cycling. Everything seems very peaceful. I ask my way to several people, all of them are immigrants, yes, but they all speak Norwegian and seem friendly.
It is clean everywhere and I can hear is the sound of a river passing nearby. Neither a car nor a motorbike. And THIS is the “ugly” and cheapest neighborhood in Oslo!
I take the tbane back, thinking that I wouldn’t mind living there. It is not that far, I am in the city centre after 15 minutes of travel. But as I take the line 1 to Frognerseteren to go back to the flat I rent in the basement of a big house, I see a brutal change in population. Another kind of “Oslofolk” comes in between Nationaltheatret and Majorstuen. They don’t have the dark skin of Afghans but more like an orange tone because of the heavy use of fake tanning saloons and lotions. The women are not Tamil and a bit plumpy, pushing the prams of their babies; they are tall and very sporty, with Filipino maids taking care of their kids. As the tube goes up in the Holmenkollen hill I realise that now I am only surrounded by tall blond businessmen and classy women who play on their Ipads and read Finance Magazines. The teenagers here wear clothes that amount to several thousand kroners, all dressed with the same brands and shiny shoes.
I realised on that tbane that despite sharing the exact same tbane going from Ellingsrudåsen to Frognerseteren, those two worlds never seem to meet, and probably ignore each other’s existence. I doubt that living in an area where only rich people disconnected from the reality of the rest is much better than one where 98% of the kids at school are “non-ethnic Norwegians”. Oslo is becoming more and more multi-cultural, and as prices of property goes up, I look forward to seeing whether communities of blond, tanned and rich vs. plumpy Tamil ladies and Pakistani taxi-drivers will every meet at the food store or whether they will stay as far apart as they are now.