Want a Social Class Shock in Oslo? Just Jump over the Aker river!

A Frog in the Fjord: One Year in Norway Book


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.

5 thoughts on “Want a Social Class Shock in Oslo? Just Jump over the Aker river!

  1. It’s all a matter og status. And the immigrants..
    Most of groruddalen is nice. Close to the Forrest with few cars.

  2. The definition of “ghetto” is an accumulation of the same group of people gathered in one specific area. I would say the only place in Oslo this is true is in some of the “white ghettos” of Western Oslo and Bærum, where everyone’s Norwegian four generations back and rich and have big houses and big cars. Because immigrants are not ONE homogenous group. They are from so many different places, speaking so many different languages, they have different traditions, believe in different Gods, follow different sports and so forth. Therefore, a place is not a “ghetto” because there are many immigrants there. Immigrants are a diverse group.

    I grew up in Groruddalen, and I loved it there. Will probably be moving back when I settle with a family of my own. It’s close to the forest, you can go hiking anytime, there are so many waters to swim in, tracks to discover… There are so many different people, with so many different traditions. One day, the Hindu neighbours are celebrating Divali, with lights everywhere. One day, the cricket world championship is on and the Pakistanis are all celebrating if they win. The next day, its Eid and you get invited to dinner by the Muslim family next door (yes, that actually can happen, especially if you show interested in the Eid tradition). Then it’s Christmas and everyone’s children are walking around in nisseluer and lighting candles, regardless of them celebrating the religious Christmas or not (I am an atheist and Christmas is about family and being thankful for all I have to me, not about Jesus). There are international days at school where the children truly learn about the rest of the world, when parents of their classmates come to school to talk of how they had to flee Iran or cook Kenyan food for everyone. I grew up in a diverse area and I am so happy for it, it taught me a lot about the world, it sparked an interest in other cultures, it made me more interested in reading about historical events from other perspectives. It made me a much more empathic person, made me feel much more connected to people living on the other side of the planet. Which in turn made me more critical towards the media’s war coverage, or how little we learn about what is happening outside the Western hemisphere. Every time a Western journalist dies in Syria or Afghanistan, there are huge headlines. No one mentions the locals, the true heroes who risk their lives every day to document what is happening, to bring the war into our living rooms. The heroes who face oppression from the government every time they publish an article, who experience bombs being thrown at their house or threats being made to their families. The locals are always the first to die in wars, that goes for both civilians, soldiers and journalists. And I think growing up in such a diverse surrounding made me much more aware of those stories, gave me other perspectives on life and the world. I am so embarrassed by Norwegians sometimes, they way some of us complain about gas prices even though gas prices in Italy can be the same, but they make so much less than we do. The way we complain because our free, high-standard health system isn’t perfectly suited for each of our individual needs. The way we complain in general. We are living in paradise, and I feel so lucky. Not just because I have been raised by parents who have taught me the real value of things and that you can’t just have everything handed to you, but also because I grew up with people whose parents had to leave everything they owned behind, because there were people in my class whose only memories of their first few years were being constantly scared, and the sounds of bombs, people who lost relatives to landmines or hunger. It is sad how we do not realize what we have right in front of us.

    The East/West-divide runs deep. It’s a pride thing, but it’s also about different perspectives. I find a lot of people from west of the river really dull, selfish and superficial. It provokes me that they are flaunting their wealth and acting like they deserve it even though they are just profiting off their parents money. It provokes me that they never saw those perspectives when they were young. It provokes me that a lot of them are so cynical about the rest of the world and immigration, so keen to keep everything they have to themselves. It feels almost like an insult, knowing that their grandfather could be the arrogant director who bossed my grandmother around when she worked at one of the textile factories along the Akerselva river, a poor mother trying to make ends meet. The east/west divide is a remnant of a more class-divided society, and it sticks. I have friends from the Western end of Oslo who hate the culture there and tell me they have friends who never go further south than Jernbanetorget(!). And yes, I am prejudiced, but that only proves my point – this runs deep, and will probably not change in a while.

    1. further EAST* than Jernbanetorget. Darn you, WordPress, not letting me edit my previous comment…

  3. Wow, what an amazing post! I know it’s been more than three years since this was posted, but I couldn’t help but respond to such a heartfelt piece.

    Of the two ‘communities’ which one is the strongest I wonder? However, in reality only one of them could really be described as a real community as opposed to a mere collection of individuals who happen to live in the same general area. It sounds as if they know the price of everything, and the value of nothing – familiar ground indeed, to someone like me from the UK where we have had this insidious, nasty and divisive neo-liberal approach to society for longer than anyone else in Europe. Though most of Europe, including Norway seems to have at least avoided the worst excesses of this kind of culture that poisons societies, it’s sad indeed to see that it has gained any kind of foothold at all. Ultimately it leads to the kind of decision making that allows disasters like Grenfell Tower to happen. It’s a terrible price to pay, but I do so hope that it leads to a change, and a move away from the kind of economic policies that leads to a split society.

    If only more young people had your insight, (I assume you are still quite young from the way you speak, but I have no confirmation of that, so I apologise if that is not the case) our world would be so much better a place. You are Norwegian, and no doubt proud to be such, but you also have a wonderful internationalist outlook that give such hope, a true empathy. I’m sure that the vast majority of people who are called ‘immigrants’ in Norway will go on to make a huge contribution to Norwegian society, and who, whilst valuing their diverse heritage, will be equally proud to call themselves Norwegian.

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