Illustration: Kristine Lauvrak, all rights reserved © Kristine Lauvrak & Frog in the Fjord

Harrytur: the True Story of Rich Norwegians going Cheap

Illustration: Kristine Lauvrak, all rights reserved © Kristine Lauvrak & A Frog in the Fjord
Illustration: Kristine Lauvrak. © Kristine Lauvrak & A Frog in the Fjord

Our trip starts at 8.30 am on a Saturday. My first question is: why do we need to leave so early? It is Saturday for heaven’s sake, can’t we sleep in? “No no, we need to get there as early as possible to avoid queues” say my Norwegian friends taking me on my first harrytur. Queues? We are going to the Swedish border, where will there be queues on a Saturday at 8.30 am? (the answer is: at the entrance of the Swedish liquor store).

Who is Harry and what is a Harrytur?
While we are on the road, I ask all sorts of questions: who is Harry and why is he going on a trip? (harrytur= harry’s trip in Norwegian)
In Norway, Harry is not really a person, it is a concept. In Norwegian qualifying something or someone of “harry” means they are vulgar and tasteless. I am guessing a haircut can be harry, as well as an attitude, or a type of holiday (to Syden for example?). So Harry is the opposite of “cool” if I understood it well. In Denmark the equivalent of Harry is Brian (ask a Dane and you’ll see). In France it is “beauf” or “plouc”. Typically a harrytur or harryhandel is a trip Norwegians take to Sweden, alternatively to Denmark, in order to buy cheaper alcohol, cigarettes, meat and a lot of other basic necessities such as candy and sports shoes.

Okay, so we are on a trip only vulgar and tasteless people take. Wait, don’t ALL Norwegians go on harrytur? Yeah, I thought so. Cheap alcohol and snus at a few hours of drive away is too tempting for anyone here.

Suddenly I hear my friends scream “Woouohouu”, showing suddenly so much excitment and happiness. I look around, what is there worth screaming “Wouuuhoouuu” for? The land is flat, like everywhere else since we left Oslo. “Didn’t you see? On this road we can drive at 110 km/h!” they say, smiling. Wow Norwegians don’t need much to get excited.

How much cheaper Swedish alcohol really is?
After one and a half hour drive the driver announces “We are in Sweden!”. How does he know that? We didn’t pass anything sepcial that shows an international border. But we did drive over a short bridge (that was the border), which is by the way much shorter than the one between Malmø and Copenhagen. Two minutes later we park at a shopping centre, where many cars plated with a big “N” are parked: Norwegian cars. It is Systembolaget, the Swedish alcohol shop, just like Vinmonopolet but cheaper. (For non-Scandinavians reading me: this kind of state-managed shop is the only place one can buy stronger alcohol than beers, and they close as early as 3pm sometimes).

As we enter the place, I cannot help notice that despite its very big surface it feels so full with people. “Oh this is nothing, says my friend, before Easter holidays the queue to get in can be several dozens meters long outside. We only get in when so many people have left the shop, you know, for security”. Like a bouncer in front of a club? How much cheaper is it really for Norwegians to go crazy over this?

The answer to that question is given to me 5 minutes later, when a German guy in the shop says very loudly in English “This is not cheap! In Germany a beer is less than a euro”. Exactly. I look at the wine and same thing: this is not cheap, it is just cheaper compared to Norwegian standards. For French prices this is still expensive. In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king.

After making our way out of the liquor store, and counting all our bottles making sure we are not over the authorised quota, we head to another place called Nordby. Nordby is a huge shopping mall full of Norwegian people buying stuff and piling it up in big trolleys. There I entered the biggest candy store I have ever seen in my life, with 2kg Toblerone chocolate bars for example and bags of one kilo of candy. There was so much sugar in that shop that I felt like I was becoming diabetic just by looking at it. If I had been a kid in there I would have tried to get myself locked in all night, and would have probably overdosed on jelly crocodiles.

Then we ate lunch in a place called MAX, some kind of Swedish fast food, and drank lots of Ramlösa, the local fizzy water which they sell by 5 liters over there. The supermarket was cool, because it had much more choice than the supermarkets in Norway. Sorry Norwegians, I know you don’t like it when Swedes do something better than you do, but then if everything was that great in Norway why would you need to go to Sweden? More choice in vegetables, meat, frozen food, types of cheese and of course more knekkebrød.

“No one told me being harry was so tiring”
We ended the day with pain in our legs, “minus” many Swedish kroners on our accounts and liters and “plus” liters of alcohol in the car. And of course our quota of meat per person: 10 kg. So some stack their car with teenagers on their way to the border to head home with 70 kg of meat + alcohol + candy etc. A little insane if you ask me: who needs 70 kg of meat??

On the way back to Norway my friends show me the fences between the two parts of the highway which have been taken down by the authorities. “It’s because some people smuggling more alcohol than their quota make a U turn when they see the police on the Norwegian side. So to avoid deadly accidents they had to make holes in the fences. The smugglers escape, yes, but at least they don’t take the highway in reverse for several kilometers at 100 km/h speed killing people on the way”. Saving lives more important than tax revenue, I like the spirit.

When I got home with my kilos of bags I had to take a nap, no one ever told me being harry was so tiring. “We are going back next week end if you care to join us!” said my friends. “Oh well, I think I’ll make it a once-in-a-while thing”. I bought enough knekkebrød for 6 months, and the bag-in-a-box wine will last a while too. “Should we maybe visit something else in Sweden next time than the border?” I ask. I am sure there are other nicer things to see there than the inside of Systembolaget. “Yeah”, said my friends, half convinced. “We can stop at this little town called Strömstad that we can visit after we’ve bought alcohol”. Some hope, then, that I will see more Swedes than Norwegians on my next trip to Sweden.

Harrytur: an important step on your way to integrating Norway
So today I have reached a new step in my mission to integrate Norwegian society: I went to do what all Norwegians do: drive 4 hours to save a few kroners on alcohol but spend much more on gas and swedish burgers. Is it really worth it? And more importantly, how much are Norwegians actually ready to do to save those few kroners in a cheaper currency or buy something on sale?

I have also understood that the three important things in the eyes of Norwegians are alcohol, fart (speed limit) and the quality of their roads. And I am guessing even the Norwegians who did not vote for the FrP are quite glad they can now bring home more bottles of alcohol and drive at higher speed on the highway.

Are Norwegians really that cheap? They do love to buy stuff on sale, whether it is in Sweden or elsewhere, and then brag about it. Like the value of something is higher if you got it cheaper than the regular price. But they are also able to pay sports equipment and apartments above sane prices. Harrytur is not necessarily a Norwegian specificity: Norwegians go to Sweden, Swedes go to Denmark, Danes go to Germany, Germans go to Poland, Finns go to Russia etc. etc. Local population move to different borders in the world and go home the same day. Only the destination changes, but the motives are the same: cheap booze.

A Frog in the Fjord: One Year in Norway Book

48 thoughts on “Harrytur: the True Story of Rich Norwegians going Cheap

  1. I wonder who buys alcohol and other goodies in Norway itself… “Harries-not”? I heard stories about Finns going to Saint Petersburg for a ‘cultural tour’ just to drink heavily on a coach and to return back totally wasted 🙂

      1. In the old days, flour (which is confusingly called farine in French, which in Norwegian is a fancy way of saying sugar), was much cheaper in Norway than in Sweden. So you’d have people going over the border both ways to shop. This was a long time ago though.

    1. Many travel to Norway for buying diapers! Since 2000, Norwegian grocery chains have had a price “war” on diapers. This has resulted in the cheapest diapers in Europe. There is actually a problem with smuggling of diapers out of Norway.

    2. A strange curiosity is the french people going to Norway to buy wine… This is especially for the expensive wines though. Vinmonopolet got a good selection of wine in all prices, and especially with the more expensive wines they are not allowed to have higher premiums on price like the (more unregulated) french shops do have.

  2. I moved to Oslo from Saint Petersburg 5 month ago. Have never been in harrytur yet but looking forward to try 🙂 It will be interesting to compare. Russians living in Saint Petersburg like to travel to Finland for the same reason.

  3. Great article! But please bear in mind that this harry shopping is only done by Norwegians who live close enough to the Swedish border. Most people on the west coast don’t go on harry trips. They are a bit jealous that they are not able to do get cheap stuff in Sweden easily.

    1. Unless they are staying close to the border, as a west-coast girl I remember my family staying in a caravan park one summer and crossed the border twice or three times before heading home! We’re crazy people

  4. Great article! But I’ve experienced that I get “cheap” looks when I say, I bought my Helly Hansen jacket in sale… My experience is that Norwegians like to spend the full amount for clothing, rather than browsing clearance and sales racks.
    Apart from that: Sweden rules! 🙂

  5. Was so happy to see a new blog post on ‘A Frog in the Fjord’ and as usual I was not disappointed. Enjoyed the article with my breakfast and coffee:)

    One comment on who buys alcohol in Norway, did you know the Russians up north (Murmansk) actually go to Norway (Kirkenes) to buy wine and champagne at Vinmonopolet because it is half the price of what it is in Russia? I read it in an article in Dagens Næringsliv not too long ago. I was quite surprised! 🙂 They call in ‘Ivan’ trip.

  6. A long time ago, my Norwegian sister-in-law explained to me that the “Harry” in the phrase is actually a long gone politician who, when asked when the government was going to reduce the liquor tax, suggested the citizens just high tail it across the border to Sweden, hence the name “Harry.” Also, she always refers to it as a “run” like trips in the US for illegal moonshine(done on a full moon night so there is no need for running lights). And, not to give away any family secrets, we have never, ever, made one of these “runs” and brought back the legal quantity of alcohol. Why bother and where would the fun in the run be?

  7. I am Norwegian, living in Australia with an Australian husband – and it is hard to find an English equivalent word to ‘Harry’. I usually use the word ‘cheesy’ – but that doesn’t fit well with the harrytur concept. I have only referred to it as a hoarding trip before, I need to show him this.;)

    1. Autralian for Harry is Dag!

      (I learned once when I was trying to explain my aussie friend about the concept. Suddenly we both said at the same time “Coutrney is Harry/Dag” – and we both new we had understood each other in that instant)

    2. I always use the word bogan, seem to be the most accurate word in Australia to describe the norwegian ‘Harry’ or “Harrtur”/BoganTrip.

  8. Love reading your “integration” trip in Norwegian society.
    A comment, in South of France we travelled to Andora for the same purpose. It is all the same!

  9. Much the same happens in Southern France – Queues of people line up to go over the border to La Jonquera or Perthus in Spain for cheap cigarettes and alcohol – but the difference is they really are cheap – €4 cigarettes, against €6 or €7 in France!!

  10. And in Vienna we go to Bratislava (and save a few Euro) 😀 I never lived close enough to the border to do this. I did it once while visiting a friend that lives in the east, and it felt magical indeed lol.

  11. best part is that Olav Thon owns the big shopping centers in Strømstad and Årgjeng, and maks a profit there too.

  12. Haha, this is hilarious, but very true. It’s not really THAT much cheaper and the stress doesn’t make it worth it, but once in a while it’s fun! Especially in the summer when the weather is nice and you can stop in Strømstad, a lovely little town.

    That being said, yes, alcohol is expensive in Norway. BUT did you know liquor, rare wines etc. are actually popular with foreigners from around the world? When Vinmonopolet releases a new brand of year the queues can be insane. Read an article about it, it is because in Norway the price is only determined from the alcohol tax, basically, making a 25-year old whiskey and a two-year old one from the same company virtually the same price. So some “alcohol collectors” and enthusiasts actually travel in from other countries to buy that stuff because it can be cheaper than in their own countries 😛

  13. Well, it depends. From Sandefjord it costs us next to nothing to drive to Nordby/Svinesund via Strömstad, since the town is packed full with free of charge ferry tickets. We do our shopping almost exclusively in Sweden and we do save a lot of money.

    1) Unlike many Norwegians, we do not eat in a restaurant, though sometimes in Max, which does not cost much. We bring a matpakke.
    2) Unlike many Norwegians, we do not buy much alcohol. We like beer, both non-alcoholic and regular (mostly craft beer), so in Systembolaget we usually buy some craft beer, sometimes not even up to the quota, but a lot of non-alcoholic Wehienstephaner and then in Nordby a lot of non-alcoholic Erdinger. The customs officers sometimes have hard time believing us that we would go to Sweden to get a non-alcoholic beer. But 1 bottle of Weihenstephaner costs 12 SEK in Sweden and over 35 NOK in Norway, so it is a fair deal, although when I drive to the continent, I usually buy about 120 bottles of non-alcoholic Weißbier. I love it, I can’t help it, it tastes so good.
    3) We buy indeed a lot of meat. Meat price in Norwegian shops is a robbery on our wallets/bank accounts.
    4) We buy cheese and sausages, since we love European food. And in Eurocash in Svinesund there is definitely a lot to choose from, unlike in Norwegian shops. I buy 1 kg of Parmiggiano Reggiano for 160 SEK, I am not crazy to spend four times as much in Norway.
    5) My wife is Polish and she can get Polish stuff there, so we buy that as well.
    6) We buy there not only because of the prices or the choice, but also as a protest against monopolies or quasi-monopolies in Norway. We like when we, as consumers, are highly valued and taken care of. Something that never happens in Norway, here as a consumer you simply suffer.
    7) We like the EU so we visit it from time to time to remind us of home.

  14. Nice read. One small correction, though:
    “Fart” is not speed limit, but speed.
    “Fartsgrense” is speed limit…

  15. Reblogged this on Helene Kristoffersen and commented:
    Jeg fant denne bloggen på Facebook tror jeg for en stund siden og bestemte meg for å følge den. Følte jeg bare måtte dele dette innlegget for det var bare så utrolig morsomt, haha! Les og enjoy synspunktet til en som prøver å integrere seg til Norge.

  16. I live in Bellingham, Washington not far from the Canadian border. Every day, especially on weekends, residents from the Vancouver area pour over to shop our cheap dairy, among other things. The dairy is the funniest to us because we’ll see carts filled with 10-20 gallons or more of milk. There are strict import rules around this and entire families will come just for the extra allowances. The lines for gas are always very long.

    As a local, it’s a wee bit annoying because every day feels like “Black Friday” but if the situations were reversed, we’d surely be making the trek ourselves. When we lived in Wyoming, we’d drive 70 miles down to Colorado to do our “big city” shopping as it was cheaper and to find things that were illegal to buy in our home state (raw milk).

  17. Helly Hansen is not an option, it is not alcohol or food, on sports they don’t save. Or they don’t look at the price at all. “det finnes ingen dårlig vær, bare dårlig klær” sier de while eating pølse

  18. You know, Norway is the only ccountry in the world where the “harry-trips” come full circle: we go to sweden, swedes go to denmark, danes go to germany, germans goes to poland, and they polish? well, they come here every summer to pick our strawberries and make more money in three months then they do for the entire nine back home. And thus the circle is completed!

    1. This is a stereotype. The Poles usually make their shopping in Germany, Germans usually use Polish services (hairdresser, car repair, etc.) Generally it stops in Germany, since everybody around Germany (every single country) has their harrytur to Germany. I come from the Czech Republic and even people from Prague go to Dresden/Nürnberg to do shopping like this.

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  20. I’ve been on two – 2- Harry-tours in my life. I don’t see the point of loading up 10 kgs of meat and tons of other foods, when everything is aviable on the corner. Of course, I son’t own a car, something that costs so much you can reasonably defend using it for “Harry-trips” to Sweden. Othwerwise, a most funny blog! 😀

  21. The French-speaking Swiss go regularly over the border to Divonne and elsewhere to stock up on meat and a generally wider selection of food than at home. They even have an official phrase for it: le tourisme alimentaire. Many Swiss refuse to do it on principle (the principle that they would rather not save money, presumably) but all the ex-pats fill their cars with as many passengers as possible and maximise their quotas… It is the same in the other Swiss border regions too.

  22. Fins go to Estonia, actually, by ferry. Estonians go to Latvia, Latvians go to Lithuania, Lithuanians go to Poland. There’s this circle ends 😀

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