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.