Almost better: the United Nations had just published its yearly report, showing that, once again, Norway is the best country to live in. For the 7th year in a row. Can you imagine, out of all the countries in the world, the USA and their super powers, the United Kingdom and its super colonies, Australia and its super kangaroos; that none of them ranked as high as Norway! Norwegians around me exploded in joy at the idea. Because in this small country where it is not culturally accepted to be arrogant, it is allowed to say without shame that “Our country is the best in the world!!”.
Then I looked outside, on this gloomy December day. It was 4pm and pitch dark. Everyone was covered in their wooling clothes, people barely talk to each other and run from one shop to another because of something Norwegians call “julestress”. Then they go home and light as many candles as they can. Have the UN guys writing the report ever been to Norway? I wonder.
Norway might be a great country, but it is also a country which unusual properties which the UN obviously did not measure in their report. After all, education, health, life expectancy and standard of living take you so far. Let’s look at other criteria the UN could have measured, and find out whether Norway would still be the best country in the world.
Every morning since the beginning of winter, me and all the workers of Norway have been waking up and going to work while it is still dark, and going home while it was aslo dark. I cannot even complain: I live in Oslo. Those living in Northern Norway do not see the sun for three entire months. “Norway sounds like a horrible country” say my childhood friends living in South of France. Hey, read the report guys, Norway is the best country in the world.
Every year in November I ask myself why I decided to move to Norway in the first place. It is such a depressing month: no snow, just grey sky and rain. “We find it hard too” say my local friends. “Why do you think we invented Syden?” This is the month I plug an IV of codliver oil in my veins, and do like the locals: light as many candles as possible in my home.
But I have to say, winters are nice, when there is snow. Without snow a Norwegian winter is like a Danish winter. I moved from Danish to Norway for many reasons including a “real” winter. And now I am stuck with the effects of global warming here in Norway. Snow is very important for us to see the daylight and the sun shine, but also to ski. Not because I like cross country skiing. Just the idea of being invited to a skiing trip and have 4 year old children going faster than me makes me sweat. I just want my cross country skiing-fanatic Norwegian friends to stop complaining about the lack of snow.
No doubt that the Norwegian summers are nice. When they last more than a few days. A Norwegian summer is like an old lover, you remember how great it was, but you don’t really remember the last time you saw it. The lack of light in the winter is difficult enough, but if we have to go through a bad summer as well, seasonal depression becomes a yearly disease. The great thing is that summer weather in Norway gives everyone an endless topic of conversation. Will there be a good summer? is a question people start asking themselves in March already. When is the last time the summer was as bad/good as this one? Newspapers sell a lot of paper on this topic during the summer, especially if they can show pictures of a family in Finnmark sitting at a dining table in the 30 degree heat.
Strange working culture
I find that the UN report does not count the many risks and dangers of living in Norway, especially at work. Sure, there is a better family-work balance in Norway than anywhere outside of Scandinavia. More gender equality, more parental leave even for dads (Norwegian dads get 10 weeks, which is about what a French mum gets for each child born). But think about it: the risk of having a cardiac arrest due to boredom in yet another Norwegian meeting. For example after listening to one’s 6th colleague repeated the exact same thing one’s 1st colleague said in a different voice. The risk of having a liver failure after 40 years of working in a Norwegian office, with an average of 3 liters of coffee per day. The risk of getting a magesår because one kept all one’s feeling inside, never speaking one’s mind and showing anger or disapproval to one’s colleagues or boss. You might get out of work at 4pm everyday, it does not mean working in Norway is a walk in the park.
Other strange food habits
What else could be another indicator measured in the UN report? What about food? The ability of a nation to put everything in tubes for example. Norwegians put everything from kaviar to makrell i tomatt to brunost in a tube. Classy? Definitely not. Tasty? Not sure. But what counts here is that it is practical, so that we can bring our favorite food to mountain trips. I am waiting for the giant Easter tube with four ends: egg, Kvikklunsj, orange and blood (to have a taste of Jo Nesbø’s last krim novel).
The truth is, despite the long winters, the short summers, the boring meetings and the strange food in the tubes; Norway is still the best country to live in in 2015. For much more than what the UN measures: the freedom one feels in Norway’s magnificient mountains, fjords and open sea. The resilience of its people who managed to build a country with solid infrastructures and a welfare state for all despite the temptation of giving the oil money to a small elite. The richness of the Norwegian languages, from bokmål and nynorsk to the hundreds of dialects spoken in isolated Norwegian islands. Norway was still the best place to live in in 2015, and I hope it will still be in 2016. So stick around, and Godt Nyttår!
This article was published in Verdens Gang on the 1st of January 2016: Nytt år i verdens beste land.