My trip in Norway (for this time) is coming to an end early next year. I thought to share some experiences of moving and living in Norway as a foreigner. This is not a very triathlon-related post.
Why, oh why
If you have lived abroad, you know that usually one of the first questions people ask you is why did you move here. Norway has much more foreigners than Finland has, but I have still faced that question a lot when meeting new people. I don’t really mind answering it, since I’ve asked it sometimes other people too. I think it is interesting to hear about the different reasons why people end up here. I have heard quite many interesting stories during these years.
I wanted a change in my life. I liked to say I had a 30s crisis back in 2015, but I don’t know if it was connected to age. With that definition I will probably have a 38s, 46s and 53s crisis etc too and very probably will do something similar later. Living and working abroad had been in my mind for quite many years, so I used the mindset of “needing to do something else” to actually doing it. Oslo was a rather easy choice. It is big enough, but not too big, and having a sporty freetime in Oslo is very easy. In addition, the culture is not very different from the one we have in Finland, but it still makes a change. In the end the change felt bigger than I had guessed. Maybe that is why there aren’t that many Finns in Oslo. I haven’t met that many Swedes either as I would have thought.
I had an idea how the first years abroad would be like: during the first year everything is new, fun and learning, during the second year things get more familiar and routines can be built, and after that life becomes just life, like in every place one lives. The reality wasn’t at all like that. I have had my good and bad, difficult and smooth times in Oslo.
During the first 6 months I had very confusing feelings. I liked the new city, new cycling and running hoods, new job and new colleagues, but I often found me thinking if this move thing had been a good idea in the end. Had I done all thinking too fast? I had planned the move for 6 months, so it hadn’t been a very impulsive thing, but I still hadn’t really thought how I get new friends, how do I use my new increased freetime and how I possibly react to difficulties, which I can face alone in a foreign country. In the first autumn, I was physically in rather bad shape and it was the darkest period of the year. Later thought, anyone could feel a new, lonely life abroad tough in those circumstances.
Then came winter, more sun, skiing and good shape. I stopped thinking about if the move had been a good idea. Days were filled with happy training and planning my first race season in Norway, my first proper triatlon race season actually. I felt myself extremely happy in summer 2016. I was very happy with my Norway move decision. It was visible in good progress and race results and happy relationship. I don’t know if it was part of the culture adaptation, but at least my life in Norway.
Although Norway is said to be one of the most individualistic countries in the world, I think it is on other hand very family-oriented. In my early time in Norway, I had a strong feeling that here family is always the most important thing, and especially at weekends there is no life outside the family. I became a bit sarcastic with it, and thought that as a not-family person I have then a right to build-up a totally different perspective to my weekends (read: 50km Sunday skiing tur is totally normal, as is a 160km bike ride, not as a training, but just because I can). Nowadays I like to smile to my sarcasm. My perception of family-orientation hasn’t however changed entirely.
An essential part of cultural adaptation is for sure learning the local language, norsk bokmål. I’ve never wanted to live in a country, where I am not able to speak the local language, so moving to Oslo and using mostly English was never an option to me. It is easily possible, but not fun, I think. Honestly said, for a Finn it is very easy to learn Norwegian, if one just makes a little effort to it. During my first year I was lazy putting a good effort in learning Norwegian. I had no time to go to a language course. I always trained after work and at weekends. I also thought that I don’t need a course. I will learn Norwegian if I just want to. I was stupidly self-confident, but luckily also right. I speak fluent Norwegian nowadays, but the learning curve could have been a bit deeper with a language course for sure.
The key to learning a foreign language when being an adult is for sure using the language at work. We are at our work places most of our time being awake, and if we don’t use that time, we miss a lot good learning time. When I lived one year in Germany in 2009, I was too afraid to make mistakes in German, both written and spoken. With Norwegian, it has been different, as I had no school experience with Norwegian (compared to 10 years German at school). I started to write work-related emails in Norwegian without too much concentrating whether I made some spelling mistakes or not. Same with spoken language. I didn’t mind that much if I made errors. And I made them all time… And I watched Skam. Very good for youngster words and phrases!
I think one of the funny things with learning Norwegian language (for a Finn) is that quite often you can guess what some new words are and especially how they are written. Spoken e is written as e, not as ä like in Swedish. Stasjon is stasjon, and not station. “With er ending you can’t go often wrong.” I love the easiness of Norwegian grammar! ;)
Nynorsk is another thing. When living in Oslo and being a foreigner, one could think that you don’t need to face it and will survive with only bokmål, but you can be wrong. When working as a consultant and having customers all around Norway, nynorsk og Vestland dialect have become also familiar to me. My first Skype meetings with people having a strange dialect felt like a nightmare. I had lived two years in Norway and definitely didn’t want to change to English anymore. With a few try-and-fail attempts those meetings have become much easier today.
Last weekend I realized I watched a Swedish TV series with Norwegian subtitles in Netflix. Oh lord.
Turkultur – is there an English word for it?
“Tur”, “friluftsliv”, “Ut på tur aldri sur”. I don’t know any other country that would use that much these words, which play an essential role in Norway and in its culture. Norway’s amazing nature is probably one of the biggest reasons why outdoor life has become so important here. It is definitely nice to be outdoors when the views are great and forests and mountains are near cities. Day trips are made easy also in Oslo, as well as entire family skiing trips. But there must be something in the history of outdoor culture in Norway, which I have’t yet understood.
Living in Norway as a foreigner who doesn’t understand friluftsliv would be strange. Don’t try it, especially in lunch discussions. What is a bit funny is that when a Finn wants to have a cabin at a lake, a Norwegian wants to have it in a mountain. I would take a combination of those if possible.
Too positive people?
I really liked this article that I read more than a year ago: https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-9519853
The article says that in Norway people are extremely positive and try always to see the positive side of things. Where as in Finland, it is allowed to be a little sour sometimes. I love it! I am on average quite a positive person and don’t like people who use their energy and time on complaining rather than doing, but I love the allowance to be a little sour every now then. My sourness usually also vanishes as quickly as it has come. Norwegians haven’t understood that, but I take it. They are different. Sometimes I still wonder how they can be so blindly positive if things are not fine or perfect… :) I don’t know if oil can affect this one, but it for sure has affected many things in this country’s history.
Norwegians are very good at distinguishing work from freetime. People rather seldom call you when you have left the office or are on holiday. That is nice. In Norway people work less than in Sweden and Finland, and of course central Europe then too. Although being a consultant, the office is almost always empty at 5 PM. On Fridays even earlier. That has fitted my sporty freetime very well, but I am still sometimes surprised of it.
My first experiences of Norwegian work culture were difficult. It felt that people had no hurry anywhere. We had work to do, sometimes a lot, but nobody seemed stressed or very concerned. It felt very strange. I was used to doing things quickly and working under pressure and suddenly I had to get used to use my time on things and being a bit more relaxed.
Before I moved to Oslo, I was warned that sometimes people don’t bother answering their emails and messages were quickly. They don’t mean anything bad, but they don’t probably feel any personal responsibility of doing it. Those warnings were totally true, but I still became annoyed a few times. I kept my own way of doing things: trying to be quick, honest and answering always emails and messages quickly. I hated unread emails and still do.
Well, well. Years of mandatory adjustment change people. I am smiling today for that 3 years younger Heini, who got annoyed of things, which I don’t anymore see in my daily work. For a perfectionist and slightly stressful person, Norwegian work style has done good. I think I’ve learned more from people than from actual business assignments.
Food, and bad and extremely expensive food stores
If there is a negative topic in this post, it is this one.
Living in Norway has for sure not been a special culinary experience. If somebody would ask what kind of food people eat in Norway, I would say go to a food store and see how poor they look like. You can’t make much of it. Or you don’t want to, since almost everything costs a fortune. I think I have never in my life had a three year period when I have eaten so badly – I am not meaning rubbish food but poring food. At my visits to Finland during these years, I have started to love visiting food stores as they are much bigger, their selection is way too better and prices feel like that you want to actually buy something, although Finland is not the cheapest country either.
Bread slicing machines are probably the only thing that I will miss in Norwegian food stores. I stopped eating brown cheese, but I could have missed that too.
Norwegians like pizza. Okay, me too. Pizza with a view from Grefsenkollen.
Let the pictures tell more. Some of my favourites.
I will miss…
Friends and colleagues
Nordmarka – my home forest with thousands of kilometers skiing tracks, running and mountain biking paradise
And exactly same place in winter: