Life in Oslo

WARNING: This is basically a rant. If you don’t agree with me, take my opinion with a grain of salt or send your trolls to /dev/null.

Today I read an article, linked by vrruiz on Twitter, called We’re Rich, You’re Not. End of Story.. My first read felt weird, but then I read it again, hours later, and I really had to write about it. I have to say that, although many things it says are true, the way it portraits Oslo feels so unreal I couldn’t just leave it at that. My best guess is that the portrait feels so weird because of cultural differences and difference in values. My worst guess has to be that it’s some sort of neoliberal propaganda :-)

First of all, I don’t even understand the point of trying to make Oslo or Norway look “poor”. Unless of course you take into account the constant mentions to “social welfare”, “regulated economies” and related crap… but let’s not get started with that. I’ve been living here for close to three years now and the last thing that crosses my mind when I think of Oslo, is “poor”. Let’s comment on a couple of concrete points:

  1. “News reports describe serious shortages of police officers and school supplies. When my mother-in-law went to an emergency room recently, the hospital was out of cough medicine. Drug addicts crowd downtown Oslo streets […]”. I’d be really surprised if the first one was any common. And in Norway kids get school supplies from the school, they don’t have to buy anything. The cough medicine, it seems he wants to make it sound like “they don’t have money for it”. Are you kidding me? I’d just blame it on poor organisation (yes, despite the stereotype, some Norwegian things, particularly in the public sector, can be disorganised). And about the drug addicts, what? Sure, there are “a lot” of drug addicts in “downtown Oslo” (in one or two squares near the central station… which is unfortunate, but it sounds like a different world in the article), but again that sounds just wrong.

  2. “Norwegians live more frugally than Americans do”. Probably true, but so what? They have an insanely different culture, and that doesn’t mean they have to, they just do. I can’t really compare to Americans in particular, but for my standards people around here can afford pretty much whatever they want. And I don’t remember Americans complaining… except about the poor selection in supermarkets. But every foreigner complains about that ;-)

  3. About the whole matpakke story: yes, preparing “matpakke” is a very Norwegian thing. But it’s not that people can’t afford eating out (although yes, it’s quite expensive); they’re just used to that, it’s the kind of lunch they’re used to, and probably they prefer saving money there to spend it in other things.

  4. About the teacher salary and the pizza thing: AFAIK those wages are only for people without studies, and the minimum wages for any person with three years of studies are quite a bit higher. And the pizza price, that’s just a lousy example: first of all, for that price you can have dinner in a relatively expensive restaurant in Oslo; second, although I do believe the price, (1) that is for a large pizza (I assume more than one person), (2) in probably the most expensive pizza place in the city, and (3) with delivery, which is very expensive and I don’t think many people pay for that anyway. You have take-away places everywhere, so people would just go somewhere close instead of paying delivery.

  5. “Every weekend, armies of Norwegians drive to Sweden to stock up at supermarkets that are a bargain only by Norwegian standards”. Sure, some people do that, but it’s not like you can’t afford buying at supermarkets in Norway. Going to Sweden is just cheap and convenient for a lot of people. Besides, there are other reasons why people go to Sweden, like generally broader selection of products.

  6. “My own sense of things is that Spaniards live far better than Scandinavians”. That’s just hilarious. And the most hilarious thing is that his best argument seems to be that alcohol is much cheaper in Spain. Alcohol is expensive in Norway. It’s heavily regulated and has a lot of taxes. Sure it’s annoying, but get over it: that tells very little about how well a nation lives. And about the next paragraph, “adjusting for cost of living”… well, I might not be an average case, but those numbers just don't compute for me. And that doesn’t count that I have lunch for free every day or a lot of other advantages. Or that the wages are relatively low for Norway’s IT standards. Or the first comment below.

And other general comments:

  1. It’s not fair comparing “wealth” by just comparing disposable income. Everyone knows that Norway has insanely high taxes, but it works. The government does a lot of things and you still have money for a lot of other things. And don’t get me started with that “taxes don’t do anything for me” crap, because you don’t pay taxes so you get things for free: you pay taxes so the society as a whole has all it needs, so people don’t have problems and you live in a peaceful place. E.g. kids/parents don’t pay for school material, you don’t have to pay for the university, you can ask for “student loans” so you don’t have to work while you study, there is money for when you’re old, the government fosters culture by paying everything school kids need to start music bands or whatever, etc. Sure I don’t get all those advantages myself, but I want the system to work like that so people are just relaxed and happy and there is less crime and less stress. I’m not saying you have to like that system, but you can’t compare it to others only based on disposable income. That makes you either an ignorant or a hypocrite.

  2. This is of course completely subjective, but I don’t remember hearing people talking about money problems. Particularly compared to Spain, the country that supposedly lives much better than Norway, I find that to be a huge difference.