15 Things about Norway that will take a South African some getting used to.

During a long night of trying to cajole/threaten the child to sleep, I fell into the black hole that is the frenemy of all people with a few minutes to spare (minutes that quickly become hours I will never get back): humorous listicles.

After a few months back in Oslo, I have some things that are listicle-worthy myself, I reckon.  As a South African, I come with my fair share of quirks. But they are quirks other South Africans can recognise and (I hope) appreciate. They include a cheerfully vague attitude to time, eating far too much sugar, and day-drinking.

Here in Norway, the quirks often come in the form of some curious convenience I, as a South African didn’t realise was necessary for life. Things are pretty organised here, especially in Oslo where I’m based, but just because I like these things doesn’t mean they don’t disturb my sensibilities and make me yearn for some home-grown inconveniences like minibus taxis, or people who talk too much at the dentist, or the disregard we have for pedestrian crossings.

So here goes. These things are, I presume, mostly only odd to me as a South-African, and likely quite common to Europeans or other weirdos.

  1. State liquor stores
I imagine state-owned liquor stores at home would be 24 hours. Image source: City Lade

The first thing everybody thinks about when they hear “Norway” is how expensive the alcohol is supposed to be over here. They’re right, it’ll cost you a kidney, but what I found more bizarre is that you can’t get most liquor from a variety of private liquor stores like we do back home, but only from the government store, Vinmonopolet (The Wine Monopoly). It’s closed on Sundays, shuts early on Saturdays and generally does all it can to discourage you from drinking alcohol. It’s the worst.

2. Engangsgrills

Delicious. Image source: Newswire

One-time, disposable grills. I feel like the picture says enough. I also feel like Europeans should admit that this is some sort of continental shame. I take my comment on the previous post back – this is actually the worst.

3. Electric cars

Image Source: Driving.ca

Walking past all the free places to charge one’s car makes me feel like I’m stomping around in the future and someone’s about to announce that I’m too dumb and sloppy to be here. My little petrol-guzzling Hyundai I had back home is being put to shame by these shiny clean things that aren’t filled with old garbage on the back seat and fossil fuels in its belly. I would have taken a pic of the charging stations outside my door, but I haven’t quite shaken my South African nervousness that someone’s going to call Chubb security on my brown ass for loitering outside and photographing their valuables.

4. Security


JotunJuli og August 2011Foto: Dag G. Nordsveen/nordsveenfoto.no
I get agoraphobic with all this open space. Source: Ifi-jentene

And speaking of security, this place is sorely lacking it. I can literally walk anywhere I want without being harassed, and it’s quite unnerving. Once I thought I was walking along a public path through a creepy forest and found myself in the middle of someone’s yard with their small child trying to give me half of his fish pudding. The pudding was disgusting, and exactly what you would expect of pudding made of fish, but it didn’t upset me as much as this lack of respect for formal boundaries and intimidating security measures. I helped myself sleep easier at night by putting stick-on Barb Wire tattoos on my 2nd story windows.

5. Symbolic Walls

Houses in working-class vs fancy-shmancy parts of town. Source: Finn.no

While trespassing again on my neighbour’s property, I thought, “My, these people must be quite well-off”. They had a nice, big wooden house, a trampoline with a protective net around it, an electric car and a nice big garden. Later, I went to another area to trespass some more and was alarmed to find out that it was considered a far more upmarket, hoity-toity place than the one I lived in. But the houses looked the same, the car was equally shiny, the garden just as big and green. It turns out, wealth isn’t displayed in ways that the South African eye can see very easily. I can’t know that the paint on the house was purchased at a designer paint store, or that the Scandi-classic furniture I saw peering through the windows was from anywhere other than IKEA. How then, will I show off when I’ve made it?

6. Tea

Be gone, Satan.

I don’t really want to talk about this. Just know, if you get offered tea at someone’s house, it won’t be Rooibos or even normal Ceylon. It will be Earl fucking Grey. You will also cause people to gag when you shovel three spoons of sugar into it, so just say no to anybody offering you tea. Cafes are no better because they’ll give you Earl Grey in a glass with no handles, and you’ll scald your hands while throwing it back in the face of the waiter.

7. Summer skis

Catalogue KV+Autrans
Image source: KV Plus

The sexiest Norwegian sport by far. Pull on a tight, spandex suit and a bicycle helmet. Then add a pair of skis with wheels at the bottom, two nifty ski poles, and hit the streets. Wheeeeeee, you could shout as you zoom by, but you won’t because people don’t shout here.

8. Pedestrian crossings

This is how all Norwegians cross the road. Image source: Gooper

This one is very simple. In South Africa, they are pretty decorations to spruce up otherwise boring tarred roads, occasionally decorated with skid marks or blood splatter, but in Norway, people actually stop for you. It takes some getting used to. This applies everywhere, except Tromsø, where people sped up and tried to hit me mid-crossing after careening through the middle of a traffic circle. I don’t know what Tromsø’s problem is, but I shall pray that they get their shit together.

9. Kitchen conveniences

Tell me it’s not evil. Image source: Pinterest

In many Norwegian kitchens, particularly older ones, there is a sneaky drawer that will somehow always find itself in the place of the drawer you actually want to open. It is the bread board drawer and it is evil. It can move to any spot in the kitchen at will, and make you burn your stew when you rush to get a ladle and accidentally open the bread board instead. This is not a drawer filled with bread boards, but rather a bread board that IS a drawer. I can’t explain its existence or even if I like it (it both horrifies and pleases me), but it is what it is.

10. Taking your shoes off indoors

I will be investing in a few pairs. Image source: Peewee.com

Nobody needs to see my mismatched, holed-filled socks, but I didn’t make the rules here. Get used to dressing up all fancy, making a grand entrance, and then ruining it all by spending the rest of the night barefoot. Also, get used to people seeing you at your ACTUAL height. God damn.

11. Taps from the future

Picture 2632
Tell me how this works. Please, I haven’t showered in months. Image source: Iconic brassware.

If you can manage to find out how the rectangle in the shower turns the water on, you are very clever and not to be made a naked fool of, like me.

12. Drains & electric plugs in the bathroom


Image source: Megaflis.no

Why don’t we have this at home? OK I get the electric plug points, because I couldn’t figure out how to work that shower just now, so it’s safer for everybody, but the drain thing is incredible.


13. Bomb shelters in apartments

I think I’ll take my chances with the bomb. Image source: Dinside.no

Visiting the basement of large apartment blocks can be pretty thrilling, because they’re all bomb shelters, thanks to the Cold War. There are also huge shelters in the sides of mountains, tucked away in local forests that must be a great place for a party or for hiding all the people you killed who tried to give you Earl Grey tea in a glass.

14. Privacy

Well hello there, my new friends. Image source: Noraddressen.com

To find stuff out about someone you know (or want to know, hem hem), look them up online and you will find their name, address, phone number, and tax returns to see how much they earned in the last year. So many great stalking opportunities.

15. Recycling

Bagsy, the robot slave. Image source: GillesandCecelie.com

The Norwegians have cleverly created and enslaved a robot who has endured further humiliation by being called Bagsy and being made to parade for the masses for the recycling campaign. You can tell he doesn’t enjoy it by the way he smiles through his pain in his Twitter profile.

“Kill. Me.” Image source: Twitter.com 

Whatever, I do love the convenience of not having to trek my recycling to the Wynberg depot where I am shamed for how many boxes of wine I consume every week. Now I get to stick those boxes straight in their own bag and chuck it in the main garbage bin with the remnants of all my other vices. Until Bagsy emancipates himself, I’m going to be enjoying this convenience to its fullest.

Don’t do it, Bagsy. This is your destiny. Image source: Kreativtforum.no

It’s going to take some getting used to, being back here, but I suspect that it’ll be far more of them getting used to me than the other way around. I shall introduce them to some Flaketonian ways which might include saying subtly racist things to people I have just met, flaking out on social events, complaining about all weather (especially common ones like how much rain we’re having or how cold it is), and taking personal offense to others’ disregard for things I had no hand in (like the warmth of the seawater or the impressive number of people who die annually on my local ski slope). Welcome to me, Norway. Welcome to me.


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