Saturday, 28 June 2008

All True Guide To Norway

An Englishman Abroad: Alltruism goes to Norway

I have recently returned from a visit to Norway, the homeland of my viking girlfriend.

It seems that Norway has changed somewhat since viking times (and for some reason the education about Norway that we get in the UK covers only viking times).

Long gone are the giant, wolf-hide draped axe-men that my school-given knowledge of Norway led me to expect. I didn't see any berzerkers, and was not asked to quaff mead or beat the Gods in an eating contest once, despite having been there nearly a week. Raping and pillaging were conspicuous only by their absence, and the only shield-bedecked longships you can find there today are in museums.

The thing that first struck me about Norway is that it is more civilized than the UK in almost every way - toilet flushes work better, heated floors are standard, mixer taps work, there's a cheese-slicer (which the Norwegians invented) in every kitchen, the milk cartons have a handy transparent indicator on the side so you can see how much is left, ikea style and lamps are everwhere, there's no violent chav culture, the people are more trusting - the mailboxes for a whole street are all together, and not locked, yet people don't steal each other's mail like they surely would in most parts of the UK.

On top of all that, there's modern art everywhere...even in isolated, uninhabited regions high up on the mountains!

The example to the right, I'm reliably informed, is not some druidic relic from ancient days, but was put there fairly recently, probably after a committee had a talk about it.

Quite why they decided on this particular spot, high in the mountains amidst the glaring white isolation of the tundra, I don't know. Square polo, nowhere to go? Stick it up in the endless whiteness of the tundra!

Even the scary looking death metal fans are usually cheery and friendly, unlike the glazed-eyed dance-anthem loving chav thugs of the uk. Some of them do have quite bizarre facial hair though, which suggests that the viking spirit is still in there somewhere.

The carparks are cleaner, with more efficient ticket systems plus simple, friendly ways to help you remember where you've parked (the Carrot level, the Cat level etc). Even the oven chips cook twice as fast as the ones you get in the UK. Brilliant!

Norwegian public transport is great, and really drives home just how awful it is in the UK. The Norwegians have bendy buses that run on time and have a better way of getting tickets, and as an added bonus they are clean and well maintained!

Also, a tiny amount of snow doesn't bring it all to a grinding halt. In England it takes approximately 1cm of snow to bring all transport to a grinding halt and plunge the nation into chaos.

In Norway, they keep going in all but the most horrific conditions. The mountain roads are lined with poles, at least 10 feet tall. This is to help the snow plows find the road when it is hidden under snow, so that they can clear it. Only when even the poles are completely buried in snow will the Norwegians grudgingly admit defeat and close the road.

Houses in Norway are made of wood. It seems that there are only 2 little pigs in the Norwegian version of the story (with no brick houses in sight), but there's presumably more wolves.

This shouldn't work, but amazingly, it seems that it does. The wooden houses of Norway are warm and comfortable, despite the unforgiving weather.

Some of the blondes (and blonds) in Norway don't look like the blondes here - they don't have roots and their eyebrows match....freaky! It's almost as if they were born with hair so pale, which, as we in the UK know, is impossible - the palest naturally occurring hair colour is a kind of mousey brown.

Another striking difference I noticed was the shoes - the Norwegians have a very different taste in shoes to us Brits, and seem to fall into two categories - hiking shoes (for obvious reasons in their mountainous habitat) and bizarre shoes (brightly coloured and quite small, and seemingly not mass produced as I never saw two pairs even slightly similar to one another).

Vegetarians don't exist in Norway. There is a sense when ordering a vegetarian pizza that the friendly people taking the order want to add at least a bit of meat out of genuine pity for you, after all, without meat its not *really* a meal now is it?

Food packaging design is one of the few areas where the Norwegians seem to be lagging far behind the UK, with lurid designs and dodgy-colour images of the food that will bring a tear of 70s nostalgia to any Englishman's eye.

When Norwegians go for a holiday in Norway, they leave their wooden houses nestled amongst the mountains and head out for...smaller wooden houses, nestled amongst much bigger mountains!

Here's a view of some of the highest mountain peaks in Norway - the photo really doesn't convey the sense of scale - these things are huge:

The towns are clean, most of the buildings are easy on the eye, and you get a sense the people really care about these things, unlike in the UK, where the architecture and poor standards of cleanliness accurately reflect the "can't be bothered" culture.

A sign of the Norwegians' understandable pride is the number of Norwegian flags dotted around the place. These seem to say "I'm proud to live in this beautiful country". Of course, there's a few British flags dotted around Britain, but these seem to say "I'm an overweight racist who always wears football shirts", which is not quite the same thing.

The beer there is good, but expensive - especially if you're from the relatively poor United Kingdom. £5-6 for a beer is common. Even the rip-off merchants at the airport only charged slightly more, at £8 for a pint (actually just over, at 0.6l).

Although part of this vast price difference between beer prices in the UK and Norway is due to Norway being a significantly richer nation, beer is still more expensive there even when you factor this out. As well as being more difficult to afford, any alcohol stronger than beer is also harder to obtain - only the state-owned monopolies (called "Vinmonopolet") can sell wines and spirits, and these have fairly limited opening hours.

Although the lack of the convenience of being able to pop down to the offie on a Saturday night and pick up a couple of bottles of wine might seem like a step backwards it actually seems to work quite well - overall, the Norwegians seem to have a more sensible attitude to enjoying alcohol than the "oi oi daaahn in one!" binge-drinking culture that has left most of the British population as drooling, brawling cretins.

Also on the plus side, they don't generally use the incredibly stupid brim-measure system we are unfortunate enough to have to endure here in the UK, so you have a fighting chance of getting to your table with most of your precious beer still in the glass, and less chance of spilling someone's pint and getting your head kicked in.

They used to say "the sun never sets on the British Empire", and that wasn't far from the truth - there was always a part of it where the sun was up. The British Empire isn't quite what it used to be (I blame the decline of tea-drinking and the increasing use of coffee), but perhaps Norwegian summers can take over its duties in the phrase.

The sun literally never sets on the Norwegian summer. Its quite odd - bright daylight right up to 10PM or so, and even at 2AM its still quite never really feels like its night time at all.

Unfortunately, the price for the extra daylight in the Norwegian summer is paid back every winter, which has only brief glimpses of daylight followed by darkness that covers most of the day (and all of the night). If you don't have SAD, spending a winter in Norway should give you a fair chance of developing it. But hopefully when the Norwegian summer comes along, you'll be cured again!

The Norwegian language is a total mystery to me, as a staunch monolinguist (i.e. an Englishman). Although I can't understand (or correctly pronounce) a word of it, many written words of Norwegian do bear an uncanny resemblance to English words given a bit of a Scandinavian polish (a couple of accent marks, extra Ks and some vowels juggled around a bit).

This does give the strange impression that the people responsible for these words were just writing in English but striving to convey a Scandinavian accent. One example of this is the Norwegian version of the Kit Kat called Kvikk Lunsj, which means, as you might have guessed, "Quick Lunch". See, I told you about the extra Ks!

Although most of the Norwegians speak English rather better than many English natives, for some reason sign-writing duties seem to be passed to the individuals with the worst grasp of the language:

"Squeeze Danger!" sounds like a good Pepsi Max slogan to me!

I fought the glacier...and the glacier won

(Under construction)

All True Facts: Norway

Norway is actually the flattest country on Earth, but was dramatically redesigned by King Olaf the Modeller in the late 16th century. The famous mountains are hand-carved from polystyrene (you can see proof of this - the white bits near the tops are where the paint has come off due to wind and rain erosion. The mountains are repainted every spring, but by winter the violent weather will again have started revealing the white of the polystyrene as it tears off the paint).

as you can see, the harsh wind and rain up in the mountains has eroded large areas of paint!

Fox's Glacier Mints are made from glaciers that crushed Viking peppermint farms in the 1200s, saturating the ancient ice with a strong minty flavour.

Norwegia cheese is made from bits of Norway, mined from the Fjords, causing their current depth. Norwegia literally means "wedge of Norway".

The country was saved from an attack by thousands of evil spirits in the late 80s, by 4 guys with special backpacks. In gratitude, the Norwegians decided to incorporate the logo of these intrepid Ghostbusters into their language as an extra character - ø /Ø, which is pronounced "ur".

1 comment:

Helen said...

I KNEW those mouontains were fake. I just knew it! Mmmm, nothing like a scandinavian conspiracy...