Norway thoughts

by on June 4, 2007 at 10:46 am in Travels | Permalink

I'm back home but I still haven't made sense of the place, not even on a superficial level...

Oslo first struck me as more like Scotland than Sweden, most of all the craggy, weather-beaten faces and the wandering derelicts.  I mean Inverness and Aberdeen, not Edinburgh.  How could such a wealthy and well-organized country have such an ugly capital city?  Only the surrounding waters and greenery were pretty.  And why were so many people so poorly dressed?  Then we went to Bergen — a "Hansa-Stadt" — which felt like familiar emotional territory.  People were stylish and the faces were happier and everything seemed more intellectual.  The visual synthesis of land, water, industry, and homes was first-rate, and yes sardine factories in the right setting are stunning.  Usually I end up liking the uglier city more.  Which city is the real Norway, or must I now see Trondheim?  How can this country be the best place in the world to hear jazz?  It is the young who listen, not the old; the players are sincere and convincing, imagine a blond guy named Thor Gustavsen riffing around a flattened third.  We went almost every night, taking one break to hear Varese’s Ameriques, by the Oslo Symphony Orchestra.  Yana loved it.  The fjords bored me.  They are as good as scenery comes, but they felt like a repetition of southern Chile and New Zealand.  I admired the homes which had outlets only to the water.  I wished I had brought an iPod full of heavy metal for that boat trip.

I asked for Voss water on several occasions, but no one had it.  Not even in the train station in Voss.  Some Norwegian servers had never heard of it.

I kept on toying with the theory that the country moved quickly from folk paganism to postwar secularism, with only a short Christian interlude in between.

We were never willing to spend on splendid food and the less than splendid food never came cheap.  In Bergen I had one of the best fish and chips servings of my life, I told the happy cook he was a genius, equaled only by the fish and chips geniuses of New Zealand.  I like to eat fish and chips at least once in every country I visit.  Somehow that was my favorite moment of my travels.  He gave us a free piece of fish and chips.

Does it make sense to wonder in which countries people are "the most normal" or "the least normal"?  I’m fine with the exercise being about the wonderer, not the subjects.  On the Continent the French seem the most normal to me.  In the North the Swedes seem the most normal.

The joke ends with the exchange: "A: Does it always rain here in Bergen?  B: I don’t know, I’m only fourteen years old."

Espen June 4, 2007 at 11:43 am

Tyler,
Oslo, unfortunately (like Amsterdam and Copenhagen) decants its boat (and train) tourists into the most sordid parts of town. Oslo can be great, but should be seen with a native. In an egalitarian society, it takes deep familiarity to be able to distinguish between the great and the mediocre, especially since the great don’t want to be seen as such, lest anyone suspect they are not egalitarian.

The next time you are in town, send me an email first, and I will try to correct the picture a bit…..

Morgan June 4, 2007 at 1:50 pm

Remind me never to travel with you.

Michael Giesbrecht June 4, 2007 at 2:57 pm

I hope you had a chance to catch a Turbonegro show while you are there–Norway’s best gay, bondage, heavy-metal act by far. In fact, they blow all the other gay, bondage heavy-metal acts away.

One of my best friends is from Norway. We get together about once a week at our favorite dive in San Francisco’s Mission District. As we quaff our beer, at some point he’ll usually start in with what a great country Norway is. The list of free or almost free government provided services is long and the quality is high, so he says.

Once, after he finished singing the praises of Norway, I asked him why he moved to the US. He answered without hesitation. He said, “The social safety net makes life boring.”

Tyler Cowen June 4, 2007 at 4:59 pm

Apparently some of you thought I sounded grumpy but I loved the place! The citation of fish and chips as the highlight of the trip was high praise…

TGGP June 4, 2007 at 10:29 pm

Even though I’m one of those bigoted homophobes, I second the Turbonegro recommendation. Norway is well known for “black metal”, some of the worst stuff you will ever hear and obsessed with being “TRVE” and “KVLT”, so Turbonegro is really the odd band out there.

Michael Martin June 5, 2007 at 1:57 pm

Did you try the gammalos?

dolores June 9, 2007 at 8:38 am

“I asked for Voss water on several occasions, but no one had it. Not even in the train station in Voss. Some Norwegian servers had never heard of it.”

Of course people in Norway have never heard of ‘Voss water’. That is a
commercial product marketed for the American market. Do you know where
water comes from? its not a product made by Coke a Cola. If you can get
water from mountain sources why would you buy it in a bottle? You are a
a product of Madison ave. brainwashing. You come from a consumer oriented soc
society that’s over use of the world’s resources is killing our planet.

Norwegian June 9, 2007 at 9:16 pm

I just have to say ;say what? You don’t know anything about Norway! If you should say something about Norway, you have to live in Norway for many many years. You americans are so “sjølgoe”!!
And why do you even care how the norwegians get dressed?! WTF
And ‘normal people’? No one is normal!

tim June 10, 2007 at 6:14 am

I was a bit puzzled by your comment on the way norwegians dress. Yes, they are far less classy than the average italian or spaniard – and I suppose also less dressed up than the swedes. But if you compare the norwegian style of dressing to the scots, the average english, the germans or not at least the americans (with their horrendous baggy clothing)…then I won’t say that norwegians are all that bad

Sam July 4, 2007 at 4:48 pm

“Voss water”? I broke out in laughter when I read that one. I remember that being over $10 a bottle in the US when I lived there. The thing is though, that Voss-branded bottled water comes from the municipal water supply in some poky Norwegian regional town (not the actual town of Voss either).

In other words, if the waiters in Oslo had actually known what you were asking for, they could have brought you a glass of cold tap water – it would the same. Norway has some of the best tasting public water in the world, and that is what you get in Oslo.

For what it is worth though, if I was gonna buy bottled water, I actually like the “Fiji” brand better than the Voss stuff…

Rebecca October 31, 2007 at 4:40 pm

Hi, I am from Norway, and I am not to found of Oslo nor Bergen. You should visit Stavanger, and the entire Rogaland County. Oslo can seem abit ‘unpersonal’ especially if youre a foreginer. Bergen, I dont know, I never liked the place. But I love Stavanger, you shoud consider it if you ever come visit again.

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