Swedish migrant workers to Norway

by on December 13, 2012 at 12:13 am in Current Affairs, Economics | Permalink

She offered to find me a cleaning job, telling me if I worked in Norway, I’d become “rich like a troll.” I’d always thought it was the dwarfs and goblins that were rich, but I wasn’t about to quibble. Facing the reality of undergraduate student loans and the nigh-on uselessness of an M.A. in the humanities, I ate my pride, packed my bags, and endured the 30-hour train ride up to Lofoten.

Here is much more, interesting throughout.  I also liked this part:

“And I would say that many Norwegians enjoy the fact that so many Swedes are here doing menial jobs.”

When the Norwegian cross-country skier Petter Northug beat his Swedish rival across the line at the 2011 World Championships, he used opportunity to taunt Sweden about the low value of the Swedish currency. The Swedish media, on the other hand, laments the fact that Swedes are reduced to literally peeling bananas in Norway—albeit for about $23 an hour.

And this:

The stereotype of Swedes in Norway is that they live in dirty “collectives,” packing as many people into a house as possible. We did little to mitigate this stereotype.

For the pointer I thank Mike Dang.

1 Joe Smith December 13, 2012 at 12:21 am

Ebb and flow.

In the late forties, two of my relatives went from Denmark to Sweden to find menial jobs.

2 David Wright December 13, 2012 at 1:07 am

Fantasticly entertaining and illuminating. Thanks!

3 dcdrone December 13, 2012 at 2:50 am

Pretty much all Swedish males are white-knighting manboobs. At least some Norweigan males have their eyes open and resist the silliness.

4 Millian December 14, 2012 at 11:10 am

“some Norweigan males have their eyes open”

We all know who you’re thinking of.

5 mkt December 13, 2012 at 3:00 am

Interesting indeed. It’s not too surprising that other countries haven’t heard of Jello shots, what was surprising is that the Swedes hate Jello while the Norwegians love it.

I remember a French professor giving us a list of foods that Americans would not be able to find in France: Jello, popcorn, I forget what else. That was decades ago however, for all I know globalization may have brought the wonders of popcorn balls made with Jello to France.

When my parents travelled in China around the early 1990s, my mother said that for meals, aside from hot tea and tap water that you were strongly advised not to drink, the only things to drink were sickly sweet orange soda and beer. It was summer so drinking hot tea was out of the question; she was never much of a beer drinker but drank it regularly on that trip because she got tired of the orange soda.

I went to China in 2002; I don’t know what the small villages had but in the big cities by then there were convenience stores everywhere, the equivalent of 7-11s, selling a massive variety of drinks, bigger than what one can find in most US stores. Stuff I’d never seen before such as pre-sweetened green iced tea (it’s become more common in the US since then). Milk in a huge variety of flavors and shapes of containers — this in a country which supposedly shuns dairy products.

So culinary habits change. Maybe 10 years from now he’ll discover that he started a Jello shot craze in Scandanavia that finally convinced the Swedes to start consuming Jello. If so, Kraft Foods will owe him big time.

The attitude towards service workers is I imagine almost universal; making fun of the neighboring nationality probably almost universal as well. One near exception might be US attitudes towards Canadians; Americans seem to think about Canadians so infrequently that we have barely any stereotypes about them: beer, hockey, and saying “eh” a lot. But I know someone who grew up in northern New Hampshire; there were so few racial minorities around that racist attitudes towards them couldn’t find expression: there weren’t non-whites around to hate. So the ethnic group that the local New Hampshirites viewed with disdain? French Canadians.

6 To December 13, 2012 at 8:26 am

You can definitely find popcorn in France, although it’s not as ubiquitous as in the US. Jello, on the other hand, would be that repugnant thing the Brits have for dessert.

The Ukrainian housemaid would be a common stereotype in Poland…

7 Roy December 13, 2012 at 11:28 am

Anti French Canadian sentiment was pretty common everywhere there were a lot of them in the past. In the midwest there are a lot of them and they were always considered at a lower level, even by Eastern Europeans. At least this was the case in the forties and fifties. My mother was educated by French Canadian nuns, so she was always favorably inclined toward them, but the local French Canadians were always seen as near the bottom. This was in a very large midwestern city.

8 Terri December 13, 2012 at 11:31 am

My dad grew up in Upper Michigan a long time ago and in a similar vein, Finnish people ended up as the goats there.

9 Ryan Miller December 13, 2012 at 1:17 pm

In western China, even in a huge city like Chengdu, it’s still tea, hot water, beer, and orange soda. I wonder how long it really takes culinary trends to spread.

10 George December 13, 2012 at 5:11 am

Oddly coincidental that the most ethnically Norwegian state in the US (North Dakota) is also experiencing a large influx of service workers coming to make 20+ dollars an hour in the same sort of jobs. Both places are cold and oil-rich as well. In the role of the Swedes, would be the Minnesotans…

11 Ray Lopez December 13, 2012 at 5:36 am

Swedes diss the Norwegians and vice versa–it’s a running joke, strange to me, as they all speak the same language (whew, I guessed right on that I see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norwegian_language) They also rank, along with the Danish, way up there on world “Happiness Indexes”, which rate happiness according to various quality of life metrics and surveys.

12 Andreas December 13, 2012 at 10:24 am

We don’t speak the same language but they are very similar. The same is true for Danish even though their pronounciation is a lot different. Somewhat easy to understand in writing but not in speech.

13 Aslak December 13, 2012 at 6:36 am

Swedes are family to us. Mutual rivalry and mocking comes with the territory 🙂 Although, I do believe we Norwegians, as the smaller country, spend more time thinking about the Swedes than vice versa

14 Andreas December 13, 2012 at 10:31 am

I like Norway and Norwegians and I think almost everyone in Sweden do. Norway is the country in Scandinavia that we have the best relations with for sure. Maybe it’s because our languages are the most similar or maybe it has to do with history.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Norwegian say something really negative about Sweden and I really appriciate that 🙂

Ps. I’m sure some Norwegians might not like Sweden but let me live in my bubble 🙂

15 Brian Donohue December 13, 2012 at 12:15 pm

Holy crap, look at all those smileys! Are you thinking what I’m thinking?


16 Urso December 13, 2012 at 1:43 pm

Ha. I wonder if people are more likely to use emoticons when writing in a non-native language. It’s often difficult for me to tell how my tone is coming across even when I write in English, much less if I tried to write in another language. Smiley faces are universally understood and an easy way to show “I’m being friendly.” Especially on a potentially touchy (well, touchy among Scandivanians) topic.

17 affenkopf December 13, 2012 at 6:52 am

A similar situation exists with Germans doing menial work in Switzerland (‘though there’s also lots of higher qualified German immigrants, i.e. German doctors in Swiss hospitals).

18 Adrian Ratnapala December 13, 2012 at 7:33 am

Who would have thought there such things as Norwegian banana factories?

19 lords of lies December 13, 2012 at 8:30 am

here’s some reality-facing you might enjoy:

the cultural and genetic distance between norwegians and swedes <<<<<< the cultural and genetic distance between white americans and mexican amerindians.

"packing as many people into a house as possible"

there's house-packing, and then there's house-packing. i suspect the swedish version of house packing is more along the lines of a frat house or group home than it is to five fully-stocked mexican migrant families living in a shanty.

keepin' it real since 2012.

20 Alex' December 13, 2012 at 10:25 am

And mexican immigrants aren’t college students spending their summer making >$20/hour, but why is this even relevant?

Are you even capable of reading a somewhat amusing story about foreign cultures without tying it back to your racial hang-ups?

21 msgkings December 13, 2012 at 11:49 am

Answer: no he is not

22 lords of lies December 13, 2012 at 12:23 pm

“Are you even capable of reading a somewhat amusing story about foreign cultures without tying it back to your racial hang-ups?”

wrong question. right question: am i capable of pricking cheap chalupa’s mood affiliation in posts which present an opportunity to do so? yes.

23 msgkings December 13, 2012 at 12:51 pm

Properly edited post: “am i capable of pricking? yes.”

24 j r December 13, 2012 at 7:41 pm

“there’s house-packing, and then there’s house-packing.”

Translation: stereotypes against people that I like should minimized and explained away, while stereotypes against people that I don’t like should be taken seriously and magnified.

“keepin’ it real since 2012.”

Yup… real stupid.

25 commentariette December 13, 2012 at 9:14 am

Speaking of Norway and immigrant labor. I’ve never understood why Norway has never built (bought) a research infrastructure in STEM, medical research, etc.

Switzerland, which is in a similar position (small country, multilingual, lots of money from a relatively narrow source), has a couple of top world class universities (ETHZ and EPFL) and two or three more that are internationally ranked (Zurich, Basel). It actively recruits internationally and makes good offers, both salary and research funding.

Why doesn’t Norway come close to having anything comparable? (It’s hardly as if Oslo or NNTU are terrible, but even much less wealthy small countries have internationally regarded schools. Ireland, Belgium, Finland, Sweden all have well-ranked universities, for example.)

Is this a social choice, an accident, reflection of views on immigrant status? Scientists tend to be internationally mobile and do follow funding. And even though even the best funding can’t make up for lack of rule of law, freedom of expression, human rights, that’s clearly not Norway’s problem (as it is in the Gulf kingdoms).

Anyone know what’s up with that? I’ve always wondered.

26 Rich Norwegian December 13, 2012 at 9:31 am

You sound just like my Swedish butler. Get back to work.

27 Brian Donohue December 13, 2012 at 12:20 pm


28 Roy December 13, 2012 at 11:33 am

Because Norway is a petrostate, and the Swiss climbed out of starvation by hard work and relentless ingenuity.

Before oil, Norway was a peasant backwater with only one or two real cosmopolitan centers. The rest was quite anti intellectual and very stultifying. The nail that sticks up in Norway gets pounded down or broken.

29 Roy December 13, 2012 at 11:49 am

Let me just add that modern Norway is a very nice place and far more friendly to real ambition and ingenuity than it was in the past. But you can’t create these sorts of institutions out of nowhere.

Also Switzerland shares two languages, French and especially German, with two of the larger and more dynamic societies in recent history. Norwegians can be used talk to Danes and Icelanders only if you talk very carefully.

30 axa December 13, 2012 at 4:02 pm

you’re forgetting Italian as the third language for Switzerland. Milan is closer to Lugano than Rome.

Even tough……swiss people do menial jobs in Liechtenstein =)

31 commentariette December 13, 2012 at 4:09 pm

Yes, but I wasn’t referring to Norwegian. The Nordic countries have the among the highest levels of English ESL competency in the world. And English is the official language of instruction at all Nordic universities, at least in science, engineering and business.

Actually, this is also true in Switzerland. It is absolutely not a requirement to speak either French or German to teach or study at the graduate level at ETH or EPFL, for example.

Many European universities (certainly major research universities) are as international (and English-based) as ones in the US or UK (though the most senior professorships seem somehow to be reserved for natives). For that matter, all funding applications to EU science funding agencies are in English as well…

To some extent France and Italy are exceptions (though Politechnico Milano recently made official switch to English).

32 Bender Bending Rodriguez December 13, 2012 at 11:37 am

Population density? Switzerland is 8 million people mostly crammed into about half of their land area. Norway is fewer people and more livable land.
It’s easier to sell investment in a university or hospital when more people have convenient access.

33 albert magnus December 13, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Quite giving such pragmatic answers on the internet. Wild generalizations about foreigners is the order of the day!

34 commentariette December 13, 2012 at 4:40 pm

It’s an interesting thought. But almost 15% of the population lives Oslo proper, and 25% in the Oslo metro area. Almost 50% of the population lives on the Oslo Fjord, so in the Oslo region.

It also doesn’t explain differences with Sweden and Finland, with similar geography.

And there are universities in Norway’s other cities. Bergen, Tromsoe – it’s not like they’re bad universities. It’s more why has rich Norway not built up a network of excellent research universities, while rich Switzerland has.

35 Someone from the other side December 14, 2012 at 4:59 am

Switzerland’s economy is actually surprisingly diversified when you start digging (hint: banking is a relatively small share of it). True, it’s mostly high value added advanced technology or services but that’s the only thing that you can profitably do at the wage levels around here.

36 Millian December 14, 2012 at 11:13 am

Norway’s wealth is more recent, and much of it is either saved/invested abroad or redistributed, through a welfare state, to poor people rather than academics.

37 Terje December 29, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Norway is a social democratic country, and does not like competition very well. To establish an elite anything, you have to admit that some people are more qualified than others. That doesn´t work in a country where politicians seriously discuss removing grades in high-schools, in order to not stigmatize the less strong students.

38 ElamBend December 13, 2012 at 10:02 am

Norway would be wise to watch out for the deleterious effects of oil wealth on their other industries and the economy as a whole. If only there were a name for that kind of effect….

39 Andreas December 13, 2012 at 10:40 am

This reminds me a little of the Simpsons episode where “Northerners” (or whatever they called them) came to Springfield. Homer and friends decided to build a wall to keep them out and the Northerners helped them build it because Springfield couldn’t build it themselves. When the wall was up they realized they missed these Northerners and vice versa. Good thing the Northerners built a door!

So what I’m saying is.. Norway: When you get fed up by the silly Swedes taking your jobs that you don’t want and decide to build a wall to keep us our; please build a door in case you change your mind!

40 Urso December 13, 2012 at 11:56 am

If you’re going to cite to Simpsons episodes to support your argument, please, let’s keep it to seasons 2-12.

41 Mark Thorson December 13, 2012 at 11:27 am

Whale stew! I’ve always wanted to try whale. Having both Norwegian and Japanese ancestry, whale is my natural food.

42 Urso December 13, 2012 at 11:55 am

A new trend of hiring Swedish immigrants to perform menial work around the house? Once again, the Muppets were at the vanguard.

43 msgkings December 13, 2012 at 12:52 pm

Thread winner.

44 Gnee December 15, 2012 at 6:36 pm

Light and entertaining. It sounds like being a migrant cleaning specialist is a lot of fun.

45 Trond December 29, 2012 at 3:09 pm

Another factor relating to Sweden, is that the country has the largest muslim population in Europe compared to population. The Sweden that existed 20 years ago, does not exist anymore. Sweden will end up as a Kalifat. It is just a matter of time, when the boarders are wide open and the benefits generous….

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