Health Care

I’ve been asked about the Norwegian health care system a few times, so I thought I’d write about my (thankfully) limited experience with it.

When I first came to Norway, I had to register as a resident and then wait for my personal number, the Norwegian equivalent of a US social security number. Once I had my personal number, I was then in the health care system and able to register for a doctor, or fastlege, either online or by phone (+47 815 70 070).*

Now I ran into a bit of trouble actually figuring out the fastlege website, unsurprising considering that it’s in Norwegian. This led to me calling the health care phone number. Now one important thing to know about Norwegians is that they excel at rule following and conflict avoidance. Conflict avoidance paired with one confused and frustrated person, me, did not lead to a great phone conversation. Our circuitous 30 minute conversation can pretty much be summed up below:

Me: Hi, I’d like to register for my fastlege
Customer Service: Who would you like to register with?
Me: Well I’m having trouble with your website and would just like to have a doctor who is based close to me in Trondheim.
Customer Service: I’m sorry I can’t do that. Normally people just call and tell me which doctor they want. I’m also in Oslo so I don’t know the Trondheim area well.
Me: Well can you assign me any doctor in Trondheim.
Customer Service: Well, no. I’m sorry, but this isn’t usually how things are done. You need to tell me what doctor you want. I can’t help you.

After much convincing, I finally managed to get the person on the phone to assign me a doctor. Though instead of assigning me a doctor in Trondheim, they decided to give me one in another city. So my first experience with the Norwegian health care system was a pretty frustrating one.

After that encounter, I decided to give up on the phone line and eventually managed to piece together parts of how the fastlege website works. Here’s a bit more about what I’ve learned. While the website is far from grand, you can narrow down the list of doctors to a particular city. The problem that I was running into was that it shows you all of the doctors in the city, not just those that are available. To make things more complicated for me and my limited Norwegian, the way you can tell if a doctor is available is by looking at the last column of the website, titled “Ledig.” Google Translate has “ledig” translate to “free,” which to me originally meant that the column should be filled with some equivalent of yes/no or true/false. Instead you’ll see numbers. One of my initial downfalls was thinking that the number stood for the number of patients the doctor currently has (a zero would mean no patients while a high number would mean that the doctor was stretched thin). The numbers actually tell you the complete opposite–how much availability a doctor has (a zero would mean that the doctor cannot take on more patients, while a number will tell you how many patients a doctor can take on). And it is here that my knowledge of the fastlege website comes screeching to a halt.

One other interesting thing to note is the way that a doctor’s prescription works. Because Norway is hip with technology, a lot of your information in Norway is tied to your personal number, and this includes prescriptions. In fact, you can usually just go to the local pharmacy, tell them your personal number, and have your prescription handed back to you. Your doctor just inputs all of your prescription information online, and it’s accessible to every pharmacy in the country. Pretty neat!

Having universal health care has certainly seemed great. I haven’t really had to use the health care system since coming here, but it’s clear that its very presence (rightfully) gives a good deal of comfort to many Norwegians. Many of my students have said that they find the US health care system confusing and expensive, before proceeding to tell me how awesome it is not worry about their health (part of the reason why I suspect they tolerate such icy streets during winter–they don’t have to worry as much about injuries). And while I am a supporter of universal health care, I will be the first to admit that I cringed when I saw more than half of a paycheck go to taxes. The welfare state certainly comes with a price, and while I don’t think it will ever fully reach the United States, it’s been great to see how well it works here in Norway.

*One neat thing about Norway is that once you have a bank account set up, it’s possible to use your BankID as a login for a number of Norwegian websites, including the one for your fastlege.

Russ

Russ is here! It’s the time of year, when to quote Buzzfeed, “Norwegian teenagers lose their fucking minds, wreak havoc across the country and EVERYONE IS TOTALLY FINE WITH IT.” If you want a colorful overview of russ definitely check out this Buzzfeed article, otherwise I’m going to go ahead and explain it, but without all of the GIFs and Instagram pictures.

Now because russ is not well documented in English, most of my knowledge comes from my co-teachers, English language blogs, and Wikipedia, so apologies if any of this is incorrect.

When is russ?

Russefeiring, more commonly known as russ, is a tradition that started in 1905. Students who are in their last year of upper secondary school participate in what is essentially a month long graduation celebration. The start date for this celebration seems to depend on where you’re located and the school that you attend, but I’ve been told that it can start as early as the end of Easter break (around April 6). For my students, they have decided to start on the official russ day, May 1. But regardless of what day russ starts, it always ends May 17, Constitution Day, the Norwegian national day.

To make matters more interesting, students have their national exams in the weeks right after russ ends. Now you might wonder why on earth you would ever have russ before your national exams instead of after them. According to one of my co-teachers, things used to be organized this way, but the timeline was changed in the hopes that it would make things less crazy. From what I’ve heard, I don’t think that this has been a successful strategy and there is talk of moving russ to after the national exams.

How can you tell if someone is participating in russ?

Students are traditionally supposed to wear special russ overalls, or russebukse, which cost around 599 NOK (78 USD). The color of your russebukse depends on what you are studying:

  • Red for higher education (the most common color)
  • Blue for business (also higher education in economics and management)
  • White for medical and social studies
  • Black for engineering (such as mechanics or electrics)
  • Green for agriculture

and these overalls are worn for the entire duration of russ (at least two weeks straight).

There are also russ hats, russelue, that are given to each student. The idea behind them is similar to the idea of a graduation cap, they are a symbol of completion. The hats also have a nickname written on their brim which is suppose to characterize either the student’s normal behavior or their russ behavior.

What happens during russ?

Now you’re probably wondering what these students actually do during russ. Well one element of russ comprises of students trying to earn russ knots for their caps, or russeknuter. These pranks usually have to be witnessed by either members of the Russeboard, or videotaped (Yes, there is a governing student body to this month long celebration). When a prank or dare has been verified, the student earns a knot in their cap. Out of curiosity, I went on this year’s russ website (Yes, there is even a website) and looked at a few of this year’s challenges. According to Google Translate, some choice dares are:

  • Buy a pack of condoms using only body language
  • Go through a whole lesson wearing only underwear
  • Pretend you are an animal for an entire school day
  • Act as a tour guide on public transportation for at least five stops
  • Drink a bottle of wine in 20 minutes, minimum 75cl.
  • Go through an entire school day with your arms and legs tied or taped to another russ
  • Have safe sex with a statue
  • Have sex with two people with the same first name on the same evening.

To my relief, there is a range in how risqué the dares are. Here are a few of the nicer ones:

  • Visit a retirement home and make the residents’ day brighter
  • Give a hug to a police officer. Remember to ask nicely
  • Take a picture with the Russeboard and post on Instagram
  • Be at school every day during school (for smart individuals)

Additionally, many students participate in different parties and even fundraise for these parties. My students put on a play that I was invited to (they assured me that it would be PG-13), but I was unable to attend. The ticket proceeds went to an afterparty.

If you take a look at the Buzzfeed article above, you’ll even see that some students manage to buy buses that they transform into russ party buses. They essentially drive around the country going to different parties, or simply set up shop in a parking lot and drink there. When I asked my students if they had a bus their response was “…No. That’s for the rich kids in Oslo. Why would you even want to party in a parking lot?” Clearly there are some regional russ differences.

Reactions to russ

In short, russ involves a lot of drinking, partying, and (unprotected) sex. My students had to go to an assembly where they talked to a police officer and the school nurse. When I asked them what they learned, they said they learned about safe sex (this was paired with an eye roll), “how to not get raped,” and where to get tested for STDs. When I asked if they learned about safe drinking, their answer was confused silence. After waiting for about a minute, someone ventured to say, “They told us to drink water?” I tried very hard not to cringe this entire time.

I’ve had a number of people ask me what Norwegians generally think about this tradition, and the answer is that many of them don’t mind it. Many older people look back fondly on this time, while younger kids think that it is something to look forward to. One thing that gets children really excited about russ is russ business cards, a fake business card that each students makes. The typical card has a silly picture paired with an inappropriate phrase, and children go around and try and collect as many of these russ cards as they can. This is also why one of this year’s russ challenges is to run through an elementary school during recess without giving away a single card.

As for me, as a teaching assistant I’m in an ideal spot to watch all of this. I’m not responsible for how well students do on their national exams, nor am I really in a position to discipline any of my students. I’m interested to see how the next few weeks play out, and rest assured I will report if I notice anything russ related happening in class.

Facebook

Norwegians really really like Facebook. I’m personally the sort of person who uses Facebook to communicate with friends, read good articles, watch hilarious cat videos, and occasionally look up people that went to my high school. In other words, I tend to use it as a fun way to stay in touch with people and as a source of procrastination. I see email in a completely different light. It is a way for businesses bug me with promotions, a way for work related things to get done, a way for extracurricular things to get done, and a way for people bug me about things that require an in depth or thoughtful response.

Norwegians see Facebook and email slightly differently. Facebook is seen as THE way to get in touch with people. It’s not uncommon for a business to have a Facebook page instead of a website or for people to use a Facebook group to coordinate instead of say email or Google Groups. Since coming to Norway, the number of pages that I’m following and the number of Facebook groups that I’m apart of has exploded. In terms of Facebook groups alone, I’ve joined or been invited to:

  • The best Norwegian course!!
  • Moholt Student Village Activities
  • Nordlysvarsel for Trondheim (Northern Lights group)
  • Fulbrighters on Top of the World!
  • TEDxTrondheimStaff
  • TEDx Trondheim Community
  • Hyttevaktgruppa høst 14 | Studenterhytta (Information on the NTNU Student Cabin)
  • Students’ market Trondheim
  • NTNUI seiling
  • Sailing group autumn ’14

Yup, that’s a lot. Or at least I consider it a lot. Reminder: that doesn’t even include Facebook pages.

As for email, the only emails I’ve received in Norway have been from other teachers and from students; in short, only work related emails.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think that Facebook can be a great resource. I just like to keep my personal life and procrastination separate from my extracurricular activities and other miscellaneous things. I’d much rather have my inbox explode than get tons of notifications from Facebook (largely because I can leave something sitting in my inbox as a reminder whereas I’m more likely to see a notification and then promptly forget about it). The lazy part of me also acknowledges that it’s much harder to try and run a Norwegian Facebook page through Google Translate than it is to do that for an email or a website.

Something else that has surprised me about Facebook in Norway has been posts like the one below:

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 2.07.53 PM copy

Having been told time and time again to be careful with what is posted on Facebook, I find it hilarious to see such unapologetic posts in Norway. And yes, weed is illegal here.

In conclusion: having recently graduated from college, I was hoping to decrease my Facebook usage and instead have had Norway drag me back into it half heartedly kicking and screaming.