Tips for Visitors to Norway

I’ve had several people come and visit Norway, and for those whom I wasn’t able to see, I came up with a general list of tips for visitors. Enjoy and go visit!

  1. Norway is expensive, so come in with that expectation. Don’t come in thinking that this will be a cheap holiday; HOWEVER, now is a great time to come since the dollar is strong.
  2. Norwegians generally speak superb English so I wouldn’t worry about language barriers.
  3. We use the Norwegian kroner. Yes, there are three types of kroner in Scandinavia (Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian). No, Finland is not a part of Scandinavia (they use the Euro).
  4. In the event that you don’t want to carry cash, never fear. Cards are accepted almost universally.
  5. Keep in mind what time of year you’re visiting Norway. In the summer you’ll experience very long days, while in winter your daylight will be minimal. If you’re visiting in winter you’re also going to want to invest in some sort of crampon type things for your shoes. I know a lot of people liked using Yaktrax.
  6. If you plan on drinking, buy all of your alcohol at duty free since booze is expensive (think $12 for a beer at a bar). If you’re flying in from abroad you’ll notice that:
    1. You will have to pass through duty free anyway in order to leave the airport.
    2. All of the Norwegians are also going there to stock up on booze.
  7. It’s pretty easy to get a SIM card if you want data. Go to a Netcom store (they are everywhere) and ask for a 14 day SIM card/starter pack. It’ll cost you 99 NOK (12.27 USD). More info here at this old blog post.
  8. It’s actually really easy to get around Norway. 
    • The train system can be found at nsb.no/en. Tickets are usually very affordable if booked in advance, the trains are clean, relatively new, AND they have wifi. 
    • For flights you qualify for youth tickets if you are under 26.
      1. Finding the youth tickets on SAS is a bit of a hassle, but it can be done and tickets apply for both domestic and international flights. 
      2. Norwegian Air also has youth prices, but only for flights within Norway (code UNDER26). They also have the newest planes and wifi on all of them. I love them. 
    • If you’re coming at the right time of year you can also snag some great ferry trips on the Hurtigruten ferry (combination of a postal ferry and cruise ship). 

Quirky Norwegian Things

I’ve had a number of draft posts sitting around that never quite seemed to make it onto my blog, but, as it’s time for me to start wrapping up my scribblings on Norway, I thought I’d give these drafts some body and talk about some of the quirky Norwegian things I’ve noticed here in list form.

  1. Overall, I would say that Americans tend to fall into the action based go-getter category. Norwegians on the other hand tend to be a bit more passive and like to avoid conflict. In my experience, this has led to a few interesting interactions. Sometimes my assertiveness can lead to things happening, while at other times it seems to cause people to shut down.
  2. Norwegians tend to be a bit anti-social. In fact, many of my students have said that when they go to the States they are considered rude. It’s not uncommon for people to avoid eye contact on public transportation, resist striking up conversations with strangers, and sometimes just go out of their way to avoid people. One Norwegian told me that she’s perfectly happy to hop into a nearby store if it means avoiding saying hi to someone.
  3. Norwegians have a large amount of respect for personal space. A bus in Trondheim is apparently considered crowded if you have to sit next to someone. In fact, it’s not uncommon for someone to stand on the bus in order to avoid sitting next to someone.
  4. Norwegians tend to avoid being very expressive unless drunk. This tends to lead to interesting situations, especially around drunken social events like julebord, or Christmas parties. One Fulbrighter mentioned getting a guide on how to deal with the aftermath of a drunken julebord party, including what to do in the event that you hit on your boss.
  5. Norwegians are shockingly law abiding and have a large amount of common sense. In the middle of winter, people would light streets with candles (since street lamps are somewhat uncommon), and as far as I could tell this harmed neither people nor candles–if this were to happen in the States I would predict fiery madness.
  6. If you ever go to dinner with Norwegians, you might hear the phrase “Norwegian elbows.” In Norway, there is no need to ask someone to pass a dish–just grab it!
  7. Taco Friday is a tradition in Norway, where the “Mexican” food in the supermarket is discounted on Fridays.
  8. Alcohol is expensive in Norway, so home brewing is pretty popular, as is raiding duty free whenever flying in from abroad, and buying alcohol in Sweden.
  9. Norwegians tend to have what I like to call the Norwegian sigh. They will do something that’s  somewhere between a sharp intake of breath and a sigh. If you encounter it, don’t worry it’s not an asthma attack, just a sign of agreement.
  10. Smoking! Most Europeans seem to smoke like chimneys, but this is generally not the case in Norway. Snus, powdered and packaged tobacco, is preferred. That’s not to say that smoking doesn’t happen in Norway, it’s just that it’s not very common. This makes sense considering how cold it is for most of the year. In fact, on Svalbard the smokers apparently have a smoking bus, an old bus where people go to smoke since no one wants to smoke in negative degree weather.
  11. Once winter starts to approach, Norwegians become obsessed with candles. Lighting candles is important to create a sort of cozy feeling, referred to as koselig, and I would also argue that it actually helps you get through the winter months.
  12. In Norway there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing
  13. Tanning salons are incredibly popular here
  14. Cod liver oil is considered nothing short of the fountain of youth. It’s a medical cure all.
  15. Norwegian roads seem to be constantly undergoing construction. While I found this a bit silly in August, when perfectly good roads seemed to be constantly being repaved, this now makes much more sense in June, when a number of the roads have pretty significant potholes in them from winter.
  16. Although there are debates as to how fit Norwegians are, on the surface Norwegians seem to be incredibly active. People LOVE cross country skiing in winter and constantly seem to be moving year round. I kid you not, I once saw an elderly man on his bike going faster than the bus that I was riding on (and no the buses here aren’t slow).
  17. Many people dress and style themselves similarly. Most of my students seem to have the same closets (granted there isn’t as much diversity in clothing as there is in the States), and they all seem to have the same two or three hairstyles.
  18. Sunday is the day when everything shuts down. It’s a day set aside so that people can spend time bonding with their families, with the most popular bonding activities being hiking and skiing.

These are just a few of the things that I’ve noticed, but if you’d like to learn a bit more about Norwegian culture, I’d recommend The Social Guidebook to Norway, a book that I recently discovered filled with fun and accurate comics on life in Norway.

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.

April Showers Bring May Flowers

Although the saying is “April showers bring May flowers,” in Trondheim the saying would be more accurate if it was “continuous April downpours bring a vague sense of spring and greenery in May.” It is true that spring has technically arrived in Norway. The ice has been gone since about early March, and nowadays I’m even able to see the occasional cluster of wildflowers. But, be that as it may, winter has yet to fully relinquish its icy grip in Trondheim. The weather was dreary for pretty much the whole month of April, and we were getting so much rain that I felt like, unbeknownst to me, I had moved to Bergen, Norway’s rainiest city and the rainiest city in Europe.

Thankfully, things have definitely improved a bit this month. While we still get more rain than I would like, we have also been blessed with some gloriously sunny days. That being said, it has yet to really heat up. Right now a warm day would be a day that hits 14°C (57.2°F). In fact, the weather has been so cold the last few months that it wasn’t atypical to see a few snow flurries or to get actual snow in late April. However, my co-workers have told me that this May has been unusually cold. And while most people seem to think the weather is getting a bit warmer, as proven by the fact that yesterday my co-teachers and I spent some time admiring the newly shirtless construction workers who are working on a new wing for the school, I still gaze at the temperatures for my hometown in Los Angeles and sigh longingly.

While the temperatures have yet to pick up, the daylight certainly has. Today’s sunrise and sunset times are 3:28 am and 11:02 pm. The result? It never gets fully dark in Trondheim. The closest we get to complete darkness is a sort of hazy blue period between sunset and sunrise. While the sunshine is certainly energizing, it does tend to throw off everyone’s sleep schedules and their schedules in general. It’s difficult to convince yourself to go to bed when the sun is still up, and it’s also hard not to panic when you wake up since the daylight seems to indicate that you’ve slept until about noon.

The resurgence of daylight also means that I’ve stopped getting coupons for free vitamin D pills in my inbox. The handy Norwegian version of Groupon, Let’s Deal, was always sending out coupons for free vitamin D tablets in the middle of winter, something that I generally found depressing instead of helpful. Likewise, the number of spray tans seems to be going down. There are a large number of tanning studios in most Norwegian cities (something that I had stopped noticing until visiting friends pointed them out to me), and while a large number of these studios offer tanning services, I’m also told that they offer light box therapy, or time with specially lamps that help people combat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

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While I certainly welcome the return of the sun, I am also looking forward to some nicer weather. Here’s to hoping that June brings some warmer days.

Oslo Wrap Up

I adore Oslo. It’s one of my favorite European cities and one that I’ve never gotten tired of.

  1. DO NOT TAKE A TAXI. Taxis in Oslo charge a minimum 200 NOK (24.80 USD) fare. You should absolutely take advantage of the public transportation system, especially since it works pretty well. The apps to use are RuterBillett (to buy tickets) and RuterReise/Google Maps (to plan out a trip and navigate the system). Note: you don’t actually have to validate your transportation tickets (and you can freely walk through the barriers in the subway system), but they do randomly check to make sure that you have tickets. The fines are very steep if you’re caught without a ticket (~150 USD) so just keep that in mind if you decide not to buy one.
  2. In order to get to the city from the airport you’ll either take the flytoget (airport train) or the flybussen (airport bus). The train is much faster, but depending on where you’re staying the bus might drop you off closer to your accommodations.
  3. The city’s main street is Karl Johans Gate and quite a few major sites are near it as is a ton of shopping.
  4. The Oslo Opera House is quite possibly my favorite site in Oslo. It’s a stunning piece of architecture and you’re free to walk in it, on it, and around it. The view from the roof also isn’t half bad. I would highly recommend either doing a tour of the opera house or going to see a performance there. The opera is required to sell 100 tickets at 100 NOK (~16 USD) for every performance so it’s pretty easy to get affordable tickets and good seats.
  5. Absolutely go to Vigeland Park (which is in Frogner Park). The park is a ways away from the city center so I would recommend taking the tram or subway, but the sculptures are great and it’s nice to just walk around.
  6. Definitely pay a stop to Bygdøy peninsula. Depending on the time of year, you can reach it by either bus or by ferry. If the ferry is running I would recommend taking it, even if it’s just to get a view of the city from the water. Here’s what you can see there:
    • Viking Ship Museum – It has three different viking ship relics + a few other Viking things. It’s kinda cool to go and see but there isn’t actually much to do at the museum
    • Folkemusem – Great if you want an overview of Norwegian history and culture. It also has 24 acres of land with 160 different kinds of historic buildings. If you’re dying to see a stave church and won’t make it out of the city then definitely stop by.
    • Fram Museum – Unfortunately I haven’t spent enough time here. What I did see what great, especially if you’re interested in Arctic exploration and/or ships (plus all of the other major ship museums are literally next door).
  7. The Nobel Peace Center – Does a pretty good job of talking about the Nobel Peace Prize and the latest winners. I would recommend going if you want to learn more about the prize.
  8. Nasjonalmuseet (The National Museum) – A pretty good museum and the location of Munch’s famous The Scream. It’s small though so it’s pretty manageable to do in about an hour or two.
  9. City Hall – If you can manage to go to the room where they give out the Nobel Peace Prize you should since it’s stunning. I’m pretty sure that they organize tours.
  10. Ekeberg Park – Go if you want a good view of the city (but if it’s a cloudy or foggy day maybe give it a pass). It’s an interesting place since it also has a ton of famous artwork scattered throughout the park (Rodin, Salvador Dali, etc.). Walking down from the park to the city will also give you the same backdrop that is painted in The Scream.
  11. Holmenkollen – Go if you want to see the famous ski jump, walk around the forest, and get a good view of the city. I’ve heard that the museum is also pretty good and has a ski jump simulator.
  12. Vigeland Museum/Mausoleum – There are actually two Vigeland sculptors, and this is a “museum” done by the less famous brother. It’s a bit outside of the city center, but if you have the time to check it out it’s pretty neat.
  13. If you want to see some nice graffiti/street art go check out the area around Mathallen (food hall).
  14. If you are there in winter, you absolutely have to check out Korktrekkeren, a large sledding area that will take you about 15 minutes to go down. It’s fantastic. For the best sledding go early on a weekday.

Transitions

It’s strange to think that my time here is slowly coming to a close. My mother recently reminded me that I only have about six weeks left (and that she’s counting down the days to my return). I’ve even been given my walking papers by the Fulbright Commission and asked to fill out my final report. I’ve also talked to my successor! I definitely got a sense of deja vu doing that. It seems like just yesterday that I was up early Skyping my predecessor and having her answer all of my questions.

Yet even though there are all of these tangible signs that I’m leaving Norway, I’m definitely not quite ready to go. It’s funny how at the beginning of my Fulbright I felt overwhelmed, and how now I don’t feel prepared to leave. I’m sure I’ll soon be joining the ranks of Norwegian Fulbright alumni who regularly come back to visit.

So, even though I still have a few weeks left, much of my remaining time has been spent thinking back on what I have accomplished so far. So I thought I’d leave you with something that I wrote as part of my final Fulbright report:

When I first arrived in Norway I was nervous. I had never lived in another country for more than a few months, and I had never taught high school students in a formal setting. I had a million and one questions about what would happen in the next year: How would I handle winter? How good would my students’ English be? Would I get homesick? But because I happen to be a huge fan of Google, I made sure to Google just about everything I could find on Norway, Trondheim, and on being an ETA. What people don’t really tell you is that no matter how many blogs or Norwegian guidebooks you read, there is nothing quite like just doing things. So although these resources made me feel a bit more prepared when I arrived, there was nothing quite like just setting off on my own and creating my own new experience.

Arriving in Norway was an adventure. There was definitely a bit of an initial culture shock: Where did all the people go? Is that BROWN cheese or just really weird peanut butter? Does everyone have a hand knit sweater? Why is everything so expensive? It was also strange arriving in a country where the majority of the population speaks English almost fluently. It made everything seem slightly familiar, even though it was clear that I was placed in a new landscape. But I adapted. I can even say that I like brown cheese!

Being in student housing helped me form a friend network and my predecessor even connected me to a few Americans in town. Through this, I managed to feel more at home and branch out and try new things. These new friends encouraged me to take up one of Norway’s great pastimes, hiking, and to even get involved in local community groups, such as TEDx Trondheim. These friendships, both international and Norwegian, have proved invaluable to helping me get a better sense of what it means to be Norwegian and live in Norway, and they have also given me a deeper sense of Norwegian culture.

As for teaching, the teacher’s strike made for an interesting start. Luckily both of my co-teachers were very communicative and I was able to keep on top of what was going on. Once the strike ended, I soon managed to settle into a schedule. My time was divided between working at NTNU and at Byåsen videregående skole (my inability to say videregående is always capable of making my students laugh). In the fall, I spent most of my time at NTNU helping with two classes, Academic Writing and Communication for Engineers. Here I helped hone the writing skills of my students by helping them work on things like structure, topic sentences, and annotated bibliographies. Because the students were supposed to send me weekly writing samples, I could really see how my students improved over the course of the semester.

Although I spent less time at the upper secondary school in the fall, I was able to make up for lost time in the spring. I primarily help with two International English classes and a Social Studies class. In International English, we look at multiculturalism, working and studying abroad, and global issues. It was here that I was largely able to talk about about immigration and race relations in the United States, something that I think my students found enlightening.

With the Social Studies class, I have helped teach both British and American history. Race has also been a huge conversation topic in this class, and I’m happy to say that my students did a great job of delving into To Kill A Mockingbird and looking at the various ways that America has grappled with race. I have also enjoyed teaching them about the American political system and explaining difficult questions such as: Why does the second amendment exist? Why do states have so much power? It’s been a joy to explain these things to my students, and to help them see both the good and the problematic sides of America.

When I’m not in one of those three classes, I have also enjoyed going into a variety of vocational English classes and teaching there. Things are taught at a much slower pace, and the focus is more on getting students to feel comfortable speaking English. Because of this, I have often had more everyday conversations with my students and gotten to learn more about the life of the average Norwegian teenager.

Overall, it’s hard to believe that this year is already drawing to a close, but I couldn’t be more happy with the way that this year has turned out. It has taught me a lot about both Norway and myself and, although I’ll be sad to go, I can’t wait to bring some of the best aspects of Norwegian culture with me.

Berlin Wrap Up

As always, here are my tips for Berlin:

  1. Berlin is a very large city so things can be quite far apart. That being said, I would still recommend walking around. There is a lot of really wonderful street art, and it’s a beautiful city in the sunshine.
  2. As in all of Germany, Google Maps is a godsend and works perfectly with the public transportation system.
  3. Buy and validate a transportation card. Berlin is the only city where I’ve had my ticket checked multiple times. The fine for riding without a pass is €40. You validate your pass on the platform in a red box.
  4. Invest in a Museum Pass. For €12 you get 3 day access to all of Berlin’s main museums.
  5. I bought a Berlin Pass (combination of a transportation card + discount card) and found that I was consistently getting better discounts with my student ID. I would say that you’re probably better off buying a transportation card and a Museum Pass (instead of a Berlin Pass) if you’re a student.
  6. Buying a SIM card is easy and affordable. I went to a Saturn Electronics store with my ID and was able to purchase a SIM with 250 MB of data for €5.
  7. If you’re going in winter you’d probably do well to pack an umbrella.
  8. Don’t jaywalk. It’s highly frowned upon in Germany and I’ve even been told that if you jaywalk next to a family it’s not uncommon to be yelled at for setting a bad example. Apparently there are even pedestrian signs that read “Think of the children.”
  9. For me the permanent must sees were: the Neues Museum (even if it’s just to see the building itself), Brandenburg Gate, Tiergarten (see the nearby Holocaust Memorial and the memorials to the murdered Gypsies and homosexuals),  Reichstag dome (you can book a more extensive tour online provided you book in advance, but you can also get tickets at the Reichstag. If you decide to buy at the Reichstag I would recommend going early in the morning to avoid a line), Pergamon Museum, Piano Salon Christophori, East Side Gallery, Checkpoint Charlie (mostly because it’s just one of those things that you have to do), Topography of TerrorSchloss Charlottenburg (more for the grounds than for the palace itself), and Tränenpalast (Palace of Tears)
  10. The temporary must sees were: Mario Testino exhibit at the Gemäldegalerie
  11. Places to eat: Balli Döner for döner and Monsieur Vuong for Vietnamese food (there was always a wait when I went)
  12. Keep in mind that Berlin is basically two cities in one, so there is plenty to do. Even though I was in the city for about a week I still didn’t see everything that I wanted to.