Expat Tales: Basking in the midnight sun

Last updated 05:00 01/06/2014
Oslo
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OSLO SUMMER: The weather gets warm enough for short sleeves and street performers.

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Why did you move to Norway?

I moved to Bodø, a town in Northern Norway, for love. Then to Oslo for a job where I was able to speak English.

I was previously living in London, and the move to Norway has offered a whole new life experience. Up here we are not part of the European Union - Norway has strong historical and familial ties to the United States (who paid to rebuild Norway after it was destroyed by the Nazis) and shares two borders with Russia (one on the mainland and one on Svalbard Island).

What do you do there?

I'm a public health adviser at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

What do you like or dislike about life there?

I love learning a new language - by trying to understand their language I learn about the culture. I often reflect on how difficult it is to really get to know someone if you do not speak their language fluently. I'm looking forward to being able to understand the spontaneous jokes my colleagues make at lunch.

How does the cost of living compare with New Zealand?

Salmon is cheap, but beer is expensive. In a bar, 63 norwegian krone ($12) seems reasonable for a 500ml beer - although it's shocking to write it down!

Norway is an expensive place to live and this is related to two things - taxes on some products (eg. tobacco, petrol and alcohol) and high labour costs. The longer I live here, the more I appreciate that people deserve to be paid a fair wage for every hour that they work. One begins to look at shopping through the eyes of how much labour has gone into the production of something - and what is a reasonable value for the time it takes?

Most working Norwegians earn a salary that enables them to live within their means.

What do you do on weekends?

Oslo is surrounded by a forest (similar to the town belt in Wellington, but much bigger). In summer you can go mountainbiking and walking, and in winter, cross-country skiing.

Usually, I go to a cafe, maybe Skype someone in New Zealand and think about cleaning my apartment. If I want a Kiwi-style brunch I usually have to make it at home, as I am yet to find such a place in Oslo. From my experience, the closest Kiwi brunch is in Amsterdam, or possibly Copenhagen.

What do you think of the food/what's your favourite thing to eat there?

The Norwegians have specific food traditions, especially around Christmas - salted lamb, pork ribs, cloudberries (a close relation of the strawberry, which grows in swampy areas) to name a few. As well as this, it is the home of dried cod, lutefisk (dried cod then soaked in lye) and numerous other recipes with fish.

Of all the special dishes I have tried, reindeer is my favourite. I have to admit that I enjoy the lunch ritual of "matpakke" which is basically either salami, cheese, pate, canned mackerel or caviar paste in a tube (I've only tried this one once) on bread. Lunch is at 11.30am in Norway, but I try to keep to some of my New Zealand ways and eat a bit later.

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What's the best way to get around?

Walk and cycle - Oslo is small enough to walk most places. When it snows there is a very good network of buses and trams.

What's the nightlife like?

Expensive. And getting more diverse. Oslo is the fastest growing capital city in Europe - it has a high birth rate, long life expectancy and high immigration. As a result there is an increasing demand for a more internationally-inspired restaurant and bar scene.

What is your favourite part of the city?

I love its size - it's 600,000 people - and the beautiful forest that surrounds it.

What time of year is best to visit?

Spring or summer - although avoid July, as all Norwegians are off work and holidaying.

What's your must-do thing for visitors?

Go north and see the midnight sun. (During summer in northern Norway, the sun never sets above the Arctic circle and you can see it day and night for a couple of months.) Take the boat from Tromsø to Kirkeness and then drive to Russia.

What are your top tips for tourists?

If you're travelling around a public holiday - everything will be closed. Most shops are closed on Sundays. Travel north to the Arctic Circle, Lapland and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

How easy is it for you to get back to New Zealand?

It's quite a long trip, depending on layovers - you're looking at about 24-30 hours over two or three flights.

If you know an expat who wants to share the inside knowledge on their home away from home, email escape@star-times.co.nz with Expat in the subject line.

- Sunday Star Times

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