Ten Things that Shocked me Most in Norway?
Working and living in Norway for over 8 years now have been both rewarding and challenging for me. There are several times that I have questioned myself whether Norway is indeed the right place for me to live, and always I have come up with a positive answer. Nonetheless, this does not guarantee that there are some aspects of the Norwegian society, tradition and culture that shocked me up to this date. This is the focus of this blogpost.
1. Flat organizations
This is the most striking feature of most organizations in Norway. The organizational structures are relatively flat, meaning hierarchy is almost just a concept, than reality. The employees can literally ask questions to their superiors. Politicians are somehow accessible. There are bureaucratic problems, but in general, communication for top-level managers and the usual employees is open. This highlights that Norwegians value the concept of teamwork among employees to attain its goals, rather than blindly following top-down instructions.
2. The love for sun and nature
Given that Norway lies almost by the Arctic Circle, the weather here is characterized to be relatively dark and cold. This explains why Norwegians literally love the sun, and all the activities related to it. Historically, it has been like that since the Viking times. Consequently, Norwegians appreciate nature very much. It is not uncommon for Norwegians to go hiking or walking during their free time in the forest. Laws have also protected anyone's right to roam around nature, and pass by even across private lots during hiking tours. This is quite shocking for me, coming from a tropical country where the sun is considered to be health hazard, and forests and nature could be place where dangerous elements thrive.
3. Free higher education
Yes, you heard it right. Higher education is free in Norway. The only thing one needs to do is apply, and get approve for a slot in the university or college. This entails that one has to meet the requirements for higher education, and somehow compete with others wanting the same. However, when you get the slot, education is free. This also applies to those having the desire to get a Masters degree. One can also get a low-interest student loans for living or housing expenses while studying. Or, one could also combine these stipend with a part-time work depending on the student itself. Nonetheless, one could also get higher education privately, pay for the tuition fee, but can still avail for the stipend available for students.
4. Social equality and racial discrimination
Generally, Norway is country where social equality is the primary goal. This could be interpreted by different political parties differently, but the goal for equality is evident in the society. Women's and LGBT rights are protected by laws. The vulnerable and the poor are given sufficient opportunities to improve their well-being. Social-welfare regulations ensure that everyone is provided with necessary help when confronted with social and economic difficulties. However, the recent influx of immigrants in Norway has challenged this goal for social equality. Many immigrants have complained that racial discrimination has become rampant, and some even say systematic. Norwegians, although liberal in nature, has essentially conservative traditional values. Thus, anything that is new or deviatinng will certainly be met with skepticism, or worse animosity.
5. The Extremists
As mentioned, Norway loves being free. This encompasses in all aspects of the society. However, this freedom has somehow led to some extremist idealogies being accepted and normalized in the society. Far-left, far-right or populist-nationalists are included in this lists. These extremists are generally tolerated, and even some get seats in the Parliament. It is not illegal to follow such idealogies. In some countries, these philosophies are either prohibited, restricted or even vilified. However, tolerating extremism is not entirely harmless. This has led to some terrorists incidents which killed many in the recent years. It is distressing that this incidents occur even in a high-functioning society, like Norway.
6. The tax system - transparent
Some Western countries always associate Norway with high taxes, to sustain its welfare state. This is only partially correct. Tax rates in Norway are not even higher than some European countries. It is maybe above-average, but not really significantly higher even compared to my home country, the Philippines. What is amazing with Norway, is how transparent and equitable tax system is. Anyone can freely search anyone to know how much tax they paid the year before. The highest tax payers are published in the newspaper. This applies not just countrywide, but even can be sorted out by post number! Literally, in a neighborhood, one could possibly know who earns the most in their area. It is also possible to know how much your work colleague earned, a means to demand or request for an increase in salary thereafter.
7. Traditional but liberal
Norway showcase a unique contrast between traditional and liberal. Norwegians adhere to their traditions even at modern times. They buy almost the same Norwegian products, showing their loyalty and nationalism. Shops are still closed on Sundays for rest and family time. Norway is a constitutional monarchy. This itself shows the traditional succession of power in the country. However, Norway is a free-loving liberal country. It has embraced modernity, trends, and new philosophies. Abortion is considered essential for protecting women's rights. Sex workers are not persecuted, but those who pays for them are. There have been talks to decriminalize drug possession and use in the near future. Communists gain seats in the Parliament, and even suspected neo-Nazists were allowed to freely conduct street parades and demonstrations. Norwegian Church is open for non-male priests. Same sex unions are legal, even cohabiting individuals have some form of judicial protection. End-of-life care highlights the importance of pain-free death over unnecessarily extending one's life. No one will be jailed with one criticize a religion as part of freedom of speech. Literally, one is allowed to the person who he or she wants to be, without being afraid of what others would say.
8. Health care system
Health care system in Norway is generally decentralized, free and well-functioning. One could literally undergo a necessary surgical procedure, be hospitalized for days, get specialized and advanced health supervision all at no cost. Those with chronic diseases or have pervasive health need for health equipments and medications get them either almost free, or at low cost. However, not all medications are free and at reduced price. The Directorate of Health decides which medications or interventions get public fund support, but there are generally few exceptions. Health care system is extremely generous and flexible suited for the health needs of its citizens.
9. The Welfare State
The welfare state provides social benefits to those who are in need. The State ensures that any employee can not just easily lose job without access to some remedies. If one loses job, job seekers will be faciitated by the State to get necessarily training and competencies to be more prepared for the next job. Disabled individuals get life-long public support. Pension benefits are ensured by the State, ensured by the Norwegian Oil Fund. Children get support, as well some tax rebates for parents having young children. All of these on top of free education and health care.
10. The concept of "kos"
"Kos" is the Norwegian's counterpart of Danish "Hygge". This concept is based on how to create and maintain a cozy, warm environment. The concept can be applied to food, social interactions, events, places, and even individuals. It is quite difficult to describe in its fullest what "kos" is really about. I can not compare it any other concept present in another culture. From a simple weekend dinner "kos" to a winter cabin "kos", this concept varies from one person to another. Nonetheless, "kos" is the opposite of stress and high-paced environment. This focuses on how an individual would enjoy life here and now.
Norway boasts of a highly-civilized and functioning society. The country has been in years ranked as one of the happiest, wealthiest country in the world. However, the Scandinavian country is far from being perfect. It has its flaws too, just like any another, but the Norwegian society strives hard to be better. It is quite obvious in all aspects, as it continuously embraces the values of freedom and equality as its core. For this, there is a reason to be optimistic for its citizens, and that includes me.