Posts Tagged With: Norway

Norwegians & Swedes — What’s the difference? Part II

In April 2011 I wrote a blog about my observations of the difference between Norwegians & Swedes. Turns out this is one of my most popular blog posts based on Google hits, so I thought I’d revisit the topic for my interested audience. I’ve now been working in Norway for two year and lived in Sweden for almost four years, so I’d say that my knowledge base is pretty robust at this point. That being said, these are just observations from a lonely American and should be taken with a grain of salt… 🙂

Clothing

Swedes and Norwegians are both fashionable peoples. The global clothing giant H&M (Hennes & Mauritz) is a Swedish company that has done for fashion what IKEA did for home furnishings; modern design, decent quality and good prices that is available to “everyone” (for fun, think about how this business philosophy connects to Swedish social policy). Helly Hansen, the outdoor sport clothing giant is a Norwegian company that is world renowned for its high- quality ski gear (again, very appropriate considering the nation’s infatuation with skiing :)). In both countries, pants are worn too tight for men and are way more expensive than anywhere in the US. 

The Swedes and Norwegian’s differ in what they consider fashionable. In Stockholm, it almost feels like a tight fitting country club where everyone, and I really mean everyone, floats thru the city with the latest fashion trends and overpriced bags (men & women). It’s sophisticated and well put together, but not as pretentious as you would think at first glance. The Norwegians have a slightly different approach. They are also wearing high-priced clothing, but it’s usually a bit “edgier” (think a mix of sportswear and skater) and often it’s more about functionally than the latest style. Norwegians wouldn’t blink an eye at spending $1500 on a winter jacket. Moods of Norway is a great example of this.

Living and working in both places has definitely influenced me to “step up” my game in this area. Gone are the bar t-shirts, sandals and fleece jackets. In are the Polo shirts, Tweed jacket and deck shoes. I look forward to someday getting back to my California “beach wear” but for now it’s fun to be a fashionable European.      

Language (Swedish Chef)

Swedish & Norwegian are different languages but share many words. Norwegians usually have no trouble understanding Swedes but the Swedes can sometimes struggle with Norwegian. This is mainly due to the high level of Swedish TV broadcast in Norway. On a side note, if you ever wondered why both countries are fluent in English, one could argue that this is due to their fantastic education systems or that is because most of their TV broadcasts are in English and not dubbed (like in France, Germany, and Italy). I’ve traveled a lot in Europe and there is a direct correlation between the amount of English on television language and the level of English spoken by the citizens. Anyway, the Swedish and Norwegian languages are very similar, enough so that my knowledge of Swedish can help me get by In Norway.

Now, the more interesting difference (for me) is the way in which the languages are spoken. Norwegians speak with roller coaster like inflections that are very pronounced compared to Swedish. The best way I can describe this is to say that the Swedish Chef sounds more Norwegian than Swedish.

“Yorn desh born, der ritt de gitt der gue, Orn desh, dee born desh, de umn bork! bork! bork!”

Social

Both Norwegians and Swedes are reserved in their approach to new people.  They tend to let you do most of the talking initially which gives them the opportunity to feel you out or to confirm a stereotype  in order to find the appropriate way of “interacting” with you. This might sound a bit strange, but Scandinavians usually have a pretty good read on other cultures, while other cultures generally are a bit “in the dark” about the Scandinavians. To be honest, it’s a bit unfair but that’s another blog post… Anyway, when it comes to this initial categorization, it feels the Norwegians are a bit less judgmental, but also more naïve, regarding people from other countries. For a large portion of Norway’s history, its people have been isolated by geography due to the physical environment (small fjord-based communities insulated even within Norway) and isolated by lack of travel outside Norway due to cost (Norway was a poor country until the discovery of oil, more on this in the next section). In my experience, this lends Norwegians to be friendlier during initial meetings but a bit constricted in the way they ‘frame’ others.

Swedes on the other hand tend to be quite “ traveled” as a society, from both holiday vacations and business trips. I read a business article a while back that said Swedes are some of the most connected people in the world. This is partly due to the economic conditions in Sweden but also its distant history as a world power. This level of contentedness allows Swedes to have a pretty good idea of cultural tendencies (especially, when it comes to Americans and Western Europeans), but it takes them a bit of time to open up to you. Once they understand where you’re coming from, Swedes are open, courteous and fun. 

It’s been said that once you’ve become friends with a Norwegian or Swede it’s a lifelong relationship. They’re going to put you to the test over an extended period of time, but once you’re in – you’re in. This is not the easiest path for new people (like me) and I can tell you from experience that making friends in both places is extremely hard. However, I can say that the friends I do have in Sweden and Norway are very special people and I look forward to having them as a part of my life regardless of where I live.

Old vs New Money

This may be the most “sensitive” topic in this blog. Sweden and Norway are both healthy countries economically. I’ve lived in Stockholm and worked in Stavanger (one a capital city, one an “oil town”) for a majority of the recent recession and I can tell you that in my experience, neither place was greatly affected. This is mostly due to fiscal policy, but that’s not really what I’m talking about here.

Sweden has been relatively well off for hundreds of years. Enormous timber and Iron ore reserves have fueled steady growth for the Swedish society, which has given the country an aristocratic feel. Swedes are proud of their fantastic public infrastructure, uniform healthcare system and generous social benefits. This has been the product of many years of social policy engineering and things like four weeks mandatory vacation are considered rights by the Swedish people. This long term accumulation of wealth and benefits has bread a society of mature and sophisticated people. Swedes tend to have a mild sense of entitlement when it comes to quality of life, but absent is their need for huge amounts of material wealth.

Norwegians by contrast have been quite poor for a majority of the country’s history. Norway is an extremely beautiful country to visit, but not the best place if you have to conduct modern business. For instance, the flight from Stavanger to Oslo takes about 45 minutes but to drive would take about 7 hours. Norway’s fjords and lack of above ground natural resources has kept the country’s majority working class centered around small towns, separated economically from the material wealth of other countries. This started to change dramatically with the discovery of oil on the Norwegian continental shelf (I’ve actually been on Norway’s first offshore oil rig). Today Norway is an economic powerhouse with wealth unimaginable to its citizens just 60 years ago. Before going on, it’s important to note that Norway is THE model country in the world in managing oil wealth. A massive influx of funds from oil often cripples countries, which are commonly referred to as the “curse of oil.” Norway has placed a majority of its oil money into a reserve for future generations, as of today that’s about $150,000 per citizen.

Norwegian salaries are quite high and despite extreme taxes, Norwegians are pretty wealthy people. I tend to think or Norwegians as “new money” because they often behave like people who, well, have recently come into money. This is the best general way I can describe it: do you remember the character Molly Brown in the movie Titanic? She was the wealthy lady that came from a working class background, strong and resourceful but a bit unpolished. Without going into further detail, I think you can get a picture of what I’m talking about…

In both cases, I would say that Norwegians & Swedes are some of the most sensible, responsible and caring people I have ever come in contact with. They both have strong moral compasses that are reflected in their public policy and how they conduct themselves on the world stage. They are small countries in terms of population, but make for great role models in building societies that protect individual freedom while taking care of the common good. In my opinion these countries deserve more of the limelight.

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Categories: Norway, Sweden, Swedish Living | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Munich: Home of Beer Gardens & Beer Halls

With a bit of reservation, we packed up and headed toward the capital of Bavaria, Munich. The drive from Český Krumlov to Munich is fantastic. The quintessential countryside is picture perfect with rolling hills of pine forests, wheat fields and other images that look like BMW commercials and illustrations on German beer advertisements.

Our first stop was none other than the famous English garden in the heart of the city. With a clear blue sky and warm temperatures we luckily found a table in the busy area around the Chinese Tower. Here you can find all kinds of German fair: Bratwürst, smoked fish and of course, delicious German Bier. Purchasing this tasty beverage is kinda fun. You need to pay a deposit for the stein; apparently they have a reputation of leaving with the tipsy tourists. If you need a refill, just turn in you glass and grab another (after you pay of course).

"Beer booth" in the English Garden

"Beer booth" in the English Garden (click for more Munich images)

It’s hard to find a better experience than sitting in the warm sun listening to German Oom-pah music and laughing with family. Well, that is unless you are in the Hofbraeuhaus listening to German Oom-pah music and laughing with family — which is what we did the other part of our time in Munich 🙂

Fun at the Hofbrauhaus

Fun at the Hofbrauhaus (click to see the video)

Spending some “quality time” in Germany, while enjoying refreshing alcoholic beverages made me wonder a bit about Scandinavia and what I would call its “unfriendly” relationship with alcohol. Scandinavia has some of the strictest consumption laws in the world. In Sweden, buying alcohol over 3.5% requires that you go to Systembolaget, which is the state-run liquor store. In Norway, a beer at a restaurant can cost in upwards of $15-20. And in Denmark… well in Denmark they are a bit cooler, so it’s not such a big deal. Anyway, I find it interesting that European countries take such different approaches to the governance of alcohol. What I have witnessed is that there are more out of control intoxicated people in Scandinavia than in Germany (locals I mean). In Norway they practice something called “vorspiel.” It involves drinking heavily before hitting the town because liquor is so expensive. Same thing happens in Sweden. Even more interesting is that the Germans, French and Italians seem to “control” their consumption better. I can honestly say that I have not seen a drunk French or Italian person (ok, I have seen some Germans having too much fun :)). In the EU, Scandinavia has some of the lowest per capita consumption of alcohol, however, I would argue that the way they consume is more unhealthy compared to their neighbors (yes, that was a huge generalization).

Systembolaget store in Sweden

Systembolaget store in Sweden

Categories: Denmark, Europe Travel, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Swedish Living | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Norwegians & Swedes — What’s the difference?

In 2011, I’ve spent more time in Norway than Sweden. I’ll make the bold statement that most of my readers see no discernible difference among the two and on the surface, it would be difficult to argue otherwise. But, low and behold, the Norwegians are a different Scandinavian breed and I have been given yet another opportunity to learn about a different culture.

Here are a few differences I see between the two Scandinavia sisters:

• Patriotism – Norwegians are more openly patriotic than Swedes. Norwegians for the most part will, quite often, tell you directly that their country is greatest in the world. Swedes on the other hand will find sneaky ways of saying something bad about “other” countries — obviously alluding to the fact that Sweden is better. May 17th is Norway’s Constitution Day, and as one of our good friends says, “May 17th is like your birthday, Christmas and New years all rolled into one.” By comparison, June 6th, Sweden’s National Day is totally weak — I am still wondering why Sweden’s “big day” is not Midsummer on June 24th.

• Tradition: Both Norway & Sweden have great pride in their long and storied histories. Together with Denmark, they hold a special place for their Vikings ancestors and the general knowledge that anything from “the North” is better. The Norwegians however, seem to hold stronger to things cultivated in Norway. Skiing, for instance, is a national past time that is cherished by ALL Norwegians (they say children here are born with skis on their feet.) Sailing the fjords, hiking in the mountains and other activities of the like are considered best, period. Swedes enjoy these activities as well, but I feel they are a little more open-minded to something that doesn’t have to do with the aforementioned items. Norway is a small, proud country — It makes sense that they hold thing close. But, it’s ok to thing other things are good too 🙂

• Food: Norwegians & Swedes eat strange food. In Norway, daily cuisine often includes sardines, mackerel, Fårikål, and many other eccentric items that the rest of the world has forgotten a long time ago. Another unusual sighting is Norwegians having their morning spoonful of cod-fish oil – yes, it is as disgusting as it sounds – because nothing say good morning like a mouth full of rotten fish. Swedes also have their weird food, like falukorv, tunnbrodsrulle, and kalles Kaviar, but that I can handle. I don’t think I’ll EVER have fish oil mornings.

These are just a few items I’ve uncovered over the past months. The difficulty of being an expat in Scandinavia is that on the surface, these countries are not much different from one another or the U.S. for that matter… At first, Sweden was kinda like Canada with a different language… this initially gave me a false sense “knowing” the place and its people. The fact of the matter is, the longer I live here, the more I’m aware of how truly different Scandinavia is, and to a larger extent how different we ALL are.

For me, it’s difficult to not contemplate the obvious larger question: if two small Northern European Countries are that different, what’s the rest of the world like?

Categories: Europe Travel, Sweden | Tags: , , | 9 Comments

Norway: Fjords, brown cheese and Ms. Ellen

Norway – Fjords, brown cheese and Ms. Ellen

We flew from Stockholm to Bergen, our first stop, in less than an hour. It’s really amazing how close things are in Europe. Bergen is the former capital of Norway and the “gateway to the Fjords.” It’s good to mention that you cannot actually see “real” Norwegian fjords from Bergen (postcard fjords are a 4 hour boat ride north). Our first day in Bergen was spectacular! With the sun shining, we toured the local fish market to sample the local fair and collect a few things for a picnic dinner atop Fløyen mountain, the highest point in the city. The vehicular whisked us to the top of the mountain and our feet provide the transportation down. Bergen receives an average of 330 rain days a year… wow! This condition makes the woodland dense with life, almost like a tropical rain forest. We walked slowly down the mountain and stopped at a lookout to enjoy the outstanding view and our equally amazing smoked salmon (the best I’ve ever had).

Bergen Photo's

Bergen Photo’s

Our two night stay in Bergen was also marked by interesting sleeping arrangements. DUS & I stayed in a 32 person mixed dorm, YMCA hostel. As most of you know, this was not my first time sleeping in a squad bay. But, it was for DUS…She insisted on sleeping in the top bunk, but little did she know there would be a bright light in her face for the entire night!!! I had my sleeping system and was doing just great in my little cubby in the bottom bunk :). I have since decided that this is not the way to spend a two day vacation with your significant other. Shared hostels are for guy’s trips, not romantic getaways!

Bergen Photo's

Bergen Photo’s

From Bergen, we traveled to Oslo on the most spectacular train ride I’ve ever taken. The trip afforded an amazing view of the Norwegian landscape from lakes to glaciers. This ride alone was worth the trip (and was more expensive than our plane tickets…)

Bergen to Oslo Train

Bergen to Oslo Train

In Oslo, we were greeted by a special sign and our good friend Ellen. We very excited to be in Norway, but Norway with Ms. Ellen was a special treat! Our two days trip included: the new Opera house, downtown tour, Viking ships, Museums and amazing parks. Our accommodations in Oslo were first class – nothing is better than staying with friends! Ellen’s family opened their home to us and we enjoyed brown cheese, big shrimp and special licks from Scott the Norwegian dog :)! I was also treated to a pro soccer game with Ellen’s dad, very cool!

Oslo Photo's

Oslo Photo’s

Norway is an amazing country; I will definitely return to see the fjords and hopefully some ski jumping!

Categories: Europe Travel, Norway | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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