Wednesday, August 5, 2009

What I like about Norway

I recently read a post on a message board from a new expat begging someone to tell him why he should stay in Norway. My short answer to that is this: if you don’t know yourself, you probably aren’t meant to be here.

But, as usual, there’s a longer answer as well. So I asked myself: Why do I like living in Norway?

1. Because my husband and dogs are here.
Sure, they could be anywhere, and I’d likely be happy in that anywhere as well. But the fact of the matter is that they are in Norway, so that’s where I want to be. When living as an expat it can be easy to feel isolated, and one of the most significant areas of discontent is often the loss of relationships ‘back home’. But if your most important relationships are with you, you realize you could be living in Norway, Namibia, or North Dakota and it wouldn’t really matter.

2. Because it’s safe.
I mean that in a small and big picture sort of way. For example, I never worry, no matter the time of day, about being out by myself walking my dogs. The worst thing that might happen is I get some boisterous shouts from a drunken reveler heading to a party. When I used to walk my dogs in the evening in Houston, I loaded up with pepper spray and an outward facing key in my fist and practically dragged the dogs around the block with the speed of an Olympic sprinter as I was so nervous*.

That’s not to say crime doesn’t occur here – it does. The figures are lower in Stavanger than Oslo (as makes sense based on population size), but when you compare Norwegian national averages to the US, the numbers are unsettling. Although Norway has more guns per capita than the US, the US has almost four times as many gun-related deaths**. I'm just sayin'...

3. Because there are stars.
Yeah, I know that the stars are up there no matter where I am down here, but I had never really seen them until I moved to Norway. My husband (who grew up in rural and therefore smogless England) looked at me in disbelief as I gleefully pointed out all the twinkling in the sky. Truth is, between the concrete and the pollution, I had never been able to see the stars so clearly. In general, the air quality here is amazing***.

4. Because I met myself.
That sounds pretty strange, but a lot of the trappings of my daily life back in the US prevented me from really being able to know who I was. I hid behind appointments and activities and politics. When I came here to Norway, one of the most difficult things was being alone with nothing else to distract me from myself. I realized that, at almost 30, I wasn’t entirely sure who I was – or who I wanted to be. It can be hard to have to meet yourself for the first time, especially when you are less than thrilled about what you see. But stripping away all the excess meant I could start to rebuild with a solid foundation. And, frankly, I was a bit of a pill before. Now at least I am a self-aware pill!

There are lots of other little things I like about Norway (like caviar in a tube, ferries, fjords, and May 17th, to name a few), but the bottom line is that Norway isn’t what’s holding me back or propping me up. I am responsible for my own happiness, not the place in which I live. Just remember the old saying:
“Everywhere you go… there you are.”

I’m stuck with me regardless of place, so I might as well make the best of it… and myself. So to the gent looking for someone to tell him why he should live in Norway, live here for the experience, for the stars, for the caviar in a tube. Live here because you WANT to live here instead of living here and always looking for that greener grass elsewhere. I can promise you’ll always find something wrong, but if you focus on everything this country has to offer, then you just might stumble across something right.
* What I ever actually planned to do with the pepper spray and key I don’t know. Perhaps I could have just handed them off to my potential assailant as barter.
** I’m not making a political statement about gun control here but rather using these statistics to illustrate a point. It could be statistics related to any crime and you would note the same general trend, which is that there’s a lot in the US and a little in Norway, even when you look at it on a per-capita basis.
** Except when the fish food factory smell blows in from Hillev├ąg. If you live in Stavanger, you know what I mean!