As an American living in Norway, this week’s news that the Scandinavian country is the happiest in the world comes as no surprise.
The report measures countries’ happiness levels based on factors such as national wealth, life expectancy, social support, trust in government and businesses, freedom of choice and people’s generosity.
But instead of hearing details about those factors, let me give you a little insight on life here and the top five-ish things I love about living in Norway.
I’ve never experienced such a strong sense of community like I have here. I lived in Chicago for 13 years and yes it is known as a city of neighborhoods, but it’s nothing like this. While walking the kids to school, we often share the sidewalk with some of the boys’ assistant teachers as well as the local grocery store cashiers. The director of our preschool lives near us and his son is on my son’s soccer team. My 9-year-old’s trumpet teacher has kids who go to my 6-year-old’s preschool. It’s like the Sesame Street song: Who are the people in your neighborhood?
These community connections also go back generations. The art teacher went to high school with my sister-in-law. My mother-in-law is exercise buddies with the grandmother of my son’s best friend. I could go on, but you can see it’s a tightly wound, many-circled venn diagram.
This creates an intimacy akin to small town USA, but with none of the close-mindedness. That security also gives the kids more freedom. We walk the boys to school, which in the States is considered quaint. Here it’s probably a little helicopterish because many parents stop walking their kids to school once they are in the first grade. Instead the kids go together in groups of five to ten and many of them walk nearly two kilometers, or just over a mile. When I told a Norwegian dad that in both Portland, Oregon and Chicago we drove our boys the half mile (less than 1 kilometer) to school, he thought that we lived in crime-riddled neighborhoods.
I had to explain that it wasn’t a safety issue, but more of a lazy issue. My favorite manifestation of this security thing is after school. The kids walk home and go to play at each other’s house. Many times the parents won’t know where their kid is and in a private online group there will be notes from parents: “Can someone send Einar home? He’s not answering his phone.”
When I first moved here I was like, how do parents not know where their kids are? What kind of tomfoolery is this!??! Then I realized, it’s not tomfoolery, it’s giving kids more independence and frankly I love it.
2. Better work/life balance
The work/life balance here is plain ridiculous. The maternity and paternity leave alone are so good it almost makes me want to have another kid just to experience it. (Don’t freak, I said almost.) There’s a whole host of things that create balance on the Job & Family Teetertotter.
Parents here are allowed 49 weeks at full salary or 59 weeks at 80 percent of their income. Most dads take around 2½ months and if he doesn’t use the paternity leave, it shortens the overall time that both parents are eligible to use. Norwegian society mores are such that it’s reprehensible to not use that time. (Unlike one of my husband’s bosses in America who bragged that after his wife gave birth in the morning, he was back at work that afternoon.)
Everyone says parenting is the most important job, but the Norwegians actually put their money where their mouth is.
3. Gender equality
The equality gap between genders here is smaller. According to the World Economic Forum, Norway is ranked No. 3 in the world when it comes to gender equality, comparatively the US is No. 45. I do think a lot of it has to do with the work/life balance. When the responsibilities at home are shared and the career opportunities are more equal, it creates more understanding within the partnership.
For example a friend of mine and her husband both sometimes travel for work, and they’re able to juggle that without the hiring nannies, babysitters or even excessive use of grandparents. They have three kids and one parent is always at their various activities: swimming, soccer and innebandy. Plus they have successful careers.
That is not the case for many of my American friends, if both parents have a demanding job, a third caretaker is needed to step in to fill the gap. Even then people always marvel at the woman and asks “How does she do it all?” In Norway, she doesn’t have to twist herself in a pretzel to try. The system is set up so that it helps everyone in the family.
For me the best part of this is that it’s the boys’ environment. I want them to grow up expecting equal treatment for men and women. I want that equality to be so normalized that it’s not a pie-in-the-sky goal.
Kind of like how a black person can sit in the front of bus today without it being an issue. Of course a black person can sit in the front of the bus, of course men and women are equal. Sure Norway isn’t quite *there* but it’s a lot further than the States.
4. Norwegian honesty
I will never tire of this characteristic. When you’re trying on clothes in the store and you ask the employee if it fits OK, they’ll tell you if you look like you’re wrapped in a sausage casing. I’ve even had employees refer me to other stores if they don’t have the item I want.
You know how people say that they’re just “being real,” but they use it as an excuse to be mean? Not here. And you can tell that the honesty is coming from a good place. There’s no need to put on airs.
Y’all know that in the States, my honesty got me into plenty of trouble, but here, I’m right at home.
5. Deep relationships
In Norway it is hard to get your foot in the door when it comes to friendships, but once you do, you’re in like Flynn.
I still remember doing the happy dance after I got my first invitation to have coffee with a mom from school. It was more than a year after I’d met her. Also this year I was invited to two girls’ Christmas dinners. (Christmas dinners are a big deal here.) So sorry to brag, but in my book that’s pretty boss.
One of my close friends here is a woman from Texas who has lived in Norway for 17 years. She was the first to tell me that it was really hard when she first moved here, but that her Norwegian girlfriends are some of the best friends she’s ever had. I can see what she means.
I think a lot of that has to do with the aforementioned honesty, plus there’s more time to spend with friends to develop relationships. Also, the lack of pettiness is supreme. I mean, I’ve only been here a year and a half, so maybe it’s something that I’m just not seeing. But I swear, I have not dealt with any pettiness from any of my Norwegian friends. In writing that sentence, I’ve had to think long and hard about that. But no, I’ve never noticed any.
American ladies, can you imagine?
I can’t list the things I like about this country without including the nature. And great googilymoogily it’s unmatched. It’s simply gorgeous. Granted the best part of living in the Pacific Northwest was the stunning nature, and I got spoiled with the beautiful hikes and waterfalls.
But Norway is insane. From the ocean to the mountains to the forest, we won’t even talk about the Northern Lights. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and though I’m not that good of a photographer, here’s a few of my favorite shots of Norway and others can be seen on Flickr.