Here’s why I’m dreaming of moving to Norway
As this year ends, I’m replaying my favourite “If not India, then where?” dream on loop. Some of the countries that have featured in my annual getaway fantasy include Pakistan (thank you, Twitter), the US, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Argentina, Cambodia, Peru, Brazil and Costa Rica. Last year Canada was top of the charts, but as 2017 winds down, I can only think of how I want to flee all the red-hot anger, the global hate and gender ugliness, and find a quiet corner of the world where I can just freeze myself happy and heal slowly as I gaze at the Northern Lights. Even if it’s expensive, cold and, according to expat blogs, has a difficult driving licence test, Norway is the new lead in my recurring dream.
So what if I don’t eat salmon? I can happily live on a diet of cheese and rye bread, with raspeball, cucumber salad, freshly picked berries and lots of kvæfjordkake (sponge cake topped with meringue and filled with vanilla custard and whipped cream, according to one description).
Besides, I’m more of a liquid diet person anyway, and Norway has a long history of craft brewing. Over the years, beer has played an important role in this country’s christenings, weddings, Christmas and—best of all—funerals. Note to self: Add “Please brew beer to say bye properly to me” in will. Plus, the coffee’s great.
Nobody’s late in Norway. It’s considered courteous to call even if you are likely to be 5 minutes late, according to eDiplomat. Also, according to this website that provides information, advice and services to the global diplomatic community, Norwegians “do not use the phrases ‘Pleased to meet you’ or ‘How are you?’ They find these to be surface formalities with no real meaning.” Clearly, they are people after my own heart.
Norwegians don’t waste their time with niceties because they are too busy topping almost every important list of global rankings. Remember that UN report released earlier this year where India’s Human Development Index score fell 27% and we ranked 131 out of 188 countries? Norway came first. It’s been ranked at the top of the list most years since the noughties, thanks to its amazing education system, standard of living and life expectancy.
It’s usually No.1 on any gender equality index. The country even comes first when a sex toy firm conducts a global survey to find out which country has the most orgasms. Thirty-five per cent of its citizens said they orgasm every day.
Obviously it’s the happiest place on earth (source: “2017 World Happiness Report”). “All of the top four countries rank highly on all the main factors found to support happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance,” the report said. Now that’s an endangered world that I would love to revisit.
The country has a coastline, homosexuality has been legal since 1972, and most of the world’s religions are represented there. Its 80-year old monarch, King Harald, gave an inspiring speech that should be required listening for all our macho world leaders. What is Norway, he asked, before providing some answers: “Norwegians believe in God, Allah, everything, nothing... My greatest hope for Norway is that we are able to care for each other. That we are going to build this country’s future on trust, fellowship and generosity. That we shall feel that we—despite all our differences—are one people.”
Norway’s gender record has been widely discussed. Labour force participation numbers of women are robust. Thanks to a 40% quota introduced in 2003, Norway’s boardrooms are full of women. It’s an experiment that has worked.
Of course the country has paternity leave. Ten weeks, so fathers understand the need to participate in childcare. Most men avail of this option. Heavily subsidized daycare centres are everywhere and are a staple of parenting. Most mothers work. Parents don’t take their children to restaurants late at night.
Medical treatment is free until you’re 16. Sex education is taught in a civilized manner. While we spend all our time debating condom ads on television, Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has a puberty series for children aged 8-12 where the host uses a vacuum cleaner to demonstrate love bites and talks clearly about menstruation and sex. There, public debate is centred around more important issues such as 6-hour workdays.
While our theories about why women are raped feature everything from jeans to chowmein, Norwegians conduct surveys to understand how non-physical sexual harassment causes psychological harm among young women.
In 2015, the Global AgeWatch Index surveyed 96 countries to identify the best countries for senior citizens to live. Norway was second after Switzerland. A majority of Norway’s older citizens are employed. After 65, there’s 100% pension. It’s rare to see seniors who are poor. You get paid leave if you want to look after an elderly relative.
Why just seniors and women, Norway is kind to criminals too (though the country has one of the lowest crime rates in the world). There’s no death penalty or life sentence. Norway’s “principle of normality” in the correctional system is outlined on the website of government agency Kriminalomsorgen: “No-one shall serve their sentence under stricter circumstances than necessary for the security in the community. Therefore offenders shall be placed in the lowest possible security regime. During the serving of a sentence, life inside will resemble life outside as much as possible.”
And Norway can be quirky too. Just search for Slow TV on Netflix and watch the live marathon television coverage of an event. The country’s first such programme in 2009 was a televised recording of a 7-hour train ride from Bergen to Oslo. “A slow-TV program is like a great view you encounter on vacation: it’s always there, impervious, but it gains meaning and a story depending on what it conjures in your head,” The New Yorker said about this genre of programming.
National Knitting Evening, available on Netflix, starts with a musical ode to shearing a sheep: “Come let us shear the sheep today, shear it well, yes shear it well.” I know I’m ready to move from cow to sheep.
Priya Ramani shares what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable.
She tweets at @priyaramani