10 reasons for joining a Union while in Norway

crop unrecognizable multiethnic colleagues joining hands
crop unrecognizable multiethnic colleagues joining hands
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I work with many people who are immigrants in Norway. Some of them have their issues with their employers, yet, every time I ask if they are members of a Union, I get frightened and confused looks. I understand that in many other countries, being a member of a Union can be too good to be true. In Norway, though, it has more advantages than disadvantages.

I remember telling this to a friend of mine who does not live in Norway. She replied: “In my company, we were already warned that if we join a Union, we’re going to lose our jobs. So, this is not something I can do, because I need my job”. We all need our jobs, for various reasons. In this video, you may find some of them.

When it comes to Unions in Norway, they are well organized. However, there are many, and you need to find the right one representing the people’s interests in your field of work.

I am going to mention 10 advantages for which it is worth to join one while working in Norway, doesn’t matter for how long:

1. The money you pay for a membership is considered nondeductible income, which means you do not pay tax on that amount, or you pay little.

2. Every time there are salary negotiations for your working field, the Union negotiates for you as well, even if you didn’t ask for it personally. They will negotiate in the name of all members. Usually, each Union sends a warning to its members on what they need to do in good time before the negotiations start.

3. If you experience injustices at your workplace, you can speak to people from the Union, get advice and make a plan so you can make yourself heard. They accompany you in the meetings you may have with your leaders and even speak for you if necessary. They also have lawyers who can offer legal aid. Most of the conflicts at work are solved by the Unions.

4. They can negotiate better house mortgage interests for their members.

5. Many negotiate good deals for all sorts of insurances, from house to car and even hotels and rentals.

6. Scholarships for education.

7. Courses and conferences in your field of work so you can keep yourself updated. For those, the employer usually gives time off from work and even pays for them.

8. Network meetings and events, so you get to know your colleagues and not only. Most of these events are free of charge for members. They are a good opportunity for networking. If you feel like you don’t get the chance to know new people, use the time to knit better bonds with the people you already know.

9. You get information about things happening inside your field of work through a magazine or regular e-mails. It’s good to know what’s happening around.

10. If you are a student or not employed, the membership fee is lower, and the information you get is helpful and keeps you updated with news on the work marked.

If you want to get involved, you can become a representative yourself and help. It is good learning inside this kind of organization. It is a job that you’re not paid for. It is like volunteering inside your working place. But for that, your employer gives you the time off so you can work with it. You’re not paid in money, but in time. In return, you learn something new, meet new people, grow your network, and contribute to your colleague’s work welfare and your own. 

From what I hear from people I work with, some of the skepticism towards Unions comes from their experiences from the countries of origin. Like the friend, I mentioned at the begyning of this article.

Other reasons for skepticism would be that many people do not work full time, but only a couple of months in a raw, season work, and then they travel back to their own country. Others simply do not know that something like that exists, what it is, and what it is good for. Of course, not learning the language is also a disadvantage. If one does not speak even English, it isn’t easy to find out about this kind of thing, and one depends on own compatriots to get information and help. They can only help you as far as they came themselves.

If you already are a member of a Union, I suggest getting yourself acquainted with the person elected as your representative in your department. Find out more about how they can help you, and why not, how you can help them. After all, they work for you too.

If you didn’t join a Union yet, my suggestion would be to find out which one can represent people in your work field best. Find their website, read the information there, eventually give them a call, and join. You won’t regret it, even if you only work a couple of months a year and travel back to your country in between. They’ve got your back in those times you’re not in Norway also. 

I know that the Union called Frifagbevegelse har pages in English. Check one of their latest articles here.

I hope you have the courage to stand up for your rights! If you need help to build that up and you don’t know quite yet how to approach the issue, you can register on this link for a free talk. It is not easy to be foreign in a foreign country.

If you want to know more about life in Norway, culture, written and unwritten rules, feel free to get my free newsletter on this link. You’ll receive more insights every week or so.

Best from

How “old” are you?

set of various items for exploration with camera on desk
set of various items for exploration with camera on desk
Photo by Rachel Claire on Pexels.com

“How old are you, really?” is perhaps something you’ve never thought about, yet it is an important part of the Norwegian way of living and thriving. I have recently stumbled into it again, and I thought I should tell you something about it as well.

In my experience, the way Norwegian people look at their age and what they can achieve in their lives is very different from what I was used to, and I am quite sure that you have been used to as well.

Age is spiritual, and not the actual number of years.

In Norway, people can be allowed to be as young as they want. Life is joy. At least, this is what they say upfront. The complaints are only for selected ears. People can afford to be “children” much longer than we’re used to in Southern Europe or other corners of the world. I discover a similar attitude in my French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Asian, or southeast European friends. If you are 40, you need to retire, or go home and wait to die, as life is over for you.

A refugee from a war zone, 40 years old, is considered by his or her society very old. I was helping with an integration course one time and I saw the reaction of the group of refugees when they heard that my colleagues’ ages were 59 and 64. Their estimation went as far as 45 and 55.

Another time, a colleague was very happy when she was about to reach her 40th birthday, as she got old. She comes from an African country and, in her culture, you’ve passed your youth and become old at this age. If you are old, everybody respects you and asks for your opinion. You also gain status in your community. At the same time, not many people think that the number of years you lived is always wisdom’s attribute. We can find many old people behaving childishly. Maturity of the physical body is not the same as emotional maturity. Many people had to grow up fast because of the harsh living conditions. That did not always allow them to develop emotionally at a natural pace. The emotional development in people is a whole story, too big and too complex to mention more about it here.

Living in Norway has proven to me that until 40, life is research in development. You start living at 40. People here get married late if they do at all, and they live life to the full, for as long as they can. If they marry early and find out on the way that they’ve grown apart, they separate and build a life with somebody else, or on their own, while doing the things they love, enjoying time with their children, if they have them.

After all, children are much better off with two happy separated parents than with two miserable parents living together. A general rule I discovered here is that children are “mine, yours and ours”. I have a friend who remarried at 40 to a 50-year-old guy who had also been married before. They have one child, as a testimony of their love for each other, and the 50-year-old guy was the one to stay at home with the baby.

They both have three children each from previous marriages, and the youngest was the joy of the whole family. They travel together as a family; they walk up the mountains, work, and have a good time. Of course, this is the outside picture, visible to me, but the point is, that they are not “old” at 50 or 60, as they might be considered in other countries.

The welfare state contributes to this as well, and life is much more stable than in many other corners of the world. It became like this especially after 1969 when oil came into the picture.

In Norway, among the couples I know, some do not have children yet. Therefore, each partner spends Christmas or parts of the summer holiday at his/her parents’ house and takes time to be a child for a while longer. Only when children come into the picture, couples consider it as the end of their own childhood. If couples get help with the children from their parents, they consider themselves very lucky, and they express it. They do not take this help for granted.

I recently heard a 60-year old southeast European woman talking about her “grandma duties”. In many families from southeast Europe, the expectation is that grandparents get involved in their grandchildren’s lives and they are given responsibility for their upbringing. They are not paid for that, and often enough this help can be just taken for granted. This does not happen in Norway. Some grandparents consider themselves lucky to be part of their grandkid’s lives, but they can choose the time they want to spend with them.

Another detail I think might contribute to the Norwegians’ youthfulness is the language. They have no politeness pronouns. Respect is shown through attitude, not in words. People are called by their first names, regardless of their age or social status. People forget their age if they are not constantly reminded that they are a “Madam” or “Sir”.

By contrast, as soon as I step off the airplane in my country of birth, someone swiftly shows me their respect by calling me “madam” or “lady”. But I do not always feel their respect in their attitude or in their voice. It is just a word. I also recognize this in the words and the attitudes of my friends, the same age as me, but still living there. It feels like they are slowly marching to the cemetery. I don’t think they are aware of it, and if I pointed it out to them, they look at me with confusion, saying: “Stop being so Norwegian.” As if my becoming Norwegian was their main concern.

My point is, that Age can be looked at as just a number, and we are all children. In Norway, if a 60-year-old person becomes widowed or divorced, it is perfectly normal to find someone else to share the rest of his or her days with, without being judged by society. It is a natural thing to do. The children are also happy when their parents are not alone and can still enjoy life in someone’s company. The retiring age is between 62 and 70, and if the health allows, people are strong and green many years after that. It helps that they keep physically active, running/walking up mountains and marathons, skiing, kayaking, and doing all sorts of other sports. In Norway, I have learned that people are as young as they want to be, and they get help with that.

What is your experience with age/aging, that you have from your country of origin?

How do you relate to the age you have? If you are thinking of exploring your true age, and not the one in your passport, feel free to sign up here for a free talk.

If you want to know more about life in Norway, culture, written and unwritten rules, feel free to get my free newsletter on this link. You’ll receive more insights every week.

Best wishes from Norway

How expensive is Norway, really?

landscape photography of mountain
landscape photography of mountain
Photo by stein egil liland on Pexels.com

When I tell people I live in Norway, I often get this question: How expensive is Norway? 

I have been living here for nearly 20 years, yet I do not think it is that expensive. It depends a lot on each person’s priorities. I believe that everybody can get everything they need when it comes to material things, especially if one is not fussy about brands. Those are expensive everywhere. 

If someone has a place to live, which means a roof above the head and the walls around, running water and electricity, and can afford that, the rest can quickly come very cheap, even for free. 

Let’s see what a human being’s basic needs are to survive.

AIR

It is free and cleaner than in many other countries since Norway is very keen on keeping a clean environment. You find out as soon as you learn the rules in your town about sorting out the garbage and such. The expensive electric cars are bought mostly because they are friendly to the environment. Corona has made the air even cleaner since the travels by plane stopped. Of course, the virus was spread through the air, yet the rest of the polluting factors were reduced considerably. 

WATER

It is free. Tap water in Norway is good to drink. The same from the rivers and lakes on the mountains, for those who are fond of hiking and not only. Nature is very accessible in Norway. The human body is 90% water; therefore, water is the best liquid to drink. I heard once a wise man saying that water is for the brain what air is for the lungs. It is not my intention to speak here about the importance of water for our health. A simple google search can tell you more than me. We die faster without water than without food. This is also why nutritionists say that the first thing we need to do when we are hungry is to breath because we most likely don’t have enough oxygen. The next thing we need t do is to drink water because we ‘re probably dehydrated, and only after that should we think of food. Therefore, I think it is a good thing that water is accessible in Norway. In many other countries you need to buy drinking water, or to boil the tap water, because it can be damaging other wise.

Where I live, I get water straight from the mountain, from a well about 400 meters up my house. I cannot imagine the work people who built that house did so they can bring it all that way to the house. I was told by my neighbors that they dag those plumbing ditches by hand. When I moved there (very soon after I moved to Norway) I was having some troubles with my kidneys. Some sand thought they were a good place to form itself. A year after living there and drinking that water, the doctors found nothing at all, when I went to check this issue again. And the medicine came from the nature, for free.

As far as I know, all the water in Norway comes from natural sources, very close to where people live. If there is anything people are paying for is the building and the maintenance of the plumbing system the municipalities are doing. Unless they live in the country side and they have access to own wells, like I do.

Even in coffee shops, pubs, and restaurants, the water is very often offered for free. Of course, it also depends in how fancy the place is. 

Sodas and juices are available in the grocery stores, also on sale sometimes. Many locals prefer to prepare their own “saft”, which is concentrated berries or fruits (they pick themselves) with some sugar. They add water, and it is a great refreshment. 

If you are fond of alcohol, beer 4% or less, you can find them in the grocery stores only until 18:00h. Stronger stuff is available at special stores called “Vinmonopolet,” and it is expensive since alcohol is a state monopoly in Norway. However, that does not mean people cannot produce some at home, for their own use. If it is not commercialized and in moderate quantities, it is perfectly ok. Many people have beer and winemaking as a hobby, and loads of experiments are conducted at home. A lot of fun for those genuinely interested. 

I guess you can choose what you want to drink accordingly to how much money you have. It can be cheap or expensive. 

FOOD

The standard prices may look high, yet there are many sales due to the expiring date and not only. Few people know that Norway has stringent rules when it comes to food, and the expiring date is set on products about a week earlier than the product gets bad. And if you cook what you buy the same day, you end up both with cheap food and healthy.

Another trend that I see happening among young people in Norway is “Dumpster Diving” and it has to do with the environmental movement. It means that all the grocery stores must throw away what they do not manage to sell before the expiration date. They get huge fines if they do not respect this rule. As I said earlier, the food is still good after the expiring date. People spot where the dumpster is and go and collect what they think they can use. It is free. Some shops managers encourage this trend and leave the dumpsters open; some don’t and put locks on them. Depends on the person. 

It is good to have a freezer because one can end up with a lot of free food that needs to be stored. 

Organizations who work for the environment have deals with the shops and go and pick up the food before it gets out to the dumpster. One of them is called “People’s kitchen”. The food is brought to a place where it can be prepared and then shared. Whatever is left is taken home by those who have shared the cooking and the meal and whoever else is there. The important thing is that the food is not wasted. You just need to ask around in your town or do a google search or just go and speak with people working at the grocery stores in your neighborhood. 

In the countryside, farmers have deals with the stores, picking up the old bread. The animals love it, and it is also good in the toaster, even if it is a bit old. Same with carrots or other vegetables that can be good for animals. They are not ashamed of using it, even if they live in “the richest country in the world”. 

Some farms need help with the harvest, and they offer accommodation, food, and some money in exchange for labor. If you’re interested in a short-term adventure to start with, check out “work away” concept, for instance. 

If you miss food from your country of origin, there are also a good deal of international shops where you can find exotic products as well. Check out what is available in your town.

Worth mentioning here is the fact that Norwegians, in general, are fond of eating at home with family and friends. Dinner is not about the food, as it can be in many other countries. Instead, it is about getting to know each other: people spending time together, mostly around the coffee and tea, and of course, some wine, at the end of the meal.

If you already live in Norway, perhaps you’ve experienced that most Norwegians are very fond of food. Yet, even if they enjoy it, many of them consider it “fuel.” Something that our body needs to keep us going. You may have noticed that if you are familiar with the “matpakke” (work lunch brought from home). It is simple, mostly bread and cheese, and just enough to keep the blood sugar in shape.

The fashion of food has increased in Norway in the past 10 to 15 years since people started to travel more. Since the internet has spread, people can also see more of what food means in the world.

They don’t have a very long tradition of eating out either, or just going out for a drink like we see in many other countries. When I moved to Norway nearly 20 years ago, I would not find a proper place to have lunch. The few restaurants in town were opened only for dinner, which was very expensive for a student like me, at the time. Lunch places have flourished only after 2010, and I could enjoy a proper European lunch or breakfast. Therefore, complaining that eating and drinking out is expensive, does not really make sense for many Norwegians. It is not something they are very used to.

CLOTHES

When it comes to clothes, you find the same chains and brands as everywhere else, with the same prices, sometimes even cheaper. But, again, there are sales most of the time and significant sales in January and August. 

There are also plenty of second-hand shops (Fretex, Salvation Army, Gjenbruk), which are actually quite fashionable. So you can find expensive, brand products at a small price, and you take care of the environment simultaneously. 

On Finn.no and FB, there are many clothes to be bought second-hand or even new because people buy them and then forget about having them. Other people give away lots of clothes. I have noticed there is a trend when it comes to small children. At least until they reached the age of knowing what it means to have new or brand clothing or not. They inherit clothes from older children in the family or group of friends or colleagues at work. Yes, Norwegian people also practice this because they are people too and need to take care of their budget. 

Another big trend in Norway is also making own clothes at home, tailoring but mainly knitting. It seems that everybody knows how to knit or has someone in the family who is knitting. You will see many people wearing homemade sweaters with famous Norwegian patterns or mittens or socks. It is a fashion that never wears out, and it is pretty cozy seeing it, and wearing it. Although I must say, I did not catch this knitting bug. Therefore I am delighted when I get something knitted as a present from my friends. 

Otherwise, you may notice that people in Norway are very casual, except they have really high positions in politics, the bank industry, etc. 

Shoes you can also find second-hand, if you don’t mind that, and if you do not have trouble with your feet. Then, you need to visit an orthopedist who can see what is best for you to wear, recommend a sole designer and particular shops where you can buy them. Unfortunately, these shoes are really expensive, yet, happy feet are essential for the rest of the body. 

You may also notice that not many women in Norway are fond of high heels. Even if they are wearing dresses, they would still go for comfortable shoes. They are very conscious about how high heels can hurt the spine and how uncomfortable that can be in the long run. They don’t put external beauty and/or pain above health. 

Another thing worth mentioning here is that the only occasions Norwegians dress up for are Christmas dinners and weddings. Therefore it is not worth investing in a “gala” wardrobe when you have no place to wear it. 

HOUSE ITEMS 

If you have the house/apartment/student house, then everything you need for it you can find in the same way you find clothing. I would say it’s even better because you find a lot of stuff people give away for free. I know Norwegian people who were patient enough to use finn.no and Facebook and friends. They furnished whole houses with free furniture and electrical utilities (fridge, washing machine, etc). They didn’t see the need to buy new stuff when they knew that what they can find is just as good. The reason people are giving it away is that they move out to other parts of Norway, and buying new ones (or finding them cheap or free) would be much more affordable than transporting them to the new place. 

New stuff people buy a lot from IKEA, online and then they use the assembly projects as family or friends bonding time by doing that together. 

TRANSPORT 

If you live in a place with good transport facilities, you do not really need a car. Buss, tram, metro are cheap if you have a monthly or yearly pass. It may be a bit expensive when you buy it, but it is affordable if you divide that amount by the number of days and travels you use it for. The prices also vary if you are a student, young person (up to 30 years old), an adult, or retired.

Many people prefer to invest in a good bike because it is a cheap way to move around and work out simultaneously. The same with walking. This is also the reason they prefer comfortable shoes.

Yet, a car is handy if you have children. You can find good vehicles, which can take you from A to B very cheap, depends on your needs and your budget. It also depends on what that car does for you and how it fulfills your needs (necessity, comfort, status). Some people prefer to rent a car for weekends or holidays. 

What is expensive in Norway? 

Services. Hiring people to do something for you: cleaning, cooking, building (carpentry, plumbing, electricity), fixing, or driving cars, transport. If you’re good at building, for instance, you have an advantage in the housing market. You can buy an old house, restore it and then sell it with profit, or not. Depends on what you want.

Dentist. It is considered plastic surgery, therefore it is really expensive.

Private health care. Norway has a really good health system, yet, there can be a long waiting time to get appointments for surgeries and so on. If you can’t wait, private hospitals are an option, yet they are expensive. For a psychologist, there are even 1,5 years of waiting time. If you need help quickly, you can get help from private therapists (like me).

Gass and car maintenance. Gas for the car is almost 9 NOK per liter. Car service, if you don’t know how to do it yourself, then is really a lot. Parking as well, it can be between 25 and 50 NOK per hour, especially in cities.

Electricity. Even if there is a lot of production in this country, from the gas, and waterfalls, and wind, getting it to the people seems to be a big hustle. Therefore, the prices went up a lot in the past 10 years.

Taxes. We pay high taxes because that money is distributed to education, roads, health care, people who cannot work anymore due to illness, retired people. 

Hobbies. Buying the stuff you need in order to perform your hobby can be expensive unless you find what you need in the same way I described above – through the internet and people who are selling cheap or give away stuff. Joining various clubs where you could meet other people with the same interests as you can be a challenge. It depends a lot on how aware are you about what you like and how much you are willing to pay for it. There are memberships and eventual classes you may need to pay for. Just find out what is available in your own town.

This article is meant to give you an idea about what one could afford in Norway and what one should expect in terms of money. But, of course, like in any other country, there is an elite who can afford the most expensive of the most expensive concerning everything. Yet, you choose yourself, how you want to live and which are your priorities. In my experience, there is a place for all lifestyles.  

If you want to know more about life in Norway, culture, written and unwritten rules, feel free to sign up for my newsletter on this link. You’ll receive more insights every week.

Best wishes from Norway

My week of quarantine in Sandefjord, Norway

Sunrise captured in one of my early morning walks around town – well, more of outside town 🙂

Yes! I have been visiting my family in a red zone. Red for Norway, because people ruling this country are cautious and prefer to take extra care measures than risk people’s health. Therefore I have been in quarantine for 9 days. 

I arrived in Norway via Torp airport. It was a long queue at Passport control, and then we were taken inside a room where we were tested. The test was free of charge and the result came in about 15 min. After that, we were distributed to places of quarantine. For me, it was Scandic Park Hotel in Sandefjord. We were taken there by taxi, that too, free of charge. 

The quarantine rules were handed out together with practical information, which was also about meals. They were supposed to be placed outside our doors, at 08:00 for breakfast, 12:00 for lunch, and 18:00 for dinner. They were to be accompanied by a knock on the door, except for breakfast. The staff didn’t want to wake us up at 08:00 in the morning if not necessary. I was impressed by the care and respect for people’s sleep. We were getting three meals a day and overnight for 500 NOK a day. A good price for Norway to be and for this significant hotel in Vestfold area. 

The room I’ve got was big, with a beautiful view of the park in front of the hotel. Fresh sheets and towels, clean. 

The mades weren’t allowed to get into the quarantine rooms. For their protection and ours; therefore, we were expected to help with the cleaning if we felt the need. That was logical to me, and it seemed fair for the price as well. 

With the characteristic smiles and politeness, the staff was helping in any way they could. Most of the quarantine guests would respect the rules and be polite and behave. At the same time, some did not.

Nobody wants to stay in quarantine, yet if that is the case, at least to make a good experience out of it, I thought.  

I have never been to this little town in the South of Norway before. But, we were allowed to walk outside, which gave me the chance to look around the small city center with cozy houses and crossroads on every corner of the tiny streets. 

I returned to the hotel from my walk one afternoon, and I passed by two of the hotel employees. One man from security and one woman were talking on their way home. The woman complained to her colleague about how some of the quarantine guests picked on her long legs. 

«That was not nice,» said the man. «Do you want me to do anything about it?» he asked.

«No, let them be,» she answered, showing the group of men who were walking towards the end of the corridor, inside the hotel. «I just don’t understand how they cannot know that this kind of comment is rude,” she said, with a sad expression on her face. 

Pity I was thinking. Perhaps no one told the men (I don’t know which country they were from) that this kind of comment is considered “sexual harassment” in Norway and illegal. This time they’ve got away. Next time, they may not. 

For me, the experience of quarantine was not at all a struggle. On the contrary, I took it as an extra week of holiday. I did not feel in any way that my liberty was too much constrained. During the whole week, I’ve got some messages on my phone to remind me that I was on quarantine and got one phone call from the people in charge of this procedure. Mostly to check on me and see if I knew the rules of quarantine.

I was getting food every day, which I didn’t have to think of buying and preparing myself. Some shortened, in terms of vegetables, since the good old Norwegian “kost” (cooking) does not include too many of those. Yet, I knew it was only for a maximum of ten days, and I didn’t have to eat what I didn’t like. 

We were allowed to walk around town and take the typical hikes you can find everywhere around the small towns in Norway. 

We were not allowed to get into the shops or other buildings or visit people in the hotel (if we knew any). I didn’t think it was such a terrible restrain. I didn’t know anyone and shops can one find everywhere. 

I like walking and hiking and discovered really lovely pats and corners of the town that were quite charming. Just look at the pictures underneath the article. The days I stayed in quarantine went on fine since I was determined not to let it ruin my mood. I also had my computer with me, which allowed me to write and work. I would have done that anyway, no matter where I was. And here even more since I had no care of daily hustle. 

At the same time, every time I went in and out of the hotel, I would see and hear angry people. Angry for feeling trapped. Angry for having to pay for the quarantine themselves. Angry for wasting time. Angry for finding out that some of the other guests have tested positive on the 7th day of quarantine and moved to another part of the hotel called “isolation”. It happens everywhere, I thought. Nothing is perfect.

It was not a pretty sight. I was grateful for the time I took to learn to enjoy my own company and look at the full half of the glass instead of the empty one. What could I have solved if I would have gotten angry? Who would have cared, and how would that have changed the situation? 

Did I lose time? Yes and no. I still did a lot of stuff, and I have tried another version of the concept “working remote,” which was a good experience. Now I know what it’s about in another sense than just having a home office.

Did I lose money? Yes. Some flight tickets which I booked thinking that I may get out before I did. One of the reasons would be that the machines that were supposed to analyze the test I took on my 7th day of quarantine broke, and the result was delayed by a day. Since there were so many people testing, that was not a surprise, yet some moments of irritation accompanied it. I am human. And of course, I have paid those 500 NOK a night for 9 nights altogether. 

I’ve got home safe and sound and, most importantly, healthy. That will allow me to work and replace the money I “lost”. Yet, I do not necessarily consider them “lost”. Just that MY need to see my family and some few dear friends I haven’t seen since long before the pandemic was more expensive than predicted. Was it worth it? Absolutely. I would not be without it. 

If you decide to travel, look thoroughly through the regulations of traveling and the places you’re supposed to do the quarantine. Take it as an experience rather than as a restriction. Health is essential, and some governments take extra care, like the Norwegian one, which is only a positive thing.

In case you need to talk with someone neutral, feel free to register for a free call here. One good talk with someone trained as a coach or therapist can solve a lot, and can put a different light on whatever issue one may have.

 

Random view of the harbor in Sandefjord, Norway
The lake on the top of “The priest’s hill” (Preståsen)
View from my hotel room
Anders Jahre’s estate on the top of “The middle hill” (Midtåsen). The park of the estate is open to the public every day.

I wish you build Resilience!

The Child King : food for thought

Child King Emma

The concept of children as “Kings” and “Queens” is a special one. We do not often come across it, even if it makes sense. Children are our future. The way we take care of them shows how we take care of our future. Therefore, the way we raise our children is important. Norway and Scandinavia are generally very aware of this and are known to be countries where children are raised in particular ways.

We, who grew up in former communist countries, need to keep in mind that our cultures were deliberately held back in many areas of study such as psychology and parenting, for instance.

Following the Second World War, Western Europe and Scandinavia rebuilt their societies in freedom while our countries experienced communism almost like a form of social experiment. We also experienced the Cold War too.

In 2004, as I arrived in Norway for study, I quickly noticed the difference in mentality and way of thinking between students from the former Communist Bloc, North America, Latin America, Africa, and those coming from Western Europe and the Nordic countries. At the time, it felt to me that many of the Western and Nordic students seemed waaay too sensitive. I couldn’t quite grasp what it was.

Later, once I made Norwegian friends, I asked them questions that helped me understand why everything was so different from what I’d known before. With time, I realized that it was linked to the way they were brought up. My friends explained the Norwegian Law and the child protection system which are well developed. When they are ten years old, children find out at school about their rights. They also know that the law protects them if something wrong happens at home. Children are told about sexual abuse, physical violence, addiction, alcohol consumption and many other issues.

Moreover, teachers and educational staff are obliged by law to inform the authorities if they believe that something of concern might happen in a child’s family. At that point, the Child Protection gets involved with the family and sometimes this might lead to the children being removed from their parents. Child protection is an aspect which is taken very seriously in Norway.

In my communist childhood, I have witnessed violence, both at school and in people’s homes. The socio-political system often used violence to keep people under control, and being silent meant “being good” and staying safe, for fear of the system. Although Nordic countries have their ways of keeping people silent, direct and blunt violence is not something people are silent about.

Here the “fear” is about other people’s opinion about you, or being left out of social groups. In a country with a few million people, social isolation is an important issue, unlike in other countries with tens of millions of people who live and work in the same space. Another Nordic way to maintain silence is by giving everybody a roof over their head and a full stomach. As long as everybody has their primary needs met, the need to protest is not that urgent.

As I was getting to understand why the culture here was so different in this particular aspect, (child upbringing, and sensitivity), I came across one of most prominent child psychologists in the world and some of the books she wrote. As I read some the books and her personal story, all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place for me. Her name is Alice Miller, and she is the first psychologist to write about how it is like to be a child and about the various feelings a child experiences.

I remember growing up with the notion that “children should be seen, but not heard,” with violence and bullying at school and at home. It felt as if children were not human beings, but just “something” with no feelings, “something” born only because the system required it. During the Cold War, abortions were illegal in Romania, while mothers who had given birth to at least four children were acknowledged as “heroine mothers”. It was the way women contributed to growing the country’s labor force. This was a different kind of “baby boom” from the rest of Europe; ordered by the communist state in 1966.

Scandinavia was not much different either. If you talk to people older than 60, some even younger, and if they open up about their lives, you can hear many stories of child abuse, domestic abuse, oppression, and colonization of indigenous people. These things are part of history and we cannot deny nor avoid them.

However, the difference here is that, during the ‘80s, people in the medical system came across Alice Miller’s books and took them seriously. The newfound knowledge and understanding were implemented and embedded into the social system. It resulted in a child protection system that puts children first. This can confuse many immigrants for whom children’s rights are a foreign notion.

For those curious to find and read Alice Miller’s books, you will find research she did on people who shaped history. Hitler and Ceausescu are among them, and Alice Miller explains how their childhood trauma had influenced their behavior as adults. If you understand Norwegian, you can search for a TV show produced by the Norwegian National Television (NRK) about Alice Miller. Her experience as a survivor during the WWII determined her to study psychology.

In case this article had awakened thoughts that may need to be sorted out, please leave a comment, or let me know in confidence and feel free to register for a free session here. A lot can be sorted out in ONE good conversation.

I wish you build resilience!