The members of my student house took part in a £5 secret santa last Christmas, and my secret santa surprised me with the most ridiculous gift, a one way ticket to Oslo. Not being one to pass up an opportunity, and being a lover of Norway, I promptly enlisted my friend and began to plan our trip.
Norway is an expensive place. Everything costs much more than it does in the UK. I didn’t exactly know why this was except for what I had briefly learned about Norway and Scandinavia in human Geography, that the standard of living is extremely high, and this is achieved by an expensive lifestyle with high taxes to fund reduction of crime, affordable healthcare, environmental protection and other things that contribute to a high quality of life. Norway is not part of the European Union, so is able to have a much more expensive system without being liable to keep prices similar to how countries that use the euro operate. Without being part of this group, prices for Norways consumers are also raised because of tariffs on imports, which need to be evened out at some point in the chain of buying and selling.
We stayed in the spare room of a flat within walking distance of the city centre of Oslo, with a host who taught us a lot about the lifestyle in Norways capital, and how it can be difficult to sustain, especially in terms of costs. Often for many young people, affording rent can be challenging, and home-ownership is out of the question.
Prices are so high because everything is taxed so much, especially alcohol and cigarettes, which, if this is a major part of your lifestyle your life will be much harder to afford. Our host described when she used to drink, and how this would simply not be a viable option for her now. We also learned that for any alcohol over 3.5%, consumers must be above the age of 20 to purchase. On the way to Norway we bought a bottle of vodka for £11 in duty free because I had heard that alcohol is so expensive, ranging on average from around £7 to £10 for a pint of beer. Our host told us that this bottle would have cost 3 times that amount in Oslo. The massive tax on alcohol was made even more evident in the airport on the way home to England. In the Norwegian duty free area bottles of vodka were substantially cheaper, quality bottles being as low as 109 NOK (around £10.50), which really revealed to me the extent to which items in Norway are taxed, especially alcohol.
The cost of living is generally defined by necessary purchases like food and drink, but a major part of a persons ability to live in a place is the cost of housing, which in Oslo, is huge, and apparently rising, making it unaffordable for many young people to base themselves in major cities in Scandinavia. Our host felt it necessary to rent out her spare room in order to cover her rent, as it was not easy for her to afford to live in such an expensive place, yet was one of the few options that accommodated for her needs.
The justification of all this cost is theoretically in the benefits citizens receive from the government, such as healthcare. I believed I had heard that healthcare in Scandinavia was based on a brilliant system, but hearing a first person perspective from our host opened our eyes to firstly, how the system is not even in terms of costs and benefits for most people and secondly, how important it is that our NHS continues, and how lucky we are to have access to free healthcare. The Norwegian healthcare system is theoretically ‘free’, yet when health issues are encountered, there is usually an initial payment necessary to be seen by a doctor, of around £100, before being allowed to enjoy free treatment for alignments. Other areas of healthcare have costs attached also, such as medicine payments.
Norway is still adapting away from a more communist style of living. Not too long ago, supermarkets were packed with one brand for each product, no choice, little allowance for unusual dietary requirements. Our host even told us that not too long ago there would only be a choice between 2 pizzas. Catering for diets such as gluten free has improved, and a much wider choice (including many imported goods) is evident, however we did notice when walking around the city there were not many options for places to eat, aside from the same chains appearing again and again, McDonalds, Expresso House and supermarket serving hot food, 7 Eleven.
The streets of Oslo are brilliantly safe. Walking home at night is hardly a worry for central dwellers, however our host told us she felt safer still when walking with her big dog, describing the experience as “it must be what it feels like to walk down the street as a man”. The biggest crimes in the city are thefts and robberies, however often this is small scale such as supermarket shoplifting, as opposed to more violent versions of these crimes, like mugging. Rape is also prevalent in Oslo, but more often as a private occurrence, at parties or within relationships, instead of on the streets.
Norway is a beautiful country, people are fit and outdoorsy, they are friendly, trusting and there is a real feeling of politeness, safety and respect evident when out in public areas. However, living there and accommodating lifestyles without a heavy extent of sacrifice seems unlikely, and for me, as a young person, I would not be able to consider affording to live in Oslo post-graduation.