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Notes on Norway

Skyte seg i foten, hinke videre

Frst tok de sivilsamfunnsorganisasjonene, men jeg brydde meg ikke.

Bltt Bistandsbudsjett
Regjeringen vurderer kutte sttten til 50 norske organisasjoner som arbeider for informere samfunnet om alt fra bistand og gjeld til menneskerettigheter og atomvpen. Belpet det er snakk om, 91 millioner kroner, kan virke ubetydelig. Prinsippene som ligger til grunn for denne agendaen, er derimot alt annet, nemlig en grunnleggende motstand mot at organisasjoner som beriker norsk offentlig debatt, skal motta statlig sttte. Hvis vi ikke gjr noe nr regjeringen kveler sivilsamfunnsorganisasjonene, vil de samme folkene, som nsker kutte i statlig sttte til media, kunst og kultur, f strre momentum. De mest lidenskapelige tilhengerne av kuttene er de samme som omfavner modeller fra det private nringsliv. Til slutt vil privat kapital vre den eneste legitime adgangen til pvirke debatten i det offentlige rom. fjerne de f dynamiske, progressive og kritiske rstene fra den norske diskursen vil i et land med bare fem millioner innbyggere fre til en uthuling av den intellektuelle kulturen.

Nylig begynte Minerva-kommentator Jan Arild Snoen forberede grunnlaget for disse kuttene, i form av et innlegg mot den skalte slsingen fra Norges 50 statsfinansierte sivilsamfunnsorganisasjoner. Snoens konservative ideologi tilsier at han ikke kan akseptere et system hvor ?staten skal gi organisasjoner midler til drive politisk pvirkningsarbeid?. Dette blir dermed premisser for Snoens virkelighetsbilde, og artikkelen tar utgangspunkt i at disse organisasjonene slser penger, og at de derfor ikke br eksistere. Han begir seg deretter ut p bevise hva han allerede har antatt. Snoens ?analyse? passer bedre p Facebook enn p Minervas nettsider.



Jan Arild Snoen Trolling on Facebook (Tom Lenartowicz Hja.no)

Hva vet du om meslinger, din idiot?

Dessverre for Snoen og resten av Facebook-hyre baseres argumentene p en studie av Hans Rosling med store metodologiske blundere. For eksempel mler Roslings underskelse ?ignoranse? ved stille flgende sprsml: ?Hvor mange av verdens ettringer er vaksinert mot meslinger?? Hvis du svarer feil p dette sprsmlet, er du ?dum?. Etter disse kriteriene ville trolig Adam Smith, Immanuel Kant og Ayn Rand ogs bli stemplet som dumme. Snoens argument hviler p utlede intelligens fra quiz-sprsml og deretter foreta et umenneskelig logisk hopp, hvor Norges sivilsamfunnsorganisasjoner blir beskyldt for ikke spre kunnskap som best hrer hjemme p en brun pub.

Regjeringen burde heller se p hva disse organisasjonene tilbyr, i stedet for hva de representerer. Ironisk nok passer mange av disse organisasjonene nrmest perfekt med en bl-bl utenrikspolitisk filosofi: De utfrer effektive og ikke minst srdeles billige tjenester som gjr alt annet enn kaste penger ut av vinduet.

Uavhengig av hva disse organisasjonene gjr, br vi frst vre klar over hvor lite de koster. De vel 50 organisasjonene som Snoen angriper, utgjr totalt 1 % av bistandsbudsjettet. Av disse 91 millioner kronene gr 27 millioner til FN-sambandet for informasjonsarbeid om FN i norske skoler. De resterende 64 millioner kronene gr til de vrige frivillige organisasjonene og deres politiske analyser, statlige tilsyn og generelt grasrotengasjement. For sette dette i perspektiv bruker vi i dag 3 millioner mer p skismring enn det som blir brukt p informasjonsarbeid om FN i norske skoler. I motsetning til skilandslagets smreteam har de utenrikspolitiske interesseorganisasjonene nylig oppndd suksess.

Kjedelig og viktig
Ved se p hva disse organisasjonene kan gjre nr de jobber p sitt beste, forstr man hvorfor eventuelle kutt i inntektene deres vil vre et stort tap. For eksempel var bde FORUM, Kirkens Ndhjelp, Fredslaget og Changemaker sentrale i forhandlingene om FNs vpenhandelsavtale (ATT). Innsatsen fra det sivile samfunnet ble hyllet av ingen ringere enn Espen Barth Eide, som understreket at en avtale sannsynligvis ikke ville sett lyset dersom det ikke hadde vrt for disse organisasjonene. Slett u-landsgjelden representerer enda en suksess. I fjor var organisasjonen en sentral aktr i utviklingen av FNs nye prinsipper for ansvarlig utln. P grunn av deres innsats ble Norge det frste lngiverlandet som har gjennomfrt en evaluering av sine ln til utviklingsland.

Utover disse penbare suksesshistoriene fungerer sivilsamfunnsorganisasjonene ogs som vaktbikkjer. Ved overvke og kritisere norsk politikk varsler de offentligheten dersom den frte politikken skader utviklingsarbeid, svekker menneskerettighetene eller strider mot demokratiske prinsipper. Et kutt i midler vil ikke bare fre med seg en uunngelig dd for mange av disse organisasjonene, det vil ogs dempe rstene til de f resterende ombudsmennene i norsk utenrikspolitikk.

Bestr disse organisasjonene av rike pamper som suger penger ut av statskassa? Nei. Den typiske lederen for disse organisasjonene har en mastergrad og tjener omtrent det samme som en nyutdannet lrer. Videre skal det ogs nevnes at for hver faglig ansatt engasjeres flere hyt motiverte frivillige, ofte studenter med drlig rd. Organisasjonene kan rett og slett ikke sidestilles med korrupte tilkarringsbedrifter, slik Facebook-hyre liker fremstille det. I stedet fr den norske regjeringen et regnestykke de burde sette pris p: Billige arbeidere pluss en haug av frivillige er lik utmerket valuta for pengene.

Struping av den norske politiske debatten
Hva er s alternativet dersom de frivillige organisasjonene mister sin statlige sttte? Hvis vi gjr organisasjoner avhengig av samle penger fra donasjoner, vil vi sannsynligvis se sektoren konsentreres rundt tema som omhandler lett forstelige og umiddelbare problemer. Eksempelvis er de fleste av oss kjent med bistandsorganisasjoner som fremhever bilder av sultende afrikanske barn. Informasjonssttten har gjort organisasjoner som SAIH i stand til lage kampanjer som bevisstgjr farene ved slike stereotypier (SAIHs Radi Aid). Nd- og utviklingshjelp er utvilsomt viktig, men saker som er mer systemiske og mindre konkrete, er like verdifulle.

Selv om disse mindre konkrete problemene er fremtredende, egner de seg ikke for private donasjoner. Hvordan skal man i lpet av en tisekunders reklamesnutt forklare at man trenger penger til skape og drive lobbyvirksomhet for nye retningslinjer som sker stoppe utln av penger til diktatorer? Selv om disse problemene er kompliserte, er de fortsatt srdeles viktige. De krever politisk handling, bevissthet og press fra grasrota. Bistand kan av og til vre enkelt mle i penger, men penger kan ikke alltid forbedre kjedelige, men viktige, systemiske problemer.

Hvis disse organisasjonene skulle forsvinne, og den norske regjeringen fortsatt skulle nske jobbe med de samme sprsmlene, m de utkontraktere arbeidet til private konsulenter. Kostnadene ved privatisering av disse oppgavene vil ke. Det vil ikke kompetansen. Et lite land som Norge kan ikke forvente at den private sektoren vil fylle det diskursive tomrommet etter disse organisasjonene. Sivilsamfunnsorganisasjonene er erfarne aktrer og har et omfattende kontaktnettverk som ikke kan erstattes over natten. Dersom regjeringen gjennomfrer kuttene, vil de ikke bare ende opp med betale mer, de vil ogs sitte igjen med drligere tjenester.

Styr Norge mot verden
Det handler ikke bare om kvaliteten p organisasjonenes arbeid, men ogs om kvaliteten p den offentlige diskursen i Norge. De nevnte organisasjonene opprettholder koblingen mellom borgere og politikk. De kritiserer de norske politiske partiene gjennom kommentarer til stortingsmeldinger, bemerkninger til stortingskomiteer og gjennom nasjonale medier. Dette str i skarp kontrast til eksempelvis Storbritannia hvor engasjement begrenses til sivil ulydighet i kommentarfeltene. Populariteten til Russel Brands? nylige intervju der han skjeller ut demokratiet, viser hvor mye britisk aktivisme har sunket; han hylles som en frelser for venstresiden, mens hans eneste id var avskaffe demokratiet fordi muligheten for endring syntes s hpls. Norge har en bemerkelsesverdig kunnskapsrik og utadvendt politisk kultur. Drivkraften kan tilskrives mange faktorer ved det norske samfunnslivet. En av disse er faktorene er sivilsamfunnsorganisasjonene. Hvorfor skal vi svekke disse nr det bare koster den enkelte borger 12 kroner i ret?

Tilbake til regjeringen
Hvorfor er regjeringen s ivrig p bli kvitt organisasjoner som passer til deres egen filosofi? Spesielt FrP motsetter seg tanken p ukritisk gi bistand til den tredje verden og arbeider derfor aktivt for gjre bistandsindustrien mer effektiv. Den ene prosenten av bistandsbudsjettet som gr til informasjonsspredning, kunnskapsproduksjon og konstruktive innspill, m da vre positivt for ethvert politisk regnskap? P mange mter har regjeringen skutt seg selv i foten. Med lovnad om ikke kutte bistanden har regjeringen vrt p utkikk etter alternative kuttposter. Men er det virkelig mer kostnadsbesparende kutte midler til hyt spesialiserte organisasjoner med et genuint nske om forbedre og effektivisere norsk utenriks- og bistandspolitikk? Ikke bare bryter forslaget med Norges sterke freds- og humanitre tradisjon, det er ogs veldig drlig konservativ politikk.

Den dystre fremtiden
I stedet for argumentere for at disse organisasjonene opprettholdes p feil grunnlag, burde vi i stedet tildele midler p grunnlag av jevnlige vurderinger av deres arbeid og prestasjoner. Det er ikke sikkert at alle organisasjonene er s effektive som de burde ha vrt. Det fornuftige valget i denne saken er derimot ikke avskaffe, det er reformere.

Sttten til sivilsamfunnsorganisasjonene berrer kjernen i det norske samfunnet. Vil Norge la penger vre det eneste organiserende prinsippet, eller foretrekker vi at samfunnet skal f bestemme at visse ting er verdt gjre fordi vi mener det er rett? Historisk sett har det kollektive Norge blitt enige om at et rikt offentlig rom med et stort antall stemmer er en ndvendighet for et velfungerende demokrati. Dette prinsippet er n truet. Ja, disse kuttene vil spare 91 millioner kroner, men bare p bekostning av flytte Norge et skritt nrmere en nihilistisk dystopi bestende av reality-TV, selfies og kaker p Instagram.


Av Paul Beaumont og Pl Rren

One Shop Town

My Mum recently moved to a tiny village near the sea. This village is so small it has no name. In fact, the village is so small it only has one shop and that shop is just called “Shop”. Not The Shop, local shop, or Village shop. Just “Shop”.

I love Shop enormously and so whenever I go to visit my mum I immediately start thinking about Shop. It has no punctuation, so I don’t know whether the sign demarking shop is a query “Shop?” or an order “SHOP!”. Regardless, the effect is the same: it calls to me and I cannot walk past without getting drawn in to shop something from Shop.

Note: this is not Shop, As you can see, this is Local Shop.

They have everything in Shop: eggs, Frisbees, and cards for every occasion: birthday cards, christening cards, fathers' day cards. To be honest they have more cards than I really think is necessary. I considered mentioning this to the owner, but I like to read the cards at length so the owner will say after some minutes. “This is not a library”. And I say “no it is “Shop”, that is very clear, I am sorry”. And the owner smiles and I smile. It is kind our thing.

This is probably my number one activity in when I visit my mum in the village with no name. She says I should try out the beach. But I am not interested in beaches; they are everywhere.

The man who runs Shop is very kind. He has two kids, they are both doing well, one will be starting college next year. The other spends too long on the internet but is getting good grades, so that’s fine. I haven’t asked but I really hope they are called “Boy” and “Girl”. And then one day when they are old enough, they will become “Man” and “Woman”. And Mr Shop will be so proud.

I asked the owner how he came up with the name for shop once. He smiled but looked at me like I was the crazy one. My Mum is like this too. I sometimes try to explain why I like Shop so much but she does not understand.

Yes, Shop is probably the thing I miss most about England. You can’t find that sort of brilliant simplicity in Norway. The closest I have found is the Vinmonopli. But naming yourself after an economic concept is a bit posh, elitist even. Indeed, I am quite sure that if the owner of Shop went to Norway he wouldbepuzzled that Norway namedtheir wine stores after an English board game and not just Vinbutikk.

I have asked in the Vinmonopli why they called it Vinmonopili. I got this answer. “We are called Vinmonopli because we are a monopoly of wine. We are the only ones who can sell wine all of Norway. That is why”. I smiled out of politeness but I could not hide my sadness. The Vinmonopli staff smiled back at me. It wasn’t the same. I am quite sure he thought I was a simpleton.

But I do also love the Vinmonopoli for celebrating an idea - monopoly - that everyone else in Europe defines as the ultimate failure of the market, and to some even civilisation. The rest of the world have even set up multilateral European wide monopoly fighting organisation called the Anti-Monopoly Commission. That is how much they hate it. The Anti-Monopoly Commission hates monopolies so much, they don’t even tolerate monopolistic behaviour.

Ultimately though,I miss Shop. I often imagine what the world would be like if everything and everyone followed Shop’s logic. I would be “writer”, and your would be “reader”. And I would just write “words”. And you would reply “interest”. Or “boredom”. But most importantly no one would ever have to wonder about when to use “an” or “the” ever again. And that would be great.

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Norway’s Foreign Students: A Benefit not a Burden

Norway’s Foreign students a benefit not a burden

The diversity of Norway’s higher education system is under threat. Sweden, Denmark and Germany are the latest countries to start charging fees to foreign students. Indeed, Norway increasingly appears like a last beacon of kindness, or if you take the other view, a beacon of stupidity; “the sucker” in a prisoner dilemma game.

Why should Norwegian tax payers subsidise these foreign free loaders? This appears to be the direction political consensus is swinging in; the Progress Party, KrF and the youth of Hoyre have all suggested introducing foreigners. Given their polling it is also probably the direction Norway will shortly be moving. Trygve Slagsvold Vedum of Sp gives us insight into the logic underpinning this movement in an interview with Aftenposten “It’s natural that we follow our neighbouring countries in this area”. Indeed, Trygve’s logic seems to make intuitive sense if you don’t think about it too hard.

The trouble is that forming policy like a slow witted sheep chooses where he wants to go is not really Annerledeslandet style. Norway historically, has understood that what is best for the rest is not necessarily best for Norway; whether it’s the EU, the state ownership of the oil, or the focus on rehabilitation rather than retribution in the penal system. Norwegian society has not got where it is by following their neighbours blindly.

Trygve Slagsvold Vedum of Sp

The Minster of Agriculture’s tit for tat protectionist game may work for farmers but not for higher education. While it is certainly unfair that Norway’s students have to pay so much to study in the US and the UK, it doesn’t necessarily follow that Norway would gain anything from retaliating in kind. It must judge international education fees equation on consideration of the merits not on emotion. It is certainly not as clear cut as Trygve seems to believe..

Before I begin I should refute the case that as a foreigner benefiting from world class Norwegian education right now, I have a vested interest in keeping eduction free. Actually, if I were your economist’s “rational man”, I should be lobbying in the opposite direction. I graduate this year and so any changes won’t affect me; I will continue working in Norway next year and so new foreigners coming in, if one accepts that they are a burden on the Norway’s taxpayers, will be a burden on me too. No, I write this as a permanent foreign resident of Norway, with a vested interest in Norwegian society remaining prosperous and a pleasant place to live.

The education question must be broken down into the costs and benefits to Norway. To do that one must first recognise that university education is not one generic good which foreigners use and throwaway at equal cost to the tax payer. Certain courses cost a lot more than others. For example, medicine takes 5 years and is extremely expensive to teach as it requires scarce high cost items like cadavers to practice on. It is also a subject that is very much “taught”, having international students there does not improve the quality of classes. Medicine therefore classifies as something that it would be extremely difficult to argue that it offers value for money to Norway’s tax payers to fund. Particularly if, as is currently the case non-EU students would be unable to stay and work in Norway even if they wanted to.

Social Sciences on the other hand cost a fraction of the price. The marginal difference of an extra student in the occasional lectures and classes is minimal up to the size of the room they happen to be taught in and the 30m extra it takes to mark the exam or term paper. Meanwhile the materials required to study require only online journal access (increasingly this disproportionately expensive, but still not very much). If you look at two years Masters in Social Sciences then the cost benefit equation - regardless of whether the student stays in Norway- begins to look a lot more favourable. The wider point is that different subjects costs different amounts, and any policy must take this into account when weighing up the cost benefit equation of fees for foreigners.

It critical to understand that educating Foreigners is not charity; they do contribute to Norway in a number of ways during their studies. Certainly, they are getting very good deal, but this is not a zero sum game, Norway also benefits. While Norway’s foreign students are takers in terms of education, that is pretty much it in terms of public provision. 18-30s are the least likely to use health service, do not qualify for welfare, while Norway’s defence, infrastructure and policing costs would remain the same regardless. Meanwhile in return, the students pay for living with either a) paying with money sent from their home country, or b) working (frequently jobs natives don’t want) and paying taxes. Both of which are beneficial to Norway. How much? Assuming an average yearly living cost of 150,000 NOK, that is not an insignificant contribution to the economy.

Then there are the spinoff or ‘soft’ benefits that are difficult to measure but nonetheless important. First of all in the class itself, having diversity improves the quality and variety of the classes and the research. The cross pollination of ideas, experiences and knowledge from different cultures is certainly valued by Ivy league universities in the US, most of which offer a large number of full scholarships to international students. Presumably it is also why most university ranking systems international use international diversity as one of their inputs for measuring the quality of an institution..

Even if the students don’t end up staying in Norway, they provide an excellent advertisement for Norway and its education system; something which an ambitious but small country like Norway should be gunning for. Indeed, Hoyre proper appear to understand the value of these intangible benefits, Bent Hie in rebuking his youth party’s policy, argued keeping education free for foreigners “boost[s] the status of higher education in Norway.” and that “ it’s positive that folks from outside the country want to study in Norway”. It is difficult to count these soft benefits, but only a philistine would claim that we should not attempt to take them into account.

Certainly higher education would appear like a better long term bet for Norway’s branding than some of the MFA’s other efforts. While Sweden has design and Denmark has television the MFA has been attempting to re-sell the world Aha to boost Norrways brand. Surely university education is a more beneficial, desirable and sustainable area where Norway can promote itself.

I love Aha as much as the next man, but is it really what Norway wants to be known for?

High prestige education can work as a great lure to high skilled immigrants that Norway needs. However as Sweden is finding out now, a country should not take for granted that the foreign students are not price sensitive. One of the benefits of pausing to observe the flock before following is that you can see if they fall over a cliff. Sweden is an excellent case, perhaps they assumed that Swedish education was so well known that fees would just mean free money for their universities. Not quite: Their international student applications fell 85% the year they changed (one must presume they are now left with the richest and the dumbest). If Norway made the same mistake now, then Trygve’s policy would look less like that of a sheep than a lemming.

Norway cannot presume it can successfully copy the UK and US model. While they are not superior in educational terms, they have the prestige of their name to draw students, that is what counts when prices become similar. Reputation. Lets be honest, if you added fees to Norway’s famously high prices, the reputation of even Blindern would unlikely be sufficient but for whatever few mega-rich Norwegaphiles exist.

In addition, allowing universities to charge foreigners fees can undermine a university’s qualitiy control. In the UK, where there are over 100 universities, many are now dependent on the largesse of foreign students for survival. As a result many of the smaller universities more or less allow anyone to study so long as they have the money. Heck, this is even seen at the best universities, LSE’s former director Howard David, apprarently blinded by pound signs, allowed Ghaddifi’s sons and henchmen to study at LSE. Norway’s universities, with the high cost of living and general lack of internation fame, will have even more trouble attracting a high quality of foreign students.

But that could change. Instead of viewing other countries educational priorities as a pattern to follow, Norway could see it as an opportunity. Norway’s world class free education is increasingly unique in the developed world; this means that Norway could have the pick of the best of the academically excellent, ambitious but not rich international students. Heck, even rich ones do not much like fees. As the number of international applications increases, getting into Norway will become tougher and tougher and could potentially become synonymous with extreme academic excellence in the same way as Harvard. High demand combined with scarce supply breeds prestige.

If that sounds far fetched, then consider that the reputation of school is as much based on its students and alumni as on its teaching. At the moment I am at Aas University, where the teaching and lecturing is significantly superior to the internationally prestigious LSE (where I did my undergrad). The key difference is that the other students at LSE had to beat off famously stiff competition to get in (or be a member of some international elite; sons of dictators that sort of thing) and everybody knows that you have to be smart to go there. If Norway promoted itself, just by

With a little bit of promotion, perhaps just by making the ratio of applicants to places public knowledge, Norwegian universities could benefit from the same thing. In a few years, Norway could become famous for being the only country in the world that values education so highly it provides it for free to foreigners, provided they can beat off the ferocious competition for the prized few places. This will quickly become self sustaining as talented alumni leave, Norway’s reputation as a place for the best and brightest will grow attracting more talented students and future successful alumni. Indeed, LSE’s laissez faire attitude to its students shows how this can happen almost on its own.

The next Norwegian government must look long and hard before following the flock on higher education. This a a question of ambition, whether Norway wants to look inwards and think small or look outwards and think big. Norway might be able to save a little by introducing fees, but certainly not without losing a lot in terms of human capital and massive long term reputation gains. Indeed if it backs itself, then there is no reason why in a few years time Norway's universities could be home to some of the brightest in the world, and Norway itself could become a byword for elite university education adding to its existing soft power palette of oil, development and environmental. All without any additional costs to the Norwegian tax payer and absolutely no Aha.

This article was originally written for and published in The Foreigner.

The Easter Bunny and Norway's Dangerous Oil Myth

‘Mister Paul, Sir, what is the Easter Bunny?’ asked Anil, the 19-year-old class joker. Before I could respond He followed up with ‘Is it your god?’

The class, made up of about 15 young Indians erupted into laughter. They had only just got their head around the apparently hilarious idea of the Christmas tree. This was too much. So, your son of God, is crucified, rises from the dead, ascends into your heaven and you celebrate by eating chocolate rabbits.

I have now lost track of the number of occasions when around Easter someone will outwardly ponder the origin of the Easter Bunny over the dinner table. The explanations will usually range from it being originally Pagan, at which point someone – probably me – will make sure the conversation takes a tangent along Jehovas Witnesses (for them everything is pagan, and therefore not to be celebrated), or some long recycled critique that Easter is over-commercialised these days.

The Easter Bunny under this analysis was invented as a clever marketing trick to sell more chocolate. What consensus is reached on the origins of the practice usually depends on which speculation-peddling website the smartphone user at the table happens to click on first.

What can be assumed is that everyone present will agree that the Easter Bunnies and Easter Eggs they may or may not lay is a somewhat absurd way to celebrate Jesus rising from the dead.

But this is a rather harmless, if repetitive little conversation that crops up once a year. In Norway, there is another layman conversation piece that is equally repetitive but a lot more corrosive. Namely, that Norway is lucky, lucky to get oil.

Once they hit the black stuff back in around the 1970’s all this was inevitable. It is less of a conversation, more of a bullet proof riposte to the timeless queries one faces from bemused visitors about the high wages, free education, good hospitals, generous welfare state, and the existence of foreigners working in Oslo.

Norway is rich because of the oil. It comes as second nature from the mouths of resident foreigners and Norwegians alike, almost apologetically from the latter. The problem with this simple and intuitive reasoning is that it is at best misleading and more importantly denies discussion of the real question, how did Norway manage to make its oil work for everyone?

First it’s necessary to briefly take down the inevitability myth. Once you hit oil (or any other valuable resource), inevitably your country will become filthy rich living happily ever after, at least until the Russians come for you. Well no, actually quite the opposite, discovering natural resources is so synonymous with underdevelopment that there is a large and expanding academic research dedicated to trying to explain what they call “The Resource Curse”, from Nigeria to Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leon, from South Africa to the UK.

Natural resources are correlated with rent seeking, corruption and frequently war. Certainly there is absolutely nothing in history to suggest that natural resources will necessarily be used for the common good of the country. And nothing to suggest that the resources will remain under the stewardship of the state for who the benefits will be relatively evenly shared among the general population, while much of the profits are sensibly stored away in national pension.

No that is pretty unique.

I first came to Norway two years ago and I worked as a dishwasher in a bar. When I told people in the UK my wage was 16 pounds an hour they were always shocked. Upon consideration they reached the conclusion, ah it must be the oil money.

But there is nothing in finding oil that implies that dishwashers should be paid a living wage. Indeed, there is no minimum wage in Norway, yet unskilled labour pays living wages. This is almost certainly because the relatively generous welfare the unemployed receive requires that employers pay enough to make the switch from sloth worthwhile.

The upshot is that Norway has followed the old economic idea that the UK and other liberal countries have neglected; money in the hands of the bottom third income group is very healthy for a national economy.

They are more likely to spend it faster; they are more likely to spend it domestically. Moreover keeping the bottom third sufficiently in touch with the middle class spending habits and lifestyle increases social cohesion and reduces social problems.

This correlation is barely disputable since the exhaustive aggregation of studies in “The Spirit Level” demonstrated it across countries, counties and towns: A more equal distribution in income has a stastically significant relationship with everything from happiness to lower teenage pregnancy and drug use.

In short, higher than average taxes to pay for the transfer of wealth to the poorest pays for itself. Benefiting the poor but also the rich, who unlike in many wealthy countries, are able to walk the streets relative safely (see LA for the inverse).

Norway’s success in achieving this is hidden by the oil myth, but a cursory inspection of Norway’s Scandinavia neighbours, less endowed with oil but equally egalitarian (more or less) have achieved some of the best living standards in the world following the same strategy.

But, isn’t this bad for innovation? Not necessarily. While theproponentsof neo-liberalism, the dominant economic model in the West, would argue that high taxes disincentivise risk taking andentrepreneurship, this is far from undisputed.

Will a prospectiveentrepreneurbalk at the prospect of starting a business because the marginal tax rate is 40-50% and choose instead to sit on NAV, cursing their bad luck for living in this socialist hell? Or would a prospectiveentrepreneur knowing that their state will never let them go homeless and that their kids will always have access to higher education, more gladly risk their house in Norway thanelsewhere. I would guess the latter, but my point is it is not so straightforward.

Certainly, Sweden have high taxes and no shortage of globalcompetitivebusinesses. Meanwhile, Norway have some of the highest skilled and efficient labour force in the world, precisely because companies need them to be in order to remain globallycompetitive

THE Easter Bunny conversation pops up once a year, the oil luck myth is continuously reproduced all year round and frequently left unchallenged. In one sense that is a good thing. Perhaps Norwegians would become unbearably smug if they knew how anomalous their country’s recent economic history was.

But that potential problem now pales in comparison to the more ominous danger looming large in the opinion polls. Norway appears on the verge of electing into office two parties whose current dedication to reducing government spending and promoting privatisation belies a complete lack of understanding of how Norway achieved its envious and unique position on top of both the tables of GDP per capita and social equality.

Privatising saves money through cutting wages and worker benefits. It will artificially save money in the short run (although even this is questionable), but simultaneously cut away the long term roots of the Norwegian economic miracle. Troublingly, it is very difficult to reverse.

So next time you hear your neighbour, colleague, friend or enemy throw away the line about Norway’s oil luck, make sure you clarify them: it's not what you have, but what you do with with it that counts.

As for the Easter Bunny, let it keep its mystery, if not its dignity.

I originally wrote a shorter version of this article for The Foreigner. An online newspaper coveringNorwegian news in English.

Your Name's Not Down, You're Not Coming In

This is NOT a picture of the Doormen at Cross Roads club Oslo

Bouncers, doormen, cunts in black, whatever you want to call the security staff in clubs they rarely receive kind words. The unsympathetic might view them as particularly ill-equipped to be the gate keepers of fun: they often seem to combine an unfortunate mixture of belligerence, stupidity and brute strength. Sometimes it might be tempting to wonder if they can spell their own job title. However, from personal experience, I would advise you to keep your wondering to yourself or do it from a safe distance..

Yet, I have come to conclude that assessment as somewhat unfair. Last night, I am somewhat ashamed to say, I attempted to swing influence at By:larm festival by using my delegate pass to jump the queue at Cross Roads club. A long line had grown in anticipation of Mikhael Paskalev, and they looked freezing and grumpy. I decided I didn’t fancy joining them, so I swanned up to the front and suggested my pass should permit me early entrance. I justified it by convincing myself that as a labourer in the festival operation, I should be entitled to special privileges. This didn’t wash with the men on the door.

They proceeded to politely and articulately explain how while they could understand my position, it would be unjust to allow me to walk straight in ahead of the freezing masses and would set a dangerous precedent. In sum he concluded, were this discrimination to become law, he could very well have a riot on his hands. Looking at the beardy, smartphone-wielding queue, I doubted the likelihood of this prophecy. A growing mumbling of discontent climaxing in a group scowl and a collective and forceful decision to just go home, would have seemed the more likely outcome.

Nonetheless, touched by his eloquence and convinced by his logic, I decided to join the back of the queue. From here I witnessed several others wielding delegate passes trying to pull the same trick. Not precisely the same trick, some went for pleading, others for anger “Do you bloody well know who I am?!” sort of approach. Meanwhile, pretty girls drew up close to the doormen, whispering suggestively in their ears. I don’t know what they said but you can guess at the gist. Throughout the doormen remained implacable. They neither raised their voices nor did they ever succumb. With each failing quasi VIP my respect for them grew.

By the time I reached the front (the old fashioned way), the doormen were on great terms with the queue. Each person that left was immediately followed by a person from the queue being admitted, prompting cheers from those waiting. Many of those who entered, made sure to shake the doormen’s hand. This is how a one in-one out policy is meant to work.

I did in the end manage to catch the excellent latter half of Mikhael Paskalev set, but I would rather tell you about how I learnt to give doormen a break and why you should too.

This text was originally published in the print edition of By:larm News, 16/02/13.

The Perils of Giving Up Alcohol in Norway

Norway is not very difficult for English immigrants to adapt to. If an English person struggles to integrate here, then they should basically just accept that they should stay in the UK forever. If the culture shock were measured on the Richter Scale, then moving to Norway is roughly equivalent to an elephant fart. Everyone can speak your language, the weather is similar, and importantly the weekend drinking culture is more or less identical. Heck, Norway has even imported Saturday night Turkish kebab culture in the same way the UK has.

Drinking, like in the UK, is key to making friends in Norway. Yes you can go for coffee with someone, but unlike in America – or at least what I understand from watching Friends – nobody spends a serious amount of time in coffee shops in groups or even twos. It would be fundamentally weird for me to invite a new potential male friend to go for coffee or tea, even more so a Coca Cola. Let’s try to imagine it:

Me: Hey Stein (new potential friend) – lets grab some some soft drinks on Friday? Whaddya say?

Stein: Errr – (looks down) errrr (frowns) errr okay… there is my bus (Stein hurries off to the bus).

See, it wouldn’t work. That’s why there are no coffee shops open after 7pm. Meeting for coffee is a fundamentally short activity; it is universally accepted that you stay for just one coffee. The words “I’ll get the next one” or “one for the road” or “this is my round” could never be uttered in a coffee shop. While this provides a helpful time limit on the institution of meeting for coffee in the afternoon, it also ensures that one never cements a friendship over coffee. Maybe children make friends over several Sprites, but not civilised adults. At least in Norway and the UK, for that you have the pub.

The pub, a party, or a club – these are the fixed locations for friendship formation. A drink is essential. Socialising and drinking are so intertwined in British and Norwegian culture they are virtually inseparable. It is the only time you are likely to spend hours at one time talking to the same group of people. Remove the drink from the person and it doesn’t make sense anymore. The idea of sitting in a bar without a drink and talking to your friends is ludicrous. Hence why folk will nurse their drink for hours, or go home if they don’t have any more money for drinks. Somebody who doesn’t drink is viewed with suspicion and in some ways rightly so.

Getting to know someone properly involves getting to know what they are really like. If someone is sober and determined to stay that way, then it implies that they are hiding something. Perhaps they don’t want to drink because it will loosen their tongue and they will let say something racist or misogynistic, or kill a small animal for fun. Furthermore, drunkenness lets down your social guard, makes you more open, more forward and thus more capable of making a fundamental connection with whom you are talking to (provided of course they are equally drunk). It is commonly said in the UK that you never really know someone until you have been shitfaced together. If you can vomit on each other’s shoes then that helps too. I don’t consider this necessarily a problem, I consider it as just a feature of the culture. A culture I am comfortable, and happy to be a part.

Nonetheless, I have recently given up drinking for a while, for a number of reasons, none of which I will bore you with now. However, I will say that none of them come under any of the headings that people assume if you tell them you aren’t drinking: A. I am not an alcoholic, B. I am not driving, C. My liver is – to my knowledge –not about to explode, D. I am not pregnant.

It has however, presented me with considerable social difficulties that I have rarely seen discussed in print.

There are no good credible alternatives to drinking alcohol in bars. If you order an orange juice, you are making a statement. It’s like you are rubbing in everyone’s face that you are taking the healthy option and implicitly looking down your nose at everyone else who is drinking. If you drink fizzy drinks you give the impression of having the taste buds of a child, and people will sit waiting for you to offer around some Haribo. All of these things draw attention to your non-drinking behaviour.

Regardless of your reasons, non-drinking marks you out. It will be the focus of the conversation, people will congratulate your actions, declare that they wish they could do what you have done and then slowly edge away from you. I don’t blame them, non-drinkers are famously sanctimonious, remember everything you do (and love to remind you of it the next day), are often preachy about the virtues of not drinking, and are often very boring.

A good but imperfect way of getting around this is how you explain your non-drinking. Instead of saying “I have given up drinking” – which implies your virtue, state it in language that implies you are still on their side of the fence. “I am having a white month” – is something that every drinker has considered at some point. Not only does it not imply righteousness, but it implies that the month before was especially unrighteous. Drinkers can relate to the concept, the assumed motivation, and it therefore seems less sociopathic. Regardless though, both people are aware that over the course of the night the drinker will progressively be losing control while the sober person won’t. This is naturally unsettling.

Ideally one would like to avoid the conversation altogether. This is where non-alcoholic beer should be the answer. It would be easy at this point to criticise the taste, maybe compare it to ditchwater or bleach or something. But actually if I shut my eyes and concentrate I can just about get a placebo relaxation effect, similar to the effect that I get from drinking (although after about three or four beers your body realises it’s been tricked and starts to feel a bit sick and empty, like it is irritated at your deceit).

But that assumes that you can order an alcohol-free beer without your drinking friend noticing. Norway should be commended for making it a legal requirement for bars to serve non-alcoholic beer. However, if they want to help people avoid the social stigma of not drinking, they should ensure that it can be sold in the quantities of regular beer. The two main alcohol-free beers in Norway, Munkholm and Clausthauler, only come in pathetic snitt sized glasses. Automatically drawing attention to your drinking habits, trapping you in the same conversation outlined above. Moreover, in a weird financial kick in the face, despite the cheapness of alcohol-free beers in the supermarket and the massive taxes on actual alcohol, alcohol-free beers in a bar are actually more expensive per millilitre than real beer in Norway.

Even If you can get away with drinking non-alcoholic drinks without anyone noticing, then there remain ethical dilemmas. I recently went to a party and drank alcohol-free wine. Nobody noticed and I didn’t have to explain my drinking habits, moreover I met several new people who were drinking, whom I had long conversations with and who I will likely stay in touch with. However, I am pretty sure that these people assumed I was drinking like them. When in fact I was kind of deceiving them. Basically, I was a guy drinking fake wine, while everyone else got drunk around me. There is a word for that – creepy. If I were on a date, it would be kind of rapey.

Luckily, I am only giving up drinking temporarily. But my experience at the moment has opened my eyes to the social perils of alcohol-free life. I will probably still avoid non-drinkers if I can though.

Follow at your leisure on Twitter @beaumontpaul, for more occasional sober insights. 

Time to Solve Norway's Jellyfish Problem

In 2009 Matt Taibi in the wake of the financial crises undertook a memorablediatribe in Rolling Stone magazine, famously describing Goldman Sachs as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money”. The article is an entertaining yet depressing ode to the corrupt and destructive nature of unregulated international finance. However, while most of Europe is still suffering from the fallout of the latest global financial crises, Norway has largely remained aloof from the worst of it. Its citizens, protected from within by a tight social safety net woven with a compound of oil and social democratic principles, andfrom external forcesa by a sturdy safety cage of strict banking regulation, tariffs and only partial EU integration. As a result, the tentacles of international finance have so far (touch wood) been unable to reach far into Norwegian society or to inflict much harm on its populace. Nevertheless, while the vampire squid is largely kept at bay, there is one local sea creature of private industry that inexplicably is allowed to float around with impunity within the cage and through the safety net. From a distance it appears benign: all of Norway’s neighbours have similar and largely harmless members of the the same family, but a closer look reveals Norway’s strain has a much more vicious stingcapable of inflictingdisproportionate harm on the weakest members of Norwegian society. I am talking of course about the jellyfish of Norwegian dentists.

A Norwegian dentist in their natural habitat

As an Englishman who just got two root canals, in criticising the Norwegian dental system I realise I am setting myself up for a multitude of scorn and mockery. Well, I will save time and make a joke for you. If English people had to pay as much as Norwegian’s for their dental treatment, they would owe more to their dentist than to their mortgage provider. Ha ha! It is funny because English people have notoriously bad teeth and Norwegians pay extortionate fees for their dentists. I’m not talking 50% more expensive or even 500% we are talking sometimes more than 1000% more expensive. For example, a root canal in Norway costs roughly 5000 NOK in the UK its a mere 452NOK (at current rates). Meanwhile a check up in the UK costs 170 NOK in Norway its 800 NOK . The funny thing is, that English people, accustomed to entirely free health care actually complain about it being expensive.

This huge difference in price is largely accounted for by significant subsidies from the UK government. They have long considered, (logically in this authors opinion) that teeth are a vital part of public health and should therefore come under the umbrella of the National Health Service (NHS). Norwegians meanwhile, left at the mercy of an entirely private dental industry, bear the full cost of whatever work that is needed in adulthood.

I wouldn’t be particularly surprised in almost any other country, but Norway’s state provision and willingness to intervene in society is so wide ranging in every other area that appears like a black hole in the otherwise extremely detailed blueprint for the paternal state. Yes teeth, the white things you need to eat food, the stuff you need to stay breathing, are not considered part of healthcare.

This is, therefore, not about relative price comparison, but about an incongruous public policy. Norwegian wage levels are the highest in Europe and labour costs make up the majority of costs in dentistry - that Norway pays the most in absolute terms for their dentists is hardly surprising. What is surprising though, is that from 19 to old age typical Norwegian citizens have to pay the full cost of their dental work without any cap on the maximum or help from the state. I found this so difficult to believe that I emailed the relevant people and had it confirmed by a spokesperson from The Norwegian Health Economics Administration (HELFO) who I can (smugly) quote as replying to my email about the matter with “your observations are correct” (I should stress they were referring to the sentence before the last rather than the jellyfish metaphor).

It is not just the UKto which Norwegian dental provision compares poorly. Almost all of Western Europe covers a significant portion of their adult population’s dental health costs. Norway’s rivals and neighbours Sweden for instance pay 50% of their citizens bills after the first 3000 SEK and 85% after 7500SEK. They also provide 150 to 300 annual subsidy specifically for dentist workto encourage check ups. In Denmark, under 25s have to pay just 35% of their costs while over 25s pay 60% of their costs.

The pattern becomes even stranger when you take Norway's economy into account. In a study of 9 European countries’ dentist costs (including Denmark, Germany Netherlands, in 2008 found that there was a solid correlation between the amount of the government subsidy and the GDP per capita of the population (interestingly all had at least some government intervention, it was merely a question of degrees). A higher GDP per capita usually translated into a greater proportion of the dental costs being covered by the state. Considering this pattern, together with Norway’s wealth and famously comprehensive welfare provisions, Norway’s dental policy is beyond bizarre; it is negligent.

I only discovered all this recently when I began to suffer excruciating toothache and went to my local Norwegian dentist to get it looked at. I balked at the bill for the check up, but mostly at the astronomical quote for the work that needed to be done. Knowing that I could pop back to England and get it done for one tenth of the cost I reasoned I shouldn’t complain too much. Besides, as a non Norwegian citizen already lucky enough to have my masters degree subsidised by the Norwegian people it would be a bit unreasonable to expect them to do the same for my teeth. It was only when I mentioned it to some friends that I found out that Norwegian adult citizens, save the unemployed, have to pay the same as me for dental work that I became shocked. And so were my Norwegian friends when I told them the cost in the UK. They had obviously assumed they had the best or at least parity with the rest of the world on welfare public provision. To save time I will paraphrase the conversations that followed.

No! British dentists don’t use a hammer and pick axe or any violently unsuitable household tool (ha ha), the bad teeth thing is (these days) largely a myth but if it does exist its nothing to do with dentists lack of training but a poverty related habit thing so making jokes about it is essentially just the same as laughing at poor people. And yes that’s very good, under 18 Nordmenn might get free dental treatment but so does almost every under 18 in almost any semi developed country, it’s hardly something for the world’s second richest country to crow about. Seriously? Do you really think that if you didn’t have to pay for the dentist you would stop brushing your teeth?

Anyway, with my interest piqued I asked all the Norwegian’s I know about their lack of public provision for dental work. There was almost complete consensus that it was both strange and unpopular. Amongst the 20 somethings in the bar where I work, hardly any had gone for a check up since they were 18 (and the end of free treatment). Meanwhile, the businessmen I teach English, mostly in their 40s an 50s all agreed that it was absurd and began exchanging stories about how they travel abroad if they need any work done. When you have a substantial number of citizens going abroad for treatment, even rich ones, it would appear to be symptomatic of a failing system. What’s interesting is that even parties normally opposed to government intervention in the market favour inclusion of dental cover in state health care. I spoke recently with a friend who is on the Liberal party policy board about the issue. She told me that it had been on the agenda for the manifesto this year but after discussion they concluded that it was too costly. This would suggest there is a consensus of left and right in Norway and the only obstacle is economic rather than ideological.

A sensible policy could be to start incrementally with affordable practical measures targeting those the current system leaves most vulnerable. There would seem to be sense in the Danish system of helping out young adults and the Swedish idea of annual voucher system to encourage check ups. Why not provide subsidised or even mandatory annual check ups to Norwegian citizens under 30 for example? To this section of society, squeezed by high rents and lower wages, the 800NOK cost of a health check up is unlikely to ever feel affordable or necessary. Yet the costs of waiting until they get a toothache, are much more severe. One feature of dental problems are that they are eminently preventable and certainly cheaper to treat if caught early enough. This is a classic example of how average an citizen often does not necessarily behave in a rational way. Instead, short term cost aversion overrides long term common sense as my colleagues at my bar would appear to demonstrate. Equally, there seems to be wisdom in the Swedish system; incrementally reducing the percentage paid by the citizen as the cost escalates. This would avoid bankrupting any poor fellow who has the misfortune to require two root canals while working in a low paid job. This situation highlights obvious regressive nature of dental fees. They are only a really a significant worry for the low paid workers but merely an irritant for the rich. Given the progressive nature of the rest of Norwegian society this facet of the problem makes it yet more bewildering that it hasn’t already been addressed.

My HELFO contact explained that the "why" question is “a political one” they could not answer. They suggested that “the ministry of health would be the correct address for this question”. Currently, different costing models for a government scheme for dental cover are under review, but this embarrassing jellyfish problem has been on the agenda for a long time now without any change in policy. Endless talking has produced nothing but hot air. If you agree it’s time to take the sting out of Norwegian dental costs, then help it happen, and send a tweet to the to the ministry of health @helse_og_omsorg and give them a a little kick in the right direction.

For more quasi political humour and comment you can follow me on twitter here

Norway`s New Little Enemy

Norwaydoesn'thave many traditional geo-political enemies.Yesthey managed to rupture relations with China, ironicallythrough the awarding of a peace prize but China lives miles away and has probably forgotten by now. Meanwhile, relations are even pretty good with their former overlord Sweden; the only war they have fought lately is with petty jokes and the occasional xenophobic pop song. Equally, while it is true that Norway sends battalions of 18 year olds to pace along the the Russian border building snow forts - that the MoD declares each year that Russia remain the biggest external threat to Norway`s national security is more just a habit and testament to the absence of any genuine enemy.

But that has all changed. The peace has been broken. Turns out Norway has an enemy and they go by the name “John”. Read the 7 separate comments left on my blog between 4am and 5am last week if you don't believe me. I think he may have been stung by a Norwegian as a child or something:

"Yeah. Can't wait to see this naive utopia fail when oil is eventually finished. 'Hard working people', 'best in the world', etc., will be replaced with what they did about 150 years ago -- fleeing their beloved country like rats a sinking ship."

"In Norway...

The problem is, people often don't give a damn. You just fucking don't care about each other."*

[In reply to a Norwegian saying that they don`t hate whales] "Oh yeah. And we don't hate foreigners, we just fuck them."

"Yes. In summary, Norway simply sucks socially. You like social life, you have a no-go to Norway."

"As to the last point, Norwegians are so hooked up on their homeland being the best place on earth, no wonder they'd kill themselves more often if living anywhere else. Norway is about the only place for a Norwegian to live."

"The fact that the day is so long in the summer does not mean it's light. The light is still poor, only for more hours."

[when the cold starts to sink into your bones] "... and that's the ultimate disaster. You become a true Norwegian. Puke."

This is not Norway`s nemesis "John" but Max Fisher from Rushmore. I just think this is a suitable picture.

Scary stuff indeed. I wonder what grievances John is harbouring that make him feel this way? (If you have a theory post a comment). Perhaps weshould call ina neutral third party (Maybe Canada), get in UN peace keepers whack on Enya and see if we can’t work this out amicably.

Norway's Native English Speaking Man Surplus

"Why are their no beautiful girls in England?Because the Vikings came and took them all away...."

The inside of a pub toilet door 2005

Since moving to Norway 6 months ago, I’ve noticed a number of puzzling phenomena that

perplex. For example, in spite of having generally quite reasonable fashion sense Norwegiansseem to have a blind spot with regard to lycra. Instead of restricting the body huggingfabric to the gym and sports it seems lycra is acceptable casualwear for almost anysocial occasion. This translates into a reality when at any given moment a large percentageof Norwegians in a restaurant or cinema, will look ready for slalom from the waist down. Meanwhile, knekkebroed,a type of cardboard masquerading as a cracker that Norwegians eat for breakfast, lunch

and Kveldsmatt (supper), has mass popularity that cannot be explained by any logic grounded inthe human senses.

But these are small potatoes, there is one phenomenon that is of particular interest, not least because it involves me directly. That is, the native English speaking male(or NESM) surplus that I perceive to be present in Norway. I say I perceive because I base this on absolutely no official statistic but rather my own extremely limited experience that there seems to be a significant number of men who moved to Norway to be with their Norwegian girlfriend, but hardly any Native English Speaker Females (NESF) who moved here to be with their Norwegian boyfriend. I have met exactly none, and a quick poll of my Norwegian friends revealed the same. This apparent imbalance is especially concerning to me because of those English speaking friends, all are now single. Upon explaining to them why I came to Norway (for study and for my Norwegian GF) they all gave the same rueful, patronising “just you wait, you are fresh off the boat” smirk that suggests to me that NESMS surplus has a sad subplot, namely that the relationships that bring NESM here never work out. This article seeks to offer a hypothesis on why so many men and not women move to Norway for their Kjaereste.
After putting the question to my friends, colleagues and classmates a number of possible explanations were proffered (all agreed that there was an NESM surplus) . NESM’s themselves generally suggested that it was because “Scandinavian women love British men and Scandinavian women are hot” meanwhile Norwegian men suggested it was because British women were “fucking disgusting”. I couldn’t find a NESF to ask (you see!) but a few Norwegian females suggested that Norwegian men “Just like to fuck around”. While obviously these views were biased, based on lazy stereotyping and in the case of British women downright offensive that did not necessarily mean that they were wrong. In fact while each different, these explanations could be mutually complimentary.
After a little bit of research (5minutes on Google ) I came across an article in the Guardian about beautifulpeople.com; a dating website for the beautiful dickheads in the world who are sick of having to filter through ugly people on regular dating websites. Beautifulpeople.com only allow you on the site if you are judged attractive enough by the existing members, based on photographs potential members submit to the site. The results were revealing, 76% of Norwegian females were accepted, the highest in the world, while just 15% of British females were deemed suitably beautiful. If anywhere close to correct then this could be potentially enlightening regarding the NESM surplus in Norway. Graphically it might look something like below

I would like to say these graphs were hastily mocked up in a mattter of minutes like they appear to be but the sad truth is these crappy graphs took me bloody ages

Actually this graph is wrong, it should say 85% "less so"

Were this correct, what would be the possible effects? First, a scarcity of beautiful women in a given country would likely cause fierce competition among men for their love, time and vaginas, forcing them to develop extra skills or talents used to win and woo the domestic girls’ hearts.
These skills, in Australia for example, might take the form of big muscles to show that you can hunt, gather and defend said women, or in more developed countries; social skills like charm and wit to entertain her. Consequently if a man is fortunate enough to win the heart of an attractive girl in the UK he is likely to be delighted and try to hang on to her for as long as possible, for the opportunity cost of losing her is high – he will likely have to wait a long time or possibly eternity until he gains a similarly hot girl.
The inverse is true in Norway. The Norwegian man has an abundance of beautiful women to choose from; apparently more than any other country. As a consequence the Norwegian male is complacent and lazy, he has no need to develop courtship skills nor to worry much about suffering a hot woman drought between relationships. He knows that if he dumps or is dumped by one aesthetically excellent female, the opportunity cost is negligible as another will (quite literally) be waiting around the corner.
On the other side of the coin, because they are so rare and sought after, the few beautiful British women gets fussy and big headed, they expect more and more from their male suitors and take for advantage of their privileged position. These girls are generally high maintenance, annoying and frankly too much effort to bother dating, let alone invite back home for the Norwegian male.
Meanwhile, back in Norway the beautiful Norwegian woman, ignorant of her beauty and used to being messed around by complacent Norwegian men, is particularly susceptible to the charms of NESPs and their willingness to commit to serious relationships and even emigrate to be with them. This willingness to emigrate is one of the solutions available to the British man tired of their country’s attractiveness deficit, the other of course is to significantly lower their standards.
This hypothesis explains the NESM Surplus as a function of the relative aesthetics of Norwegian and British women and its subsequent effect upon male and female behaviour, tastes and skillsets. This pattern I think is increased by other factors, namely ease of communication (norwegian’s speak excellent English so its natural that they’d look to English speakers first) and proximity; the UK after all is just one 20euro Ryanair “flight” away. I’m not saying that my hypothesis is correct or even close to the truth, its merely speculation that on the surface at least seems potentially compelling.I would like to say at this point that I am open to a number of critiques, most obviously that of statistical rigour; study based on statistics taken from beautifulpeople.com and with observations on a sample the size of your exended friendship group is unlikely to win any awards for reliability. However, there is one obvious criticism I would like to pre-empt and refute now , the accusation of misogyny: WHAT ABOUT MALE ATTRACTIVENESS!!
The women shout. Surely that matters right? Well ladies I have deliberately neglected male physical appearance due to the 3million times per minute variations on the following theme is claimed by womankind around the world: Looks aren’t important for me – its personality that counts
Given that only 12% of men from the UK made the beautifulpeople.com cut and their inflated presence in Norway, I guess that in the case of the Norwegian woman, it may well be true.

Waging a War on CVs (and Losing)

So a few months back, when I was unemployed and looking for work around Oslo, I thought I'd try what I thought was a clever and novel approach to job hunting. Abandoning the half lies, deception and the general bullshit that stank up my regular CV ("hardworking, innovative and passionate"? ought really to read "lazy, clumsy and absolutely never on time") I thought I'd write a very different, more honest CV. Anyway, it didn't work, nobody offered me a job, but as I have just discovered my novel and I realise now very stupid CV did turn up Facebook:

It didn't get me a job but did get 32 Facebook "likes". Great because Facebook likes can pay the rent.

The small print

I should probably mention that the fellow who posted charitably emailed me privately and offer to help me find a job - possibly starting with how to write a CV- but it got lost in my junk mail and by the time I found it I had already fooled someone else into employing me (not with that CV).

Oslo Syndrome and the Snus Ruse

No one ever wants to admit to knowing and being friends with someone who has earnestly read The Game. Specifically someone who loiters around pedestrianised areas in the afternoon pestering women with stories they learnt from a middle aged Australian in a suit jacket and jeans combo. Sometimes I even wonder if the pick up “artist” industry is just an elaborate joke only existing in the semi-mythical world (America) for amusement purposes alone (Two of my favouite examples are Big Bang Theory’s and Paul Rudd’s but often the funniest are just real ). However, every now and then a friend of mine confesses to having read the Game and to have used its “tricks”. This has led on one occasion to the alarming realisation that friends of mine have spent entire Friday nights pretending to have a heated discussion about the number of continents in the world - purely as a ruse to start talking to women.

Now two other English friends of mine have developed a ruse specific to Norway. I have seen it in action and it is indeed depressingly effective. It goes a little something like this:

Our Englishman (lets call him Bean) sights a Norwegian woman, or in pickup artist language a “target”. The target, tall handsome, half sat on her bar stool cradling an Iphone, looks happy and relaxed. Nonchalantly, she pops a snuson her gums to give herself the appearance of one who has just walked into a door. Spotting his opportunity Bean approaches with exaggerated caution andin his best Hugh Grant stutter-drawl begins: “Excuse me, I couldn’t help but notice that spherical little box you have there, I keep seeing it everywhere and I was just wondering what it was”.

The Norwegian woman, after the initial shock that a stranger is talking to her, warms once she has grasped the question: “oh oh this, ha yes it is snus you don’t know?”

Bean: What is this... Snooz you talk of?

NW: ha ha its Snus silly

Bean: Ha ha, Snuss,

NW: Snus

Bean: Snus Snus snus, okay I got it, but what is it..

NW: Its tobacco you put on gums like this - want to try it...?

Bean: Yes okay (puts pouch on gum)... ooooh it feels … strange... tingly...

Okay you get the idea, now imagine going through these motions again and again every time you want to talk to a Norwegian girl. Eventually it must begin to wear away at your soul. Certainly it did my friends', and on the 4th day of their trip to Oslo they modified the ruse; they approached girls by telling them about the ruse. Which as a ruse I think, is both better and more ethical.

Sadly or happily, depending on your take, my friends initial breakthroughs were continually undermined by their bad cases of Oslo Sclerosis. For those that haven’t heard of it, this illness only affects non-norwegian visitors to Norway rendering them socially incapacitated. Striking instantly upon arrival the illness is characterised by an inability to stop complaining about how expensive everything is. Lasting days, weeks or even sometimes months, its victims are often reduced to conversation comprised almost entirely of squeaks, obscenities and numbers. Whole days can be spent window pricing, that is looking at the price things purely for entertainment, like an economic wonder of the world.

“Look look look - Lynx deodarant is 60kr, thats like like like, 7.50!!

Oslo sclerosis is at its most vicious in bars and pubs. A newcomer to Norway is physically unable to buy a beer from a bar without expressing shock, anger or dismay at the bill. They will also have an uncontrollable urge to tell whoever will listen about the price of stuff in Oslo. This conversationally is like going to England and describing the rain to everyone you see and why you don’t like it. It is also something that every Norwegian who has ever spoken to a foreigner before will be intimately familiar with. They may smile, nod and agree with you but what they want to say is:

“Yeah stuff here costs more than elsewhere, but please - shut the fuck up about it!”

And so it transpired with my friends; the Snus ruse broke the ice but Oslo Sclerosis froze back it again. They went home alone on each night of their stay.

Why the fuck did you move to Norway?

Why did you come to Norway?
Is asked again and again every time I encounter any Norwegian for the first time. An understandable question (If a little tedious to answer repeatedly) and a natural choice to begin conversation with someone who you discover is non Norwegian. The trouble is that it is always asked with a confused uncomprehending frown; like a cat trying to do algebra. This expression gives away the real question which is “Why the fuckdid you come to Norway?! - are you insane or just merely stupid?” The implication being that Norway is a strange country to choose for an English person migrate to.

Equally, whenever I am in England and explain to people that I’ve moved to Norway I get the same thing, except they quite often do actually say “Why the fuck did you move to Norway?”. This question never arose, or at least not with the same incomprehension when I moved to Argentina and Japan, the reasons for moving there are apparently self evident. The question I got was more along the lines, “Wow - what are you doing over there?” implying a kind jealousy. Nobody ever expresses the slightest jealousy when I say I live in Norway.

Now, the Norwegian confusion could be ascribed to false modesty, or in the English case could be a result undue arrogance. While there might be a certain amount of truth in both explanations, I think a large part of it can be explained by sheer ignorance on both sides about the reality of life in Norway compared to England. This is essentially a public relations issue. For the rest of the world Norway is just a very cold and expensive country with a weird hatred of whalesand to a certain extent Norwegians believe that themselves This article will attempt to debunk some of the myths that perpetuate this popular misconception.

Weather suicide myth: Norway is a such freezing dark country where everyone is so miserable that they spend most of their time silently plotting how to kill themselves often with great success.

I have heard this myth of suicide rate from both Norwegians and English stated as fact. The truth is that it originally stems from American propaganda aimed against “Socialist Sweden” in 1960, when President Dwight Eisenhower gave a speech on why the US shouldn’t develop a welfare state. The reasoning being that they would end up like Sweden where “following a socialistic philosophy...their rate of suicide has gone up almost unbelievably... and is now second in the world”.

Initially Norway’s reaction was one of amusement (at their neighbours expense), but over time this propaganda got repeated and eventually reified into accepted truth and because much of the world thinks that Norway is a county in Sweden, this myth of Sweden’s high suicide rate became Norway’s (and Finland's and Iceland’s). The reality today, and pretty much for as long as records have been kept, Scandinavian countries’ suicide rates have been distinctly average (Sweden’s was high in the 1950’s if only because they had the bureaucratic and secular will to acknowledge and count it). Today for example none are in the top 20 and Norway sits at 34th, a full 13 places below sunny utopian France. With their wine, food and incredible sense of superiority this doesn’t make any sense if you buy the weather suicide unhappiness theory. In fact, the opposite is true, Norway is actually ranked 3rd in the world (just behind the Finns and the Danes) in terms of peoples perception of their own happiness.

Yes it gets cold and dark here, but if you have the correct clothes then its fine, its not like people in countries with mild winters of 5 or 10 degrees spend their spare time outside picnicking. They spend it inside as well. As for the light thing, lightbulbs are pretty universal in Norway these days so its largely irrelevant unless you buy into quasi-science arguments about the psychological need for natural light. Also, living in a generally warmer country doesn’t even mean that people get to wear summer clothes for longer. People who live in warm countries become wimpy; the slightest chill brings out thick winter clothes and complaints that its “freezing”. Furthermore people in these countries don’t like the hot weather much better either, complaining that its too hot to even work - hence the institution of the Siesta which sounds great from afar but in reality it just means its considered so hot that its unbearable to do anything except sleep in the shade. Basically, it doesn’t matter what your climate actually is, nobody is ever happy.

Norway’s freezing winter brings with it some objective advantages. Namely - regular snow. With snow comes snowmen, snowball fighting and all manner of enjoyable winter pursuits (skiing, skating etc). However, in the UK the temperature generally floats around zero, not cold enough for proper snow, merely extremely cold rain. There is no outside activity that is improved by rain. This means we suck at the winter Olympics (albeit in quite an amusing way) and at the summer Olympics. Also, because Norway is always extremely cold in the winter they have developed the necessary capabilities to deal with it (house insulation and heating, measures to counteract snow) When it does occasionally snow properly, it is so unusual that England ceases to function.

Myth 2: Norwegians are “cold”

Not literally cold, although I would suggest that the reason why this expression is so often used is subconsciously because of the temperature. This is not so much of a misconception that British people have about Norwegians (we don’t really have a stereotype of Norwegians except as whale hating suicide candidates) as much as Norwegians have about themselves. But as a British person, who suffers from the same stereotyping I have developed a hypothesis as to why this belief is so prevalent. Having been an English teacher of foreigners for 5 years before coming to Norway I have lived in three different continents and taught hundreds of people from across 5 continents and I noticed that it was specifically people from “latin” countries that seemed to be most vocal about this stereotype. The reason being, I suggest, is merely to do with the clashing social conventions of greeting. In countries where people routinely kiss on the cheek to greet each other, to celebrate saying goodbye, goodmorning and the opening of a biscuit tin, not doing so suggests unfriendliness. However this is just shallow social formalities. It isn’t a genuinely good representation of the friendliness of a person, or more importantly, how likely it is that they will become your good friend.

It is difficult to make good friends in any new country you go to and having lived in Japan, Poland, Czech Republic, Scotland and Argentina I am better placed than most to say that Norwegians are not noticeably more or less (genuinely) friendly in general than anywhere else. However would argue that it is actually easier in Norway as a foreigner and specifically an English speaker than most places due to multi generational and unrivalled bilingual nature of the Norway’s inhabitants that allows genuine conversation with locals even if you can’t speak Norwegian.

Myth: Its so expensive!

One gets the impression when talking to a Norwegian, that when they go on holiday to the rest of the world and discover that things cost less, that they believe it is part of some global conspiracy against them, possibly carried out by Russia. This is not the case. Expensiveness only makes sense when measured against income. The GDP of Norway is 56,000$ per capita,3rd in the world and 5 times the median and nearly double that of the UK. That wouldn’t matter if it was unevenly distributed, but Norway is the 5th most egalitarian country in the world according to the world bank. For example, a good measure of the expensiveness of a country is food which represents just 11% of average household expenditure in Norway. This is the second lowest in Europe (again losing out marginally to the Danes). In real terms that means that anyone with a job, no matter how unskilled, can live quite comfortably. I work part time as a dish washer and earn almost 3 times as much as a similar job would pay in the UK (150kr/18 an hour compared to roughly 50kr or 6 in the UK). Even when you take into account alcohol, prices are not 3x or even 2x as much in Norway than in the UK. When you consider the average level of pay, the lowest level of pay and the living standard that it affords, Norway is an exceptional place to live as a foreigner.

The difference for students is even more pronounced. The modern English bachelor student has to pay around 9,000pounds (82,000kr) in fees alone per year to go to university in England (even a rubbish university), in Norway it is 350kr. And you can study in English. There is no other country I know of that provides such high quality education to foreigners in the none native language in the world. (If Norway marketed itself more effectively, they could suck the brightest and best students from the UK and America, improve their universities reputation and force the UK and US to rethink their education policies for the benefit of the people in all the countries concerned.)

Thus, Norway is only expensive for tourists. Inversely, those that work in Norway get to go on holiday and literally EVERYWHERE is cheaper and therefore it makes holidays and holidaying comparatively more pleasant. In contrast, everyone else in the world thinks Norway is extortionate. This is kind of funny and it keeps tourists away. You might think that you want tourists, but its not true. Being cheap for tourists induces other countries to use you like brothel come booze cruise. Ask any Eastern European country what they think about tourism and you’ll understand. Even if you don’t get prostitution you’ll get tourist shops selling exclusively reindeer jumpers, I love OSLO snowdomes and your national dress but made out of polyester. This will ruin your town centre. Tourists also move incredibly slowly, so slowly in fact that in London they tried to introduce a “tourist lane” along Oxford Street so that locals could avoid the dawdling Japanese and Italian hordes.

The funny thing is that Norway has quite a lot of tourist in spite of the expense, but geniously put them on boats and send them off to look at the fjords. This is the best tourist industry imaginable - you get their money but you never have to give them directions.

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It is not a strange decision to move to Norway from England but perhaps one of the most logical choices of destination of all the world. If the rest of the world knew what Norway was really like then they would realise that the question that should be asked is

Why doesn’t everyone move to Norway?

Note:I still have no idea why Norwegians hate whales so much.

Follow me on twitter at your leisure @beaumontpaulfor a little more quasi-political-humour and opinion.

This article has been translated into Norwegian and published in Aftenposten under the new title "Tre Myter om Norge"