Only Planet

One Child, One Year, One Planet. A family of three traveling around the world...

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Friday, May 19, 2006

Kristiansand Norway: On top of the world, living at the top

It must be hard for Norway to avoid feeling a bit smug, seeing as how it’s constantly ranked in the top three by the United Nations as the country with the combination of best life expectancy, education levels and income. Our expectations were high for this small country of 4.5 million people, where there is a 100% literacy rate, all Norwegians learn English, and your average taxi ride for six blocks costs US$12.

We came to Norway because a friend we met in Portland, Norunn, lives here with her daughter Victoria, and she extended an open invitation to visit her in Kristiansand.

Dylan and Victoria were in a playgroup together when they were a year old, and other than a short visit a few years ago we hadn’t seen or talked with Norunn until this spring, when we were making our plans to travel around Europe.

She was a great host to us, ensuring that we got a full dose of Norwegian culture, sights, and especially food while we were here.

Norunn encouraged us to come for Sytten Mai (17th of May), the national constitution day holiday, where the children take to the streets in the national costume, waving flags and singing songs. Interestingly, this is the only national day we’ve heard of which is not marked by military pomp and circumstance, guns, or veterans of wars. It was impressive to experience such a fun celebration of national pride.

Indeed the most energetic displays of Norwegian craziness were by the high school seniors called russ, who wear red overalls to identify them as the trouble makers they are, yelling in the streets, blowing whistles, spraying silly string, and throwing out their name cards to people along the street. But even they are not a permanent fixture, for once Sytten Mai is over, they hang up their pants and resume the orderly Norwegian life expected of them.

Some critics say that it’s social engineering that has brought about the high standard of living. Mothers receive a nine-week mandatory paid maternity leave; the payment schemes for job severance, child care and all the cradle-to-grave services boggle the mind; and the expenses for such an affluent country are truly stroke-inducing for those of us from countries where you can pick up a flat of food at Costco for less than a couple of bags of pasta here. Although we could get used to the fantastic scenery, the rocky granite coastlines and the clean orderliness of Norwegian cities, we have problems accepting the fact of a US$26 hamburger and fries, or a US$10 salad at McDonalds.

After learning that Norway is at the top of the livable countries list, we checked out the UN web site and discovered that we’d visited countries at both ends of the rankings. And that is one of the most incredible things about this trip: seeing the great range of what we can do as humans.


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