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  • Maggie Wallem Rowe

The 10 Most Surprising Facts About Norway

"The Seven Sisters" just south of the Arctic Circle (Photo Credit Michael Rowe)

Men pushing prams? Goats on the roof? Police who do not carry firearms?

We are in our final week of volunteer service here in Norway. One week from tomorrow we’ll be on flights to Amsterdam and then Chicago, where we’ll greet our son, pick up our cats, and drive home to North Carolina in time to welcome weekend guests.

It's been wonderful having you along on the journey!

But before we go, I know many of you have an avid interest in travel and learning about other cultures. I'm certainly no expert, having lived in Norway for only six months spread between two extended visits in the past two and a half years, but here are ten things that have surprised – and delighted – me about my ancestral homeland.

1. Men with baby carriages

If Scotland is known for men wearing kilts, perhaps Norway is equally noted for men pushing prams! It’s very common to see young fathers walking, hiking, or biking with little ones in tow.

Norwegian dad biking with his kids: Michael Rowe photo

Norway is noted for its egalitarian culture and certain family-friendly social benefits like the one-year fully paid parental leave policy: 49 weeks (15 weeks reserved for each parent) with 100% coverage or 59 weeks (19 weeks for each parent) with 80% coverage.

Most Norwegians are also entitled to five weeks of paid vacation plus holidays. The standard workweek is 37.5 hours. Norwegian parents receive subsidies to assist with childcare and preschool expenses (barnehage). If they choose to keep the children at home instead, they still receive the assistance. (As one mom told us, "The subsidy goes with the child, not the school.")

2. Low crime rate

My cousin Jostein, a recently retired Stavanger police detective, told us that Norway believes crime will be reduced if children bond with their fathers early in life as well as their mothers. Makes sense to me, and the extremely low crime rate here seems to bear that out.

Norway is ranked as one of the safest countries in the world and has seen a significant decline in crime in recent years, with fewer than 30 murders annually in this country of five million people. Gun laws are strictly regulated.

One of our most memorable conversations was with our Airbnb host in Ulvick, who said he had trained as a police officer but became a teacher after they closed the local police station. “No crime to speak of here in the last 30 years,” he said cheerfully. (And no, members of the local politi do not carry guns.)

3. Safe Roads

We've traveled thousands of kilometers during our two lengthy stays but have only seen one minor car accident. Curious, I did a bit of research and discovered that Norway’s roads are considered among the safest in the world, with fewer than 100 fatalities nationwide each year.

The Nordic temperament doesn’t lend itself to road rage, and speed limits on highways , which often curve through tunnels and around fjords, are also strictly regulated. Being 0.02 percent over the blood alcohol limit in Norway will earn you a fine of nearly $6,000.

4. Concern for the environment

Norway is very aware that its greatest asset is the extraordinary beauty of its natural resources, and one of its greatest threats is the effect on the environment of the fossil fuels that have brought the nation tremendous prosperity in the past fifty years. Even an inexperienced eye can see that the glaciers are melting due to global warming.

One of Norway's most iconic sites: Priekestolen, or"Pulpit Rock." (That's the kids and I waving our trekking poles!) Michael Rowe photo

After oil was discovered in the North Sea in 1969, Norway’s leaders across political and economic lines established a “Sovereign Wealth” fund to benefit its citizens that now shows a surplus of $1.5 trillion USD.

Among the many measures taken to protect the environment are tariffs favorable to electric cars, designated paved pathways for bikes and pedestrians, and comprehensive recycling strategies. Mike and I use three different trash receptacles each week for organic matter, paper and cardboard, and regular waste. All soda bottles and cans are returned to the local grocer for a cash refund.

5. It’s Not About Me

Perhaps most fascinating of all is a long-standing, informally understood Nordic social code called Janteloven.

“Janteloven (the law of Jante) at its simplest describes the way that… Norwegians (and in fact, other Scandinavians too) behave: putting society ahead of the individual, not boasting about individual accomplishments, and not being jealous of others.” -

At the women’s retreat I attended in March, our speaker addressed the topic of spiritual gifts by stating, only half-joking, that it would be hard for “us Norwegians” to even admit we have gifts, because that seems to set us above others.

“To acknowledge our giftedness seems to violate the ‘law’ of Jante,” she said with a smile. “We never want to think we are better than anyone else.”

An extended family gathered to celebrate their teenage daughter's confirmation (Maggie Rowe photo)

Young Norwegians will point out that this unspoken social norm has a downside as well, as it can lead to low self-esteem and lack of entrepreneurship. It certainly explains a great deal about the Norwegian-American culture in which I was raised, though, in which bragging or self-promotion of any kind was simply not done.

It also offers insight into why a sort of “honor code” is still operative today in Norway. Norwegians are in large part honest, courteous, and welcoming to strangers. They understand the importance of putting the welfare of others ahead of their own.

Next week I’ll share the final five things that have surprised me most about living in Norway: Fritluftsliv, “Christian” holidays, democracy, health care, and the biggest day of them all: Constitution Day (Syttende mai) celebrated on May 17. We'll be all gussied up for the parades in traditional dress!

Hiking and a love for the outdoors is in Norwegians' DNA (Mike Rowe photo)


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