Hats off to my husband, he found our home in Oslo in a very high demand rental market. His family was arriving in 2 weeks and his wife was allegedly screaming down the phone at him from London that we were homeless with 2 kids in 2 weeks. It was one of those, please sort it out promptly kind of situations. He did.
We live in a suburb to the south-east of Oslo. Like all capital cities, Oslo has its rich and poor sides. With a very broad brush, the rich live on the west side and the not so rich live on the east side. It’s an interesting community here. On our street, it is perhaps 80% non-ethnic Norwegian. In essence, there are many immigrants, or “blow-ins” as we say affectionately in Ireland about anyone whose relatives only arrived in the place within the last 150 years. It takes a long time to go native where I come from.
Here on our street, it’s a microcosm of the world. There are people from Norway, Turkey, Pakistan, Poland, Vietnam, Albania, Bangladesh, Russia, Germany, Ireland – we are all here. And the funny thing is that it all feels very Norwegian.
Our street is pedestrianised with only vital traffic allowed in. Kids cycle and play freely on the street. Kids are the centre of everything in Norway and they come at the top of the pecking order when it comes to services, play, neighbourhood childcare and schools. There are playgrounds everywhere. And at some point in the next 20 years, Norway will surely win the football world cup because there are kids kicking ball everywhere. Usually on football pitches because there are loads of them.
It is also expected that you take pride in your environment here and take civic duty seriously. A great Norwegian tradition is “dugnad” which is neighbourhood spring clean day. This is one Spring day every year when you voluntarily get off your behind and work with your neighbours to paint fences and sweep streets and cut trees to make the neighbourhood look nice. So I wondered how it would work in a community like this where most adults had learned their sense of social responsibility somewhere else on the planet. Surely most people will show active disinterest on this one.
But they don’t and it does work. Dugnad day is a flourish of local industriousness. There was a guy with a ladder and a chainsaw this year who managed to sculpt all trees along the road. Hard and high work for the good of the people. For my part, I did some fence and a bit of inadvertent tall grass painting. My husband and kids were out pulling weeds and street sweeping. Get them young, the kids have got to be involved in this, how else does the tradition hold.
And as far as I can see, there are two main reasons for people getting involved, regardless of their cultural background. Peer pressure and giving you no excuse not to. The shovels, the wheelbarrows, the brushes, the paint are all provided and laid out on the day. The cost is covered by an annual fee levied on each household. It works. Even drinks and pastries are often laid on.
The other adult in this household was raised in communist East Germany and has little tolerance for state or any other external interference in day-to-day lives. But even he agrees that it works here. Norwegians do not have an in-your-face manner. I don’t think you will ever have someone knocking on your door here saying, where were you, why didn’t you do your bit. We are all responsible for our own actions. You give, you get. You don’t give, you may or may not get when it comes to that good feeling you have when you help out. It’s all wonderfully simple.