January 25, 2018: Observations on Norway

We are mostly settling into daily life here, but each day still has extra tasks. Maybe that’s true of every week, but once you are settled into a place you can forget about things like taxes for most of the year, or address changes for several years. One interesting thing about going to a new place is getting a feel for how the system really works, and telling Norwegians about it reminds them that it is all a part of their life too, they are just not thinking about it or dealing with it on a regular basis. I’m sure any immigrant to America has as many hoops to hop through and confusing bureaucracies too.

We thought we had everything administrative done, but noticed that we were not getting mail. We got our residency cards via mail, but that’s all, and I thought we would be getting a few more confirmation documents. This is a society that runs on having the right numbers. To use an app that the kids’ school uses for communicating with parents and teachers, we need to sign in with either a MiniID or a BankID system. You can get the secure pin codes that are assigned only to you, but you must order them through a website or by getting a bank account. I tried to order codes through the website, but nothing came. We went to the bank to sign up for an account, but they wanted a confirmation letter that had not arrived in order to verify our identity and address. Basically, without this letter confirming the address that is associated with our person numbers (like a social security number), we were stuck on getting these other special numbers that would unlock the school app and bank account, the next necessary tools of daily life.

So I went to the post office. Speaking only in Norwegian and using the post office address app, we verified that the address we had for our apartment was a mish-mash of our real address and the address to a different location nearby. The postal employee was as confused as I was. Then I realized way to get the answer: ask the neighbors. They said that the zip code for our address had been changed fairly recently, and we were using the old zip code. Now we had a correct address, how to fix it with the powers-that-be?

Ted tried going to the tax office one day but the person helping him seemed to be no help. He filled out a form that she said she wouldn’t file yet, for some reason. We went back together the next day and had a more helpful person, but not a helpful answer: because we are only here for 6 months, they will not update the address that is associated with our person numbers, so we will not be getting that confirmation letter that we need. However, they did change our postal address in another database and we did an address form with the post office. He said that shouldn’t be necessary to get that confirmation letter for the bank account because the banks make their own rules and we should be able to prove who we are and where we live without the official letter. Sure enough, the bank took the documentation that we had and is finishing the bank account process. But it will take 2 more weeks at least! They have to send us account agreement documents, which we will sign and send back, then they will send us cards and codes in the mail. Holy moly! Fingers crossed that the mail will come before we have to depart the country.

This picture is proof that you spent the day with Norwegian administrative tasks. This is a culture that requires you to take a number and wait patiently. In many ways, the keys to this society depend on having the right number on a piece of paper. The maker of these machines must be a millionaire. Three stories:

  • Ted and I were meeting at the tax office to deal with getting our correct address in the system. I was there first so I took a number. Suddenly the numbers are moving fast, approaching mine, Ted is on his way but not there yet! My number comes up–but no Ted! What do I do? I don’t want to take another number! I made my way very slowly toward the counter, and he was just coming in the door–disaster averted!
  • Only 2 or 3 of us are standing in the bank waiting for numbers to be called, but I’m holding a number that is 8 higher than the one on the screen, so clearly people took numbers but left. We generally know what order we came in. The bank employee is finished with one customer and moves the number up to 590. No one comes forward. Next number, no one. I just want to say “you’re next, right?” to the guy there before us, but no, we all keep looking at our number slips and wait until 592 is displayed and

    NTNU building, maximizing light

    the other steps up to be helped, because he is holding number 592.

  • Earlier in the week I walked into an office at NTNU to get my badge and office key. I’m the only one there. The woman at the counter says something to me that I didn’t understand. She says it again. I admit to her that I don’t know what she is saying, and she says “queue number?” I was supposed to take a number from the machine out in the hallway. But I AM THE ONLY ONE THERE! Just then another women came in behind me and said “here, you can take my number” and went out to get another number for herself. I could only smile and be grateful, playing the ignorant foreigner.

It was little colder earlier this week, a high of about 17 F (-8 C). Gorgeous day. The cold made the largest frosty ice crystals I have seen up close. I took the extra long route to work that day, putting in over 10,000 steps, about 4 miles.

I’ve noticed that my phone will die in the cold if I take it out for longer than a few moments, like taking multiple pictures or looking at a map. When I told my co-workers, their first question was “is it an iPhone?” Apparently it is not made for northern climates.

Another day I took a slightly different route to work to explore more of the trails and stay off the roads. They were recently groomed for skis, one reason I tried a new route was to avoid the grooming tractor thing. They groom the trails through these fields and along paths beside the fields, so I can walk in the wide open landscape and feel like I’m not in a city at all. And it snowed! The day after the snow it rained a bit, and today it was quite warm and all of the snow is melting and it’s getting very wet, a set up for more ice everywhere. Walking to and from work today was a little slower on the mushy snow and slick ice.

My alternative route took me on a different path through the woods and the color hanging in the trees caught my eye–it’s a tree full of pacifiers (smokk). Norwegians in this area have this sweet way of getting their kids to give up their pacifiers–they tell a kind of fairy tale about the woods and leaving them there, then tie them to a tree. I need to ask Trond to tell me the story again, because we came across these trees in the woods once when we were on a walk with him years ago.

While grocery shopping, Ted pointed out the diaper packages and baby-stuff packages–on the Norwegian brand, many of them have men in the pictures. When men are pushing the baby carriages around here and the diaper advertisers recognize men as a target market, you know a culture shift is real. When I’ve been around the kids’ school for any event, the dads are also very involved with volunteering, equal with the moms. It’s a good thing for society.


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About Christy Anderson Brekken

In no particular order... Instructor and Researcher, Department of Applied Economics, Oregon State University. Educational background: University of MN Law School, 2005. MS in Ag and Resource Economics, Oregon State University, 2011. Teaches: Agricultural Law, Environmental Law. Mother: brilliant 9 year old boy; brilliant 6 year old girl with benign myoclonic epilepsy on a modified ketogenic diet therapy. Married to: Ted Brekken, OSU Department of Electrical Engineering. Ride: Xtra-cycle Edgerunner with kid seat; 400-pound cargo capacity. Grew up: Devils Lake, ND. Lived in: Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN, Pohang, South Korea, Trondheim, Norway, Corvallis, OR. Interests: Cooking, knitting, eating, yoga, laughing, hiking, traveling, staying sane.
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