Every year, in the weird season between winter and spring, the same thing happens: the UN Happiness Report is released. Every year here in the Northern edge of Europe we delight ourselves in discussing its outcomes. It looks like the report is released in the month of March especially for our part of the world: while other places start watching spring signs, we still walk the icy streets, covered in winter layers, wondering if the meters of snow will ever melt this year. And our only novelty and a topic for discussion is this: who is the world’s happiest country this year? Because it is us. Or our neighbors.
The first place in the happy ranking was occupied by Denmark for so many years that everyone just had to give up. But last year Norway suddenly squeezed in to be the champion. As we shrugged from the snow and sleet in April and pulled on our last resources of patience, we looked at each other with disbelief and amusement: look, we live in the world’s happiest country, what a surprise! The top five was occupied by our Nordic neighbors: Denmark, Iceland and even Finland, with one non-Nordic country (what was that again?) miraculously making its way into the top. This year Norway was moved to the second place, but by whom? By Finland, ladies and gentlemen! I felt like laughing hysterically. The positions reshuffle but you would find the same countries in the top. It looks like the Nordics are really better than the rest of the world: at least, at answering those surveys 🙂
These days it looks like Scandinavian countries know the answer to every question. They design cheap and pretty furniture, wear comfortable and stylish clothes, drive more electric cars and separate their waste. They work for life and don’t live for work. They have the welfare state, generous parental leave, stay-at-home fathers and smaller class differences than other places. They even have discovered a secret to a happy life and crowd the top of the FN reports as the happiest countries in the world. Observing all this from my little corner of Scandinavia makes me wonder if I have come to live in the perfect country. And how come I haven’t noticed it so far?
It is dark outside my huge window, as I sit on the couch, woolen socks and cozy home wear, which makes me look like a picture from an IKEA catalogue. In the windows of the neighbor buildings (as Norwegians don’t use curtains) I see people going on in their cozy clothes making their cozy lifestyles. Watching TV, burning candles, eating dinner with friends. Everyone thinks that we live in a paradise here. Haven’t we lost our sensitivity that we don’t notice that? That we have to be told about it?
Yesterday I took part in the Norwegian citizenship ceremony. Even though I had received my citizenship half a year ago, this ceremony felt like a watershed to me. I slowly start to realize that I am not a guest here anymore, that this is my home too. And that I can breathe out, be proud of how far I came and start building something. Leaving the stress behind. Leaving the story of “poor me who has to fight for everything” behind.
Maybe, connected to this event or not, recently I am more aware of how Norwegian I have become in all these years. Today I want to share a simple list of the changes that would have seemed peculiar to me 10 years ago. But now they are my second nature, and it took some effort to step back and notice what is different to me now.
My post about the perks of being Norwegian has got great support among my Facebook friends and I got many compliments for it a day later at a friend’s party. There was a note of surprise in their tone which was suspicious – am I usually not as positive? 🙂 So I had to reassure them: “Don’t worry, the negative post is just around the corner. It is already half-baked in the oven. First you catch the attention by the positive one – and then swoosh, comes the negative one. This is what I call strategic blogging, hehe”.
This was not far away from the truth, since I had written a draft a month earlier – about what I like and dislike about a typical Norwegian. The post was half-baked indeed. But now, on the positive wave of the new year and positive confirmation – should I go back to complaining again? I have learnt my lesson: complaining doesn’t work (it took me a long time, but at last I learnt it *grin*). And it is much better to keep the focus on the things I like instead of going through what I don’t like. But on the other side, I feel that I am hiding. I have my ideas and I am just afraid to air them. Because they are less pleasant for Norwegians, and so I am also afraid to touch that.
I don’t want to offend anyone – and then I end up tiptoeing way too much. I also want to be more positive than negative. But still there are things I want to say – and why should I suppress my voice which is still so weak? When suddenly I got the idea of talking about myself, instead of a typical Norwegian. What about Norwegian culture that I adopted myself and don’t like?
I love flying from Oslo. And not in the meaning of leaving Oslo for some exciting or sunny destination (though I love that too). I mean, I love how smooth the process is. From when I step out of my front door till the moment I am in the air.
I take a tram or a bus to the central station. The ticket for it I buy in the app. I know the timetable of the trains so I know if I can make it – otherwise I take an airport express (which costs twice as much). The ticket for the train I buy in the same app (for airport express I just swipe the card, no paper ticket needed). While sitting on the train I can check in with my flight. I still often prefer to check in at the machine at the airport. Norwegian has also an easy bag drop in Oslo airport where you can scan your bag yourself and off it goes. The whole check-in process takes no more than 5 minutes. I still remember flying to Norway from Ukraine. Passport controls, eternal lines for check-in. And good if there were lines. Crowds. Like someone said: “When you are in the big airport like Amsterdam and looking for a check-in window to Kiev it is easy to find. All other destinations stand in line. Ukrainians stand in a crowd”. True true.
I have wanted to write under this title for months already. Today I have walked into the bookstore, opened randomly that famous book about hygge (by Meik Wiking) and there it was: my title! Though the idea was different. But still. Thank you, Meik! Now, since the title is out there (apparently a bit before I coined it myself), I can continue the discussion.
Meik writes that spending time in a hyggeligt way with family and close friends can have its dark, less pleasant side: the newcomers find it difficult to get into a circle. The Danes seem to be so preoccupied with their own circles which makes them not so open and inclusive folks. “But once you’ve gotten in, you are in”, he says.
Two days ago Norway celebrated its birthday – National day, also known as Constitution day. But everyone calls it “17 mai” because everyone knows what it stands for. Constitution of Norway was dated on 17th of May 1814 even though Norway was still under rule of Denmark. After Napoleon lost the war and Denmark as his ally had to give up on Norway, Norway still didn’t get independent but was forced into the union with Sweden. Only in 1905 Norway could claim its independence when the union was dissolved. Maybe, that is why Norwegians appreciate their independence so much, both in private and in state affairs. They have been fighting for it for quite a long time.