The usual reasons.
Okay, let me explain.
For almost eleven years, I lived in what I consider to be England’s quirkiest and most beautiful city: York. Old York is famed for many things: its iconic city walls, York Minster, Guy Fawkes, and of course, its rich Viking history.
How lucky was I, then, to have met a real-life Viking?
This all happened quite unexpectedly, a little over three years ago. I remember being rendered quite inarticulate by the lovely Norwegian girl that wandered into the music store in which I worked, coffee in hand and speaking flawless English with an accent that intrigued. Flash forward to the present day, and that girl is now my fiancée. Not only that, but I am now a resident of Norway or, as its official name goes, the Kingdom of Norway (as if the place needed to be any more like a fairy tale).
So much about my life has changed since I moved to Norway. It has been an almost dizzying nine months of integration, learning a new language and adapting to Norwegian culture. But one constant throughout all of this has been how often I have been asked the above question. Was it so strange that an English person should want to come here? Apparently so. It’s not that the Norwegian people haven’t been welcoming, quite the contrary, in fact, it’s just that my being here is something of an oddity, it seems.
Before I moved to Norway, I knew very little of the language, and even less about Norwegian culture. These two things combined meant that when I arrived here, I stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb, especially when I first started working.
Although I’ve been told that I don’t look particularly English (whatever that means), this fact would become abundantly clear the moment I opened my mouth to speak. After it had been quickly established that I was not Norwegian, I would then watch a curious and now quite familiar expression begin to appear in the face of my conversation partner, and I could almost see the question forming on their lips, as if they simply had to know what on earth a young English man with a degree in classical music was doing in Norway.
Not only has our Englishman here elected to move to Norway (in the middle of an especially harsh winter, no less), but he has chosen to live in Sandefjord. Not Oslo, Bergen or Stavanger, but Sandefjord, a small city known chiefly for its whaling history and as being home to one of the world’s largest paint companies, not to mention the many cabins (hytter) owned by city-dwelling Norwegians who affectionately refer to the city as “Sommer(summer)fjord”.
The curiosity mounts.
To begin with, I would delight in satisfying the curiosity of my justly inquisitive Norwegian by regaling them with the full story of what possessed me to buy a one-way plane ticket to Sandefjord (yes, we have an airport). But this soon became impractical, once it dawned on me that I would be required to field this question on an almost daily basis, or at least whenever I engaged in conversation with anyone.
It was not until fairly recently that a fellow English expat friend of mine (there are, remarkably, at least three of us here), taught me the three-word reply that any Norwegian would understand upon asking what I was doing here. All I needed to say was: ‘the usual reasons’. An explanation even more succinct than ‘oh, my girlfriend is Norwegian’, but hilariously carrying with it the same meaning. How useful this has been, and quite in keeping, I feel, with the Norwegian penchant for efficiency of communication.
Having lived in Norway for a little while now, I am beginning to see many reasons why a person would want to start a new life here, quite aside from the “usual” ones.
The first thing I noticed when I moved here was that the air is unbelievably clean (at least outside of the bigger cities), and that what comes out of our kitchen tap could quite easily be bottled and passed off as a premium-priced mineral water.
The country is jaw-droppingly beautiful. Even a 20-minute bus ride to the neighbouring town can afford one staggering views of lakes, fjords or pine-covered mountains.
There are clearly defined seasons, and the country is equipped to deal with even the most extreme weather. No closing the schools because of a bit of snow here!
Spending meaningful time with one’s family and friends is valued above most other things, and the Norwegians demonstrate that a healthy work-life balance is not only very important, but also attainable.
Speaking as a musician and music teacher, it is also abundantly clear to me that Norway has a profound respect for the arts, and the country invests in it.
There is much that is great about life in Norway, but it has been far from easy, and I am still finding my feet in this wonderfully strange and beautiful land. I decided to start this blog to share my experience of what it has been like to leave my own country behind and reinvent myself in a culture that is so markedly different from my own.
Moving to another country is an amazing experience, but no one really tells you how hard it can be. Since I came to Norway there have been ups and there have been downs. There have been life-altering successes and there have been what seemed like insurmountable challenges. There has been laughter and there have been tears. And some things have just been downright hilarious.
Dear reader, I want to share this journey with you. My hope is to offer an entertaining but authentic account of what it has been like to start a new life in Scandinavia, however funny, difficult or plain embarrassing this might sometimes have been. So please watch this space for more stories from my life in the north, and thanks for stopping by.
Daniel (A Brit in Norway)