Norway is my “happy place.” I’m always so relaxed when I’m there – from the moment I step off the plane into the tastefully-designed and weirdly peaceful Gardermoen airport, I feel my shoulders relax and jaw unclench (reversing my default setting). My anxiety gets dialed down from 11 to ~2, and I feel like I can actually relax, which is not something I’m very good at. I also get to take deep breaths, which is not something I often do in San Francisco, where if you breathe too deeply, you’re guaranteed to get a whiff of human feces or weed.
This is one of the reasons why I’m so excited to move – if Norway is even 5% more chill than SF, I’ll be thrilled. My mom is obviously sad I’m moving far away, but I think she’s more excited that I might be able to unwind a little.
Moving across the world from my family and friends is obviously a huge decision to make. In this post, I’ll tell you a little more about what’s made me fall in love with Norway over the past 4 1/2 years and what’s great about my new “home.”
Friends and family
The obvious place to start is with the people who have made me feel so welcome in Norway – my friends and family. Norwegians sometimes get a bad rap for being closed-off and impersonal, but that’s never been the case with anyone I’ve met there.
I was extremely nervous to meet Bendik’s family the first time I came out to visit him. He’s really close with them, and I personally feel that parental/friend approval is important when choosing someone you’re going to spend your life with (just my opinion!). So I put a lot of pressure on myself to nail it and make Bendik’s “people” feel like I was worth the effort of doing an LDR. I felt like I needed to have a speech prepared or something, and Bendik pointed out that I was overthinking it (classic Tabby).
He was right! When I met both sets of parents, they were all extremely nice, easygoing and interested in getting to know the American girl that came out of nowhere. And they all had great senses of humor! I felt comfortable with all of them right away.
Impressing parents is one thing, but getting the approval of friends is way more stressful! But again, all of Bendik’s friends made me feel like part of the crew from the start. It was so much fun getting to know them – we swapped stories about life in Oslo and San Francisco over beer and cozy dinners out in the city and at home. I feel really lucky that Bendik is intentional about who he keeps in his life (whether he’s aware of it or not) – so we spend all our time with funny, kind, interesting and genuine people. Even Bendik’s coworkers were awesome, welcoming me into the office and to the lunch table whenever I was working from abroad.
Now that a few years have gone by, I feel really comfortable in my skin around Bendik’s friends and family. In the early days, I definitely did try to be my “best self” around them so they would trust that Bendik had picked a good one, but now, I’m able to relax and be myself completely – which has so far gone really well! Making the move to Norway will be much easier knowing that I’m going to be surrounded by wonderful and welcoming people who all want to see me succeed. I’ll have a strong support network to help me as I learn the language (hope they’re ready to have some very slow, bumpy Norwegian conversations with me) and get used to cold winters. My mom feels okay with me moving because she knows I’ll be in good hands when I get there.
(Friends and family celebrating a very koselig Thanksgiving dinner in 2018!)
How beautiful it is
Living in California my entire life means I have extremely high standards for what kind of natural landscapes wow me. The thought of living somewhere landlocked or with no greenery stresses me out. Luckily, my new home is one of the most beautiful places on earth!
The first time I went to Norway, my mind was blown by how beautiful it was – I literally shed a tear on the Bergensbanen train ride when we emerged from a tunnel into a beautiful snowy mountain landscape (I’m corny).
(Some scenery from the Bergensbanen, which you MUST take if you ever visit Norway!)
My phone is full of hundreds of photos of trees, mountains, fjords and snow from my trips to Norway. I’m so excited to live somewhere so beautiful!
(From a ferry ride… casual breathtaking scenery, nbd)
Even our little neighborhood is beautiful!
(The view from Bendik’s dad’s window!)
(The view from our house’s living room window!)
Even Oslo is beautiful! Not to say San Francisco isn’t… but the first time I went to Oslo, I visited a beautiful cemetery where Edvard Munch is buried, and people were sunbathing/picnicking on the grass in the beaming sunshine.
Bendik and I are going on a road trip up and down Norway after we move, so I’ll be sure to post a million highlights of all the mountainscapes and fjords we come across!
How cozy it is (the culture of koselig)
You may have heard of hygge – the Danish concept of “cozyness,” the closest English translation of the word. Norwegians have their own version of hygge – koselig. Norwegians love everything to be koselig as much as possible, a lifestyle that I’ve fully bought into. What is koselig? A homemade dinner shared with friends or family, in a dimly-lit room (ideally with candles providing the light), with some nice wine and pleasant conversation is koselig. Curling up on the couch in the family cabin when it’s cold outside, with a crackling fireplace and some skiing on the TV and a cup of coffee after a nice meal is koselig. Going camping and ending the long day of hiking or fishing by looking up the sky for shooting stars with loved ones is koselig.
I love that Norwegians always strive to make things as cute and cozy as possible. That’s exactly what I need after living in the city for 12 long, noisy years. I’ve had plenty of cozy experiences in SF (like dinners at Kyra and Dave’s and many a picnic in the park!) but day-to-day life in the city is decidedly NOT koselig, when I have to fall asleep to the sound of motorcycles and cars constantly ripping by and people randomly screaming outside my window. Life in the forest, and with Norwegians who are obsessed with creating the most koselig scenarios possible at all times, will be… koselig.
(Sitting around the fireplace for the first time with Bendik’s parents in our new old home, talking about how exciting the next year would be, was PEAK koselig.)
The food and drinks
We San Franciscans are blessed with amazing food and drink scene. I think what I’ll miss most about SF besides friends will be the restaurants and bars – there’s no equivalent of Saru or Nopa in Oslo, and the specialty beer stores don’t sell our favorite local craft brews (although they do sell Coors Light for $5/bottle).
As sad as I’ll be without easy access to especial burritos with volcano salsa from Pancho Villa, I’ll be just as pleased with a kebab rull from Balkan in Ski, which is the size of a newborn.
(IT’S SO BIG!!!!! But I have never had a problem eating the entire thing in 5 minutes. It’s just sooooo good!!!)
Over the years, Bendik and I have settled on a few “favorites,” mostly in Grünerløkka, where Bendik lived and where we spent most of our relationship.
I’m so excited to live near Tim Wendelboe, my absolute favorite coffee of all-time! We even have a coffee subscription from them shipped to us in SF (it’s not that expensive, surprisingly). We love doing coffee tastings at the shop when we have time. Tim Wendelboe is actually where we had our first date! If you’re ever in Oslo, I highly recommend you stop by and get either a cup of Aeropress coffee, or one of their delicious specialty coffee drinks, made by friendly and talented baristas. We served Tim Wendelboe at our wedding in California!
(The stylish interior of Tim Wendelboe a few years ago, before they moved out the grinder which now gets used at another favorite coffee shop/cocktail bar in Oslo, Fuglen!)
And as much as I’ll miss Dalva and Mini Bar in SF for their cheap but tasty cocktails, I’m happy I’ll be close to Bettola, the coolest mid-century modern Italian-themed cocktail bar in Oslo. I’ve never been disappointed with a drink there – they have amazing, unique and delicious cocktails in a super stylish interior. It’s super fun for a date night when you want to get a little fancy – and the crowd is pretty mellow, so you don’t have to yell to talk to your friends. It’s just… perfect.
(A beautiful, tasty cocktail I got at Bettola when we went with Astrid and Anders recently!)
Our other favorite neighborhood spot is Territoriet, a super-cute wine bar that has really unique wines available by the glass (even super fancy wines for a pretty reasonable price!). It’s mellow in there, too – so we usually, embarrassingly end up being the loudest ones in there, talking over the hip, relaxing vinyl that’s playing.
(Territoriet is a warm, cozy refuge on a chilly winter night!)
And my favorite food isn’t just found in restaurants – I’m fortunate that the most common meal in Norway, bread with some stuff on it, aka brød med pålegg, is extremely delicious. I know it’s annoying to be like unnnnhhh bread in Europe is sooooo much better Americans don’t even know what bread is supposed to taste like, but seriously, bread in Scandinavia is for some reason just WAY better than what we have in America (besides San Luis Sourdough, which is superior to anything I’ve eaten in Norway).
Whenever we’re back visiting Norway, every day, twice a day, we eat a roll or slice of bread with pålegg, which has no real direct translation – the closest I’ve gotten is “sandwich toppings.” Pålegg can be meat, veggies, liver paste, mayonnaise, spread made out of shrimp, eggs, etc. Whatever you put on top of your carbs, is pålegg. My favorite combo is this:
A seeded rundstykke (roll) with mayonnaise, spekeskinke (salted ham, kind of like prosciutto), a slice of Norveiga white cheese and agurk (cucumber). I’ve literally eaten this exact combination like 5,000 times, and refuse to change. Maybe someday I’ll branch out and learn to love liver paste, but I doubt it. If it ain’t broke, why fix it tbh.
Norwegians reading this will be happy to know that I also like brown cheese (brunost) – it’s an acquired taste, for sure, but I’ve learned to love it on waffles! My favorite application of it is in the brown cheese ice cream with cloudberry sauce Bendik’s dad Nils has made us a couple of times.
(So…. sooooooo good. If you haven’t tried cloudberries picked from a secret patch that no one else knows about… you haven’t lived.)
Fun cultural differences
There are tons of things that make Norwegians unique (in good and bad ways) – for example, no one talks to strangers in public or sits next to each other on the bus, which I very much appreciate. But also, you can’t buy alcohol after 3pm on Saturdays for some reason, which leads to you running out of booze at your party by 7pm with no way to acquire more (which happened at our Norwegian wedding party – we had to scrounge around for wine in people’s basements as well as enjoy some neighborhood-made moonshine).
But one of the biggest cultural differences between Norway and America that I really like is that in Norway, the key to happiness is not about acquiring stuff and wealth, but how cozy and relaxed your life is. The American Dream is all about making more money, getting your dream house, driving a sweet-ass car and having an awesome title and power in the workplace. To me, the idea of always trying to climb the ladder so that you can someday be happy when you’re rich and chilling on a yacht is so stressful – trying to have the “perfect” life has left me deep in debt and constantly unhappy with what I’ve achieved, even though I’m doing just fine (but fine just isn’t good enough!).
Things are a little different in Norway – from my perspective, anyway. People there seem to be more motivated by comfort and “authenticity” than money and status. Sure, Norwegians love their Teslas and vacations in Spain, but I think they’d be just as happy spending a week in a cute cabin with no running water or electricity as they would be at a Four Seasons in Bali. I think Norwegians’ social status is more determined by how “real” and down-to-earth their life is than by how much money they make or if they’re a VP by age 30. Peak happiness in Norway is enjoying an orange and some chocolate after climbing a mountain with your family, versus dropping $1k on disposable souvenirs for your kids at Disneyland. I want that kind of simple life! I’ll be happy to let go of my hangups over professional success and how much I earn, and be more motivated by maximizing the amount of time I spend at the cabin that summer. It’s a slower-paced life with more humble aspirations than financial wealth.
That’s just a few reasons why I love Norway! I’m excited to write more in the future about all the new things I discover that make me love my new home even more, but I thought it would be fun to tell you about what’s made visiting there for the past 4 years so fun. Thanks for reading!