Oslo’s mafia and their weird weaponry

There is a mafia in Oslo.

Members of the clan are fearless and prefer to do their work in broad daylight. They’re easy to spot, often travel in packs and can be aggressive when on the streets, yet no one dare respond to an “inadvertent” bump with anything but an apology. These mafia operatives don’t use traditional weapons but are harshly trained through methods of sleep deprivation and are not to be crossed.

They’re called the barnevognmafia.

Translated literally: child wagon mafia. The “operatives” I’m referring to are parents, mostly mothers enjoying their nearly year-long, fully paid maternity leave. I am a proud member of this clan.

Barnevogn is Norwegian for stroller and the ones here need a big name like that because they are ENORMOUS. Hefty tires for the snow, big seats with bulky canopies to keep kids warm in sub-zero temperatures, and they morph into mini-beds for their sleeping cargo. Mothers walk with an assumed ownership of the footpaths in Oslo because it’s the only way anyone will let you through with a hulking stroller that takes up half the sidewalk.

And yes, these super-colossal kid carriers work as weapons too – one quick turn and we’ll skin your shins with the front spoke of the stroller.

Our fashion of organized crime is to clog cafes with our baby bags and “child wagons.” Our kids whimper, whine and scream while we gab on with our fellow operatives because, like Sicilian mafiosi are desensitized to violence, we can tune out our crying children. There’s always something wrong and we might as well talk a little louder and find out who is up to what.

We also part-take in another activity that makes onlookers, particularly of the male variety, uncomfortable. But hey, when a baby is hungry he’s hungry so nursing while sipping a latte at United Bakeries is part of the deal. It’s a useful method of (comical) intimidation that comes in handy if someone rolls their eyes when they see a mother stroll into a public space with a noise-polluting baby.

The barnevognmafia isn’t a real organization in Oslo but the existence of the term in the zeitgeist reflects the camaraderie that forms among parents. There is an inherent understanding of the trials of early parenthood: sleepless nights, tantrums, potty training…

The power parents have in Norway is what makes this place perfect for me at this time in my life. The amount of help the government provides young families has effectively set high social expectations for the community to do their part.

If a driver sees someone with a pram about to cross the street they come to a halting stop as if royalty is being carried through. Public transportation was built bearing in mind oversized strollers and locals are always on standby to help, whether it’s lifting it onto the tram or holding open a door. I’ve never been able to thank anyone because they run off before you even realize that you’ve been helped.

You can take your kids anywhere here and not only are they welcomed, but restaurants and museums have thought about how best to adapt to what kids need. I think this star treatment of young families is well deserved. Parenthood, while rewarding, is challenging and if society can do anything to help, it should.

And if you don’t agree: watch out. The barnevognmafia is everywhere and a clan member could unleash a screaming toddler during your romantic dinner just for the fun of it.


8 thoughts on “Oslo’s mafia and their weird weaponry

    • It’s a monster of a stroller and looks incredibly out of place if you take it out of Scandinavia. Norwegians don’t really mind nursing in public but there are some younger guys that get so uncomfortable, it’s funny to watch them try not to stare but try not to look away too quickly.

    • You should see the paperwork involved in buying one of these strollers! I signed three of four documents stating that I understood all of the directions I was given about the stroller: how often to spray oil lubricant on the joints so they don’t rust, when to lock the front wheel so that it doesn’t swivel in a lot of snow, how often to pump the tires with air. It really was like buying a car.

  1. I love this post. We just moved here from the US with 3 kids. I was afraid my double stroller would be out of the ordinary here, but we fit right in. The only thing that makes us odd is I keep my 3 year old and almost 2 year old home with me.

    • Thanks for reading Amy! It’s really nice to be in a place where us parents can fit in, too. If you check out my latest post you’ll see a reference to a mother and baby group in Oslo which is a wonderful way to meet moms who stay at home with their toddlers.

      Welcome to Oslo!

  2. Pingback: Commercial Break: A cruise to Germany | Edge of the Arctic

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