It’s against the law to shop on a Sunday

I peered down the shopping street that I live by this morning and found it completely empty. Typically packed with shoppers, Bogstadveien, one of Oslo’s biggest shopping streets, was a ghost town.

That’s because it’s Sunday which in Norway means that everything is closed. Everything. You can’t go to the mall or the bookstore, you can’t even do a proper grocery shop. We spend Saturday afternoons hoarding milk and fortifying our non-perishable food stores as if we’re preparing for the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

I may have dealt with this with a bit more grace had weekday shopping hours not been so equally astounding: shops close at 6pm except Thursday, which is Norway’s big shopping day with stores open until…. (drumroll please)… 7 o’clock.

Bogstadveien Sunday

Grocery stores are open until 10pm six days a week but there’s more to the day-to-day necessities than food – light bulbs, prescription medication, books, furniture, umbrellas, scarves, gloves, winter boots, birthday gifts. If you work full-time, the weekend is all you’ve got.

Correction: You’ve got half a day of shopping on Saturday and then Sunday everything is closed. Stengt! As the Norwegians write on their shop doors.

And it’s all Sylvia Brustad’s fault.

This is social engineering gone too far. I can’t sit in a café and have an orange scone but I can take a Taekwondo class and work on my gluteal muscles on a Sunday.

Sylvia is a former Norwegian politician and is the culprit behind a law that prohibits shops larger than 1,000-square-feet from opening on Sundays or holidays. It’s because of her that it is against the law to make Sunday grocery day. The law defining the size of shops allowed to operate on a Sunday is called Brustadbua which means “Brustad shacks,” named after the politician herself.

After the law passed in the late 1990s a convenience store chain called Bunn Pris started designing stores to fit the 1,000-square-foot Brustadbua law allowing it to open seven days a week. I’ve hit up these Bunn Pris a few times as a last resort. The shops are narrow, the produce is poor, selection is limited and overpriced (compared to the already shockingly expensive groceries available on other days).

Besides Bunn Pris and its competitors there are a few cafes open on Sundays for four glorious hours. But I learned the hard way to avoid cafes on a Sunday because they tend to be overcrowded with Norwegians desperate to socialize over espresso on God’s day of rest.

Remarkably our gym is open every single day – even on Christmas – and it takes up way more space than 1,000-square-feet. Plus they keep enough staff on Sundays to provide babysitting for fitness-frenzied parents. Gyms are apparently exempt from the Brustadbua law on the basis of a non-consumption loophole.

StengtThis is social engineering gone too far. I can’t sit in a café and have an orange scone but I can take a Taekwondo class and work on my gluteal muscles on a Sunday.

When I first moved to Norway I was surprised that no one was trying to change the limited shopping hours here. I figured it was in the interest of businesses and consumers to have more options. At first I wondered if Norwegians reserved Sundays for God, but only 1% of the population regularly attend church.

If they aren’t at church, where is everyone? And why aren’t they annoyed that nothing is open?

Per, a Norwegian friend, clued me in. “You should head into the woods, most of Oslo is hiking or skiing on Sundays,” he says. If Per and his family of four aren’t “spending time with nature,” as he puts it, they are with family members that live around town.

According to Per the Norwegian interpretation to the “day of rest” is that there should be one day where a majority of the workforce has the day off so that families can spend quality time together.

“If each parent has a different day off the whole family can’t really get together,” he told me, clearly not understanding my consternation with this government-enforced family time.

Per, along with his Norwegian pals, are completely in sync with the law that gives me the Sunday blues.

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5 ways to make friends in Oslo

1. Don’t be afraid to talk to strangers. When I moved here I didn’t know a single person in Norway. Everyone was a stranger and I had to talk to someone, so I did. I struck up a conversation with a woman who was with her 8-month-old son in the baby section at the grocery store and we’ve been friends since.

2. Get your teeth cleaned. I’m not saying I’m bum-buddies with my hygienist but when I asked around for a trustworthy dentist I got a great recommendation from someone I barely knew. She is now a dear friend that I share coffees and concert tickets with.

3. Make a Facebook blind date. I met a woman who is now my closest pal in Oslo through Facebook. There’s a page for international moms and I saw that my ethnic makeup and background was eerily similar with someone in the group, so we decided to meet. My husband was apprehensive about the setup, saying I could end up meeting a serial killer, but seeing as we chose a popular coffee-house to have a playdate with our toddlers, I wasn’t scared. I haven’t been serially killed yet but I do have a wonderful friend and confidant.

4. Network. You could play a game of “name that acronym” when you start looking into the various professional and social networking groups in Oslo. A few favorites:

      – Norwegian International Network (NIN)
      – American Women’s Club (AWC)
      – International Mother and Baby Group of Oslo (IMOBAGO)
      – Democrats/Republicans Abroad in Norway (DAN or RAN, depending on whether you’re an idiot or a fool)

5. Learn Norwegian. Sign-up for a course and everyone in the class will become an instant friend. Learning to pronounce Ø and U, with the nuance specific to Norwegian, is a team-building activity.