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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Freshly Pressed

Aside

I’ve been Freshly Pressed!

For those of you who aren’t part of WordPress’ wonderful blogging community, being Freshly Pressed is incredibly exciting. The editors at WordPress choose 10 blog posts each week that they feel are inspiring, entertaining and enlightening. The reward: WordPress promotion bringing some serious traffic to your blog.

Tuesday’s introductory post on the contentious subject of socialism, Norway’s dirty secret, must have struck a chord. It’s a big enough topic to warrant a series on this blog. So sign up to follow my blog and I’ll fill you in on the good, the bad and the ugly about life in Scandinavia.

Norway’s dirty secret

My husband and I have been waiting for some bad news. We’ve been on tenterhooks for 10 months because we know that someone out there is keeping a dirty secret and we want to be put out of our misery.

There must be something awful about living in Norway. Some beastly part of the lifestyle that we have yet to discover and will send us for an icy swim to another coast in the North Sea. America has its outrageous medical and education costs and the UK has nauseating universal healthcare. And Norway has… long winters. They also have too much cash, more oil than they thought and practically extravagant parental benefits. Sir Thomas More’s fictional perfect island is real, except it’s not called Utopia.

I moved to Oslo on 17 November last year and those first few weeks were tough, it was dark by 3pm and it rained a lot. But things perked up quickly. In a matter of weeks the city was covered in beautiful gleaming white snow, the sun was casting long Arctic shadows and I soon saw how great things are here.

I found a website that gives Norwegian news in English and here’s what I learned:

The exact opposite happens in the US and UK – America owes an arm and a leg to the Chinese and are frantic for more oil, and the Brits can’t spare a dime for their ailing healthcare system. Her Majesty and the rebel Yanks just can’t make ends meet, while Norwegians are deep-frying donuts in crude oil and scrubbing their snow boots with wads of 1,000 kroner notes.

I’ve touched on the beastly topic of socialism and through my experiences in Norway I’ll do my best to dissect it, so stay-tuned.

Since that week in January, I’ve been waiting for the bad news. There has got to be something. The local cuisine is a little bland but there must be something more unbearable than that, right? An obvious example comes to mind.

Cost of living is outrageous – a gallon of milk costs 56 kroner ($10). Multiply that by a toddler and a mom who loves hot chocolate and we spend the equivalent of a private high school tuition on 2% milk.

Imported items are expensive too and the price is going up. From next year tariffs on certain imported cheeses will skyrocket by 277%. It’s called protectionism and the US could use a lesson in it (maybe not quite to the Norwegian extreme).

I understand that the figures I just gave you may seem impossible to digest, it was months before I was comfortable enough with the pricetags at the supermarket to splurge on a $4 Snickers bar. But if you live in Norway it all pans out, I swear.

The average income here is more than half million kroner ($82,000) a year and a vast majority of households have two incomes because the oustanding parental benefits available make it easy for women to maintain their careers.

There’s more. Starting next month, when we’ve been here a full year, my son will get 970 kroner ($171) each month as part of the government’s way to help cover the cost of raising children.

And then there’s the whole reason we moved here in the first place. My husband and I left the effervescent city of London to live in what is comparatively a hamlet on a glacier because a Norwegian company made him an offer he couldn’t refuse:

    • more money
    • less work
    • overtime perks
    • gym membership
    • a buffet-style hot lunch every weekday
    • a 3,000 kroner ($530) yearly allowance for newspaper and magazine subscriptions

It’s a fairly common package here.

Besides that we’re entitled to high-quality healthcare that’s practically free and our son goes to a top-notch nursery for the laughable fee of 803 kroner ($142) a month.

I’ve touched on a broad subject: the beastly topic of socialism. Big government, as the Americans call it. That’s what Norway’s secret is. Through my experiences here I’ll do my best to dissect this subject for you so stay-tuned and signup to follow my blog because if I ever get the bad news about Norway, you’ll be the first to know.