The View from Norway

Arthur Melhoos '69 majored in Business Administration and Scandinavian Studies.  He lives in Norway and retired from a career in banking in 2014.

After graduating from Luther I have spent most of my life in Norway, with the exception of a number of years in Japan and England. The Nordic countries are quite similar in many ways but also different. My responses are from a Norwegian point of view, which may be slightly different from Swedish, Danish or Finnish point of views-- although all have socialized medicine and education.

1.  People are more respected for what they do than what they have.

2.  Having adequate leisure time and vacations is very important - (everyone is entitled to four weeks paid holiday a year and many have five or six weeks). People rather take time off than receive overtime pay.     

3.  Walking, hiking, participating in sports and being outside is a very important part of the Norwegian way of life.  Saving the environment has a very high priority here. 

4.  The well-being of children, their upbringing, health and education ranks very high in Norwegian society.  (Mothers receive child support for each child they have from the government up until the age of 18 regardless of income. Parents receive one year of maternity leave for each child they have, and leave with full pay from their jobs to be divided between the father and mother of which the father must take 16 weeks of the year.) Children have priority over older people in respect to medical treatment.

5.  In most families both the father and mother have full-time jobs.

6.  People generally have confidence in the government’s policies and follow their decisions without a great deal of discontent.

7.  People are not very religious; they would rather enjoy the outdoors than go to church.

8.  People are generally close to their families and have only a few close friends.   

Norway was shut down on March 12th.  Schools were closed as well as many local businesses. People were asked to work from if at home all possible. No socializing was permitted except for those living in your own household. Like the States, people’s lives changed overnight. People understood the situation the country was in and have heeded the government’s regulations.  Many people have lost their jobs and unemployment now is very high; however, the government has stepped in and helped industries and business hardest hit, but not all.  Initially people started to hoard food, but when the government announced that there was enough food for everyone, people quickly stopped hoarding and everything went back quickly to normal. 

Now restrictions seem to be slowly lifting as the number of new cases has slowed considerably. People continue to support the government’s policies without any demonstrations like we have seen in the States, even though many people are anxious to get back to work. People feel that keeping their health is the most important thing right now. The most talked about restriction regarding the virus was the fact that Norwegians were not allowed to travel to their cabins in the mountains or by the sea shore.  This was because there was not adequate health services in these areas if they should become sick. Now this restriction has been lifted.

In respect to changes in social norms because of the virus, I would say the following:

1.  In the future people will spend more time working at home instead of going to the office. People and companies have realized how easy it is to have online meetings without people having to leave their homes.

2.  While the schools have been closed, schools have switched to remote teaching online, which I believe will increase here in the future.

3.  As long as the restrictions have been enforced we have been asked not use cash when buying things--only our debit or credit cards.  Norway is quickly becoming a cashless society. Stores prefer that people use cards only, and many stores do not have adequate change if one does buy things with cash.

4.  Churches have been closed, offering services online instead. At least for my church in Oslo, it appears the number now logging on to the service remotely is higher than those who usually come to Sunday church services. Maybe churches should continue to offer services remotely even after churches reopen again. We will see.