It is a really fascinating, different experience to come to Oslo both with someone, and with someone who is moving here. It makes you see a lot more in depth of the place you are visiting, even if it means going to fewer museums and tourist sites. (I can't say I'm sorry about the latter, though, considering how friggin' many muesums and tourist sites I've been to in the last six months. It's a number bested only by the number of tombs/churches/temples/religious monuments I've been to.)
Last night, while walking from the park where we had spent the evening eavesdropping on the outdoor Foo Fighters concert (so we couldn't see it, but could hear it just fine. And the Foos are very Big In Europe, apparently, so we were not the only squatters) to the night bus, we had a fascinating discussion with Terje, our Oslo host, about the economic structure in Norway. Yep, it's 7US for a soda, it's about 12US per gallon of gas (and you can't even say that it pays for public transport, because while it DOES pay for public transport, the bus still costs 8US one way) cigarettes are more than 15US, a bottle of spirits about 80, etc. And yet, apparently there is viertually no poverty here. There are, of course, problems - it may seem sometimes like a utopia, but it isn't really. Heroin addiction and prostitution are social problems in Oslo, and as it is the queer capital of Scandinavia, there is also a correlation to a rise in homophobic violence (though they also just passed, by an easy margin, a new law that makes gay couples equal to straight couples when it comes to adoption, so that's one more step forward for them).
But on the other hand, the way Terje describes it, there is very little true poverty here that doesn't have some aspect of choice to it, and there is always an escape route in place, even if people don't take it. Addiction is a major deal, of course, but there are government-funded programs to help people who want it, to get them jobs and places to live. There is negative unemployment in Norway, so there is a vested interest in its citizens working. In essence, people in Norway can be born into unfortunate circumstances - addicted parents, uneducated parents, parents who for whatever reason do not take advantage of services made available to them and do not give the children access to things like the free schooling for all. So there is a possibility of some small percentage of the society who is unaware or uneducated about their opportunities. Barring that, however, if you are in a terrible position, a lot of it is a result of your own choices and actions - people aren't stuck with a shitty lot in life.
People seek out the advantages, too - in addition to the refugees that regularly move to Norway from (predominantly) the Middle East and Africa, there is apparently like a begging toursim culture, of people bussing in from (mostly) Eastern Europe on a tourist visa and using their time to beg in Norway, and living on that money the rest of the year. The minumum wage here works out to about 19US for any kind of job. Immigrants, uneducated, and under-the-table workers (generally those operating on some sort of social disadvantage) might be stuck making as low as 16US an hour. It costs a lot, but they pay you what you need to live. Isn't that a revolutionary lifestyle?
There's so much more than that, too - people complain about the price of beer here, obviously, and things like that, but there is a very mature and responsible outlook on it as well. Yes, I have to pay so much for a gallon of gas, but that money is also paying for me, for my education, my health care, my entire infrastructure that is entirely in my interest. They also recognize that, yes, a bus trip is 8US, but that money is going to mroe than paying to take me 10 kilometers outside of Oslo center, it's åpaying for a system of buses that run with virtually no one in them up north, but which provides those few people who live in far north Norway a means to travel around a far more harsh landscape for longer distances at the same rate. There is an understanding here that is what we need more of in the world, that it is not enough to serve just yourself, but that there is a larger sense of communal good. Sometimes it means paying higher taxes for someone else's healthcare if they get ill and you do not, but that is better than having crap private healthcare that is hard to get. The greater good is the good for all, not just one. It's so inspiring to hear twenty-somethings with that progressive, insightful a worldview. You become a little more socialist each day in Norway.
It's not all sociopolitical revelations, though. Yesterday in addition to the concert, we went to the film museum, to the National Gallery (where I saw The Scream, and other fantastic Munch paintings, and some Norweigan painters I had never heard of and liked, and van Gogh's self portrait), and today we went to the old vortress right on the harbor overlooking the city. Oslo is lovely, tiny, and lively - a great combination for a tourist. The weather has finally turned bad/normal, and today is cold and rainy, but it's still a great place to visit. Tomorrow I am heading west to Bergen to spend my last Scandinavian days on the fjords. Which I am certain the Norweigan government also takes care of in some advanced, progressive way.