Posted by: Sarah | September 22, 2013

We’re Back In Blighty: Norway Vs UK

I can’t quite believe that we’ve been back in the UK for nearly 3 weeks.  The longest we’ve been out of Norway since moving there four and half years ago.  So, what are our initial thoughts about what we miss from Norway and what are we enjoying about being back in UK?

Norway FlagWhat we miss about Norway..

  • Our friends.  Top of the list.
  • Fish.  TESCO just can’t compete on the quality of salmon nor the price.  Can you believe something is actually cheaper in Norway!
  • Being able to get everywhere easily.  In Oslo everything was accessible – if not by foot then by bus or by train.  We live in a village now so it’s hard to get anywhere without a car.
  • The internet.  I guess living in a capital city with possibly the best communication infrastructure in the world spoiled us a little.  We were regularly getting at least 20 Mb/s network speed in Norway – we’re now lucky to get 2 Mb/s
  • The landscape.  The landscape around Oslo is breathtaking – the forest, the fjord, the trees – amazing.  Now I step out of the front door to rolling countryside.  It’s still beautiful (and very British) but just different and not what I’m used to.
  • The coffee.  I never thought I would say this but living in Norway has made me quite fussy about coffee.  As the highest coffee drinking (per capita) nation in the world there’s a reason why the Norwegians are picky when it comes to coffee.  I’m struggling to find a place with the same quality.  Luckily I have my Nespresso machine.

British FlagWhat we love about being back in the UK…

  • Being close to family.  It’s so lovely to see Lizzie playing with her Granny, Grandad and cousin.  She absolutely loves it and giggles uncontrollably.  Priceless.
  • Friendly strangers!  Our rented house backs onto allotments where folks are growing fruit and veg.  I’ve taken the girls for a walk around there several times and we’ve met some lovely gardeners.  Hoping we might get some free veggies one day :-)  Since moving in, all of our neighbours have popped over to say hello – folks just seem very friendly.
  • Driving.  Fellow drivers tend to be more polite.  They use their indicators for a start so I know which direction they intend to travel in and they signal to say thank you when you stop to let them through.  I don’t like the speed though.  Everyone drives so much faster in the UK.
  • The supermarkets.  Oh my – a trip to ASDA is like a day out for me.  I wonder up and down the aisles in awe of the amount of stuff on the shelves.  The variety.  The choices.  It’s AMAZING!   I’m sure the novelty will wear off but I’m loving it at the moment.
  • Prices.  I bought a whole chicken, a pack of beef mince and 6 pork chops for £10!!!!!   I wouldn’t get a fresh chicken in Norway for that price.
  • Convenience.   It’s just so much easier.  I can pick up a prescription, get my eyes tested, buy a mobile phone, develop some photos, buy wine, flowers, homeware, clothes and food…all in the same supermarket!  This is such a novelty for me.  What’s more…I can get it all delivered to my front door for small fee.  Superb.

Lizzie starts nursery next week so we’ll see how that goes and how it compares to Norwegian barnehage.  I don’t think we can replace the wonderful Maria who looked after Lizzie at Amigos Barnehage.  She was pretty awesome and hard to replace.


  1. Sarah, you are SUCH a Brit! I cannot believe you enjoy ASDA. I have lived in the UK for almost 15 years now and still can’t get the hang of huge supermarkets. I worked hard to find a place to live where I can nip out to the butcher, greengrocer, baker….who cares about efficiency! Old habits never change. Totally agree about the politeness on the road. I get quite grumpy with drivers in Austria these days. And don’t get me started on “the Europeans” being rubbish at queuing…..;-)

  2. I’ve been living in Norway for 2 years and moving back to UK now. I can say that I agree with most of your comments. Actually I lived in Germany for 11 years and the USA for 10 years, so I have no special fondness for Blighty, however, its beats Norway in almost every respect.

    first your comment about coffee. For a countrsy that drinks so much coffee I cannot believe what swill they drink here. I am a coffee snob and I never drink anything that wasn’t from an esopresso machine. therefore finding good coffee in Norway has been a nightmare for me. Most places have push-button machines which mix powdered coffee with powdered milk. If you’re lucks, then you get fresh beans, but basically to find a real coffee you must seek out a rare cafe withanespresso machine or go to Solbrod.
    Compare that to UK where every village has a Costa, Nero and starbucks, so I cannot agree with your statement about awesome Norwegian coffee.

    Perhaps Oslo has a great public transport system, but over here in Bergen (second largest city in Norway), you are lucky to get 2 busses per hour. In Oslo a single short buss trip costs 50 NOK (5 quid!), so if you are happy paying double the price of UK, then okay, but seems a bit steep to me.

    Regarding the price of freh chicked – forget it. You cannot get a fresh chicken in Norway for any money! they all smell disgusting like 2 weeks old, and are tasteless. Actually the only decent option is to find an Asian shop and get a frozen Halal chicked from Germany.

    Landscape – agreed, it is magnificent, but so is Scotland and Wales, and UK has more variety of climates and terrains.

    Fish – yes, Bergen seems to have the cheapest Salmon in the entire world!

    I’ll continue my rant about Norway below with some differences I have experienced.

    Terrible things about Norway:
    -Tiny selection of food options. You have to drive to Sweden for shopping.
    -West coast weather – it rains like 300 days per year over here.
    -Freshness of food – so much food on the shelves is rotten or unripe.
    -Lack of culture – there’s very little to do in Bergen, Oslo surely is better.
    -Infrastructure – the main road from Bergen to Oslo has 1 lane!!!!!!
    Many streets don’t have side-walks and the roads are full of holes or just gravel paths.
    -Customs – because its not part of EU, you pay a high on anything you import from outside the country.
    -Healthcare, its like 1960’s facilities and knowhow; unbelievably primitive, coupled with the same waiting times or worse as the NHS. Truly 3rd world.
    -Service – Its almost impossible to get any service for anything, so you do it yourself for maintenance and replace any faulty machines and utilities.
    – Alcohol is taxed outrageously, and its illegal for shops to sell after 20:00. Wine and hard liquor can only be bought from special rae Vinmonopolet shops that close at 16:00. Many muslim countries have more relaxed alcohol laws than Norway! A joke for a “liberal” country.
    – Sunday. If you dont’ like hiking, then I hope you like TV because EVERYTHING is closed on Sundays.
    – Closedness. Norwegians are not particularly open. they most certainly try to be polite and friendly, but they are not welcoming or or interested for the most part. If you move here your best bet is to make friends with other foreigners.
    – Wooden buildings. Because most things are built of wood, and because civilization started here rather late, there is a real lack of historical buildings. Basically nothing before 10th C. AD.

    Good things about Norway:
    – English – everyone speaks excellent English and official forms for tax etc are also mostly available in English. So are movies.
    – Fjords, Mountains, waterfalls, glaciers, whitewater – all stunning
    – Great places for hiking, skiing, kayaking, ice-climbing, sledding etc
    – Northern Lights. You must see it once in your life
    – Strong currency. Means cheap trips when going abroad
    – Flexible working hours and 37-hour week
    – Relaxed attitude to life. People are happy here because there is so little stress. Focus is on free time and family. Not career, money, car, house etc. No one takes work seriously so work life is very relaxed.
    – Maternity benefit probably the best in the world. A great place to have a child if you dont mind the poor healthcare system
    – Low crime, safe environment that is peaceful and safe for children.
    – Excellent labor market and good unemployment benefit means a secure career.

    Well that’s my take on life in Norway.

    • Hi David – thanks so much for taking the time to write your comments. Before I left Norway a German colleague said to me “you’ll never look at your home country through the same eyes again” and he’s right. I really appreciate things I didn’t necessarily appreciate before. Britain has some pretty special nature – it’s just different to Norway. Less pine trees – more rolling hills. I agree with your statement about coffee. The coffee in our office was pretty bad. So bad I chipped in with a couple of colleagues and bought a Nespresso machine but coffee at United Bakeries or Baker Hansen was pretty awesome. I miss the Cortado – can’t seem to find those back here. We’re trying to stick to a “no shopping” Sunday and keeping that as a family day. Not easy though. One thing I do love is being able to get a prescription, buy alcohol, order photos, get my eyes tested, get a key cut and even buy a mobile phone…ALL UNDER ONE ROOF! Convenience, prices, choice and quality is better in Blighty. Sounds like you’re looking forward to moving back :-) I guess you won’t be missing the typically wet Bergen winter!

  3. Just came across your blog. We’re an American/Norwegian couple living in London and I’m very interested to read about your reverse culture shock and how you can keep up your ties to Norway. I’m especially interested in how you will keep your little one plugged in to the Norwegian community. Takk!

    • Hi Kathleen. Well it has certainly been a challenge. I’m planning a visit back to Norway jus tbefore Xmas. I really miss Norway at this time of year. Xmas in Norway is very special and slightly less “commercial” than in the UK. I’m also really looking forward to catching up with friends again. In terms of keeping a few traditions going we intend to take Lizzie and Emma to 17th May celebrations in the UK (I think London will probably be our closest). It was Lizzie’s birthday last Monday so we had the flags flying in our house and I made her a little crown – something they do in Norway. I was looking for a Norwegian babysitter at the local university to see if we can keep some connection that way. Haven’t been successful yet!

  4. “Grow wherever you’re planted” has been my mantra as an American expat in Brussels. My husband and I are planning to move to Oslo next year and I must say I have some trepidation as our moving date approaches. So many reasons I can’t go into it here, but what keeps popping up is the outrageous prices for just about everything and just the lack of culture. In Norway, there’s no real tourist industry (hotels, public facilities, fishing tours, nature walks). I was in Lofoton a few years ago and was left dumbfounded by the lack of things to do.Are we supposed to just enjoy Norway the way Norwegians do? By the way, I’ved heard some real horror stories about the health care system. The lack of variety when it comes to consumer products and the “everything under one roof” concept hasn’t hit Norway yet but, not the end of the world. Any thoughts you could share with me would be much appreciated.

    • Hi Elizabeth – great to hear from you so thanks for leaving a comment. I totally understand where you’re coming at it from. I remember when we made the decision to move there I remember thinking “Norway??? Why Norway???” I guess it’s not like Paris with the Eiffel Tower or Sydney with the bridge but Oslo is charming in it’s own way and it’s not quite as remote as Lofoton (although that is a place on my list that I’d like to go visit). You’re right – to really appreciate the beauty of Norway and it’s culture it’s best to throw yourself at it like a Norwegian. The Norwegians will embrace you if you take this approach – they’ll want to show you their culture and their traditions. I think that is perhaps what has made our experience so memorable. Having said that you are right about some of the things you list. Now I’m back in the UK I really do appreciate the choice of consumer products on offer and the fact I can go to one hypermarket and get EVERYTHING I need from one place. I guess you just get into the swing of it and adjust. On the health system – I’ve had two babies in Norway and I was treated so well in the hospital from what I can remember. Super staff and the equipment available pretty good. It’s not easy to get hold of some rememdies in Norway – I find that a little frustrating – Vicks Vapour Rub, Lemsip, Strepsils – none are sold in Norway so best to stock up. Let me know if you want to chat through further and I’ll email you my private email. Happy to go through any questions you may have. Good luck!

      • Dear Sarah,
        Thank you for your reply and Happy New Year. Should I have any further questions/concerns, I’ll be sure to get in touch.

      • Hi Sarah, this blog is amazing! I’m just sad to read that you’ve moved back to the UK. I’m moving to Baerum in Feb/March as my husband has accepted a job in Sandvika. We have 2 kids: a boy who is 3.5 who will go to the International montessori preschool and a 6 month old baby girl that I’ll be taking care of while I study nutrition (distance learning). I’m a little concerned about the cost of living in Norway and about not having a car. Can you recommend a good area near sandvika where we could walk to everything? I’m also looking for daytime activities to do with the baby and the intl toddler group in Hovik sounds perfect. I’d appreciate any advice you can give us. We’re moving from Montreal Canada but funnily enough we lived in London for 6 years prior to that and 1 year in Northampton where I have family (my parents are British).

      • Hi Emma – I hope this doesn’t reach you too late. Huge congratulations on your decision to move to Norway. You are so lucky and I’m sure you will love it! Wow, you’re moving to Baerum. I’m slightly jealous :-) You absolutely you go to the international group in Høvik (really easy by bus) and meet the ladies there. They are wonderful! To be honest, any place between Oslo and Sandvika is so well connected with public transport you really can’t go wrong. Sandvika itself is really nice – the shops, the walks on the nearby island and the beach. You have everything you need as well as a great train link to the airport, Oslo and anywhere else. Anything between Sandvika and Lyskaer will require a bus. Høvik is lovely. We lived on Nesøya (just west of Sandvika). Wonderful but even though there’s a bus it’s good to have a car. I also loved living in Stabekk – it’s close to Lysaker station where you can get buses or trains. You also have CC Vest shopping. So my list would be Sandvika, Lysaker/Stabekk area and then Høvik – because I loved to live near the sea. It you’re planning on Montessori then Bekkestua is also wonderful with great transport links to Sandvika and Oslo – not so close to the sea though. I wish you the best of luck – such an exciting adventure. You’re so brave. feel free to contact me with any questions !

      • Thanks Sarah this information is super helpful! All the best, Emma

        Sent from my iPhone

      • You’re welcome Emma!

  5. Hi Sarah, Thank you for these insights about Oslo & Norway as a whole. I’m a Malaysian living in the UK and moving to Oslo in a couple of months. Your points are truly useful and I shall take note, especially about stocking up vicks & lemsips and I shall embrace the Asda isles. I’m pretty anxious about the move, in a positive way of course. Happy new year to you & hope your little ones are settling well. xx

    • Wow – fantastic news and good luck with the move. Enjoy Norway as much as we did.

  6. Great to read about your experiences!!!
    We are considering a move to Oslo however, as my two children are not Norwegian speaking the cost of schooling is a concern. My husband would earn a decent salary but doubtful it would cover the school costs.

    • Hi Caroline – totally understand your worry. Will you be putting the children into International school? I’m not sure about the schooling fees in Norway but I assume if one of your are working and contributing to the tax system there might be some credits you will earn. Best contact NAV to find out and ask them some questions

  7. Hi Sarah, Fantastic blog post – will read more this weekend. I’m Norwegian but have lived abroad (US, Australia, South Africa and now Austria) since 1995. My husband is Italian and we have two young sons (aged 1 and 3 1/2). We’re now considering a move to the UK (Reading area) but are a bit put off by the seemingly exorbitant cost of child care. The Reading city council listed the average price as 250 pounds per week! Whereas here in Vienna, our boys attend a private (thus more expensive than average) and extremely good kindergarten for 420 euros per month! Have you looked into (full-time) child care at all?

    Btw I found some of the comments about coffee really funny! To cite the fact that most UK towns have the likes of Costa and Starbucks as evidence that coffee culture in the UK is superior shows that the commenter has never been to the likes of Kaffebrenneriet or Stockfleth’s in Oslo… ;-) I am with you, coffee in Oslo, at least, is generally of very high quality. Though of course expensive…

    • Lovely to hear from you – thanks for leaving a comment. You’re right about childcare in the UK. It seems so expensive and I really understand why many Mums choose to stay at home to look after the kids until they go to school. The only thing I would say is then when your child reaches 3 years old, they are entitled to 15 hours a week free childcare so that will help a little when Lizzie turns three in December. Otherwise the cost can vary per day from £40 to £60. If you have more than one child its even worth considering a Nanny or other childcare options. It really needs looking at in the UK. The Government currently do not motivate Mums to get back into work.

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