It's always exciting to visit new countries--especially when they speak a language that is completely foreign to my ears. When I stepped onto my Norweigan Air flight, I was greeted with what sounded like "Hi hi" (kind of like bye bye in reverse). I wasn't expecting to hear something that so closely ressembled English, and managed to mutter "hello" instead of "bonjour." Luckily for me, everyone educated in Norway speaks English! They start learning English in school at age 6. And studying for a year in England is a requirement to graduate from college. I'm sure the focus on learning English is due to Norway's relatively small population. The capitol city of Oslo has only 600,000 people. Plus, unlike its southern European counterparts (France, Spain, England, Portugal), Norway did not participate in the Imperialism game, colonizing countries from Africa to South America to Asia.
So yea, not many people outside of Norway speak Norweigan.
Norweigans undoubtedly win for the most fabulous outerwear. Never before have I seen so many different styles and legnths of coats and furs and fur vests, and oversized lamb wool's vests--winter fashion at its best! Also, Oslo was surprizingly diverse. I wasn't expecting to see so many "diverse" people sprinkled among the tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, tiny-nosed Arctic people.
I took the Flytoget from the airport to Oslo's city center. This was definitely the nicest, most modern train I have ever been on. Everything in Norway is very clean and modern. This is likely due to a mix of Scandanavian culture of modernity and minimalism, mixed with being a wealthy country. If you have interacted with Northern Europeans (Dutch, Germans, Danish, Scandanavians) you have probably noticed that they are very neat and orderly--everything has a place! Norway is very wealthy due to its very small population, and its off-shore drilling of a very large oil supply. That being said, people pay lots of taxes and they don't complain about it! Probably because they have faith in their government's ability to provide them with "social security" (which I refer to loosely as a bundle of government programs, and not just the Social Security that we understand as Americans. Also, in line with the Scandanavian mentality, there is a lot of gender equality. I mean, unisex public bathrooms, the whole 9 yards.
Both maternity leave AND paternity leave are mandatory. The mother must take 3 weeks preceeding the birth and 6 weeks after, and can take up to 11 months at FULL pay, and another 2 months at 80%. She can then take another full year unpaid. The father can take 2 weeks prior to the birth unpaid (although almost all dads are compensated by their employers). And the dad also gets ten weeks paternity leave at 100% pay. He can't "transfer" those 10 weeks to the mom, which is why it's considered mandatory.
Also, gay people can get married. Since 2008.
I had a great weekend and there are several posts to follow on my day in Bygøy, my enlightening experience at the Nobel Peace center, and Yogurt Heaven--a frozen yogurt business a friend and fellow Trojan owns in Oslo. Other posts will be added this Sunday and next week (when I get a better internet connection to upload photos!)