Germany is known across the planet for the strong car culture present in the country. Germans, more so than other Europeans, see their cars as symbols of status, wealth and power – and it remains, despite being an otherwise environmentally conscious nation, the only country in Europe where driving fast is a national pastime. The autobahn is no exception – many stretches have no speed limit, and on many of the others the rules are ignored (somewhat uncharacteristically for Germans).

As Germany has become a nation of greater social equality, one of the last places with a strong social hierarchy has been the Autobahn system. Our Volkswagen Passat station wagon is a mere peasant, being severely outranked by any (in descending order) Porsche, Mercedes, BMW or Audi cars on the road. The fast lane may only be used by us when passing Opels, Fords and foreign cars. Among the foreign-built cars, there is a seemingly arbitrary pecking order: Japanese cars are just below German, French are next in line, and Italian cars are at the bottom. Trucks and campers are obviously even lower and must keep right at almost all times. There is also a sort of hierarchy for cars with foreign plates: Scandinavians are below the Dutch and Belgians, Eastern Europeans even lower.

This is, of course, only in the dream world of the car owners at the top. In the real world, the rules are broken all the time. And this leads to a desperate quest from drivers of expensive cars to patch up their bruised egos after a cheaper car has passed them. Additionally, drivers of minivans and similar are often seen blazing by at 150 km/h (90-95 mph) to prove that they have preserved their youthful spirit.

The first experience of autobahn pride occurred as we were about to pass a BMW. Going at about 130 in the fast lane, we were crawling up alongside him when he began speeding up. The total mental collapse that must have occurred in the BMW driver’s brain is absolutely hilarious to imagine. After passing a Porsche (only to see it blaze by at almost 200 km/h a few seconds later – butthurt, anyone?), and hitting a few miles of Stau (the local, extreme version of traffic congestion – yet, totally organized and extremely regular, how German), we encountered perhaps the ballsiest Skoda driver the world has ever known. We were passed by (another) Porsche, whereupon this family father (I assume) pulled his Skoda Yeti mini-SUV into the fast lane – cutting off the Porsche and causing smoke to emerge from the driver’s seat.

Today, we also saw an informal street race between three completely unrelated Audi drivers (with license plates from three very different parts of Germany), as they overtook (and undertook) each other to prove who was the fastest driver. At the same time, the Autobahn does not have a higher accident rate than other highways. This may well be because of the hierarchy, even though it is seemingly disobeyed. Unlike in many other European countries, a slower driver will get out of the way if a Porsche is speeding through. Drivers will slow down if the weather is bad. And, most importantly, the concept of road rage exists only if the hierarchy is broken.

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Norwegian society is known worldwide as being harmonious and calm. A Norwegian abroad will likely never complain if the food he is served is of poor quality, because we are too modest to do so. At home, most arguments can be solved over a cup of coffee. In public life, a major strike that lasts for any longer than 24 hours is considered a national crisis. We frequently ridicule the tempers and active body language of southern Europans.

Yet, if you dig deep enough, there will be many, many opportunities to make our Viking blood boil.

  1.        Suggest that Sweden is better than us
    Or Denmark. Or Finland. But especially Sweden. We see our welfare system as absolutely perfect, we believe we are better than them at sports and just about everything else. To the average Norwegian, the best thing about Sweden is lower prices on cigarettes, alcohol and candy. Challenge this truth and you will provoke reactions. Be aware that saying the opposite in Sweden will either provoke a very good laugh or even more anger.
  2.        Make eye contact
    You’ll find this situation on trains, in buses, and in general public. Everyone is staring in a slightly different direction. This is because we like to avoid eye contact. In fact, a total stranger making eye contact will often be regarded by a Norwegian as a threat to his or her existence and treated thusly. This sometimes leads to absurd situations where the last arrivals on a stuffed bus will have to start playing with their cellphones because every single field of view available to them overlaps with somebody else’s.
  3.        Sit down beside a complete stranger when there are other seats available
    If there are unoccupied banks of seats available on a bus, you use one of them. It’s that simple. A common joke involves a Norwegian and an Indian being the only passengers on a bus: the Indian, not used to having elbow room on any form of public transport, thinks the Norwegian is lonely and decides to sit down beside him. Awkward hilarity ensues. And in the unfortunate event that you have to sit next to a stranger, under no circumstances should you talk to him/her. Sit down and SHUT UP!
  4.        Show up late for anything
    There is probably only one people in the world that cares more about punctuality than the Scandinavians, and that people is the Germans. Showing up late for anything more formal than a family party is considered a grave offense. And don’t even think about showing up early unless you want to do the host’s work.
  5.        Build something in our back yard
    Okay, this applies to all western countries. But Norwegians in particular have a firm belief that immediate access to nature is a human right. Basically, wherever you are in Norway, if you look in the right direction, you will see a forest. And even if not nearly all of us use it, the fact that it’s there is vitally important. This occasionally leads to roads having to take mile-long detours every time they come within the same postal code as a forest so as not to impede access for the 50 people living in the nearest village. Also, skyscraper construction in Oslo has been impossible for several years because it might obscure a couple people’s view of the woods.
  6.        Say anything negative about the King
    A lot of Norwegians are passive republicans. But nobody dislikes the King. Nobody can think of anything negative to say about the King, actually. His father, King Olav, was known to say “I have 4.5 million body guards”.  Because nobody has anything negative to say about him, all criticism of the King will basically be taken personally: as if you just insulted someone’s father. Politicians, however, are mostly fair game.
  7.      Say anything negative about the country; in general
    Norway is the greatest country in the world. In fact, former Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland said in one of her new year’s speeches “It’s typically Norwegian to be good”. we are and will be the greatest country ever. Just try telling a Norwegian that Norway isn’t the greatest country in the world. I dare you. Never mind that most of us hate parts of it. “This is such a moralist and conformist country. I hate it! I want to move to Denmark, where you’re allowed to be yourself.” If you manage to convince a Norwegian that anything is bad about Norway except the high taxes, poor infrastructure and the bad weather, you should immediately run for political office. If you don’t manage to convince them, the flood gates will open.
  8.        Mention that nobody cares about the sports we’re good at
    We are, like the US, one of the world’s greatest sporting nations…mostly at sports nobody cares about. Where the US has baseball and American football, we have cross-country skiing, orienteering and handball.  We, however, believe that most of our athletes are known worldwide. And never mind that our football team was beaten by f*cking Moldova – Petter Northug won the World Cup race yesterday! We don’t care about the fact that “We beat you at handball” will likely draw a blank stare in Brazil. We are the greatest sporting nation on Earth – so don’t ruin it for us!
  9.       Tell us that our dialect is ugly/nice
    Most Norwegians speak in a particular dialect. The dialects were formed as a result of Norway consisting of about a million different little valleys with very little contact with each other, meaning that in some regions two guys who live one kilometer down the road from each other speak almost comically different dialects. The dialects divide people into two camps: those who worship their dialect, and those who wish they were born where they speak a different dialect. Tell the wrong person the wrong thing, and they will actually get angry at you.

On Tuesday evening, the Norwegian press received quite unexpected news. It appeared that pop sensation (aka Disney puppet) Justin Bieber had landed at Oslo Airport. Somehow, his fan community had gotten word of it already and crowded the airport terminal. The star himself was therefore driven directly from the plane to the VIP terminal and from there on to Oslo. The chaos the fans created at the airport was just one of the many things to come…

When he arrived in Oslo, the Canadian artist checked in to Hotel Royal Christiania; which is unusual as most celebrities stay at Grand Hotel on Oslo’s main street, Karl Johan. His fans had also expected him to check in to the Grand, with the following amusing results when tabloid newspaper VG’s journalist informed them of the mistake:

Beliebers being redirected

(And the police said “thanks a lot, dude” to the journalist before rolling their eyes and running after the hordes of teenage girls now headed for the other hotel. Fortunately, most of that area is pedestrianized)

Here’s where things get dangerous. First, Bieber’s motorcade exits the hotel and drives in the direction of the Royal Palace (the author still not sure what they were going to do, but is pretty sure it wasn’t visiting the King). The thousands of fans gathered outside the hotel RAN AFTER the cars, straight into heavy traffic including a tram. Nobody was hurt, fortunately, but reportedly, police officers in Oslo suddenly acquired an average of 25 % more grey hairs that evening

.

On Wednesday morning, the author arrived in downtown Oslo for a “class excursion” (motivational Norwegian for “field trip”). The city was already filled with young girls dressed in purple. It had by now been unofficially confirmed that there would be a free concert on the roof of the Opera House. There was already a specially-built stage in the harbor for a more traditional concert in connection with the King and Queen’s 75th birthdays. Bieber would use this stage and have the audience sitting on the opera house roof. At this point, most of the girls had gathered outside the hotel, and screamed every time something resembling movement could be seen through Bieber’s hotel room window.

As the author walked up on the opera roof, chaotic scenes had already begun. A good estimate would be that at 10 AM (i.e. about six hours before the concert was supposed to start) about a thousand people were already on the roof. By the time the field trip was over, the police had blocked off the pedestrian bridge to the opera, and many fans had instead gathered at Jernbanetorget. Eventually, police had to intervene and cancel the planned press conference due to the hysterical amounts of fans. Meanwhile, Bieber’s record company, Universal, finally *officially* confirmed that there was going to be a concert and announced that it would be delayed from 4 to 9 PM. Also, JB would only perform six songs. After much joking that the crowd would be much reduced because the youngsters had to make it home before bedtime, police finally said what needed to be said. In short, they demanded that the concert be held earlier, and they told Universal Records to go **** themselves.

The concert finally occurred at 9 PM and Bieber performed a whooping seven (!!!!) songs. Around 100 fans had to be evacuated due to crushing, dehydration and other problems. Bieber left the stage after about half an hour, and to add insult to injury Universal then did not inform the police where he was going or when he was leaving the country.

Despite the fact that cleaning crews in the capital are currently on strike, the mountain of trash all around the roof of the opera house is the least of the city’s worries. Officials are furious, and have every right to be. Mayor Fabian Stang compared what happened to “setting fire to a wall and being surprised when the house burned down”. The police admit to being underprepared, but are also angry with Universal Records for basically being given responsibility for a situation they were not sufficiently informed about. Universal has, wisely, kept their mouth shut.

This morning Justin Bieber and his crew left for Paris. The Oslo police department said “bonne chance” to the Paris police and took a long-awaited sigh of relief.

Both images in this post are copyright Verdens Gang.

http://www.cphpost.dk/news/local/sex-video-stuns-graduation-ceremony

So basically, yesterday, at a high school in a rather wealthy suburb of Copenhagen (Hellerup), senior students were having one of their last assemblies before graduation – principal and all in attendance. Earlier that morning, teachers were given a quiz where they were told to “gætte klunker” – an expression that a Danish friend translated as “guessing d*cks”. They were shown pictures of students’ genitalia and told to guess who it belonged to. The teachers all found this to be in very bad taste, and refused to take the quiz, but took no further action. Later, students were shown the same genitalia on the big screen in the assembly hall, and told publically who it belonged to. Teachers did not take action here either.

The icing on the cake came when a “sex tape” of a student and an unknown young female was shown on the screen. Students at the school have said that the “tape” was basically a montage of poor-quality photos of the pair engaged in carnal relations, but nonetheless, it was obviously found to be disgusting. The principal and the teachers delivered stern reactions after the tape was finished, they also reported it to the police (it was assumed that neither party in the tape had consented); but did not attempt to stop what was happening during the two minutes the video lasted.

Danish media have since been running stories about the ways the various high schools (gymnasier) have been trying to attract students over the past few years. Instead of academic performance and quality; it seems many schools have attempted to market their party atmosphere. The Danish People’s Party (who are otherwise known as right-wing a-holes in the mainstream press) were the first to respond, calling on the government to stop this insane low culture at high schools. While the author does not agree that this should be a governmental matter, it certainly does not bode well for the Danish educational system if students choose their schools primarily based on the parties and sexual cultures offered at each institution.

All that aside, in Norway we are having great fun saying “Only in Denmark”. After all, Denmark is the only country where this:

…Is considered a breakfast drink.

http://www.cphpost.dk/news/local/sex-video-stuns-graduation-ceremony

It’s hot, it’s late in the school year and nobody has anything to do. The result is that at school, students are enjoying more of a vacation than many of them will during the actual summer break. Students are playing volleyball, football, ultimate frisbee and “enspretten” (no idea what this is called in English, the idea is to pass the ball between people without it touching the ground more than once); there’s ice cream everywhere, people have even brought waffle irons and small disposable grills (engangsgrill) to school. Teachers have classes outside, and most of them do not mind at all that students are goofing off. The author is writing this from a black keyboard in the sun and is therefore making an effort to make each key touch as short as possible.

This is when Norwegians enjoy life the most. People are out walking at midnight, when the sun is still up and the temprature is still comfortable. There is little to complain about, which is probably also why the government has strategically scheduled wage negotiations, and thus the time of year when strikes are most likely to occur, for around now. Teachers across the country are on a brief strike – but nobody seems to notice. Norwegians have ingrained in their genetic code that life is to be enjoyed when the weather is good, and a little labor dispute is not going to be put in the way of that.

Doctor’s certification

I refer to my previous certification, dated April 18 2012.

To satisfy the complete lunacy/idiocy in the welfare office system, I confirm that she is still pregnant, with due date based on ultrasound as before, on August 5 2012.

Olav Haugen
General Practicioner

This letter was sent in the direction of the welfare office (NAV) on Stord, an island on the west coast, on May 18. A pregnant woman had sent a letter to NAV notifying them that she was pregnant, and thus eligible for support payments. NAV did not reply, and when she contacted them she was told that she had not come far enough along when the letter was sent. Therefore, they had to return to their family doctor (fastlege) and get him to write out another letter. The doctor was, understandably, somewhat frustrated.

The picture has made its way all across the Norwegian interwebz, and the couple has recieved thousands of declarations of support from people who have had equally frustrating experiences with the welfare office. Since agencies responsible for unemployment insurance and welfare payments were combined into NAV (meaning “hub”) in 2006, the system has become even more notorious for being rigid, disorganized and hopelessly unhelpful than before. Tales of lost documents, refused certification, frightening budget deficits and other bureaucratic mishaps have become so common, they have lost their noteworthyness in the media. For this general practicioner, things had obiously gone too far.

Exam season has begun at Norwegian high schools. Thousands of students have gotten to know about their written exams, which will take place over the next two or three weeks before oral exams begin in mid-June. The author himself is finishing up his second year, and will only have an oral exam (the second year has a 50/50 division between oral and written exams). Third-year students in the college preparatory program, meanwhile, have been picked for written exams in three subjects – namely their primary form of Norwegian; and two of their elective subjects (or one elective subject and their secondary form of Norwegian).

The Norwegian school system can be said to attempt to do as much sorting of students in three years as the Dutch, French and German school systems give themselves between six and ten years to do. After ten years of obligatory and comprehensive education, where students are hardly given any choice of courses and where the network of advanced courses in various subjects is patchy at best and up to the discretion of individual teachers, students are given twelve different programs to choose between at the age of 16. While most students choose the college preparatory program mentioned above (studiespesialisering), it is also possible to choose programs like “music, dance and drama”, “electro subjects”, “design and crafts” and “service and transportation” (the latter program seems to have been made as an arbitrary mix of whatever was left). For their second and third years of high school, students outside the college preparatory program are able to pick between dozens of other courses, and will in all cases be able to switch over to an intensive college prep program (among other things involving ten classes of Norwegian a week, something many find very hard to stomach.)

The system seems ideal on paper – students are given a much greater degree of choice than in other countries, and are given the right to choose at an age where they are far more mature than, say, in Germany where the choice has to be made at ten. In practice the system poses as many problems as any other educational system. For one, there is a deep divide between the various vocational programs and the college prep. This divide has its roots in the old system that existed until 1994, where vocational schools and “gymnasiums” (traditional secondary education) were two separate institutions. With the 1994 reform of the educational system; in the interests of traditional Norwegian equality principles, everyone had the right to a place in a secondary education institution and the two institutions were theoretically merged. The result would ideally have been a reasonable amount of vocational schools and a reasonable amount of theoretical schools; instead there is a large surplus of college preparatory students. Many of them would likely have been both happier and better suited in a vocational program, but the counties funding secondary education in Norway have discovered that college prep courses are much more cost-effective and therefore massively invested in them. The result is that Norway now has to import practically every kind of craftsman – from plumbers and electricians to painters, bus drivers and chimney sweeps.

Another result of the high amount of choice is a serious lack of students specializing in natural sciences. In the college preparatory program, students are in practice allowed to drop math after their second year and are only required to take a generic natural sciences subject in the first year (naturfag). Students are allowed to pick three elective subjects, and many now choose to fill these with things like philosophy, marketing and sociology. While it is true that many students (including the author) do not exactly excel in natural sciences, numbers from the welfare office (NAV) suggest that the Norwegian economy is short 16 000 engineers at the present time, and will require many more in the future. Unless there is a sudden and dramatic change in the future, or Norwegian companies open up for more engineers from abroad (there should certainly not be a shortage of unemployed engineers in the EU, with stories of Portuguese engineers moving to Angola for work), the Norwegian government and economy faces a grave crisis.

Fortunately, there are exceptions. The author himself attends a school where there are no fewer than five physics classes in a year of around 160 students, where 21 students are taking an extra math course exclusively for fun, and where more than half of the year is likely to end up in Trondheim at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). Such schools exist in practically all counties, and will likely be important contributors to Norwegian society in the future.

Valler videregående skole – Where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.