Category Archives: cultural differences

Vinmonopolet…aka one of the worst things about Norway

I’ve resisted posting about one of my least favorite things about living in Norway for a long time.  I figured that, even if I were initially skeptical, I would give the system a chance and see if it grew on me.  It hasn’t.

The basics:

  • Vinmonopolet (“The Wine Monopoly”) is owned by the government.
  • It is a non-profit enterprise.
  • Wine and liquor can only be sold in Vinmonopolet.
  • “Strong” beer can also only be sold in Vinmonopolet. 
    • What’s a strong beer?  Anything over 4.7%.  Yes, seriously.
  • “Weak” beer is the only alcoholic beverage that can be sold in other stores.
  • There are only 239 stores in all of Norway and only 24 in Oslo.

In short, the stores are horribly inconvenient, always have a long line, close at ridiculous hours, and have a terrible selection. 

For the government’s defense, click below.

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Back in Norway soon

I’ve been in the US visiting friends and family for the better part of a month, but I’ll be back to regular posting once I return to Norway.  Until then, I’m enjoying the sunshine and warm weather of the US.

Godt nyttår

God jul!


As I mentioned on Friday, there have been a ton of gray, overcast days in a row here.  We finally saw a tiny bit of sunshine in the middle of the day on Saturday (literally, like 1 hour of sunshine), but for the most part gray, gray, gray.  No snow, but lots of gray.

When I was visiting with my fiancee’s grandparents, they mentioned a term for this period that I hadn’t heard yet: kakelinna.  According to the Norwegian wikipedia page, this concept describes a mild weather period in December, right before Christmas.  In the old days, people believed that the mild weather was the result of all the traditional Christmas baking.  That is, all the people using their ovens caused the weather to become warmer!

Like many beliefs from simpler times, this one has been abandoned in favor of modern science.  The term lives on, however, to describe this period before “fullvinter” or full winter sets in.  To Norwegian eyes the weather may have been mild, but as a southerner, it sure seemed full to me. 

Really short days

Short version: Not a fan.

Long version:

For those loyal readers in the Northern Hemisphere, the days have been getting shorter since late June.  In a few more days, this trend will reverse and the days will get longer.  This event, known as the winter solstice, is much more pronounced the farther north you go in the world.  After you cross the Arctic Circle, you get a period known as polar night, where the sun doesn’t come up for several days to several months depending upon how far north you go.  Even as latitudes approach the Arctic Circle, however, days get dramatically shorter.  Which of course brings me to Oslo.

The Arctic Circle passes through the middle of Norway (click on the map to the right to enlarge), meaning Oslo lies well south of it.  Compared to most of the rest of the world, though, Oslo is very far north.  In fact, the only major cities as far north as Oslo are Stockholm, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, and Anchorage. 

According to, the sun rose at 9:18 this morning and set at 3:07 this afternoon, for a total daylight of 5 hours and 48 minutes.  In the past two weeks, I’ve noticed that we also haven’t gotten any sunlight at all.  I don’t know whether this is typical for the few weeks right around the winter solstice or if we have just happened to have had really bad weather.  I’ll try to remember to post about it next year and if any readers have an idea, post it in the comments. 

Either way, the lack of sunlight and minimal daylight is pretty terrible.  I have heard the opposite version of this during the summer is amazing though.  If you’re curious, I took a few pictures (after the jump).

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So this is why I have never heard of all these Norwegian traditions that are supposedly popular in the US

I’ve already mentioned that I love maps (and, again, if you have relevant maps of Norway, let me know) and this map is pretty darned cool.

(Click on the map for the bigger version that is easier to read.)

The map breaks down the most common ancestry in each of the counties of the United States.  As you can see, the light green representing Norwegian shows up in a lot of North Dakota, some of Minnesota, and a little bit of Iowa, Wisconsin, and Montana. 

The thing that prompted this map is a question I get fairly routinely in Norway: what is __________ like in the US?  The blank can be almost anything that people are curious about and, as a real-live-in-person American, I get to represent the Stars and Stripes in all blank-related matters. 

I usually try to give the best answer I can to these questions.  Often this is the not-very-exciting-but-still-true “it varies by region in the US.”  When it doesn’t vary and there is a fairly consistent American pattern, however, I try to give that as well. 

This all brings me to Christmas and Christmas traditions.  Lately, I’ve heard of several Scandinavian traditions that I thought were not celebrated in the US, but it turns out that they are actually celebrated in the Upper Midwest.  It has usually prompted a second Norwegian to correct me about my knowledge of the US.  A bit embarrassing, but that’s what happens when you get a southerner to speak on behalf of the whole country!  (Note the distinct lack of Scandinavian ancestry in the South.)

So, North Dakotans, why don’t you quit reading and go dance around your Christmas tree or something, eh?