What do you know about Scandinavia? Vikings, high taxes, ABBA? Well, there’s a lot more than that.
I’m over in Norway for work for a couple of days and my word – it’s a real pleasure to be back. I’ve spent a lot of time in Scandinavia* over the years. First as a student back in the day on Erasmus, then for occasional work trips, a holiday or two and now again for work. Over time, my appreciate for the Scandinavians and the Scadinavian way of life grows and grows.
There is a lot to dislike about Scandinavia – the weather (very British), the high taxes, high cost of living and the absurd price of alcohol. And that’s just the stereotypes – there’s even more known to those who live here.
But there are a lot of reasons to like Scandinavia:
- Very high standard of living
- very good public facilities, from buses, schools, hospitals
- abundance of green spaces near towns and cities (take your pick from running and walking trails, even ski jumping in Oslo!)
- very good work life balance – and world leading childcare allowances for parents (not just mums!)
- lots of people have cabins in the woods – so no greenbelt worth talking about
- much better housing stock than the UK
- lower property prices too boot!
- generally friendly locals and an open culture
- better public facilities and clean, tidy towns and cities
- abundance of black coffee and pastries
- things that are good for you are cheap
- the nature (particularly in Norway) is just breathtaking
Even some of the preconceptions about tax are not 100% true. I was chatting to a pal who is from Scotland but lives in Oslo working for a company there. He was saying that on a £50,000 salary in Oslo you get paid about 5% less than the UK (after tax, NI…) but that £50,000 job only pays about £40,000 in London. And on a £100,000 salary in Oslo you’d get paid MORE than a £100,000 job in London – except that job would pay about £80,000 and involve around 7.5 fewer hours a week than in Oslo and have 10 more days holiday a year. There may be some cost of living differences – but working in Scandinavia has some compelling pluses.
So, maybe it’s the 5am wake-up this morning, the 10 cups of black coffee or the relaxing walk back from the exhibition to the company rented house in the suburbs but I got a very strong feeling that we should move here for a new chapter in our lives. There are lots of people doing it for a range of reasons. You can get a job with the same or better pay with less stress with nicer people and live in a bigger better home in a cleaner area than you can if you live in the UK. If you have children – they’ll get a better education and maybe their hair will turn blonde too!
The working culture is different too. You finish work at 16:00, no prizes for working late (people will just think that you can’t do your job in the time allowed) and if you need to go pick up your kids at 3pm, you do it and nobody thinks any less of you. By comparison the UK (and most other places) have a poisonous atmosphere of work-hating, grumblers who’ll spitefully joke “you working part time” or something like that when you try to leave the office half an hour early. Scandinavia has the work – life balance the right way round.
This is all maybe a bit of a dream – and I know from my time in Sweden that it’s a bit miserable in Winter when the sun barely gets above the horizon at noon. But it’s a great place to be and luckily, there are lots of job opportunities for those that are willing to relocate.
I don’t know if I’m making a good case – maybe I’m a bit tired, sitting here typing away after a long day at an exhibition. But I often feel that when I visit Southern Europe that it would be nice to live there for the weather but when I visit Northern Europe, I feel like they have worked out what makes society work well and the result is a great place to be. Maybe nothing will come of my Scandinavian Love Affair, but it could be a nice option to FIRE-lite to a less stressful job in Scandinavia.
Oh and finally, the picture of this post is an actual real picture of a place in Norway.
*Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, the Faroes, Greenland – sure they are all different but for those of us who can’t tell the difference, they are all the same. No offence meant.