Norway is a very long and narrow country situated at the northern tip of Europe. It extends 1 770 km/1 100 miles from south to north, a distance equal to that from Oslo to Rome or from New York to Miami, crossing the Polar Circle at about 2/3 of the length.
Its ragged coastline measures 19 950 km/12 400 miles and once upon a time inspired the Vikings to name the country Norway, i.e. the way to the North.
Government & Royal Family
Norway is a constitutional monarchy. In practice, however, the legislative body of the 169-member Stortinget (Parliament) rules the Kingdom of Norway.
The country has a multi-party system with a general election held every fourth year. At present a coalition government including the Labour Party, Socialist Left, and the Norwegian Centre Party is in power, headed by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. Norway is one of few West-European countries which has opted not to join the European Union.
King Harald and the rest of the royal family are very popular among the Norwegian people. The Royal Family celebrated the wedding of Crown Prince Haakon Magnus to Mette-Marit Tjessem Høiby in August 2001. The Royal Couple have two children, Princess Ingrid Alexandra (born January 21, 2004) and Prince Sverre Magnus (born December 3, 2005).
Economy & standard of living
For many foreigners, Norway is known as the Land of the Midnight Sun. It is also renowned for its beautiful countryside, Fridtjof Nansen’s polar expeditions and humanitarian work, Edvard Munch’s paintings, Edvard Grieg’s musical compositions, Henrik Ibsen’s dramas, the adventurous voyages of Thor Heyerdahl, and its shipping industry.
During the last decades, however, Norway has made itself visible to the rest of the world through its innovative ideas and technologies, its booming oil industry and active participation in areas such as environmental protection and energy management.
Over the past century, Norwegians have proved adept at making the most of their rich natural resources. Norway is a leading producer of aluminum, magnesium, ferro-alloys and chemicals. It is one of the major suppliers of crude oil and natural gas to Western Europe. A combination of hydropower and extensive forests has created a thriving pulp, paper, and lumber industry. Norwegian skills and know-how in energy development are in great demand all over the world.
Norway’s merchant fleet ranks among the world’s largest and the seas around the coastline yield a harvest of fish that formed Norway’s earliest export industry.
The exceptionally harsh weather conditions in the North Sea have placed Norwegian oil companies in the vanguard when it comes to new technology for deep-water exploration and exploitation.
The rich oil resources have also made Norway a wealthy country. The standard of living is high and the average GNP per capita is one of the highest in the world.
Welfare & social system
The Norwegian welfare system is founded on equality, and the country’s legislation is designed to support a society based on equal rights. Norway has a huge middle class with very few extremely rich people. This is mainly due to a high income tax and a well-developed social security system.
The Storting (Norwegian Parliament) has established safeguards to ensure the rights of individual citizens and equal rights for men and women, as well as for the protection of children’s rights and consumer interests.
Each group has an ombudsmann, a Norwegian word that has been adopted internationally as the term for commissioners protecting individual rights.
Equal status for women has become accepted to the point where it would be unthinkable today to appoint a Norwegian government without ensuring virtually equal representation of both sexes.
The main language of Norway, Norwegian, belongs to the North Germanic branch of the Germanic language group. It is quite similar to German in vocabulary and pronunciation and is therefore easier to learn for Germans or people with a good knowledge of the German language.
Until about 1850 there was only one written language, which was strongly influenced by Danish during the 434-year union of the two nations. Nynorsk or new Norwegian was then created out of a mixture of the rural dialects and the Old Norse language. After a long feud, mostly of urban-rural makeup, the two different forms received equal status and are referred to under the terms of bokmål or book Norwegian and nynorsk or new Norwegian. As a result, you will find all official forms and documents written in both languages, but Norwegians easily understand both variants.
The Norwegian alphabet has three extra letters, æ, ø, and å. Modern Norwegian has many dialects but all of them, as well as Swedish and Danish, are understood throughout the Scandinavian countries.
The Sami language, which is the mother tongue of some 20,000 Samis residing mainly in northern Norway, is also an official language in Norway.
Anyone who has a good knowledge of English will, however, easily manage both as a student and as a visitor in Norway since most Norwegians are proficient in English.
Even though Oslo is situated on a latitude of 60° North, you should not leave your swimsuit at home. Although this is as far north as Anchorage in Alaska, Norway owes its warmer climate to the Gulf Stream, which carries 4,000,000 to 5,000,000 tons of tropical water per second into the surrounding seas.
The Gulf Stream keeps the fjords from freezing entirely, even in the arctic Finnmark region. Even more important are the southerly air currents brought in together with these warm waters, especially during the winter.
The annual average temperature during the winter on the West Coast is 7° i.e. 30° Celcius (54° Fahrenheit) above the average temperature for the 60° latitude.
Oslo and the rest of southern Norway enjoy an active beach and water sport season in the summer months.
In comparison to western Norway, which has relatively warm winters, cool summers and frequent rain, eastern Norway, where Oslo is situated, is sheltered by the mountains in the center of the country and has an inland climate with warm summers, colder winters, and less than 30 inches average annual rainfall.
Ski is actually a Norwegian word. Norway is the home of skiing and a leading nation in winter sports. The snow usually falls right in time for a white Christmas, and skiing conditions are excellent from January through March.
Peaceful nature – pulsating cities
Norway has approximately 4.6 million inhabitants with an average population density of 13.9 per square kilometre. This means that Norwegians have plenty of space to move around in.
Nevertheless, since 20% of the country’s inhabitants live in cities, there is also a chance that you will get stuck in a traffic jam or find yourself accompanied by 30,000 screaming music enthusiasts at a concert at Oslo’s Valle Hovin. Oslo has a population of slightly more than 500,000 and has all the amenities of a major European city.
Norway is a country of contrasts. Soaring mountains, breathtaking fjords, ice-blue glaciers, deep green forests, fertile valleys and rich (or meager!) pastures. The glowing red midnight sun is a sight never to be forgotten. The northern lights fire the imagination of everyone that catches a glimpse of them.
The nature of Norway is extraordinary and so is its impact on Norwegians. Norwegians have always lived close to, and in harmony with, the nature surrounding them.
Many Norwegian families have a cottage, some even have two – one in the mountains and the other by the ocean. Norway promotes the preservation and protection of nature through strong environmental legislation.
Moreover, realizing that pollution and degradation of the environment are global concerns, Norway has been actively involved in pursuing international cooperation to try to meet this challenge.
New in Norway (pdf) – Practical information from public agencies, may be ordered free of charge from
Living in Norway - A practical guide - a 416-page A-to-Z sourcebook for living and working in Norway by Michael Brady and Belinda Drabble
Living in Norway (pdf, 4,28 MB) - a brief guide to living in Norway, published by the Centre for international cooperation in higher education (siu.no)
Norway Career Guide (e-book, download at a fee)
How to Understand and Use a Norwegian - A user's manual and trouble-shooter's guide, by Odd Børretzen
Brown Cheese Please - Norway inside out from the outside in, by Jenny K. Blake
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