I really really like Norway. I have never truly understood why I would like it any better than any other cool place I have been to, but I just do. It started back in around 2008, and like a lot of elements of my life, it has its roots in a game called World of Warcraft.
I started playing WoW in 2005 because – quite frankly – if I ever wanted to interact with my friends again, I had to. If you have never played, it was an intensely engaging, funny, and challenging game, and had a lot of room for social interaction. Every player you saw running around was an actual, real life person, and you could form together into larger formal groups, or guilds. Our guild was called <Fearsome War Engine> and was an awesome place to be…most of the time. A lot of the friends that I still interact with the most today are people I met in <FWE>, which speaks volumes about the power of the game for drawing like-minded people together. We had a massive representation of European nations in the guild and it made for a really diverse and interesting experience.
There are two opposing factions within World of Warcraft; Alliance (Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes – you know, the clean cut, ‘good guys’) and Horde (Orcs, Undead, Taurens [cow people] and Trolls; the ostensible bad guys). In actuality, every race is pretty much as bad as each other; it all depends what flag you end out waving based on which character looked coolest when you were creating them. The two factions started out as being sworn enemies, and most players had a kill on sight policy. However, we (Horde) did things a little differently in <FWE>. During our journeys, we came across an Alliance guild called <Might and Magic> and while I was never there at the start to understand precisely how this was negotiated, we had a non-aggression pact with them. It would have been easy enough to kill each other out of hand, but (most of us) chose not to, out of respect. It was a small but intensely important thing to me; I cannot roleplay. I cannot be anyone other than me, I cannot make choices other than those I would ordinarily make. The policy of NOT killing someone when you reasonably could, just because you don’t want to be an utter cunt, really spoke volumes to me.
One of the nicest people in <Might and Magic> was a lady hunter called Arya. She was a truly nice and honourable player and I liked her a lot.
After a couple of years I got a little bored with my Horde characters, so I picked up a second account off of a friend who no longer played, and started a character in the Alliance faction. [Initially, you could have numerous different characters on your account, but they all had to be either one faction or the other. Eventually, the creators changed the rules so that frankly you could do whatever the fuck you liked]. One of the first things I did when I created my little dwarf Rogue was send Arya a message to say that I had snuck in. She actively encouraged me to join the guild she was in at the time, <The Garrison>. I was a little intimidated because they had a reputation for being a bit hardcore and professional, and I was quite frankly neither.
That said, they were impressed with my application and I was allowed to join. In its own way, <The Garrison> was as good as my own guild. Arya was Norwegian and there were quite a few other Norwegians in the guild too. I got on with them all really well, which I suppose in itself wasn’t unusual because I tend to get on with most people… You know, the whole trying not to be an arsehole thing frequently works in my favour during interactions with other human beings.
I went out to visit them in 2009, and I was totally smitten by everything I experienced. Norway is an astoundingly beautiful country, and the people I met were great. There seems to be a lot of commonality with the British in terms of sense of humour, outlook and general alcoholism… given that they are the three most important things in my life, it might explain why they appeal so much. I even liked the weather; when I went out first time, it was cold and snowy, but not cold in a way that I had ever experienced before. It was a NICE cold if there is even such a thing; more clean and crisp than uncomfortable, whereas if it’s cold in England, it soaks into your bones and makes you hate everything and everyone.
I went out to Norway again a week ago, this time to Bergen, and I fell in love with the place. It was more beautiful than I remembered the country being, and I felt genuine grief when I had to leave after a mere 4 days.
One of the things that I like the most about travelling around the world is observing which things are different, and which things are the same. In Bergen, I was watching their equivalent of our Premiership Football commentary show, and it was the precise same programme, just with a different accent, and it was brilliant. There are however a few significant things that I have observed about Norway, and while they might not strike you quite as much as they did me, I still think they are worthy of note;
- The 3G signal in Norway sucks utter balls. As someone who has a closer and more intimate relationship with the Internet than I have with most of my family, this is a bit of an issue for me.
- Conversely, nearly everywhere I went – including on the aeroplane – had free Wifi, which almost makes up for it.
- Beer is largely 3 times as expensive as in the UK…and you can’t buy it from a shop after 8pm. This involves a level of planning ahead that often escapes me.
- There are no neck-tattooed, Staffordshire bull terrier-wielding youths on the streets. It makes for a far less soul-destroying experience when you need to go anywhere.
- There is an impressive array of beards, all featuring somewhere on the ginger spectrum, and who doesn’t approve of that?
- Everywhere is CLEAN. Coming from a place where McDonalds packaging tends to drift around like tumbleweed in a Spaghetti Western, it’s delightful.
- There aren’t many people…by comparison to the frothing tide of sullen humanity that you have to fight against in most parts of England, at least.
- Public transport is pleasant, well designed and efficient. Where I live, buses tend to smell like feet, unwashed crotch and Beef & Onion crisps, and they may or may not turn up when they’re supposed to.
- The few people that there actually are in Norway all seem to be incredibly pleasant and have always been very forgiving of my abject lack of Norwegian language skills. Except the ones that laugh when I try to pronounce their names. But I call them Dave, and it’s all good.
- The hills, the mountains, the fjords, the architecture; everything is so beautiful, it will give you a scenery-boner.
- The water tastes sweet. Not that I drink much water, mind, since the ABV% is too low.
- Cars actually stop at pedestrian crossings, even when there are no traffic lights.
- The Norwegian accent is proper horny. There is something about the way it dances about that makes me a bit squiffy, and I apologise for nothing.
- Despite being way closer to the Arctic than the UK, the weather is lovely – for those of us that don’t wish everywhere was Benidorm, at any rate.
- The crows all look like they are wearing tank tops/sweater vests, and I love them.
On balance, if I had an in any way obviously employable skillset, I’d have been off years ago *sigh*