Norway: A Handbook for New Residents (A Review)

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Before moving to Norway, I did several things to prepare. I purchased books about the country and culture, fully utilizing Amazon's if-you-bought-this-you-might-also-like algorithms. I Googled around and came up with a list of expat bloggers living in Norway, dutifully combing their archives for insights into Norwegian life. There was never any way I would find it all, would be truly prepared. But no one was going to accuse me of not trying!

There is one resource I didn't come across at the time and now wish I had. Norway: A Handbook for New Residents (198 NOK) is a book by M. Michael Brady. He collected as much information as he could find about every conceivable topic important to someone living in Norway, and compiled it in a single book. First printed in 2005, I own the updated 2012 edition, and I cannot overstate how convenient and useful it is! 

I do want to point out right away that Mr. Brady supplied me with a copy of this book for the purposes of my writing a review. This does not affect my personal take-away. All opinions expressed about Norway: A Handbook for New Residents are mine and absolutely sincere.

The Handbook is not warm or fuzzy. As the back cover states: "This is a book of facts taken from printed and online Norwegian resources and from country comparisons published by international agencies."

At almost 500-pages long, that's a lot of facts! But Brady has thoughtfully organized the tome, allowing three separate ways to track down the information you need quickly. First, the book is divided into an alphabetical list of chapters by overarching topics (e.g., Arriving and settling, Clothing and footwear, Foreigners, immigrants, minorities and integration, etc.). Then, individual subtopics are listed alphabetically within their relevant chapters. And finally, Brady has supplied two separate indexes by keyword, one in English and one in Norwegian.

When I say the Handbook is comprehensive, I mean it includes everything useful I can think of. From Second-hand shops to Halal meat, from instructions for Pant to an explanation of Julebord.

Chapter 23 is a timeline of Norway's history, from the first traces of human habitation (ca 9000 BC) to 2012, the year Norway passed a Constitutional amendment separating church and state. Chapter 6 (Church, religion and beliefs) breaks down the religious history of Norway's population, but also provides lists of Christian denominations in English and Norwegian, as well as phone numbers and links to churches, synagogues, and mosques within the country. Information on women's shelters for victims of domestic abuse can be found in Chapter 10 (Crime, wrongs, and countermeasures). Meanwhile, Chapter 25 (Housekeeping) diagrams the different widths of available light bulbs and explains municipal fees due for refuse collection and recycling. 

The delivery of this information is clear and concise. For example: 

Cohabitation [Samboerforhold] 
Once social frowned upon, living together without being married has been legal since 1972. Today the partners of nearly on couple in five are not married. The advantage of cohabitation is that it lacks the formal bonds of marriage. Its disadvantage is that the legal aspects of it are imprecise and vary. In financial matters, such as tax and inheritance, cohabitants are considered to be single. In family matters, such as common children, cohabitants share responsibilities as do married people. 

Where helpful, Brady has offered links to additional information and resources available online, as well as telephone numbers, and even ISBNs. For example: 

Birth Control [Prevensjon
Condoms (kondomer) are widely available contraceptives, sold in supermarkets as well as pharmacies and distributed free to young people at www.gratiskondomer.no (Norwegian only). For women, oral contraceptives and contraceptive devices (IUDs) can be provided by GPs and gynecologists. Health clinics offer free birth control to young people. With a prescription, 16 to 19 year old girls can have free oral contraceptive pills, and the authorities are considering including younger age groups. 

Additionally, many sections include cross-references to other relevant topics, citing the appropriate page number. 

But the most helpful part of this book is the practical information I need every day in my life here, particularly regarding food. Having a library of common spices with their Norwegian names is a tremendous! I've spent the last three years using Google on a one-off basis as new recipes arise. Likewise, the Handbook includes a whole table of meat cuts, with Norwegian translations and diagrams to illustrate the origin of each cut. 

Perusing the book thoroughly, I learned a lot about my current home country. Such as: 

  • "Of the 100 longest road tunnels in the world, 25 of them are in Norway, including the world's longest, the 24.5 km Laerdal Tunnel." Tunnels [Tunneler] 
  • "Nordic country statistics show that persons wearing reflectors are one eighth as likely to be involved in night-time accidents as those not wearing reflectors." Pedestrian Reflectors [Personreflekser] 
  • "BirdLife International has identified 66 important bird areas in Norway, 52 on the mainland and 14 in the Svalbard archipelago." Bird watching [Fuglekikking] 

The Handbook is no pleasure read (though humorous moments can be found, such as the section on Norwegian profanity, which includes a list of common curse words, but nothing "too coarse for this book"!) However, it's by far the most comprehensive, well-organized encyclopedia of Norwegian social and cultural minutia I've come across in the three years I've lived here. If you're moving to Norway, or are new to Norway (and by that I mean you've arrived within the last 10 years), I highly recommend Norway: A Handbook for New Residents.

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This page contains a single entry by Audrey Camp published on May 27, 2014 3:44 PM.

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