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Jeff Ackerman: Norway might be a nice escape

I may have found an escape hatch, if this greatest nation on earth doesn’t shape up soon.

Welcome to Norway, home to the world’s most optimistic consumers.

My family got a small taste of Norway from our student intern Alexander, an 18-year-old whose English vocabulary was mostly filled with, “nice,” especially when he was shopping. The United States has become a bargain basement for international travelers, as the dollar has been reduced to fire starter.



Alexander is on his way back to Norway today, after spending a couple of weeks with me and a couple of weeks with Jeff Pelline and his family. He’s a good young man with an adventurer’s spirit and we’re glad we got to know him.

I hadn’t thought much about Norway until Alexander showed up. Except for the Sons of Norway, a group of folks Alexander went to see at an evening affair in Penn Valley, who does?




I mean, really. It’s not like you wake up one morning and say, “Hey. I have an idea. Let’s go to Norway for vacation this year.”

My daughter’s friend thought Norway was, “just next door to Canada,” for crying out loud. “No, that’s Sweden,” I told her. “Norway is just up the road from Mexico.”

Kids these days.

Norwegians like to stay out of the international limelight, which is what makes them so cool. You never read about Norway invading anything but a ski resort, and even then they buy lift tickets first.

I suppose that’s why Norway was selected the “Most Peaceful Nation on Earth.” It also ranked tops in “human development” from 2001 to 2006, losing the title to fellow Nordic nation Iceland in 2007.

In case you hadn’t heard, Norway has a lot of oil, which explains its ability to take good care of its humans. And when you have lots of oil, there isn’t as much incentive to invade another country. Norway is the world’s third-largest oil producer, just behind Russia and Saudi Arabia.

“Nice,” as Alexander might say. I’d translate that to “sweet.”

There is always relativity when comparing nations and wages. Alexander says he earns the equivalent of $24 per hour working part time in a grocery store back home. But his costs are around 30 percent higher than they are here, which means he’d earn the equivalent of $16 per hour for the same job here. That’s still a pretty “nice” wage, all things considered.

Even though Norway has lots of oil, Norwegians still pay around $12 per gallon for gasoline. Alexander says it forces people to conserve, which he thinks is a good thing.

“You guys sure drive big cars,” he told me on the way to the coast last week. Norway also ranks among the top in terms of environmental quality.

As you can imagine, Alexander’s eyes lit up when I told him we were going to the beach. Images of bikini-clad, sun-tanned American “Girls Gone Wild” whizzed through his blonde-topped head. Then we got to Mendocino, where it was foggy and cold and I had to explain the difference between Malibu and Fort Bragg.

“It’s a lot like Norway here,” he mumbled, putting his camera away. You can understand Alexander’s frustration when you realize that the sun never gets above the horizon during the winter in Norway and he was in desperate search of a California tan. We took him to the Yuba River for a sunburn instead. Norwegians burn easily.

I also had to convince him that it’s not always smoky in Nevada County. After the second week, he started doubting me and I’m sure when he gets home he’ll tell all his friends to hurry to California before Hollywood burns to the ground.

Alexander has a year of primary school remaining. They do 13 years before deciding on college, trade school or military. He said he’s going to the university in Oslo next year. He also said he wants to be a journalist, which may not be a bad gig in Norway, since Norway ranks second among newspaper-buying nations (Japan is first). An estimated 580 of every 1,000 Norwegians buys a newspaper each day.

Nice.

Alexander promised to save a place for me and my family when the time comes to get out of town. I had my heart set on North Dakota (another great oil boom economy), but that was before I heard that King Harald is always looking for good help.

Besides … my daughter likes blonde boys and when she heard Australia had lots of poisonous snakes, she needed options.

“So what would you think of Norway?” I asked her.

“Nice,” she said.

Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299, jeffa@theunion.com, or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.


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