The random ramblings of a French programmer living in Norway...
2022
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  The Oak and the Reed
Sat 1st January 2022   
This year 2022 marks the beginning of another year prolongating the Covid pandemic that many optimistic people thought would just last a few months.

I've been living in Norway since 2005, and after 16ish years, it's quite easy to see how different people, with different cultures and different ways to approach people deal with this type of crisis.


Disclaimer: I'm not bashing or celebrating anyone, and what I'm writing in this blog post is nothing more than my own take and opinion on what has happened these few last years.

Moving to Norway

I did not move to Norway because I wanted to leave France.

It just happened that I had visited a few countries during my holidays the previous years and when I got a rough patch at work I just decided to try something new, like some of my friends and ex-colleagues had done before by moving to the USA, England, Switzerland or Canada.

I was not ready to do that when they did, but in 2005 everything aligned and I took the leap of faith.

I've to say that the beginning was difficult:

My English sucked, there were some colleagues I could not understand for many months, and they could not understand me either.

My attempts at learning Norwegian were not particularly successful and ended up with some particularly depressing events such as feeling like I had a good grasp on the language until I was invited to a party where some people from other parts of Norway with different dialects and accents were present and I could not understand a word.1

The housing domain was not much better, I had to move apartments 3 times in four years, and the rent was so expensive that I could not put any money on the side.

Financially this also started by a catastrophe: I totally under-evaluated the crazy price of things there and had to ask for a raise after a few months because I was hemorrhaging money and would have to go back to France.

Since I'm obviously still living in Norway, you probably guessed that things improved significantly over time, mostly because I made some choices about what was important and what was not, and I chose to adapt to the environment instead of complaining about things which differed from France.

I often wanted to say to the "expats"2 invited to the French embassy for the National day celebrations, complaining about the brand of Champagne and how Norway is too dark, tool cold, and the food too bland and too expensive... the words of a former French president3:


"S'il y en a que ça gênent d'être en Norvège, je le dis avec le sourire mais avec fermeté, qu'ils ne se gênent pas pour quitter un pays qu'ils n'aiment pas"

"If there are those who are embarrassed to be in Norway, I say it with a smile but firmly, that they do not hesitate to leave a country they do not like."

Becoming Norwegian

The first few years, when I took my holidays to go to France, I was saying that I was "going home for the holidays", but not that long after it became "visiting family and friends in France and then back home to Oslo".

After that I began to enjoy Norway more and more.

Yes, Norwegians are not the most extroverted people in the universe, yes Oslo is not the most exciting city in the world, yes food and alcohol is expensive and most of the high-end restaurants here are probably not better than the average "bouchon Lyonnais"... but adaptation is the key, and instead of focusing on the weak points just search the strong ones!

So what would be the great points of Norway?

Well, things are much simpler and rational here4, Oslo is a human scale city5 surrounded by forest and lakes and there is a ski resort on one of the hills over Oslo which can all be accessed by metro, the public transportation is well developed and easy to use with a unified ticket system that works for bus, tram, metro, local train stations and boats that cross the Oslo fjord.

The Oslo metro map
The Oslo metro map

Then there's the tap water, which is very good. Tasty like bottled source water.

Yes the days are very short and dark (if it did not snow) during winter, on the other hand you have very long days during summers, so you can enjoy going out with the sun from 4:00 to almost 23:00.

Work-wise, the employers just care about you doing your job, not about the fact you came and left at exact times, taking a couple hours to do personal errands or stay home if your children are sick is expected, and it is mandatory for new dads to take some days off to take care of the newborn.

Basically: You and your family are first in the priority list, not your job.

Anyway, it worked for me, and I felt more and more at home, so at some point I realized I could never go back working in France.

Every time I travel back I realize how stressful my birth country is.

Then around 2018 came the news that Norway would start to allow double citizenship starting January 1st 2020!

At that point I decided to get serious about learning the language, took some lessons, then applied for the language and citizen knowledge test, submitted my request to the administration.

Then COVID and Brexit6 happened: The administration got overwhelmed by demands while having to put safety rules in place, which delayed things to a crazy duration, but well, 18 months later I finally got the letter announcing I was now a Norwegian citizen \o/.

I now have two passports and two ID cards, I can vote in two countries but I decided to stop voting in France since I'm not living there anymore.

French and Norwegian passports and id cards
French and Norwegian passports and id cards

COVID handling in France

It was quite striking to compare the way things were handled in Norway compared to France.

I happened to have both France 24 and TV5 Monde channels on my cable TV box, so it was easy to follow rules and news in both countries side by side.

On the French news it seemed that there was not a single voice talking for the authorities: Each day it was a different person, sometimes from the medical field, sometimes the prime minister, sometimes a spokesperson for the government, and they would keep changing on what the rules were.

Instead of saying "at this point we are not sure if ... so by prudence we suggest that.." they kept saying things and their opposite like when starting to say that masks were useless and even possibly dangerous (when they did not have any in stocks) and then backpedaled and said masks were mandatory.

The same thing happened with the rules for quarantine and isolation, documents to have with you when moving around, places allowed or not, etc...

It's also very difficult to take people seriously when they can't even respect their own time tables.

Jean Castex and Olivier Veran
Jean Castex and Olivier Veran

The current prime minister Jean Castex was supposed to be present the new rules which would apply for new year eve celebration at exactly 19:00 and it only started at 19:15... where said that no, the supermarkets would not sell the self tests because it was a professional job requiring the type of information that only pharmacies could provide... to finally learn less than two hours after during the evening news that after all normal shops could sell them, but only until the 31st of January.

No wonder French people are not trusting anything regarding what they are being told, because the message was never clear and often contradictory7.

COVID handling in Norway

On the Norwegian side it was much simpler.

We got informed in advance that at a specific time there will be some announcement regarding the situation.

At the specified time they would all be there on the same location, with some members of the government, health authorities, local advisers, they would all say what they had to say, and that's it: No other side channel or discording voice to confuse people.

When remote work was encouraged, everybody embraced it instead of trying to wiggle out as happened in France with employers and management saying the productivity would drop and that it simply could not be done.

News flash: Yes it can be done8, the main problem is that there is so much dead weight in management positions in French companies that when moving to remote work it become painfully obvious that some people are just of no use at all9.

Now, well, things are not perfect here either: When I came back from my Christmas trip in France it was mandatory to fill in some online documentation with the flight and seat number, visited locations, etc... and to get tested before exiting the airport. Except they were out of tests, so we were told to get tested and report if we were positive.

*sigh*10

Rethinking our world

So anyway, I've been working full time remote since March 202011, which was not a big change since I already had my setup to work remotely two days a week for close to ten years at this point12.

And I've to say, not having to commute is great: Between the time taken to put the shoes, go to the metro station, travel to the destination, walk to the office, and finally start working, that's easily 45 minutes gone for not particular reason other than having to use another chair.

So instead I still wake up at the same time as usual, but I stop working 90 minutes earlier, which gives a lot of free time to do things, relax, etc...

I think the great thing about COVID13 is that it finally forced us to take a hard look at the society we lived in.

It's easy to continue the "business as usual" if you don't really have an incentive to change, but with the pandemic a number of things have become quite obvious:
  • Yes, remote work is possible, but you need to adapt the way you work, and in the long run that means less people driving cars generating pollution or living in a megalopolis if you could instead do the same work from a small cottage in the countryside.

  • The most valuable people for the society are the ones treated like crap (people who maintain the infrastructure, clean up our streets, deliver our packages, nurses, etc...) but apparently just clapping hands at 8 in the evening is just enough, no need to pay them more or provide them with better equipment.

  • Fake news are a real problem, and it's probably going to get worse and worse if it's not handled real soon, because we now have the technology to make videos showing anyone saying anything with no way to identify it's fake without spending a lot of time analyzing the content.

  • The current patents/ip system is harming the society, and big pharmaceutical companies are just taking the world as hostage.

  • Globalization has clearly shown its limits as well: If you move the production of all critical products to another country, don't expect to be able to get some when a worldwide shortage of these products happen, and if you already can't manage to control illegal immigration how can you even imagine containing a pandemic???

There are probably some other points, but that's all I can think of at the moment.

Cars, cars, cars

I'm going to use a rhetorical question from my dad as an example of reframing.

He sent me this message:

Nobody is talking about the problem of snow and electric cars!

Snowy road in France
Snowy road in France

Three hours of traffic jams, dead batteries, how do you deal with that knowing that electric cars are not very good at warming up, so if you are stuck on the road all the night, all the batteries are empty and you can't heat anymore, and then comes the problem of having to recharge thousands of cars in the same situation on the same road.

Same problem during summer vacations with hundreds of kilometers of traffic jam.

Well, he is right, electric cars are not as good as generating heat as thermal engines, but considering they have been selling like hot cakes in Scandinavia over quite a few years now, I guess you can trust us when we say that no: Snow and Electric cars are working just fine together.

NPR Norway Electric Car sales in 2021
NPR Norway Electric Car sales in 2021

What I answered him, that maybe the problem was not the electric car, but having the situation where hundred of thousands of people would all decide to all take their holidays on the same exact day, to go from the same point A to the same point B using cars, is most probably the core problem that should be addressed.

If you stop with the crazy idea that everybody has to be at work at the same time, on the same days, you end up with crazy ideas like not having rush hour anymore. And if you use flexitime, you can even increase the amount of time where you can provide service because some people like to work early and other late.

Trying to reframe the problem gives you plenty of new answers, instead of trying to repeat what decades of politicians and technicians have tried to, failing and failing again.

Trust people, give them autonomy, give them freedom, and don't cut their wings when they come up with things that are out of your comfort zone.

Personally, I use public transport all the time, and when we need a car we use one from our local carsharing service:

Bilkollektivet
Bilkollektivet

We do not need to own a personal car.

Wrapping it up

So anyway, those were my thoughts on this first day of 2022.

Yesterday evening we got ourselves a nice dinner while watching "Don't look up", a movie which is both great and frustrating because it really highlights all that is wrong in the current tendencies our world is going toward.

Definitely a good complement to "Idiocracy".

Next week I'm going to have my third Pfizer shot14 and will continue to work remotely.

If you were wondering about the title, it's a reference to Le Chêne et le Roseau by Jean de la Fontaine where an oak is looking down on a reed, telling it that it's weak and keep bending in all directions while the oak was strong and formidable... until a storm arrives and rips out the roots of the oak while the reed just keeps bending until the storm has passed.

I wish you all a great year 2022, try to do the best from the situation instead of trying to go opposite to the flow :)

And thanks to the proofreading team!

1. Or when I asked for a plastic bag in a shop by using the word "sausage" (pølse) instead of "bag" (pose)
2. Broadly speaking, mostly people working in French companies in foreign countries for a short period of time because it gives them some career boost, but who don't give a crap about the country itself
3. Nicolas Sarkozy.
4. At least compared to France, I do not have other comparison elements!
5. You can compare Oslo to Lyon in term of size and density
6. Apparently the Brexit motivated a significant number of British citizens to try to get the Norwegian citizenship due to the uncertainties.
7. You can enable translated captioning on the video
8. At least if you work in the tertiary, or any job that do not actually require to be to a specific geographical location to perform the job.
9. I'm not saying it happens in all the companies, but the "petit chef" is a cornerstone of the French work universe
10. Yes, I dutifully did the self test, and bought a box in a pharmacy on the way back from the airport, because there were actually some tests available in Norway...
11. With just a couple weeks back to the office around autumn
12. When Funcom opened a studio in Montreal, most of the Oslo employees moved there but I stayed in Oslo, and since I was supposed to work with them it was not really important that I be present in a physical office or at home!
13. If you put aside the fact that some people died, got some very nasty side effects, losses of jobs, business closures, etc...
14. Maybe I'm a sheep of the "Big Pharma" conspiracy, maybe the vaccine is useless and contains 5G nano particles, as far as I'm concerned it's not different from all the vaccines I had since I was children (BCG, hepatitis, flu, pneumococcal, ...)
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