Category Archives: What’s it like

What’s it like: Easter break

Easter holidays play out differently here than what we experienced in the states. As far as I can tell, all schools have the same spring break, the week adjacent to Easter. And the break is called påskeferie – Easter vacation.Almost all businesses are closed the Thursday and Friday before Easter, and the Monday after Easter. Thursday is skjærtorsdag, Friday is langfredag, and Monday is 2.påskedag. All the shops in the city are closed. You might be able find one of the small Sunday grocery stores open, but that is about it. Most shops are open on Saturday (påskeaften – the day before Easter), but only for a few hours.

Here are some photos from our Easter break – it was a great week with beautiful, summer-like weather, lots of outdoor time, hanging out with friends, and getting to know our neighbors better.















What’s it Like: Eating Out

Eating out was a frequent part of everyday life when we lived in the states. It was typically inexpensive, and was the most common way to meet up with friends.But not so much in Norway. Going out to eat was a pretty big part of our culture in the states, but not really a norm here. While we do have restaurants, you don’t normally find yourself having to wait for a table due to large crowds. Most of the time if we want to meet up with friends, we do so in one of our homes, or maybe at a park or out for a walk.

We do go out occasionally. I kind of like that it isn’t so common: that makes it more of a treat! Here are some shots from various restaurants we’ve visited since moving here.

Enjoying fish & chips in Sweden
Excited over Swedish pancakes
A special dinner out with friends
at a traditional Norwegian restaurant
One more perk of a visit from grandparents:
a trip to Oslo and a meal at TGI Fridays
Our anniversary last year:
Chinese food!
Our favorite burger place: Star Grill


A national favorite (and a family favorite!):
the kebab tallerken
The boys enjoying kebab
A rare trip to McDonalds (not our fave

What’s it like: Being the new person #expatliving

I don’t know about you, but the thought of being the new person has always brought on a lot of anxiety for me.I remember the summer before fourth grade, when my parents moved us to a new city. I left the comfort of a small private school where I knew everyone, and began public school for the first time. The first day was filled with lots of butterflies in the stomach. But I have to tell you how relieved I was when I met another girl in my class who was also a first-timer, after her first few years in private school. We quickly became friends, and remain friends now, nearly 30 years later.

Then came the bigger move, in the middle of tenth grade. After years with friends and many layers of comfort and familiarity, I had to transfer mid-school year to a new high school, an hour+ away from our old town. I knew no one. No.One. Sixteen years old, with my own car, I suddenly found myself alone again. And riding the bus. Yes, humiliating. And this was the country. So all the kids – from elementary to high school – rode on one bus together. As the bus driver blasted Billy Ray Cyrus.

That transition was a bit harder, but I made it. In America, at least in my experience, people tend to be curious about the new person. They introduce themselves to you, and ask questions.

And I thought that was normal. But as with many things over the past year, I’m learning that some of what we considered ‘normal’ is really more cultural.

Foreign to Familiar
by Sarah A. Lanier

Such is the case with being the new person. Thankfully, we read about what to expect before we arrived in Norway. So it wasn’t a total surprise. But there is a difference in reading something and experiencing it firsthand…

In America, people introduce themselves to the new person. But here in Norway, the new person should not simply assume or expect the same. We’ve learned that if you want to meet people, you need to just go ahead and introduce yourself. It’s one of the cultural differences we’ve come to recognize and accept.

What is it like where you come from? Who introduces whom? Have you ever had a cross-cultural difference that created difficulties?

Related Reading: Much of this stems from the differences between Hot and Cold cultures/societies. A year or two ago, I read a book that helped me a lot in processing these differences: Foreign to Familiar: A Guide to Understanding Hot and Cold-Climate Cultures. A great read to help you recognize and hopefully avoid cross-culture misunderstandings.


Architectural Digest: Sandefjord Edition

We’ve had a number of people ask us what houses look like here in Norway. So on Sunday, we went for a walking tour of our neighborhood to show you a little of what we see around us.Architectural style can vary from fylke (county) to fylke. And of course, styles and methods change with time as well.

We live in Vestfold fylke, and while most of the homes around us have a similar style (more akin to the home where we live, a 2-story built around 1897), it is not hard to find some variety as well. And it doesn’t take more than a stroll to the next street north of us to see what we’re talking about. Go up the hill and take a left, and you just might feel like you’re walking through a very random issue of an architecture magazine.

This is the first we come to as we begin to turn off our street. An interesting house – very large – and a mix of stone and mortar. It looks impressive at night!

This style of home is fairly ordinary here: particularly the white with black roof combo. It must be nice to have that garage in the back!

When my mom and step-dad visited last year, they couldn’t get over the fact that much of Norway is rock. And what do you do when you want to build and there are rocks in the way? Just work around them, as was the case with this home.

Here is another angle of the house built on the rock. Reminds me of a parable in the Bible (you can read it HERE),

While most areas remain consistent in architectural style, this particular street really does exhibit a wide range of eras and materials. This structure appears to be at least two apartments (not at all uncommon: many homes here are multi-family homes), and was obviously built more recently than many of their neighbors.

Every time Zack and I walk past this house, it reminds us of Doc Brown’s house in Back to the Future. Great Scott!

It’s hard to see here, but I really like this modern home built on the hill.

Here, you can see how the houses are built regardless of elevation. They keep going up!

In another month or two, you won’t be able to see this one for all of the trees.

Zack and I like this one a lot. It has a bit of a German/alpine feel to me.

And the green roof here is fun.

You can occasionally spots a house with a grass roof. We don’t see them often in our area, but did see a little playhouse with one.

Finally, this one is on a different street. But we think the dragons are interesting – definitely has an Asian feel to it!

Do you see anything similar to homes where you live? Which one is your favorite?

What’s it like: Pant (no, not what you wear)

This is an example of a bottle recycling/refund machine
(photo found on Aftenposten)

As I mentioned in a previous post (read it HERE), recycling is big in Norway. And in addition to the things you just put into recycling containers, you can also return bottles for a refund. They call the refund Pant (pronounced pahnt) and I believe it can be a noun or a verb.

I’ve also talked about how the boys focus on specific units/themes at school throughout the year (read that post HERE). Daniel’s current unit of study is Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

It is exciting when you see your kids do more than just ‘book learn’ something.

Daniel’s box that is now sitting in the entryway at his school

One evening the boys and I were talking about things going on at school: their units of study, what they liked about what they were learning, plus important things like eating lunch, recess, PE, etc. Daniel began complaining that they don’t have any decent equipment (balls, jump ropes, etc) on their playground. And through a series of questions I posed, he came up with the idea of asking people to bring in their bottles and the money that is collected could be used to purchase some new equipment. He works with his teacher to write the proposal, and then presented it to the principal for approval.

I’m really proud of Daniel and his ability to apply his unit of study to everyday life. It’s fun to see his enthusiasm each day when he checks the box in the school entryway to see how many more bottles were brought in.

What’s it like: Language school

Now that we are getting back into the language school routine, I thought I could share a little about it.Our current class meets 4 times a week. We meet from 12:10 – 2:35, and have Wednesdays free.

Not sure if it’s the norm, but all of our classes so far have been around 20 – 25 students.

We do a variety of things. There is always a text book, and normally a workbook to go with it. So some of our time is spent going through the text book, reading together aloud, reading in groups, sharing discussion questions. We have times where we talk about current events or cultural happenings. We have lessons in grammar (which I love, but I’m a grammar geek!). From time to time, we’ll have a special event, like a day at the beach, or a time to bring food and share things from your home culture. We have homework, writing assignments, and opportunities to do oral presentations.

In our beginner course, the teacher would use some English to help explain things. But since moving to the next level last August, it is taught only in Norwegian.

Our classes have really been helpful in our language development. And it has been a good way to meet some many great people!

What’s it Like: Grocery Shopping

Grocery shopping here is not all that different here. Not greatly, different, anyway. Here’s a rundown on similarities and differences…
What’s the same as what we were used to in the states?
  • The food is pretty much the same. We can get most anything at grocery stores here. Imports will cost you. For instance, a small box of PopTarts is around $6-7 USD.
  • Several big chains hold the majority of the market. Our choices include Kiwi, Rimi, Rema 1000, ICA and Meny. We can also drive a little further to Coop, EuroSpar or Joker. (There are other chains in the country as well.)
  • Lots of choices when you’re shopping for coffee, cheese, meat or fish.


What’s different from our former ‘normal’?
  • At many stores, you need a coin to get a grocery cart. You get it back when you return the cart. Baskets are no charge.
  • Bring your own bags. Or pay for plastic bags, usually around 1 krone (@17 cents USD).
  • Almost everything is a local (local meaning from Norway) product. Produce is probably the biggest exception (you can only grow so many things in this climate).
  • Most juice comes in a paper carton, not a plastic or glass bottle.
  • Same for veggies: many are packed in boxes instead of cans.
  • In most cases, stores are small. Typically, there are only a few choices for each item. For example. the picture below shows Daniel on the vegetable aisle. Actually, only the right side is canned vegetables, and what you’re seeing is pretty much the entire aisle. And the last part is the Mexican food section.
  • Few grocery stores are open on Sunday. Like most stores and shops. Most cities have one or two small shops that you can visit on a Sunday. But be ready for narrow aisles, VERY limited selection, and standing in line a while.


Daniel loves the stores that have kid-sized carts!


Kiwi is one of the grocery store chains in our city. It tends to
have the lowest prices, but not as much variety.

What happens when you squeeze a fish?

FISH OIL.Part of our morning routine right now includes a dose of Tran. English speakers would probably know it better as cod liver oil. It is especially important to ensure we get an adequate amount of Vitamin D, when we aren’t able to get enough from the sun. Tran is a great source of Vitamin D and Omega-3.

The ‘norm’ is to take tran in any month whose name has an R in it (Norwegian and English month names are similar enough that it’s the same months in either language).

So every morning, we start our day with a dose of fish oil. Lemon flavored fish oil. And don’t our faces say it all?

(photo taken Oct 2013, when we first started taking tran)

(In actuality, it is not terrible. But I also don’t find myself wanting any extra after I’ve had my dose!)

What’s it Like: Driving

It’s always an adventure to drive in a new place. But driving in a new country is something even more interesting!
In Norway, we drive on the right side of the road, just like in the states. But there are many things that are different. Here’s a look at some of what we’ve become accustomed to…
Roundabouts (or rotaries) are quite common here. While they are not terribly confusing, they took some time to learn!
This picture shows the entrance into a large rotary.
The signs above let you know what lies in each direction, and
which lane you should be in.
As you enter the roundabout: signal right if you plan to take the first right
(for example here, the E18 freeway to Oslo)
Don’t signal if you plan to take the roundabout exit that is straight ahead
(for example, Kilen)
Signal left if you plan to go three-quarters around and take the exit that is to the left
(in this case, Sentrum S, or the South side of downtown)
As you are about to exit the roundabout, you should signal right.
This is as you are just about to enter the roundabout.
The blue sign lets you know it’s a roundabout.
And you always have to yield to cars already in the roundabout.


The blue arrow lets you know that the road is dividing, and
which direction you should go. This is especially helpful
when there is a lot of snow!
You are entering a No Passing Zone.
This sign lets you know you are leaving the no pass zone.
Anytime you see the sign all in gray with the diagonal lines,
it means you’re leaving that particular zone (could be no passing,
or a speed limit, etc.)


Pedestrian Sign – these are important!!
Pedestrians have the right-of-way at all
crosswalks, unless it is controlled by a traffic light.
You must stop, so you always need to be looking to the
sides of the street as you approach a crosswalk.


This indicates a 60 kph speed zone. Currently,
Norway’s highest allowed speed is 100 (on some
portions of the freeway/E18).

Our biggest learning curve came with the yellow diamond, seen below. If you see this sign, it means you’re on a main road. You have the right of way and do not have to yield to traffic from other roads. Okay, that isn’t a problem. But when you don’t have the yellow diamond, you must yield to roads on your right. So if a car is coming from the road on the right, you have to stop and let them out. This one was strange for us!

Ah, the yellow diamond. This is the one that
confused us the most as we learned to drive here!


What’s it like: Signs

It’s always fun to check out signs when you travel – and even when you’re close to home.Here are some interesting, strange, and fun signs we’ve seen in this part of the world…

No ice cream, no hot dogs, no bottles or cans…?
(I especially like this one because it seems most Scandinavians
really enjoy ice cream and sausages!)


An important sign in our language school:
this is not a squatty potty!


Be careful, or you’ll drive into the water!

And a few others that have caught our attention over the years…