Divergent countries

In my dimming mind, the Nordic countries share a common history and their cultures resonate with one another and yet like siblings, they emerge with manifold differences - that you can see and feel even in a brief trip through three of them - Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

Like siblings, you glimpse the tensions between them. "Perhaps we should do more together," admitted one official in Norway in response to our innocent query, before his body relaxed into the transparent thought that he was glad that they did not!

My colleagues plump for Stockholm. It is manifestly 'cool' - the way people dress, the greater racial mix, the range of shops especially those unique to Sweden; and, the balance of old and new: a carefully preserved old city blending into a more modern whole.

I would plump for Copenhagen partly because it carries important, shared memories but I like its openness, a greater sense of spaciousness, of parks, squares and wide streets and (as with Stockholm), once off the main shopping street, a preserved identity, still commercial but with its own commerce. Shops that feel of their particular place, rather than any place.

Oslo is a paradoxical mix - it feels (and looks) more parochial. People dress ruggedly rather than suavely - there are fewer examples of individual look, difference. Yet here they were proudly celebrating the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, opening out, internationalist, and as a country always punching above its weight, usually in the most peaceful of manners.

It is, also, the city with the greatest density of bookshops (occupied with happy buyers), I have seen - and the way that texts in Norwegian and English stand together with the expectation that for most people they are interchangeable. 

I stayed in Oslo for the weekend - and on a Sunday morning walk around the harbour came, by chance, to the Museum of Norwegian Resistance (to German occupation). The museum probably needs a refit - and oddly for this, the richest of the three, Norway was the one with the least well-managed stock of public goods - but it was very moving and illuminating.

Moving because it was a warts and all account of occupation - though it downplayed collaboration, the infamous Quisling, it was there, repeatedly and though it accounted for the heroism of resistance, it marked and told its many failures and setbacks.

It, also, without saying so, pointed to the curious failure of dictators, that sooner or later, because insulated from reality, they lose their grip on it. Hitler was convinced that the Allies were preparing a second front in Norway (a delusion that the Allies happily fed) and so no less than 400,000 German troops (one for every ten Norwegians) was stationed there: sheer folly that sapped the German effort (at Norwegian cost) to the benefit of the Allies elsewhere.

They do share one obvious feature - their expense - this mounted as we proceeded - to dizzy heights in the world's most expensive city: Oslo. It did have one happy outcome - after your one glass of wine or beer with your meal - I was wholly disinclined to buy a second!


  1. Enjoyed your comparative comments. Glad you like Copenhagen. I want to go back there.

    Does your post on blogspot automatically show up on facebook? Did you have to install some special thing to get that to work??


  2. No, I do it manually by going to the Facebook icon at the bottom of each post.


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