Hygge life: our first year in Norway, the happiest country on Earth

living in Oslo with family

Look back on our first year in Oslo

Our family arrived in Oslo in Summer 2015. Here is why we moved to Norway, after 11 years spent in Sydney Australia and 11 months in Zurich, Switzerland. We just got over our second winter in the Nordic capital and here are some reflections on the last 18 months spent with my husband and two boys aged 5 and 8. Did things go as planned? What are the good, bad and ugly? What’s Hygge and how did we embrace it? Why is Norway the #1 happiest country on Earth ?

Oslo’s unmatched work life balance

No doubt why people are happy here is because they have time to live a full live. They don’t live to work. A big portion of their daily time goes to the outdoors, having coffee and meals with friends and raising their own children.

Norwegians work reasonable hours

Back when we were offered to come here we thought that much lighter working hours would compensate the relatively lower salary. Truth is, it totally does, and it’s the #1 reason why we like it here.

I work at OneStepCheckout, a small software company. We’re a “distributed team” i.e. my colleagues, customers and partners are all scattered around the world. The team is engaged because the company offers maximum flexibility: you can work from anywhere, at the times that are most convenient for you. I sit in the office from 9am to 4.30pm. I do the school drop off and after school activities pickup.

With my husband’s flextime, we can get up to 7 weeks annual leave per year. Indeed, he clocks with official hours being 8-4pm in winter and 8-3pm in summer. Any extra time is taken in lieu up to an additional 2 weeks to his yearly 5 weeks annual leave. That will make it very hard if one day we move to let’s say… North America!

Norwegian employees allow a lot of flexibility

In the Nordics, employers value health and family above all. Need to go to the dentist? No problem. Need to stay home with your sick children, no problem. You need to spend the first hours of the day at your kid’s school event, all fine. That alleviates a lot of stress and help you be more productive, healthy and engaged.

This is possible because the Scandinavians are ahead on many areas including gender equality. Paternity leave is as long as maternity leave, close to a year for each. Men are very hands on in the family, the equally pick up their children from school and take part in the household’s chores. As such, it is common practice to finish a days’ work around 4pm to attend to family life. It’s all about being efficient at work. You start earlier (8am), get straight into it and break for 30 min for lunch.

That also implies that lunch culture is pretty poor. Read how I discovered what Norwegians eat for lunch. Very different to the French and the Asians for sure!

hygge life in Norway

Oslo is one of the most compact capital city

Save on precious commuting time

The average time spent on transportation in other cities where most of my friends live and work (Sydney, the Bay Area, Paris, London, Singapore, Zürich) is probably around one to two hours per day. Despite our lower salaries (compared to what we would earn in those cities) and high tax rate of 40%, we could afford to purchase a nice apartment in a historical building close to shops, restaurants, the gym, the park, the lively marina, the French school and both our offices. 3 min walk to school, 10min walk to our offices! I even have time to notice the light, take pictures and share the beauty of the architecture on my way to work after school drop off.

This is a rare luxury we are cherishing everyday, twice a day!

The beach is 30 min away by bus and the ski slopes are one hour away by train (or 20 min drive). Many families go for a couple of ski runs after work and school. The slopes are lit and close at 10pm.

The airport is 30 min from our place including 10 min walk and 20min via a high speed train.

You don’t need a car in central Oslo

Because we walk everywhere, we also don’t need a public transport pass nor even a car. Many people living in the center of Oslo don’t have a car. In fact it would have costed us €15,000 to import our Hybrid Peugeot 3008 from Switzerland. Instead we sold it and cashed in approx €20,000. So although cabs cost an arm and a leg and Uber are still in the grey zone, we still spend less in transportation than what your monthly car insurance plan would cost you. But if you were to compare car insurance companies with the quotes they offer, in the long run, possessing car insurance can be beneficial, not to mention that it’s required by the law in many places.

How does public transport compare to other cities in the world?

One way ticket in zone 1 of Oslo (city center up to the mountain and lakes) valid for 60 minutes is 33Kr i.e.approx €3.5. It includes trains, trams and buses. You just book in through an app on your smartphone. Super handy! How does it compare to an Oyster card in London or a Navigo pass in Paris?

Best thing is: kids pay half price during the week and travel for free on week-ends!

hygge playing by the fireplace

Hygge or the art of about being cosy at home

What’s more hygge than playing chess in front of the fireplace? That might explain why Magnus Carlsen, the chess world champion is Norwegian!

Our evening routine with 5 and 8 year old children

So most of the time by 5pm all four of us are home. Believe or not, time flies and we feel we don’t have that much time for ourselves as a couple! Here is our daily routine especially in winter when the sun set at… 3.30pm!!!

  • 5-5.45pm afternoon tea, board games, chess (homework is done at school between 3.30 and 4.45pm)
  • 5.45-6pm piano practice for the boys (they only play 5 min each but it takes at least that time to get the 5 year old to sit and start playing!)
  • 6-6.30pm bath for the kids and cooking for the parents (unlike the French, ours have a bath every day)
  • 6.30-7.15 dinner, clean up
  • 7.15-7.40 kids TV
  • 7.40-8pm bedtime stories
  • 8-8.45pm turn off the lights…chat

My 8 year old son pointed out that he’s among those who go to bed the latest in his class! Some start from 6.30pm!

hygge life in Norway

How we spend quality time with our kids

Being home with the kids plays a massive part in how we want to raise our children to be self confident, emotionally stable, honest, kind and loving. That 8-8.45pm chat makes time for cuddles and that one-on-one time with each child much needed to address their individual concerns, and worries.

According to the mother of all sources, my Facebook wall 😜  you need at least 15 minute one-on-one time with each child for each parents. That’s already 30 min for each parents everyday and you can’t combine that with another activity. You need to dedicate 100% of our attention to your child.

Also did you know that you need at least 7 minutes hugs and cuddles a day to reduce stress, increase endorphins, reduces blood pressure, increase confidence of your child? That’s another 21 minutes per person for 2 children and his/her partner! Here’s a poster hung on my 5 year old’s classroom’s door.

les benefices des calins

No wonder why “hygge” sounds like “hug”. We spend close to an hour meaningful time with our family members everyday!

hygge life in Norway

Hygge or how we spend more quality time with our friends and relatives

Reconnecting with relatives

All four of our children grand parents are in France. So is his sister. Mine is in the US. That was the whole reason why we left Australia back in 2014, and that’s also a part that went according to plan. My husband had the opportunity to spend some time with his grand parents before they passed over the last two years. Similarly we see his sister’s family a lot more, the kids spend time with their cousins and their lovely Mamie Rabelle. I see my parents more often although it was also nice to have them stay for months in Sydney with us.

Christmas with my husband’s family
hygge life in Norway
My mother in law looking after the kids in Oslo during the winter holidays
Birthday in South of France with my parents

It’s even easier for us to catch up with my sister who lives in Phoenix Arizona. Oslo to LA flights are very affordable, direct route is 10 hours. Read more about our holidays in California!

Catching Pokémons on A mountain , AZ with their American cousins

Reconnecting with like minded friends

What’s been pretty special and amazing lately was to reconnect with my girlfriends from business school. After 20 years, we all realize how far we went away from the dreams we had when we graduated. We experienced so many things that our academic education had not prepared us for. So we decided to properly catch up i.e. for a whole week-end, away from our husbands and children so we could openly share about the challenges we face with our careers, our couples, our family duties, our children but also our parents. We are now actively supporting each other unconditionally and without judgement, either face to face or with 3 hours monthly Skype sessions. This is one of the best thing that happened in my life in the last 12 months!

Hygge life: French style with delicious food and great company
Food for thoughts, hygge a la francaise: good food, great company

The other great thing about Oslo is that it’s a mere 2 hours flights to Paris and Zurich, 1 hour flight to London, 4 hours to South of France. That allowed us to attend 40th birthdays, weddings and parties we would have missed if we had stayed in Australia.

I also had the visit of my high school friends, some of whom I haven’t seen in 20 years! A very good friend from Zurich also came for a week-end in June. Oslo in summer is so beautiful!

hygge life
Catching up with friends in London
fine dining in Paris
Fine dining in Paris for my birthday with my childhood friends

Hygge: make your place homey with Scandi design and home decor

You can’t go wrong with Ikea furniture style and budget wise, can you? In the cover image, you can recognise the good old Kallax shelf, Strandmon armchair.

Here is a re-decorated entrance.

Hygge life: Scandinavian design

This part of the room is super important as it’s the one you see first when you step into our home. Like the Swiss and the Asians, you need to take your shoes off so a spacious bench and plenty of shoe storage are necessary. Similarly you need space to hang you kids Snødress (all over snow jacket) as well as boxes or baskets for the scarves, beanies and gloves. Plenty of gloves. I’m sure there are some stats about how many gloves Norwegians lose per year. Single gloves of course, it wouldn’t be funny otherwise…

Stay tuned for more scandi interior design as we are renovating our unit, including a new open kitchen!

Bottom line is, yes we’ve been pretty happy here as we don’t live a manic daily life and have time to enjoy lots of time with the people we love. The country is relaxed, very safe, the air is amazingly pure. Winters are not easy but we get around it by going away to sunny places like Australia, California or even the Austrian Alps.

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