The Expat’s choice: Oslo or London?

A year ago, before I moved to Oslo, if anyone had asked me “Oslo or London?”, I would have laughed at the absurdity of the question. I mean seriously, is that even a question?  How can you compare a megapolis which is a melting pot of different cultures, art and lifestyles with a small city (town?) in Scandinavia. Its like comparing a station wagon with a Ferrari. Or a cycle with a segway (which is now legal in Norway, yayyy)!

Having lived in London for six years, its been my favourite city to live in. I have my special corners in the parks, spoilt for choice when we have to go out with friends and a choice of cozy cafe’s to enjoy a cup of coffee with friends. I know where to shop and go for anything i’m looking for, I rarely get lost. I even know the exact aisle at Waitrose which stores my favourite tea snacks. I’m familiar with the bus and tube routes so planning an excursion is easy. And even when there’s nothing to do or no one to meet, I know where to hang out just by myself and be fine.

Luckily this past year after some adjustments and lots of exploring, I have all of the above in Oslo too. In my broken Norwegian sentences, I have discovered my favourite grocery shops and local markets. I have adjusted to shops closing early and planned for a Sunday without any “shopping”. When its too cold for a picnic in my corners of Slottsparken, I know where to go to read my book or knit. I know where to go out with friends and not be disappointed (or rather, where NOT to go). Slowly and steadily, I’ve found my friends and feel a fleeting sense of joy (followed by guilt of course) when I have to turn down invitations when “i’m too busy” (for my friends who are reading this, please don’t stop inviting me).

But could I EVER compare the two cites, let alone favour Oslo over London? Would there ever be a moment when roaming around in my favourite city I’d miss Oslo???

Last month, I spent a a few weeks in London. I was “vacationing” with my family, met old friends and simply had an amazing time. But from the time I landed at the ever so busy Heathrow till the time I was in the taxi on my way back to Heathrow, I found myself comparing and (silently) finding faults with London!!! I was shocked to find myself excited to be headed back “home” to Oslo. Even though the vacation had ended and I should be…sad, I was relieved.

And even though London will always be my special place and has so many good things going for it, here’s the top few reasons that made me miss sleepy beautiful Oslo (almost every day):

1) Crazy traffic and never-ending noise
I know we complain about Oslo traffic, because it delays journey times by a few minutes. But London is crazy!!! On the roads, in the bus and especially in the tube trains. Public and private transport is a nuisance. And if the traffic wasn’t bad enough, the horns of agitated drivers and shrill sirens of ambulances and politi make it even more unbearable. There’s a constant noise at all times of the day and night, after a while the ears just buzz on their own.

Oslo’s silent (barely any horns) and slow traffic or occasional sirens allow for open windows (try opening your apartment windows in London) and noise-less (or lesser-noise) living. Even the people don’t make too much noise, except the happy drunks. Its a blessing to be able to sleep in a peaceful environment when you can even hear the birds singing in the night (this does not include weekends). But thats ok, I’ll take four good sleeps in a week.

2) Too many people (especially tourists)!!!
Its ironic i’m complaining about this because in Oslo I complain that there are too few people. But i’d rather have a seat on my tram than to push people to make a tiny space in the tube. And I like walking on sidewalks please, not the roads because theres no room on the former. But of course in Oslo you can walk on Karl Johan because there are barely any cars, what a delight!!!
The bus drivers in London will run you over if you cross without looking out, while in Oslo you can leisurely walk and know that you will be saved by the drivers.

3) London closing hours for department stores and grocery stores are in the wee hours of the night. Many places are open around the clock. Which means that anything you need is available at any time. Which also means that if you’ve run out of toilet paper or milk, you are expected to run out and fetch it. Now I find that extremely inconvenient because there’s no concept of “take it easy, you can get it tomorrow or on Monday”. I’d rather have the local Meny (and other grocery stores) in Oslo that closes promptly at 11pm, so one can relax and KNOW that NOTHING can happen after 11 pm. NOTHING!!!

4) Safety and fear for life (quite literally).
London is a city with a high and increasing crime rate, one of the most dangerous in the world. Even in the poshest (hence safest) neighbourhoods of Chelsea and Belgravia, one must be careful and stay on guard at all times of the day and night. Ironically, when I lived there I barely ever felt unsafe but always took necessary precautions (not walking late with music blasting through my earphones, unaware of my surroundings). But after living is Oslo, which is comparatively MUCH safer, one gets accustomed toa newer sense of safety.
And this time, I felt my fear multiplied after hearing stories of “mishaps”.

Walking back home after a night out, I’d constantly look around for potential stalkers and rapists.

While in Oslo, I never leave a party early because its “getting too late”. And even though there are few people out on the streets very late, it still feels safer in the “seclusion” and less threats of getting harassed. However, there are occasional incidents and one must always be careful.

5) London life is extremely fast-paced, exhausting and tiring. People have no time, they work till late, always in a rush to get somewhere in that god awful traffic and rush, they walk fast. Even meeting friends happens in a hurry because there’s a table reservation after yours, so you have to gobble and talk at the same time. There’s a queue outside toilets, concert tickets are sold out months in advance and its impossible to get anyone to help you get that shoe in your size at Aldo.

In Olso, its life in slow motion, so you get to notice and appreciate the small things. A walk in the park, the efficient transport, the music in the streets, the dong of the church bells, the silence of the night, the annoying garbage collection trucks in the morning. Salespeople making me jump out of my skin with the constant and shrill “hei hei”.  Enjoying quality time over the weekend with my husband and friends because there’s no shopping (especially on Sunday’s when everything is closed). Falling asleep in the park because its so serene and peaceful. And my most favourite thing, being able to go out for a walk at any time of the day or night without having to worry that i’ll be stabbed or mugged. That i’m safe outside and inside my house.

6) And finally, where does one “går på tur” (go for a walk in the nature) in London? The parks are crowded with happy tourists and happier “Roma’s”. And even if you find a time or place where you dont have to “excuse-me” your way through, the damn pigeons will crap on you and make it miserable. Maybe one could drive out (for two hours depending on the traffic?) to the beautiful meadows and hills on the outskirts.

I cant say this enough and its what I love most about Oslo (and Norway). Its close proximity to “nature”, take your pick:  islands, lakes, parks, mountains, forests or fjords are at a proximity of 5-20 minutes form the city’s centre.

You can walk through the biggest sculpture park in the world by Gustav Vigeland or hike on the hilly park of Ekeberg displaying masterpieces of Salvador Dali and George Cutts (The Dance, my personal favourite).  You can trek through a lush woodland of forests or swim in an ice cold lake sparkling in the summer sun. Take a ferry from Aker Brygge  and go island-hopping to the small islands like Hovedøya or Bygdøy surrounding the city. Hike (or ski) across the hills of Holmenkollen or zip-line 350 metres down the Olympics ski-jump (i’m not joking). On a sunny day, take out a picnic on the boat and spend the day cruising through the Oslo fjord.

There is an abundance of nature and adventure waiting to be explored.

Its like comparing a fjord with an island. You can only favour the fjord when you’ve witnessed its extraordinary beauty, experienced the calm it brings to your life and take in its serenity. You’ll never want to return to the island.
OsLove to all!




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