At the shopping centre I saw a drawing competition for children to win a ‘pirate raid’ at Ringo, a toy store. The winners get one minute to run around the store and pick out anything ‘their heart desires’.
My kids and I enjoyed looking at the pictures by children aged 2 to 7, but there was one thing I noticed about the competition that made me a little hesitant to let my kids participate. The competition required you to write your child’s name, age and your telephone number on the picture for all to see.
Being Australian, my first thought was about security. Posting up children’s information in a public place – name, age and phone number, which reveals a child’s sex and inadvertently gives access to home address information through the Norwegian online white pages service – is irresponsible and unsafe. Such a billboard is a mini-market place for creeps and kidnappers. Something like this would never be appropriate in the other Western countries I have lived in.
However, Norway, and in particular, Norwegian towns, have kept their innocence. They don’t have to think twice if other people will abuse their private information or commit other crimes against them. Norwegians feel safe that their community is good and respectful, that everyone essentially watches out for each other. Norwegian communities are free of the safety concerns other Western countries face in their communities.
Freedom of fear is what everyone deserves in this world. But, being brought up in Australia, my natural instinct is to look for potential safety hazards and take action (or no action) to avoid them, thereby protecting myself and my family. It might also be the fact that I’m female, which adds extra pressure walking in a patriarchal world. How I wish to have the freedom of mind and the feeling of safety as a Norwegian – to be free of the dark thoughts in the back of my head of what could possibly happen if I’m not careful. This fear is hard to get rid of and it has taken me ten years of living in Norway to become more relaxed. Now I can confidently walk down the street without having to be on guard. No wolf whistles, no ‘hey, baby’s’, no shady characters tailing, no fear – Norwegian men are wonderfully behaved!
It has also taken me a while to loosen up about my kids too. At first I never let my kids have play dates unless I knew the parents personally (it was smart in Australia), but that is not how Norway rolls. I was very surprised one day to find Lilu’s first grade class outside my front door with her teacher telling everyone that it would be fun to play at my place because of the blueberry forest and soccer field out back. We often have kids come round looking to play and I always ask if their parents know where they are and what their last name is (as the school gives out everyones name (child and parents) contact numbers and home addresses to all parents of the same class! and it’s good to know which kid you have got at your place.)
Boy, this freedom of fear is hard to get used to. I’m stuck on the decision whether to keep my cautiousness, which feels like a recurring ache from an old injury, or to just let it go, become innocent again, and enjoy the peace of mind. There are benefits for each but one is designed to prevent and the other could be reckless with believing nothing will ever happen. Sometimes I see Norwegians and think, ‘you guys need to start protecting yourselves for Norway will not be innocent forever’ and the other times I envy their freedom, their peace of mind.
But, knowing my kids will grow up in a carefree environment, without the continual worry of safety or security is a great blessing. When it comes to safety, Norway is a dream country, a country that everyone hopes for, a luxury that many countries have lost. I believe the reason Norway has this freedom is because of its unique population spread. Cities are small, towns are very small and dot the whole country but add up to most of the population; villages can just be a couple of houses. It seems the human race does well in small communities spread out over the country side. They look after each other better, they enjoy safety. It’s only when you put us all together, cramped in blocked, high-rise housing, that there is a need for fear.
Other observations about the luxuries of living in Norway:
(Above) A box full of high quality pens for all to share, as well as some wall-tack to put up pictures. When we were drawing at the tables, the maintenance guy came up just to check we had enough wall-tack left for our pictures. He was surprised that people had been so conservative with the wall-tack but was going to bring back some more anyway. Norwegians have a habit of being considerate and are very good at teaching their kids this valuable trait.
(Top) In the first picture you’ll notice there are only a handful of drawings posted up. Another thing that I love about Norway is that Norwegians don’t over indulge, especially when kids are involved, even when there is a prize. There are no rules to the competition on how many entries you are allowed or age limits, yet Norwegians are very classy – they don’t try to beat the system by getting their kids to draw as many entries as possible. In fact, some sheets of paper feature drawings from two kids, summing up to one entry. When kids are involved the general consensus is that everyone gets a fair go (no one abuses the system), that participation is more important than the end result, and that community events are just fun activities to be a part of, not hardcore competitions – there are no losers in Norway.
(Middle) The middle poster says a lot about Norway by not saying anything. There is no small print – no disclaimers, no rules on judging, no law statements, no penalties or disqualification warnings, nothing. They are not needed as Norwegians play fairly, especially when kids are involved. The competition is just a casual and fun way to draw attention to a pirate show that is coming, and is an opportunity for kids to display their drawings. There were no rules on what they wanted kids to draw but for some odd reason (wink wink) the kids all drew pirates and pirate ships. I guess the advertising worked – in the best passive way – not in your face, but by a little desk that was placed under the escalators with a few posters of a pirate. If I hadn’t sat down next to the posters so my kids could have a shopping break, I would not have known the competition even existed. Kind of uneventful, really.
As it turned out, my kids have their drawings up for everyone to see, along with their name, age and my phone number. I guess trust wins the day.