The Packed Lunch Gone Crazy?

When you first come to Norway you will be told about one of Norway’s ‘traditions’ – the matpakke. I was told by several people about this tradition and it was also talked about in my Norwegian class as part of our social science learning. The way it was taught was as if it was a tradition that was unique to Norway and many Norwegians are very fond of it, in fact, they do it every day. However, to me, a matpakke was just a packed lunch. Nothing special, just slices of bread with brown cheese, cheese and salami and maybe some capsicum or cucumber on top. I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about since Australia (and most likely all other western countries) had sandwiches for lunch too, in a box, made from home. (It is likely the ‘tradition’ information was specifically for non-western immigrants, but I am sure they also knew what a packed lunch was even before coming to Norway.)

Growing up in Australian the ‘matpakke’ had evolved somewhat from ‘vegemite sangers’ into a smorgasbord of fruits and nuts, omelets, wraps, soups and whatever made you excited about eating it. There was advice from cooking shows and magazines on how to get your kids to eat healthy food for lunch – make it fun with colour and shapes. This was logical to me and was an opportunity to make food fun. In fact, Australia was going through a food revolution where food was becoming tasty pieces of art. I’m sure other countries followed this trend too but not Norway.

(Above pictures are website shots from the mentioned articles on

Now 20 years later, Norway has recently cottoned onto the idea that a matpakke can be a cause for excitement too. Noodles and rice, vegetables, salad and nut mixes have become trendy (to parents) for kid’s lunch boxes for school. To help the kids explore better food, Norwegian ‘experts’ and foodies suggest making the food fun as (like everywhere else) most Norwegian kids find it difficult to eat anything green. I have even bought some magazines to see what Norwegians suggest, for they do have an interesting take on how food can be used.

But what has resulted in the matpakke revolution, and sadly to say since living in Norway for five years is no surprise to me, is a backlash, even a scoff, at the new ideas of food for lunch. Norwegian parents and social phycologists are complaining that having such exciting lunch boxes for school will cause a class division amongst kids between the haves and the have-nots. In response to having shaped food and interesting things to eat, a nutricianist from the Universty of Stavanger, Nanna Lien, says:

I have no data on this as a scientist, but based on the theory that the higher-class want to differentiate themselves from the lower-class then the matpakke can be used to create a class distinction. This can cause increased pressure – both time pressure and financial pressure – on parenting in general that a lunch box should look nice.

However, in balance, in the same article Forskere advarer mot fancy matpakketrend on, it is revealed that 88% of kids in Norway do not eat greens and do not have greens in their lunch boxes. (The ‘traditional’ Norwegian matpakke is certainly not green friendly.) I think Norwegian parents should be under pressure to do what they can to serve their kids vegetables and if that means making exciting lunches then so be it. But not all Norwegian parents are making a fuss about having to encourage their kids to eat greens (only the loudest ones). I was mightily impressed the other day when Moose gave the kids a plated mash potato face with a bean smile, pea eyes and fish hair. However, in contrast, last week I was told by our barnehage that they didn’t want me to bring in such ‘extravagant’ breakfasts for my kids – I gave them cereal with yoghurt topped with nuts and fruit, and a side of cheese, capsicum, cucumber, apple and salami sticks.

But, one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that this topic is an interesting discussion that everyone wants to continue. I’m glad that Norway is finally starting to look at their diet and nutrition. Food quality is poor in Norway and maybe this is the start of better things. Lets hope that this will encourage a new burst towards the love of good quality, affordable food for everyone.

Reference articles (and include the comments under the article to see what Norwegians are saying):

Starbucks Without a Starbucks

We don’t have a Starbucks here in Alta but that certainly doesn’t stop them from selling their coffee.  Supermarkets have been stocking the coffee for about a year now.  I’m not too convinced about this being a good strategy for Starbucks.  If you can buy the coffee at Rema why spend twice as much money in one of their cafés?

From Starbucks press release June 16. 2011:

Starbucks Coffee Company (NASDAQ: SBUX), and  SSP, the leading operator of food and beverage brands in travel locations worldwide, today announced it will expand Starbucks presence into Norway opening the first Starbucks store at Oslo Airport early 2012.

This announcement comes on the heels of a very successful launch of Starbucks® Iced Latte ready-to-drink coffee line-up in grocery and convenience stores last January, where it has achieved 37 percent value share for ready-to-drink products in Norway in a few short months, according to a recent Nielsen survey.
“We are humbled by the overwhelmingly positive reception Starbucks® Iced Latte coffee drinks have received from our customers in Norway, and it is a natural next step for us to open our first retail store after receiving such a warm welcome,” said Nelsen.

I guess Starbucks is playing it safe for now.  We will see if Norwegians will tolerate the ‘on every corner’ motto of Starbucks.

Big Differences in Who is Granted Approval for Family Immigration to Norway

UDI updates statistical information regularly on immigration.  It is good to read the statistics if you plan on immigrating to Norway so you know your chances of approval right from the start.  From

In 2011, 73 per cent of applicants for family reunification were granted residence permits in order to live together with family members in Norway. However, there were big differences between countries as regards how many were granted approval.

Big differences between countries
Nine out of ten applicants from North and South America were granted approval for family immigration. Relatively many applications from people from Africa, the Middle East and South and Central Asia were rejected. The highest percentage of rejections was for applications from countries in East Africa: on average, only 55 per cent of applicants from East Africa were granted family immigration permits.

Illustration: Map of the world showing permit approval percentages

Facts about specific countries and regions

North Africa:
The family member in Norway was usually of Norwegian origin.
Most applicants were female, but the percentage of male applicants was higher than for family cases as a whole.
Morocco was the top applicant country.

Eastern Africa:
The family member in Norway was often a refugee.
Almost 60 per cent of applicants were children with parents in Norway.
The percentage of approvals was higher for children than for adults.
Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia were the top applicant countries.

South-East Asia:
The family member in Norway was usually of Norwegian origin.
The majority of applicants were women.
Thailand and the Philippines were the top applicant countries.

Turkey differed from the rest of the Middle East in that it had a far higher percentage of male applicants.
The family member in Norway was usually of Norwegian origin.
The percentage of rejections was higher than elsewhere in the Middle East. There was no difference between men and women in terms of the percentage of rejections.

India stood out from the rest of South and Central Asia, with a rejection rate of only six per cent.
The family member in Norway was often a person with a work permit for a skilled worker.
The majority of applicants were women or children.

Why is the percentage of rejections of applications higher for some countries?
The Norwegian authorities believe it is important that people who want to bring one or more family members to Norway are able to provide for them. The most common reason for rejecting applications for family immigration in 2011 was that the income requirement was not met. The income requirement was tightened after the new Immigration Act came into force in 2010. This was probably part of the reason why rejections of applications in 2010 increased by six percentage points compared with the year before. In 2011, almost all applications were processed in accordance with the new Act, and rejections of applications rose by a further two percentage points, to 30 per cent.

In addition, some issues and grounds for rejection were more relevant to some countries than to others. These reasons for rejection often came in addition to failure to meet the income requirement.

Requirement for four years of work or education
Asylum seekers or refugees, and people who came to Norway as family immigrants and set up families after arriving here must have worked or studied for at least four years for their families to be granted approval for family immigration. This requirement affects more people from countries from which many asylum seekers have come or will continue to come.

Identity documents
It is not possible for many applicants from Africa and parts of Asia to obtain ID documents or other documents that could prove their family relationships. The documents that we receive from certain countries are also often falsified. More applications from these countries were therefore rejected due to doubts about people’s identities or because we believed that it was unlikely that people were related in the way they claimed.

Marriages of convenience
A lot of people in many of the countries with a high percentage of rejections have a strong desire to emigrate, and some are willing to go to extremes in order to settle in the West. Some of those who applied for residence permits with a spouse were not in a real relationship, but simply got married in order to obtain a residence permit for Norway. In 2011, we rejected 120 applications on these grounds. Somalia, Morocco and Turkey were the countries with the highest rejection rate due to marriages of convenience.

Stricter requirements for foster children, full siblings and children over the age of 18
A number of applications were submitted by foster children and full siblings over the age of 18 from countries in East Africa in particular. Many requirements have to be met in order to be granted such a permit, and the majority of these applications were rejected. Some of the applicants from these areas were people over the age of 18 with parents in Norway, and there is very little scope in the regulations to grant permits to these people.

Figure: Family immigration permits by grounds for residence of the person in Norway, 2011

Proposed amendments to the regulations
The new rules for family immigration entailed a tightening of the income requirement. As we have gained experience of how the regulations function in practice, we have also seen that the rules have a number of unintended effects. The UDI has submitted input to the Ministry of Justice on this matter and proposed amending the regulations. Among other things, we have proposed that the income of the person applying for the permit can also be included when we assess whether the income requirement is met.

Key figures for 2011
12 900 family immigration permits
73 per cent were approved
41 per cent of permits were granted to children
77 per cent of permits for adults were granted to women
Most came from Somalia, Thailand, the Philippines, Eritrea and Russia


(Correct at date of publish)

Utøya Rememberance Day

Today has been the one year anniversary of the Utøya massacre and Oslo bombings. The whole nation has gathered and stood together in remembering those who were killed with services all over the country in community centres and church halls.

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