Norwegian Gift Ideas 2014

HackIt - Kitchen Gift This is a Norwegian kitchen tool designed to make separating mince meat easier.  In Norway most mince meat is bought in a factory-packed block, some frozen and others defrosted before selling.  Vegard Ertvaag thought to make life a little easier for his mum and designed the mashing tool as a faster way to seperate the meat (rather than using a fork and a lot of elbow grease).  It can work as an all-round masher, mashing up potato, fruits and herbs, but it is so good it can overdo it.  It has been on the market for a couple of years in Norway, and is so common now you can buy it at the supermarket. http://www.hackit.no hackit-2 hackit-1   Voksi - a designer gift for babies and children A voksi is a baby sleeping bag that is adjustable and 'grows' with the baby.  It is designed for cold weather environments as it is lined with wool and has very good insulation.  You can use it on the floor, in prams and as a portable carrier or bed.  It can fold out to make a comfy floor mat.  Norwegian designed and owned, the voksi is a household name. http://voksi.no voksi   Gabrielle Leithaug CD - Electro-pop Music Not many Norwegians sing in Norwegian because of 'commercibility' but Gabrielle not only sings in a language that is tough to rhyme, but even in her own dialect.  She is from Bergen so she has a slight hock in her tones because of an old German influence that dates back to the Viking days when Bergen was a trading post for the Germanic peoples.  She is very popular and always has a hit on the radio. https://www.gabrielleleithaug.com gabrielle   Reisen til julestjernen - Christmas Film The original film, Journey to the Christmas Star, is shown on Norwegian TV every Christmas.  It has that old 1960's classic fairytale feel in which the character's are more important than the storyline.  They made a remake (sponsored by Disney) a couple of years back but it has lost the charm of the original.  Another film that is iconic at Christmas in Norway is actually a Czech film called Tre nøtter til Askepott - (Three Nuts for Cinderella). Journey to the Christmas Star (2012) Christmas-star-1 christmas-star-2 Christmas-star-3 Journey to the Christmas Star (1976) old-christmas-star-3 old-christmas-star2 old-christmas-star   Willow Flute - Seljefløte The flute is a traditional wooden tube flute made out of willow tree.  Plastic versions are available.  The flute is played by the end hole with half, whole or open fingering.  The website link below makes traditional flutes out of wood, but you would need to check with your countries customs before importing.  There are pictures and sound files of typical Norwegian flutes on the website below. http://www.naturinstrumenter.no willow-flute   Dale of Norway - Woolen Clothing This is a Norwegian clothing company that has gone international.  These clothes seem like an exclusive item, but believe me, Norwegians do wear these clothes every day, even for work.  They are very traditional among fishermen and outdoor workers.  The quality is very good and the designs are a merge of modern and traditional and generally feature the iconic Norwegian snowflake design. http://daleofnorway.com dale-of-norway-1 dale-of-norway-2   Clec - Shoehorn Invention A clec is a wall mount for tying shoe laces and doubles as a shoehorn holder.  This was invented by an Altaværing (a person from Alta) who had chronic back pain and found it hard to bend over all the time to tie his shoes.  The clec has been wildly sucessful in Norway and now they are going international. http://clec.no/ clec   Svein Solem - Artist Svein Solem is a Norwegian painter and illustrator who lives in Lillehammer.  He has done many notable commissioned work including art for the famous NRK production of Blåfjell.  His website is in Norwegian but it displays a small collection of his work.  His work can also be found in craft and specialty stores in Norway. http://www.sveinsolem.com Svein-artists-2 Svein-artist   Joachim Barrum - Artist Another Norwegian artist to watch out for is Joachim Barrum.  He has done a number of pieces for modern films in Norway.  He does a lot of character drawings but his Norwegian fantasy landscape works bring warmth to the heart. http://joachimart.com joachim-3 Joachim-2 joachim-1   Cappelendamm - Publishing Company This is a Norwegian publishing company, which has most of the lastest Norwegian language books on the market.  This is also a good place to buy language learning books and books for school children.  They also have Nisse - Den Norske nissens forunderlige liv og historie (Christmas elf - The norwegian Christmas elf's wonderful life and story) by Frid Ingulstad. https://www.cappelendamm.no/_faktabøker/kulturhistorie/nissen-frid-ingulstad-9788202374143 nissen-book

The International Consumer in Norway

toys-7 There are some things you just can't get in Norway, especially in little cities like mine.  Looms are one of them.  (You know, the little rubber bands that knit together to make jewelry for kids.)  I asked around and the shop assistants looked at me funny.  (The same thing happened with the board game Trouble, with Simon Swipe, with backgammon, with kids chop sticks, with smencils, with a bubble wrap calendar, with...  yeah, the list goes on!)  So, I had to go looking on ebay to find some.  Most were from China, the UK, USA and Germany.  I only discriminated on price - the cheapest with free international shipping bought my business.  After studying the 'loom business' on ebay, I learnt the 'bottom dollar' rate and wouldn't bid for anything over.  I managed to get on average 2000 looms for NOK15 (or US$2.50).  After buying enough to bracelet a small army, the toy store Christmas catalogues in my city arrived in the mail box.  There, for the first time, I saw looms.  They were NOK199 for a kit of 2200.  I giggled to myself.  I had scored my goodies 10 times cheaper than the going rate in Norway.  But then it started to bother me.  I know the stores are all struggling in my city, and I like to support them, so this brings up the dilemma of whether to support local business or support my own pocket. It is widely known in Norway that most Norwegians shop online.  The post office has never been so busy!  However, there are annual newspaper articles complaining about international shopping destroying the local market and that it should be stamped out.  The things that deter Norwegians from shopping abroad are high shipping fees and high custom fees.  For customs to handle the product to check it costs around NOK130 (US$21) alone on top of the 30% extra of the price you bought the item for.  But still, it always seems to turn out cheaper buying internationally.  I buy my dance shoes from the USA.  The US doubles the price just in shipping and handling, plus import fees, but the shoes still end up being 50% cheaper than buying them in Norway.  Almost everything you can buy online is cheaper.  The most recent retail outburst has been about the government contemplating raising the import cost limit from NOK200 to NOK500.  Yay for consumers, but businesses know it will destroy them. toys-4 The cheapest Monster High dolls found at the cheapest store Nille - NOK249 or US$40.  At a regular toy store they are priced NOK299. Everyone knows that Norway is expensive, especially Norwegians.  I recently posted about how international traders up their prices when they know they are selling to Norwegian retailers.  But it can happen online too if the website detects your location.  There have been a number of times when I wanted to buy an item only to get a price hike when I insert my address.  In general, I would pay up to twice as much in airfares for a Norway-to-Australia trip if I paid from Norway than if I paid from Australia for the exact same days and flights/company.  This kind of business practice makes Norwegians get buy-savvy very quickly.  But sometimes, it is just too exhausting to play the price-war game and it is easier to give in to it.  There have been times I know I'm getting ripped off but I don't have the time or the energy to shop around.  I guess that is what retailers rely on.  But places like ebay don't discriminate.  Every buyer is playing on the same board (except for shipping - but that is why I only buy from 'free international shipping' stores).  Online stores like ebay means I can buy things at the same price as the rest of the world, and that feels good. Because of the small population and international shopping, it is really hard for retail businesses to succeed in Norway.  Though, the current trend of shop concepts (from bigger places in the world) are making it harder for new businesses in the Norwegian market.  I see many companies trying to introduce 'intensive' selling, only selling one product or a small range of products, like just ice cream, sweets or bikes.  'Niche' these days is a popular word, soon to turn dirty.  What these company's don't realise is there is not enough demand for one-product companies in Norway.  (What it really means is that they don't understand their consumers/market - they haven't done their research.)  In small communities, and most people live in small communities in Norway, the people are used to buying only their essentials locally, food and usables such as soap and cleaning products.  The other stuff has always been sourced from other places.  (Everyone regularly travels to Sweden, an 8 hours drive from my city, to shop at the nearest Ikea store!!)  It is common to shop online for couches, TVs, clothes and cars, and have them shipped up.  Up north you practically have to import everything.  Street shops have to compete against an import shopping tradition - Norwegians aren't used to paying for a middle man. toys-5 toys-3 Little lego sets are NOK49.90 or US$8.30 at the cheapest store, Nille. The retail stores that have survived are the ones that sell everything such as grocery stores, Biltema, Clas Ohlson and Nille - stores with thousands of cheap(ish) products.  In the small cities I have lived in Norway, I have seen my fare share of single product stores open and close.  In my little city of Alta, we have two little shopping centres and there are always stores, every month, going out of business and having bankruptcy sales.  Just recently an ice cream store opened in the main section of the shopping centre.  They sell four flavours of frozen yoghurt with an array of mix-ins.  Very 'nichey'.  But... We live in the Arctic!  How much ice cream would you think we'd want when we have two meters high of snow outside?  (Not to mention that it costs NOK30 (US$5) for just a couple of spoonfuls.)  There is a running bet on when the store will close.  What it seems is, it doesn't pay to specialize or franchise one product store concepts.  The best non-food stores that survive are kitchen and home supply stores or Nille (which is modeled after the famous One Dollar stores but ironically you can't buy anything for just US$1 there).  The largest clothes chain stores are H&M, Kappahl, Lindex and Cubus - all Target inspired - buy people are buying more and more clothes online. toys-1 Little Pet Shop are particularly expensive at NOK119 or US$20 for the 'littlest' animal. Particularly in my city, it is not just small brand stores that go bust, it is very common for the big brands too.  Intersport is an international sporting goods store in one of the shopping centres, which has just had a bankrupcy sale (conveniently before Christmas).  There have been two other major sporting stores in the last year that have gone bust too (and yet, more open).  Numerous cafes have gone bust - well, pizza does cost NOK300 (US$50) so not many like to eat out.  As my city grows, there is much controversy over the shopping centres.  We have two in the city, and they have brought down the other two shopping districts, turning them into ghost towns.  Now when I say 'shopping centre' I actually mean two two-story mini malls that have 20 and 30 boutiques, no eating halls and no entertainment areas such as movie theatres.  The centres are fiercely competing with each other and stores bounce around vacant spaces, trying to get better walk-by locations.  The city is on the edge, we are growing rapidly, but right now, there are just not quite enough people for all the shops to survive.  (We have under 20,000 people in our city.) toys-6 Normally NOK269 or US$45 for 12 colour pencils. The shops don't make it easy on themselves either.  Sometimes it seems they are causing their own downfall.  It is usual to receive junk mail that has been printed for the whole country so when you turn up to a store, usually a furniture or electrical store, expecting a certain price, you have to pay the 'northern' fee, which is usually NOK100-500 extra, depending on the product.  This has happened to me a number of times and I feel sorry for the shop assistants having to deal with it.  In general, the retail professionals say that prices are set to the maximum of what a customer will pay, but that doesn't seem to be true in Norway.  Prices seem to be set by how much the shops want to make a profit and so some prices are absolutely ridiculous.  I love my Ark store.  It is a book store brand, and while it has stores all over the country, I like mine because I can buy books from local authors (and they have a big English section).  I recently bought a book called Altaturer by Lise Ottem that we use all the time as our family enjoys hiking.  But sometimes the store just bewilders me.  I was looking for pencils and they had a half price sale.  The pencils at half price were NOK135 (US$22) for 12 (above).  I knew at the Nille store I could buy them for just NOK79 at full price for 36.  But I found them on ebay for just NOK12.  Which ones did I buy?  I wanted to buy the Ark store ones, I truly did, because I want to support one of my favourite stores (even though it is a chain) - I don't want them to die.  However, I would normally buy from Nille because of cheapness, lazinees and the 'now' factor.  But since the pencils are for Christmas, I bought them on ebay.  It breaks my heart not buying local because I love my city.  My city might be old (thousands of years, in fact) but it is still growing up, and I get to see its changes and improvements.  But I have to choose to support the local market or my pocket, and because I have a growing family, I choose the later. toys-2 These calendar gifts are from the cheapest store, Nille.  Only the chocolate eggs are below NOK20 or US$3.50.  Other toy store have similar toys with prices starting from NOK30.  These toys are the same every year.  It seems that Nille has bought a 10 year supply.  Not very interesting gifts for kids if they still play with the same toys from last year. So, this year I have bought all our Advent calendar presents on ebay.  Normally I hunt around the shopping centres for a month or two to find little NOK5 gifts but I found none - only lolly pops.  That travel article about Norway was right (link above) - you can't buy anything in Norway for $1.  The average price for calendar specific gifts have gone up to NOK20-30 (US3.50-5).  Buying 50 of them (I have two kids) can be a little extravagant.  Ebay has enabled me to spend less than a third of what I would normally.  Is this the beginning of the end for local trade?  Our city is trying to expand, but as the world opens up and Norway gets more expensive, I wouldn't be surprised if local stores melt away with the winter snow and become a myth for my grandchildren.

Komsa Mountain in Autumn

komsa-in-autumn As our kids get older our weekends are becoming hiking adventures.  We braved the Autumn winds and climbed Komsa Mountain on Sunday. komsa-in-autumn-7 Komsa Mountain has always been a special place for the peoples who live in the area, from the Stone Age with rock art, to the Sami with spiritual rocks and sites, and now to modern Alta as a place to look over the growing city and enjoy the beauty and tranquility of nature. komsa-in-autumn-6 It is easy for hiking to become a weekly activity in Alta.  We are surrounded by Arctic forests, fjords, mountains and plains.  We even have Europe's biggest canyon.  Nature is right outside our front door. komsa-in-autumn-5 komsa-in-autumn-2 komsa-in-autumn-4 And winter will not stop our adventures; that's when we crack out the cross-country skis and get in some real Arctic exercise. komsa-in-autumn-3

The Hunt for Why Food Prices are Going Through the Roof

norwegian-kroner The whole world knows Norway is expensive and that is one of the reasons why Norway is expensive. Everyone talks about how expensive Norway is, even Norwegians.  Just recently, the guys from Hostelworld posted an infographic on what you can buy in Europe for one dollar, which has created a bit of buzz in the media here because in Norway, you can buy nothing for one dollar.  Last year our family went to a Western theme park in Sweden (yep, with cowboys and Mexicans) and they made jokes in their shows about charging only Norwegians extra because they can afford it.  When I first arrived in Alta five years ago I got one photocopy from the post office and they charged me US$4.00!  I asked why it was so expensive (because the library only charged US$1.50) and the retail assistant said "This is Norway." Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 15.17.26 Yep, Norway is expensive because everyone expects it to be, even Norwegians, and I swear that this ideology is one of the creators of rising prices. In August this year the Minister for Agriculture and Food in Norway, Sylvi Listhaug, invited the leading supermarket chains, Norgesgruppen, Rema 1000, Bunnpris and Coop, (ICA piked out), to a meeting to clarify why the food prices in Norway had increased 3.2% from June to July, ten times more than expected.  Fruit had jumped up 5% and vegetables 4.4%.  (Airplane fares rose 13.9%, while books, newspapers and stationery rose 6.3%.)  The heads of groceries started pointing fingers at the vendors and the farmers. Sylvi_Listhaug_-_2014-02-13_at_18-49-18 Minister for Agriculture and Food in Norway, Sylvi Listhaug Upon reading article after article on this topic I began to realize that a big price rise is expected in summer in Norway.  Everything goes up because of inflation and the reason why there is such a cliff jump is because the following month most Norwegians get about a 3% wage rise.  (Which is not as good as it sounds when you consider I, like many others, also got a 4% tax rise!)  But food rising so high in one month, surpassing your wage inflation even before you get your first check, is a little deviant. One of the contributing factors for such a price hike is that there are no real watchdogs in the Norwegian industry.  (They say there are but they certainly aren't doing their job when it comes to fair-trade.)  There is no need for them as basically the industry is so 'small' that there is only a handful to watch.  When I say 'small', I don't mean the market is small, but that there aren't many producers in each market.  That is because the few producers have a monopoly.  Norway did right in trying to protect the little guy way back when, but now the little guy has created cooperatives, big unions, big industry, that has taken over all the market.  Things haven't changed; the government is still protecting them, but now these are monopolizing companies, which influence tough import laws and make it difficult for startups. rural-farm A Conservative spokesperson, Gunnar A. Gundersen, believes the industry is characterized by strong market concentration and weak competition both on the supply side and retail side.  I think this is the key issue for the whole industry.  Companies such as Tine (dairy) started off as small farmer cooperatives to help develop the industry.  Now it has turned into an industry dominator, for example, in the north of Norway Tine milk is the only milk available, and any startups are squished before they see the light of day.  They are in partnership with the government making rules and regulations that they know new small businesses can't afford to keep up.  It's about taking down the little guy.  I've seen this done with bigger shops opening up next to small family businesses strangling them.  Likewise with other industries - a startup newspaper in Harstad got throttled by the dominant conglomerate - small businesses in the end were too scared to do business with the newcomer for fear of being exiled from all other advertising opportunities.  The Harstad newspaper played dirty.  There seems to be no rules in protecting small and family businesses.  Major shops like Kiwi are edging into the small shop area with little 'super' store concepts that don't go over the square meter limit for Sunday trading.  They are taking over the small business domain.  Competition is not tolerated , import or local, and that means higher prices all round. As it is today the Norwegian grocery market is dominated by four major brands: Norgesgruppen, Coop Norway, REMA 1000 and ICA Norway.  Norgesgruppen has a market share of 39.3 percent, which includes Kiwi, Joker, Spar, Meny and Ultra.  Coop has a market share of 22.7 percent, which includes Coop Mega, Coop Obs!, Coop Marked, Coop Extra, and more. They are 'owned' by consumer cooperatives in Norway.  Rema 1000 has a market share of 23.1 per cent. ICA Norway, owned by the Swedes, has a market share of 11.1 percent, which includes ICA Supermarket, ICA Nær and Matkroken.  Collectively that is 96% of the market dominated by only four brands! coop-meat Professor Ivar Gaasland at the Department of Economics at the University of Bergen believes that the only political choice may be to make cuts in tariffs and import protection.  He said there needs to be a strategy to undermine the customs and import protection and produce cooperatives.  Marketing Competition Director Christine B. Meyer points out that the concern goes beyond import protection, which makes it difficult to buy cheap foreign goods, import tariffs also leads to few suppliers and this in turn makes it difficult for new brands to establish themselves in Norway. Because it is so difficult to import to Norway, farmers virtually have no competition on certain goods.  And when the word 'farmers' is used, they mean huge cooperatives that farmers have to be a part of to prevent themselves from getting squished out of the market.  The Head of Merchandising at BI, Odd Gisholt, believes the price rise was due to import restrictions and the control of 'farmers'.   "I believe that the government should alleviate some of this protection against farmers. It is clear that if it is difficult for others to establish themselves on the Norwegian market, it creates less diversity and higher prices", he said. Christian Anton Smedshaug from Agri Analyse said that there have been no major changes in international commodity prices. There has only been a slight increase of some vegetables due to drought, but for the major products of grain and milk there has been no significant price changes.  So there has been a lot of finger pointing - ICA blaming the meat companies, the meat companies blaming the supermarket for 'turning up' their prices, the Agricultural agreement, import taxes, cocoa supplies - all pointed at, except one direction...  Sellers, farmers and manufacturers know they can charge so much because Norwegians will pay for it.  Norwegian sellers know this better than anyone. norwegian-babyfood.jpg So because there are no active watchdogs, Minister Listhaug herself has begun a hunt to track down where all the price hikes have come from.  It is an arduous task because it crosses many industries, many hands, but she is beginning to reveal an important picture.  Just one of her discoveries that proves supermarkets have a large responsibility for the price rise, Listhaug found that eggs had increased 7.5% and it emerged through investigation that suppliers only account for 4% of this increase - supermarkets hiked the rest.  The Minister stated that there is insufficient competition in the market (products and supermarkets) and better competition will make goods cheaper for Norwegian consumers.   (Today there is basically only one major egg supplier and all farmers around the country must transport their eggs to that factory to be redistributed. ) frukt-salat On Listhaug's price hike hunt she also discovered that importers, food chains and manufacturers basically hike up the price when they sell to Norway.  (I see this a lot with various products - the exact same SAS flight, with the same route and days (basically on the same plane!), bought from Australia is significantly lower than if bought from Norway.)  The Minister drew a price comparison of a range of duty free goods between Norwegian and Swedish imports, and the price rise in Norway could only be explained through the margins of the importers, food chains and manufacturers, therefore suggesting  that all have hiked prices because their products were going to Norway.  She also compare relative prices with other countries including the UK.  It turns out Norwegians consumers have the most expensive non-alcoholic drink, milk, bread, cheese and fruit in Europe.  A shopping basket costing NOK1040 in Britian will cost a Norwegian NOK1860. There will likely come a point when Norway will just not care enough about this issue anymore and give in to paying more, because, well, 'this is Norway'.  Now you may be thinking that Norwegians are suckers and they deserve to pay more if they can't be bothered to fight it, but not fighting is a cultural habit, and putting up with the way things are still doesn't make the-way-things-are right.  It will start to effect tourism, population growth through immigration, and create an economic bubble, frustrating industry and international business.  Not all Norwegians are wealthy, practically every average family has to have two incomes to live an average Norwegian life, and many can't earn enough to buy a house in the bigger cities.  Living in a 'rich' country certainly doesn't mean the people are rich.  The State may be considered 'rich' by the governments of the world but a lot of average Norwegian families struggle with living a modern live, just like other average families in other countries.  The price rise theoretically means that each family will have to pay an extra NOK1792 a year in food alone (about $300), which is more than ten times the increase in the Norwegian consumer price index.  But, in actuality, they will be paying a lot more.  Where we live in the north, yoghurt has gone up 50%, cheese has gone up 20%, small meats like ham has gone up 30%, bread, butter, meat, eggs have all gone up at least 10-30%, and that stuff matters when you add it all up each week.  Plus there is the supermarket math geniuses we have to deal with e.v.e.r.y day, no joke: ham-price Reference Links: http://e24.vgnett.no/naeringsliv/listhaug-vil-ha-svar-paa-hvordan-prisene-kunne-oeke-saa-mye/23272088 http://www.dn.no/nyheter/politikkSamfunn/2014/08/27/1947/hyre-ber-de-rdgrnne-sttte-listhaug http://e24.no/naeringsliv/matvareprisene-med-stort-hopp-peker-paa-kjedene-og-industrien/23271692 http://www.nettavisen.no/na24/matvareprisene-skyter-til-himmels/8473525.html http://www.regjeringen.no/nb/dep/lmd/aktuelt/nyheter/2014/Aug-14/Innkaller-dagligvarebransjen-til-prismote.html?id=765674 http://www.dagen.no/Nyheter/15/08/2014/Listhaug_krever_svar_på_hvorfor_maten_blir_dyrere-103186 http://www.dagbladet.no/2014/08/15/nyheter/innenriks/matvarehandel/matvarepriser/sylvi_listhaug/34804197/ http://stavrum.blogg.no/1408693386_22082014.html http://www.hostelworld.com/blog/what-does-1-buy-you-in-every-european-country/158597 http://www.theguardian.com/money/2006/may/20/moneysupplement2

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