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Columns: Further fond recollections of Norway

Here are my last impressions of just a couple more things about my recent trip to Norway.

The bread! Every grocery store has a long shelving unit laden with unsliced, pretty loaves of the most wonderful, crusty, fresh bread. Want it sliced? Every store also has a slicing machine there for that purpose. Norwegians love their bread. So did I.

Clean burning diesel engine cars were everywhere, due, as I understand it, to encouragement by the government in the form of lower taxes on them and lower fuel costs at the pump. The diesel fuel was cheaper, at least, in comparison to gasoline.

All electricity in the houses is 220 volt. Now, we often say that something here is 220 volt, but when we do so, we are not being accurate. We also sometimes describe the voltage here as 240 volts. Again, this isn’t accurate. Our electric dryers and water heaters are actually 237 volts. Any other number which we use is the result of a couple of things: first, our tendency to round off numbers; and second, general lack of knowledge.

All of our plug-ins are of course 120 volts. (Not actually, it’s more like 117; again, rounding). All of the plug-ins in Norway are 220 volts. Exactly. No rounding there. Their outlets are nearly twice the voltage of ours, so you might think there’s twice the hazard of electrical shock. Perhaps there is some truth in that, but properly grounded, either voltage is liable to wake you up pretty good.

The nice thing about 220 volts in the house? Due to the relationship between voltage and current (one goes up, the other has to go down), the wires can be half the size. Lower cost. Any time wire must be run on a surface where it’s visible, it’s extremely small, almost like our thermostat wire. Again, less expensive.

This tendency to increase voltage so that wire size can be reduced is coming in our automobiles. The reason is simple: cheaper wiring, because it can be smaller. There’s a lot of wire in a car. It makes sense. (Plus they can sell us different stuff.)

Norway has roundabouts, instead of stop signs. There are hardly any reasons to stop in Norway. Stopping wastes fuel. You’ve got a two-ton vehicle on the move; keep it on the move. It’s also more practical, once you get used to it.

I heard funny sounds from some of the cars that passed by while I was walking. I had to ask. Since Norway is pretty much all hilly, and although its winter temperatures are tempered by the ocean, there is a lot of snow. The funny noise from the tires was from metal studs embedded in the rubber for extra traction getting up and down steep streets and driveways. They have to be removed by a certain date, and having them takes a permit, because they wear the heck out of the roads.

Finally, when we got settled at My True Love’s daughter’s place, and I first viewed the all-white expanse of kitchen cabinets, I somewhat knowledgeably said something like, “Oh, you have Ikea cabinets.”

Well, in my defense, we were pretty close to where Ikea is made (Sweden). It seemed to make sense. My comment was met by a polite silence, and a firm negative. No, they were not Ikea.

Oh. Oofda! Hadn’t been in Norway a half hour and already had one size 11 in my mouth. Usually I can go hours, at least. So, it turns out that when Ikea first started out in Europe, they hadn’t quite yet narrowed their market down to where it is now, which in America is somewhat up-scale and just expensive enough to have attained a bit of fashionable exclusiveness.

When Ikea first started out in Europe, they were derogatively termed “flat-pack” cabinets, referring of course to the way they came, disassembled in flat boxes. “Flat-pack” Ikea stuff then was poorly made, and inexpensive, and didn’t hold up well at all. Ikea had this under control when they opened for business in the USA; thus they avoided any lasting negative opinions.

They’re better known for quality now in Norway and Europe, but they may never completely outgrow those first poor opinions. Second chances come hard, sometimes.

And that’s it for Norway stuff.