fredag 22. august 2014

Bygda Rant

Ah the idyll of moving to the countryside. No more queue on the  ring-way , no more tailgating, no more crammed public transport. No more overly ambitious bosses and sniping coworkers. No more anonymity  Alas the bid rounds on houses we couldn't afford even at first asking price never materialised because we just took fright and moved out of the big smoke that is Oslo. It's a bit of a dump anyway. Nice fjord, nice hills and woods but Carl Johan and the red blaize at the palace? A lot like Birmingham.

So we moved to a place a lot Cornwall. We moved to a small town with unbelievably low house prices and low rents so we could 'suck it and see' does actually suck a little bit. The bigger decision was not to follow a corporate career, to go out and spend time with our children...a running cliche. Usually people sell up a city "hybel" or two and move out to be the new gentry, flush with wonga and bling. Not us quite in that cliche nor the other bug bear, the MBA clever clogs who gets to run the local business much to the murmuring of the yokals.  ....actually I ended up with a promising corporate career anyway for a while after giving up on the local job market.

The local yokal job market. Yes. That is exactly why house prices are so low, despite pay being relatively high in that ratio. There is just no competition for buying houses over 1.8 million krone ( about a hundred and eighty grand). The plus side for the lucky in a good job in a local firm is that they can pay off their mortgage, remortgage in their late 40s and get a big yacht or a mountain cabin secured on the value with the new spondoolics. They tend to have safe jobs because the companies here are canny and either bumble along or squeeze productivity out of their workforce in overtime, multitasking and making them manage sub suppliers for excess capacity and risk ventures!

This last year I have been looking for a job within 40 minutes commute, because that 40 minutes becomes an hour on snowy days anyway, and it means I can do at least one side of the school-walk , yes walk, not run, not in a car, walk up and back in 20 minutes. There have been two or three jobs I was maybe qaulified for or could have retrained and although I got interviews for two of them, no job resulted: better qualified candidates. Our region or 'fylke' is the worst in the southern half of norway, and per capita it must surely be the worst in the whole of the country for job creation. Or at least advertised job creation. Many jobs go internally by shifts, often the old , lower position is not refilled. So there is an element of dead mans shoes. This week it has hit an unexpected all time low in advertised jobs: the two main cover-all sources list 112 from the employment service and 60 on the meaningful private web site On the NAV web site around half the jobs are in the public sector, and you can bet that most of those have sitting employees and just have to be advertised due to EU rules. I have looked at the job market and that is lower than it was after the 2008 finance crisis.

Also our three local councils have just had a reduction to employer's stamp contributions, presumably to stop them downsizing because the three or four largest and the next tier down have not advertised a sausage : a couple of smaller companies have, but they are growing or have staff leaving anyway.

The idyll of being here is not completely broken, it is just the economic reality of being a double immigrant: just like anywhere, you are an outsider, an alien when you move to small town.

I thought about this a lot; I come from a small town which has the exact same cliquey, snobby, inverted snobby, do gooder, do nothinger, family centred stuff as here. I must be mad methinks, but I would rather my kids grew up in this environment I convince myself. And they dont really get to play with the old families and they get discriminated against by the old collective circles. They are in, but only just.

I am out, I am so out. I just cannot get on with this type of cliqueyness. I tried, I really did. In fact I tried far too hard and that is all the problem. Softly softly catch a monkey when you want to get a tacit acceptance from the Cosa Nostra, our thing, we ourselves, Sinn Fein.  It is a bit like a criminal or terrorist organisation. They don't let you in. They have their suspicions about you. They talk behind your back. Worse they plan little avoidances behind your back, or more often some individuals take opportunities to exclude you or your kids when they are deciding who gets to play. This extends to jobs unfortunately, but luckily most jobs here are advertised so at least I get a stab at it all.

It sound bloody awful eh? Well it is just the same as a white settler would get moving to Cornwall or Wales or Argyll or Orkney. There are welcoming figures who take you under their wing, some with ulterior motives, but some just busy bodies -  I remember my mum was a bit like that with the English navy wives who were on rotation to the naval yard near us. I think it wore her out, but gave her a breath of fresh air in the stifling village hall atmosphere.

About a year a go I stopped making any effort what so ever with locals who had not really taken me in, and stopped bothering to ask them the one sided question "how's it going?" . Their curiosity about me was satisfied after I'd been here three years. Helped by a local gossip who knows the wife, they think I am a tad arrogant and riding on my high horse. I can't undo that.

Whether this small town thing is a natural consequence of size I do not really know. I suspect it is easy to find much more friendly small towns around the world. But there is a culture here which has a critical mass and a large degree of pass it on, in the negative sense. Kids learn to group themselves around the known families, to be stand off to the 'others'. That is something they take with them through life, it is a kind of feeling: like the "bad smell" guy at the surf camp: a perfectly decent guy, he was just a late comer to the group, and a bit too good looking for many of the guys.

Worse in fact I find are the other one time immigrants from other parts of the country: they also pass it on, and I presumed many of them were dyed in the wood yokals: they have managed to come in to a limited social circle , 'krets', and remember when they were stung or how long it took them to eak their way into that now treasured social circle. They pass it on , and in a more vehement snobby way than even the worst locals. Also they are the most curious often, because they want gossip ammunition: they need just a few micrograms of Semtex to blow apart your fledgling social life.

The whole thing was getting on top of me, but we made a new friend, and my local ex pat friend moved back to his house half an hour away this week. Also a half expat woman I like is looking to move back here. I can also work here for a good thirty percent less than the national average and be much better off than we were in Oslo. Now the kids are a bit older I can also go back to weekly commuting while I wait, or take some education perhaps next year. However the centre of gravity is back here and I am even thinking of going back to some of the "verve og dugnad" volunteering I used to do and some new.

I would say that if you are going to move, then don't do it blind and dont do it because one of the wives' pals lives there, you being the expat that is. Even for Norwegians an Oslo boy husband often struggles with the culture I hear. It is best to look before you leap into a move to Bygda. Spend time socialising there before you move. The key is to ask more questions than you answer! Then you can gauge if they are closed, and just curious about you or if they are friendly and open to new comers. Also you may want to spend weekends and holidays making a point of having an acitivity you can join in with the yokals, like the ski club, or the local DNT, or the sailing or motor boat club. See how you get on.

I have to remember also that I am in that phase of life people used to enter at a much younger age: tied up with two kids and a mortgage. When I were a lad...people had the decency to get married in their mid to late twenties and be of child, 2.4. by age 32. Now it is all ten years later, which means we are even older and have given up on even more pals from our 20s when we do settle down. So we limit our own social lives doubly by being "old" or rather now "modern average" parents. In our town, the vast majority of people fall into three life phases: retired, 50 something with kids leaving the nest, and families with the preverbial 2.4, average paretn age 42. That means that people just do not have the energy for new people nor even that for keeping up much with their own good friends. Social circles become a bit ever decreasing and there is a bit of a Koselig Nostra which keeps others out of those precious, fun, and well bonded out of family relationships. The lobster or elg filet supper, the poker circle, the Lions club...and so on and so on.

So take these thoughts with you when you first consider to move out to the sticks, to Bygdaland and go carefully, not like us!!

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