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  • Rachel Brettell

One month in Oslo - an expat copywriter's first four weeks

five things I didn't know about remote copywriting

After my first month living in Oslo and starting work as a TMCM copywriter, many crucial questions remain.

Can a girl live on baked goods alone?

Are those eighties reflective wraparound sunglasses genuinely cool again?

Is falling for a man wearing knickerbockers ever justifiable?

But despite the ongoing dilemmas, these heady first few weeks of blue skies, floating saunas and the endless waft of hot dogs have already left me sleeping better, being kinder to my family and actually writing again. The embers of a creative fire that 10 years as a frontline NHS doctor had all but extinguished in me are perhaps starting to glow again.

What’s more, my Scandinavian settling in period has already provided me with a few insights into why Norway really is the coolest country in the world.


A refreshing disregard for health and safety.

I love the attitude to risk here. The school gates remain wide open all day, and I regularly pass six year olds making their own way to and from school alone. I shuddered at the email informing me my eight year old should bring a knife to scout group (non-slip handle ‘ideal but not essential’). Needless to say, she has thus far returned from every meeting thrilled, with various dangerous looking whittled wood items, yet all fingers definitely still attached.

In another surreal moment, my youngest child was delighted to announce that she was the ‘lucky one’ who found a nail in her soup at kindergarten. This was, it transpires, not a blatant attempt to give her tetanus, rather a memorable way to teach the children about sharing. They had been learning about the Norwegian version of the story ‘stone soup’, where a tramp convinces an old woman he will make a tasty ‘nail soup’ for them both if she will just add a few ingredients. Of course, it made sense that the children should also eat the same.

It is clear that having a childhood, gaining independence, exploring and learning take precedence over health and safety here. It’s made me wonder whether being a little less cautious and having a bit more fun and freedom is in fact the answer to most of life’s problems.

What’s more, perhaps we are more inclined to rise to the challenge if the challenge is just that bit more perilous and exciting…

Winter is (always) coming.

Even in the glorious sun of August, there are signs of preparation for the winter all around. People balanced precariously high, fixing their roofs, windows being refitted and replaced to keep out the arctic drafts, and mobs at the local flea markets pouncing on second-hand thermals.

There is a practical, proactive sense of purpose about the inevitability of winter and a recognition that whilst they can’t control the weather, they can prepare for it. This is a stark contrast to my modus operandi, as someone who tends to bury my head in the sand about whatever challenges may lie ahead, or is perhaps just too busy rushing round like a headless chicken to think about the future.

There is something profoundly calming, liberating and empowering about acknowledging the inevitable challenges ahead and then getting on with doing what you can to prepare.

The water doesn’t know how old you are.

The ultimate Nordic cliché, I have become a convert to wild swimming. Despite plenty of addicted friends who have evangelically tried to sell the numerous benefits of cold water immersion to me, I’ve never really ‘got it’ before. I’d much rather have been warm on the shore than cold, shivering and, well, wet in the water.

However, there is something magical and truly invigorating about hurling oneself into the crystal clear waters of the nearest fjord or lake. The sharp intake of breath as you plunge in, the tingle in your skin as you swim, and the deep ache in your marrow as you emerge.

In our first weeks here I was promoted to ‘chief family drama queen’ as I tortured myself, screaming as each extra centimetre of flesh was submerged. Now I jump in quickly and (relatively) quietly, safe in the knowledge that within a few seconds, experience has proven I will feel wonderful. I've even dropped some of the British prudishness - getting dry and warm on the bank seems so much more crucial than ensuring no flesh is flashed.

Most importantly, I love that whenever I’m making a fuss, an octogenarian will quietly strip off, hop in and remind me what a total wimp I am.

So, whilst the wild swimming may not last all year (average water temperatures hit three degrees here in winter), I think it's important to remember, diving into the unknown probably does get easier the more you do it, and the benefits can be both humbling and breathtaking.

Good things happen when you get your priorities straight.

It feels like Norwegians have the right ideas when it comes to their priorities. Being one of the richest countries in the world no doubt helps, but standout examples so far include:

  • Free swimming lessons for kids because, well, kids should be able to swim.

  • A rush hour that starts at 3pm because how else will you have enough time to ski after work?

  • Compulsory shared parental leave, meaning you are just as likely to see a gaggle of dads pushing prams and hanging out at the playground as you are mums.

  • Opera and ballet tickets are heavily subsidised by the state because why shouldn’t everyone have the chance to enjoy opera and ballet?

  • Electric cars, scooters and bikes everywhere because we really do need to save our planet.

I’m not sure it really matters what your priorities are, but have them, stick to them and make them happen. Right now, mine are sauna and cinnamon buns, but I’m working on it.

I have no doubt that this month has been my rose-tinted Norwegian honeymoon.

Now the real work begins. Time to dust off the laptop and try working in some of those stunning creative spaces I’ve discovered around this magnificent city.

Here is my chance to put that DuoLingo streak into action and practice actually speaking Norwegian. And the opportunity, hopefully, to harness all the beauty and inspiration around me and translate it into something worth reading.

But winter is clearly on its way, and fast. The mornings are cooler and crisper, shop mannequins are dressed in wool and fleece and the sun drenched evenings on our balcony drinking gin and tonics are already a thing of the past. I’m not sure how those lofty lessons about living dangerously, embracing the unknown and getting your priorities right will work when faced with long, dark nights, treacherous snow and isolation from the comfort of family and friends. Less sightseeing, more sleet.

Nevertheless, I have no doubt this beautiful city and its hardy people have much more to teach me. And right now, I can’t wait to learn. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll even nail dressing appropriately for the weather.

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