29 November 2008

Same hemisphere, different planet

Have just got back from Houston and was thinking about the stark differences, both culturally and politically, between Norway and the US.

Two anecdotes highlight the differences to me
Story 1:
Back in 1999 a friend of mine told me that she was going to have a baby!
She said, " I live in Norway, although I am not Norwegian; I am not married to the baby's father and yet the Government here is going to give me a years holiday*. How cool is that?"
I has to agree it's pretty damn good.
At the same time a friend of mine in the US who had worked for 10 years and then gone back to college said to me "we can't afford health care while I am studying, if my wife gets pregnant it will cost $10000 for her to go to hospital have a baby and come out the next day. That's assuming no complications. If she gets pregnant it will be a total disaster!"
I had to agree that was not very good...

Story 2:
I was doing research work with two oil companies in 1999. Saga (Norway) and Arco (US company in UK). Both were taken over by larger companies. In Saga the employees went through several stages, starting with denial, "the government will not let this happen", graduating to indignant protest, "well if they do take over there is no way that I will move anywhere!"
And when it did happen, by enlarge people either got a job where they wanted it, or huge a payout. There was no forced redundancy and no forced relocation.
BP walked in to ARCO on a Monday morning and sacked the entire UK staff (200+ people), 2000 lost their jobs globally. No discussion, no complaining, no chance to demand where you might like to live, just goodbye!

Thats the difference between Norway and the US. I know where I want to live, even with the high taxes!

And some statistics...
Work hours - Norway 8-3; USA 7-7, it's a long day at the coal face. "Honey, who are those small people living in my house?". "That's your children dear!"
Holidays - Norway 25+ days; USA 5 days. Which explains my many Americans are so geographically challanged. If you only have 5 days holiday, its not suprising you think Norway is in Africa.
Tax - Norway 40+%, USA 25%. And interestingly there is an inverse relationship to attitude towards paying.
Cars - Norway hyper expensive, USA very cheap, e.g. a Volvo XC90 cost 1 million nok ($160k) in Norway and $35k (210knok) in the US.
Health Care - Norway, universal and fairly good; USA, excellent with insurance but terrible if you are part of the 20% who don't have it. That is very scary!
Drink driving - Norway, having a beer and then driving is worse than child molestation, USA if you can walk you can drive.
Maternity leave - Norway 11 months; USA, none
Women in the work place Norway 70% and USA 60%, probably related to the above
Crime rates - Norway very low; USA variable, but locally its a war zone!
Obesity - Norway 8%; USA 30%
Life expectancy - Norway 80; USA 78. I was actually surprised they were so close.
Politics - the policies of the Norwegian right (H√łyre), lie significantly left of the Deomcrats!

They really are poles apart, to me they are opposite ends of the spectrum on work-life balance, with the rest of the World (western world at least) laying somewhere between these two end members.

What is odd is that a lot of the settlers in America came from Scandanavia, not that long ago. That must surely suggest that the differences are driven by culture rather than genetics...

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