Crooning for Kroner

Oslo, Norway - 

Scandinavia is a singular tourist destination for Americans. Everywhere else we go in the world, we face culture shock. Not so in northern Europe. Virtually everyone in a service job here speaks excellent English and has a stunning command of the American slang lexicon (when's the last time you heard a Frenchman say "you should take me up on it" or "where are you headed?") Iceland's national snack food is a hot dog, Norway's most famous chain restaurant is an upmarket Pizza Hut, and all of these countries are immersed in our pop culture.

With all of these cultural affinities, we have no problem with culture shock here. In its place, we face sticker shock. Prices here are outrageous!

Our problems began on our first night in Iceland when we tried to find something to eat. The cheesy Italian restaurant down the block was listed in the "budget" section of our guidebook with mains starting at $30 and a decent selection of beers in the $10-$15 range. After a long hunt, we found a Thai restaurant down by the docks where an order of pad thai cost $15 - the food was great, but we were still new in the country and not in a position to recognize how truly amazing this place was. I'm pretty sure it's the cheapest restaurant in all of Iceland!

The high prices are most evident when it comes to foodstuffs, but they are certainly not limited to consumables. Paperback book: $20. Pair of gloves: $50. Gallon of gasoline: $7. The cause of these outrageous prices are many - high cost of labor, high taxes and tariffs, and limited farmland and manufacturing capacity to name a few. Irrespective of cause, high prices are everywhere, and to poor value-conscious Americans like ourselves, it's enough to drive us crazy!

We have coping strategies. Ant has a knack for finding ridiculously good hotel bargains on the web, and we have a large bag of rations we brought from home (props to Colleen for the suggestion!) Most hotels in these parts include a buffet breakfast in the price of a room, and a Scandinavian breakfast is a wonderful thing to behold: cold cuts, cheeses and breads abound, and unlimited coffee flows like black cold from the carafe. (One of my pet theories is that Scandinavians are genetic mutants who subsist on coffee alone, allowing them to survive in the midst of these outrageous prices.) Still, one can only eat so many granola bars and dried apricots before going insane, and breakfast cannot last all day. Thus we find ourselves regularly forking over ridiculous prices for everyday foodstuffs. It takes some getting used to!

Mercifully, the prices have trended downward with every new country we visit. Norway is within easy shipping distance of continental Europe, making consumer staples more-or-less affordable. Sweden has that going for it as well as a large pool of immigrant labor, and Denmark has all of the above in addition to low import tariff. With a little luck, we'll still be solvent by the time we get home!