Happiest Country – 4 : Norway

Norway is a country at a crossroads, although given Norway’s natural wonders and significant wealth, it’s a situation in which most countries in the world would love to find themselves.

Crystal Serenity at Geiranger Fjord - Norway

Norway is, by any standards, one of the most beautiful countries on earth, but that beauty brings with it a responsibility that weighs heavily upon Norwegians. For here is a people with an enduring love for the natural world that is profoundly etched into the national character. In the past, this was expressed in the Norwegian tradition of isolated farmsteads that colonised the most secluded corners of the country’s wilderness. Increasingly, however, the irrevocable movement of Norwegians towards the cities – cities that are themselves places of great beauty, such as Bergen, Trondheim, Stavanger and Tromsø – has altered the relationship between Norwegians and their natural world. But one thing remains unaltered: to paraphrase that great Norwegian son, Henrik Ibsen, those who wish to understand Norwegians, must first understand Norway’s magnificent but severe natural environment, for these are a people of the land, perhaps more so than any other Europeans.

Wilderness in Norway has become more of a leisure pursuit, an idea that Norwegians embrace, escape to and explore with great fervour. Nowhere is this more evident than in the country’s national parks – shining symbols of the nation’s desire to protect the environment as much as they are showpieces of Norway’s peerless landscapes and otherworldly natural grace. At the same time, Norwegians worry about their impact upon the environment, over the consequences of global warming for the country’s glaciers and Arctic ecosystems, and about Norway’s contributions to this decline and the decline of wilderness the world over due to their massive oil reserves and exports.

And then there are the trials of living in one of the richest countries on earth. Norwegians are burdened with a highly developed social conscience that manifests in far-reaching promises to reduce greenhouse gases, in using its astonishing oil wealth to promote ethical investment abroad and in committing itself to a foreign-aid budget that puts most countries to shame. Where things get complicated is at home, leading to anguished national debates over rising immigration, over the incremental loss of Norway’s cultural heritage and over the effects of being cosseted by what is arguably the world’s most generous and enlightened welfare system. The country is also divided over whether Norway can continue to go it alone by staying outside the EU, or whether it really should play its part in building a more prosperous and united Europe.

It’s not that you’ll find many Norwegians complaining about their lot. Nonetheless, you will encounter, again and again, a people wondering about their place in the world.

Read more: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/norway#ixzz2Ufodd7Pq

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