Sunday, June 09, 2013

My Dear Oslo, Living in the World's Most Expensive City

Oslo is so expensive that we can't afford to travel to the nice beaches down south.
At least we are good at improvising. Here with Christian Strand, the host of NRK's TV program FBI. 

Oslo is usually fighting for the top spot with Moscow and Tokyo. Or should I say struggling to avoid rock bottom position? The contest in question is the race of being the most expensive city in the world. Oslo just "won". Yet again. I live in Oslo. I'd celebrate. Could I only afford to.


So, what do we have to deal with?

ECA, which makes the annual list elegantly named "the world's most expensive cities for expatriates", compares the price of some goods and services. Let's have a closer look at beer in a bar, soda, a dozen eggs and a cinema tickets in Oslo. Business Insider goes through the top 20 cities.

Beer in a bar. Price in Oslo, according to ECA: $14.10 (NOK 81.50)
Of course, there are bars, pubs and clubs in different price ranges, even in Oslo. Norwegians like their beer and there a number of beer breweries around the country. If you are from the West Coast, you typically drink Hansa, people in and around Oslo prefer Frydenlund or Ringnes while southerners consume CB or Arendalspilsener and northerners frequently down a Mack or a Nordlandspils. Finally, the people in the middle opt for Dahls.

Norwegians also prefer to drink their "halvliter", or half a liter. This is a measure that is increasingly difficult to find. Why? Because greedy bar owners have for years been increasing the price of a glass of beer, while decreasing the size of the glass it is served in. You will therefore typically be given a glass of only 0.4 liter. That is 20% less than our beloved "halvliter". Cheaters!

I presume that ECA has recalculated the price paid for a half liter across the cities that they do visit. Or have they? They only list it as beer in a bar. In the Netherlands you can buy beer in a tiny glass of only 0.18 liter, in the UK you get pints of beer (0.568 liter) while I have seen 0.6 liter in Oslo and 1 full liter in Munich. And ECA is very specific about their eggs, the prices are by the dozen. Please clarify.

You can certainly (and easily) find cheaper beer than the steep 14 USD quoted, but you need to know where to go. Avoid Karl Johans gate (gate = street) at all costs. The main street that runs from the Central station to the Royal palace attracts a lot of tourists, pickpockets, hookers, drug addicts and beggars. Many tourists mean higher prices, poor service and flat beer. The same applies to Aker brygge (the harbour), the harbour. For lower prices and fewer tourists, head to Youngstorget near the Central station or to Grünerløkka, "the bohemian" neighbourhood in Oslo with a lot of bars, cafés, restaurants and small shops.

Soda. Price in Oslo, according to ECA: $3.43 (NOK 19.80)
Sodas like Coca-Cola or Solo, the Norwegian orangy option, typically come in half a liter plastic bottles or 0.33 liter glass bottles or aluminium cans. Again, ECA doesn't list which size they quote the prices of. You will normally be charged at least the price ECA lists at convenient stores like 7-Eleven, Narvesen and Deli de Luca, and a lot more in hotels and restaurants.

Tre brødre, a touristy restaurant on Karl Johans gate, charges 9 USD for bottled water! Welcome to Norway. He said, shamefully. A worker on minimum wage from Bangladesh would have to work 82 hours to pay for that water, a Cuban would need to put in 180 hours while someone from Sierra Leone would have to sweat 300 hours worth of water to buy the same tiny bottle of water.

Such pricing is embarrassing, Tre brødre. Norway is after all the country with the best and cleanest tap water in the world. You can in other words get free water, even in most restaurants (although a very few will actually charge you for the service), just ask for tap water.

Enough water talk. To find cheaper sodas than what ECA managed to do, visit a supermarket. The cheapest ones are called Rema 1000, Rimi, Bunnpris and Kiwi but even the more expensive ICA or Coop will save you money compared with the convenience stores.

A dozen eggs. Price in Oslo, according to ECA: $8.39 (NOK 48.50)
Eggs are typically purchased at a supermarket. Unless your neighbour is a farmer. Such neighbours are not common in Oslo.

Again, I dunno where ECA went to buy eggs, but I found much cheaper ones at my local supermarket, Bunnpris (which translates to Bottom price), which I visited today. To go hunting for prices of "chicken babies". The shop has a selection of eggs from various companies. The cheapest dozen will set you back $5.30 (NOK 30.60). The options will cost you back $6.91 (NOK 39.90), $8.64 (NOK 49,90) or a whopping 12.43 (71.80) for the most expensive ones. I should mention that the latter one is labelled "ecological". That probably means that the hens get a square inch extra to move around in and possibly that they're on an extra healthy diet. Does that mean that the other hens eat junk food?

Nevertheless, egg prices are in other words up to 37% cheaper than ECA's number. I am just sayin'.

Cinema ticket. Price in Oslo, according to ECA: $18.76 (NOK 108.40)
This is at least easy to measure as all cinemas in town are owned by the same company and all shows are bookable online.

The correct price then is $17.31 (NOK 100), which is almost 8% lower. Pensioners pay 15% less.

How did you end up paying NOK 108.40, ECA? You don't tip at cinemas in Norway.

Not entirely accurate
I don't mind that Oslo is labelled the world's most expensive cities for expatriates, but I think that ECA should be better at telling what they actually measure, when, where and by whom.

What they have listed gives a certain idea, but it is not entirely accurate. You can certainly get by much cheaper than what ECA claims, but that is probably also the case with the other cities on their list. Expats aren't exactly known for shopping around too much or for drinking in the cheapest bars in town.

Oslo. It certainly is expensive. Very. But. That is a good thing. I think.

It means that I can travel wherever I want in the world, doing whatever I want and still reassure myself that I am actually saving money as opposed to do it at home.

Except for when it comes to caviar. In Norway it comes in a toothpaste like tube, only bigger. We put it on bread with cucumber and cheese. It is cheap. So we indulge. Try it with fresh shrimp. And go to heaven. From the most expensive city in the world. For expatriates.

8 comments:

  1. Great post! Even though Oslo is quite expensive, I still love that city to bits.

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  2. This is one of the reasons (beside the climate) I don't visit Noraway, nothwistanding that there are low cost flights to Oslo out of my European home country. I "visit" the majestuous fjords on tv, though!

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    1. Television will never do the fjords justice! ;)

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  3. I have to say that the information here was the most complete that I found anywhere. I am definitely bookmarking this to come back and read later.

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  4. It is expensive but I did love it when I was there..

    http://manjulikapramod.com/

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  5. Oh really it is so expensive,i think very few people can think to go at this place but thanks share this post or give a nice resources through this post..!!

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  6. OK, so sitting in a pizza restaurant in the centre of Oslo is not the best place to read this. Happily I knew the prices before I flew from the UK so this just confirms what my wallet is telling me.
    The other good news is my customer is paying me, so it is just about affordable.
    Also be prepared to have cash refused in places, card only is the rule in some shops I have been in.

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  7. Good god Graham you ate a Norwegian pizza, I hope you survived.

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