A journey to find Norway’s supposed bliss makes for a comic travelogue that asks, seriously, what makes Norwegians so damn happy—and does it translate?
Norway is usually near or at the top of the World Happiness Report. But is it really one of the happiest countries on Earth? Eric Dregni had his doubts. Years ago he and his wife had lived in this country his great-great-grandfather once fled. When their son Eilif was born there, the Norwegian government paid for the birth, gave them $5,000, and deposited $500 into their bank account every month, but surely happiness was more than a generous health care system. What about all those grim months without sun? When Eilif turned fifteen, father and son decided to go back together and investigate. For the Love of Cod is their droll report on the state of purported Norwegian bliss.
Arriving in May, a month of festivals and eternal sun, the Dregnis are thrust into Norway at its merriest—and into the reality of the astronomical cost of living, which forces them to find lodging with friends and relatives. But this gives them an inside look at the secrets to a better life. It’s not the massive amounts of money flowing from the North Sea oil fields but how these funds are distributed that fuels the Norwegian version of democratic socialism—resulting in miniscule differences between rich and poor. Locals introduce them to the principles underlying their avowed contentment, from an active environmentalism that translates into flyskam (flight shame), which keeps Norwegians in the family cabin for the long vacations prescribed by law and charges a 150 percent tax on gas guzzlers (which, Eilif observes, means more Teslas seen in one hour than in a year in Minnesota!).
This idiosyncratic father and son tour lets readers, free of flyskam, see how, or whether, Norwegian happiness translates.
Eric Dregni is author of twenty books, including Vikings in the Attic, Weird Minnesota, and Let’s Go Fishing! As a Fulbright fellow to Norway, he survived a dinner of rakfisk (fermented fish) thanks to 80-proof aquavit, took the “meat bus” to Sweden for cheap salami with a crowd of knitting pensioners, and compiled his stories in In Cod We Trust: Living the Norwegian Dream. He wrote about living in Modena, Italy, in Never Trust a Thin Cook and Other Lessons from Italy’s Culinary Capital. He is professor of English, journalism, and Italian at Concordia University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and in the summer he is director of the Italian Concordia Language Village, an experience he wrote about in You’re Sending Me Where? He lives in Minneapolis.