Seeing Stars in Oslo

I have never had so many opportunities to see American singers and comedians as I have in Oslo. The number of international acts making their way through Scandinavia just keep growing and growing. Perhaps even more importantly, those entertainers who came to Oslo in previous years are coming back for more – clearly they’re impressed with their Norwegian fan base.

Before I lived here, the idea that Jerry Seinfeld or Ricky Gervais would bother to perform in Oslo would have stuck me as absolutely ludicrous (speaking of which, Ludacris has performed here as well). A lot of these big acts don’t even make it Portland, a pretty good-sized city in the U.S., so why in the world would they bother to come all the way to Norway? What in the world could they possibly hope to find?

Well, one thing as it turns out is a good paycheck – tickets to last week’s Gabriel Iglesias show went for around 550-600 kroner, or roughly $100, while in the U.S. his tickets are only $40-50. There were around 6,000 people packed into Oslo Spektrum to see him – I’ll leave you to do the exact math, but it’s clearly worth his while to come through here. Not to mention the fact that while so many other areas have had economic woes, during which entertainment spending is generally curtailed, Norway’s economy has (so far) remained relatively stable and strong, meaning there are plenty of people able to pay those high prices.

Another one reason, though (and probably the most important one) are the fans here. Norwegians are more plugged in to American culture than any other ground of people that I know, and that’s including people in other English-speaking countries (you heard me, Canada). American music, movies, and TV shows are pervasive here, and the lack of dubbing means Norwegians are completely familiar with American-style English and all its associated humor. Last year when well-known comedian and ventriloquist Jeff Dunham was here he stopped a couple times during the show just to see if people were following his jokes, clearly surprised that everyone spoke and understood English so well. He seemed even more surprised that people here were so familiar with his material.   

I went with a country-loving Norwegian family member to a Brad Paisley concert a few weeks ago at Oslo Spektrum, and the passion of the fans was on display there as well. Paisley commented that he liked coming to Norway (it was his second time, I believe) because, as he said “you guys are real fans. Y’all don’t just know the popular songs, you know all my songs”. This was humorously brought home to him when, during the requests portion, a fan asked for the song “Toothbrush“, only to have Paisley forget half the lyrics and turn to the audience to help him finish, a task they were more than up to.

Brad Paisley preforming at Oslo Spektrum, as documented by my crappy iPhone camera
The intensity of Norwegian fans was most obvious when Justin Bieber came to town last May and the passionate (crazed?) fans nearly shut the city down. The first ten minutes of this video shows how even Bieber’s crew was completely surprised by the unexpected hordes of screaming teens.
All these shows and concerts make being an American expat in Oslo that much easier. Even if you’re not going to the shows yourself, that fact that the options are there, and that so many people are so familiar with American pop culture, makes it that much easier and comfortable to live here and find common ground in tastes and interests with Norwegians. 
If you’re not seeing at least a few shows, though, then you’re missing out – especially with the comedians. They all have something to say about Norway, and you’ll often hear off-the-cuff routines specifically about Oslo that you’ll never see on YouTube. Out of all the shows I’ve been to, my personal favorite was Jeff Dunham and Walter, where for 30+ minutes grumpy old Walter shared his decidedly unimpressed thoughts on “all those cold naked people” at Vigeland Park.
“I was in the pool!”
To see who’s coming to Oslo and to buy tickets check out billettservice.no. Most of the major non-Norwegian acts are at Oslo Spektrum or Telenor Arena.

Embassy Happy Hour!

I was invited by some people who know some people to an invitation-only happy hour at the U.S. Embassy last Friday. It was an interesting experience, to say the least. It’s not that going to the embassy was exciting in and of itself – as an American, I’ve been in there before, the last time to be charged $80 (475kr) for new passport pages (only the U.S. government could somehow make 12 small pieces of paper cost so much).

 The U.S. Embassy building, designed to look like a potential hideout for a James Bond villain

After waiting in line outside the embassy for 40 minutes to go through an airport-style security screening (I was allowed to keep my shoes on, at least), we went around to the back of the building and into the embassy’s super-awesome basement. You remember that time when you had the idea to turn your basement into a bar where all your buddies could hang out? Turns out the embassy folks had the same idea. There was the usual shtick of Hollywood posters, road signs, and pictures of Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant to let you know you’re in “America” – basically a buttoned-down version of T.G.I. Friday’s – but other than that it was about as exciting as the lobby of a Holiday Inn Express.    

So why wait in a long line on a cold night for a so-so basement bar? Well, for one, there was cheap beer. At least, cheaper than anything you would usually pay at a bar in Oslo. Curious as to how this was possible, I inquired what was going on – was Uncle Sam subsidizing the drinks? I asked one of the embassy staff at the bar, I was assured that the 40kr bottle of suds was not my tax dollars at work – the bar is fully self-financed. Beer and liquor is shipped in from Ramstein Air Base in Germany, and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs graciously lets the Americans bring it in for on-premise consumption without paying any of those high Norwegian taxes. The embassy then sells it at these happy hour for a slight profit, and use the proceeds for other embassy-related activities Good deal! 

Couldn’t get too excited, though – sure, it was cheap, but it was cheap MGD

Snarky comments aside, it was a fun night – the staff was friendly, the burgers were hot, the beer was cold, and there was record attendance, with good conversation all around. It was interesting to talk with other Americans about the election, as well, and hear what people from different parts of the country thought about the current events. Regardless of political orientation, there was one clear consensus – we’re all glad to be living overseas when it means not having to watch endless “I approve this message” political ads for another 8 months.   
Speaking of the election, the Norwegian embassy in Washington, D.C. has been writing a series of blog posts explaining the current election process. I often find it difficult to explain some aspects of U.S. elections, like the electoral college, to folks in Norway who are familiar with a completely different form of government and voting. The blog is straight-forward and serves as a good introduction and overview of the people and processes in the current election. It’s sadly devoid of any serious commentary on the candidates, their proposed policies, or the process itself. I fully understand why the embassy is not commenting on an internal U.S.-affair, but it’d still be interesting to hear the point-of-view of Norwegians who are actually in the U.S. and understand the system well. So, if you want to know more about some of the stranger elements of US elections like SuperPACs and Ron Paul, check out the blog here.