Life Is Good For Norwegians, But Tourists Pay Price
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
Norway is one of the richest country's per capita in the world, thanks to its vast oil and gas reserves. That oil money has created a high and comfortable standard of living for Norwegians, but the higher prices make it difficult for tourists hoping to visit Norway on a budget. Eleanor Beardsley visited the capital of Oslo and sends this report.
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ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: A marching band strikes up a summer tune in an Oslo park as happy crowds look on. And why shouldn't Norwegians feel good? North Sea oil has helped this country of just five million people build a modern and efficient society where everyone benefits from a generous and protective health and welfare system.
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BEARDSLEY: Four-month-old Henrick, out for a stroll with his mother Kathryn and his grandmother Helena, doesn't yet know how good he has it, says his mother.
KATHRYN: Yes, it's good. You get paid to be home eight months, and the father gets paid to be home three months. So we're really lucky. Yes, it's a good country.
HELENA: As far as I can remember, you've got oil money here and a good life.
BEARDSLEY: Even if Norway's oil were to run out, the country has built up an enormous cushion - a $500 billion sovereign wealth fund. Oliver Denk is an economist with the OECD, an organization grouping the world's wealthy industrial nations.
OLIVER DENK: Norway commits to a rule. It's spending every year 4 percent of the return on the stock of this sovereign wealth fund, and these 4 percent every year get injected into the economy, and that also raises the income of ordinary Norwegians.
BEARDSLEY: Norway also has extremely low unemployment, just 3.3 percent. So, foreigners from across Europe and the world come here looking for jobs. My waiter in an Oslo restaurant is Swedish. He tells me that young Swedes flock here to make better wages. Then he lowers his voice to add that everybody knows Norwegians are rich and lazy.
The downside of all of this wealth seems to be for those not earning a Norwegian salary, like us tourists. I'm intrigued by a table of Italians who have only glasses of water in front of them.
You're a table of Italians, and nobody's drinking wine.
FRANCESCO FALCONE: No, because we live in a place where we produce more wine, and so we don't buy wine here because the wine is so expensive for us.
BEARDSLEY: Francesco Falcone and his fellow diners have no doubt made a wise choice to forego the vino. But as I've already ordered my $30 glass of red wine, I might as well sit back and try to enjoy it. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News.
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WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News.
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