Oslo v. Portland: A Hilarious Comparison in Cost of Living

by Samantha Schneider

The price comparison standard for my generation: A pint of cheap beer
PDX: ~$3–4
OSLO: $12–14

Beginning hourly wages at a coffee shop

PDX: ~$9
OSLO: $22

In September 2011, I moved to Oslo, Norway (my mother’s homeland, the country of my birth, and one of the most expensive cities in the world) from Portland, Ore. (where I’ve spent my entire adult life until now, and a young, broke person’s wonder dreamland, minus the jobs). I moved here as an unemployed English teacher, seeking economic asylum of sorts from a state with 11% unemployment. I have a job here (great). It’s also incredibly expensive (not so great). Here are some observations from my time in the Land of Arctic Wealth:

• Spending and earning in the two cities are very different, surprise. The dollar has been weak this year (the exchange rate when I arrived was 5.5 Norwegian kroner (NOK) to $1 USD, so that’s the figure I’ve used for comparison).

Rent for a room in house near downtown (I am comparing my old and new neighborhoods, very similar in relative price, poshness, centrality)
PDX: $400–500 (neighbor’s house on sale for $750K)
OSLO: $900-$1,100 (neighbor’s house just sold for $4 million)

•Of my six closest friends here (educated, employed between 25 and 36), four own their apartment. In Portland, none of my close friends (educated, employed between 27 and 38) own their home.

• Going out for lunch is a silly concept here. People pack a lunch, at the office, school, construction site. Three open-faced sandwiches and an apple and a glass of water. Pretty standard for everyone.
• People eat home unless it is a special occasion. I used to eat out several times a week for a burrito or a burger or nice dinner. Here I eat out, er, twice a month?

Bowl of soup at a cafe
PDX: $6
OSLO: $18

Dinner out for one (Glass of wine, main dish, tip)
PDX: ~$20–40
OSLO: ~$45

• The seasons also have an effect. In the winter in Norway, the world is dead. There are, at its worst, five hours of daylight, and bars, restaurants, streets are mostly empty in January. Only the most dedicated alcoholics are slumped on bar stools. Coffee shops are desert wastelands. Money saving! The summer is manic. In June there are only 4 to 5 hours of darkness a day, and if it is sunny and warm you can’t see the ground for all the people who are out. Money spending.

Loaf of sliced wheat bread
PDX: $3
OSLO: $5 (not bad!)

Ticket on city transport
PDX: $2.40 (two-hour transfer)
OSLO: $5.50 (one-hour transfer)

PDX: ~$4 (gallon)
OSLO: ~$2.50 (liter)

Mediocre new running shoes
PDX: $70
OSLO: $180

Price of a driver’s license
PDX: ~$30
OSLO: ~$5,500 (plus: you have to take several obligatory driving classes before you get the license)

• Car? What car? It’s not uncommon to meet people who can’t even drive.

Ham sandwich
PDX: $6
OSLO: $13

• Nearly everything is more expensive, but I’m spending less in some ways, too. Norwegians don’t go out as much as Portlanders do. Sure, they can tie on one Friday night, but they are home Sunday to Wednesday night drinking little. On Friday night, they have drinks at home before leaving. (In Portland, we have drinks all nights, at home and out.)

Bottle of cheap wine at the grocery
PDX: $7
OSLO: $18

Small, black coffee
PDX: $2
OSLO: $5

Average weekly trip to the grocery
PDX: ~$60
OSLO: ~$80

Number of available positions as an English teacher (full-time, central, 2011–2012 school year)
PDX: 0
OSLO: I applied for at least 15, but likely missed many others.

Annual salary for English teacher (Master’s degree, public sector, not including benefits package)
PDX: ~$40,000 (I made $34,000 private sector)
OSLO: ~$70,000

Rough estimate of income tax:
PDX: 25% to Uncle Sam/Aunt Oregon
OSLO: 40%

• Norwegians get generally six weeks of vacation each year. They travel a lot. In Oregon a vacation that required getting on a plane was a novelty for me. I have, since January, been to London, Milan and two other long weekends in other towns in Norway. As a Norwegian, London and Milan felt cheap.

Samantha Schneider is a teacher in OSLO, Norway.

Illustrations by Charrow, an artist in Brooklyn.