Sunday, 28 February 2010


I hope these guys at the Winter Olympics appreciate how exhausted we are over here. It’s all very well for them, charging up and down the Canadian Rockies winning medals left, right and centre. Do they know what they’re putting us through? I am obliged to watch them back here, sitting on the sofa all night long with my heart in my mouth as yet another nerve-crunching final reaches its conclusion. It’s completely shattering. Just as well this last week has been the Vinterferie.

The Winter Holiday, during which schools close for a week to allow all good Norwegians to perfect their skiing technique, is a much-prized time of year. All manner of person from 2 to 102 is out there taking advantage of the heavy snow and mountainous topography. The glorification of mass participation in winter sports is almost palpable.

Like the Brits, Norwegians take their holidays very, very seriously. With over 50 airports in Norway alone, the choice of locations on offer is almost bewildering. It is no surprise that the average number of flights per head per year is four times more than in the UK.

The amount of annual leave is comparable to most Scots. According to the law, Norwegian employees have the right to four weeks and one day’s holiday a year, a total of 25 weekdays plus the intervening weekends. If you are over 60, you have five weeks a year.

But, in addition to fully-paid leave, Norwegians have a tax holiday too. While Norway operates a tax system similar to Britain’s PAYE system, there is a payment holiday. The year’s tax is paid over 10 ½ months rather than 12, with a ‘half tax’ month in December to allow people extra cash for Christmas. Then there is a tax free month in spring to allow extra cash for a summer holiday. (In the UK, we have a similar system regarding council tax which operates a 10 month system with no tax due in February or March.)

It is as though the state regards holidays, and the ability to pay for them, as vital to the health and wealth of the nation. If an employee is properly rested, if they have managed to find the perfect spot in which to ‘slappe av’, the employer will benefit from having a well-rested, fitter, keener worker.

Strangely, the law does not state that Vinterferie means Norwegians HAVE to go skiing in their own mountains. Some choose the Alps or the Rockies, while some more radical folk (can you believe it) don’t even go skiing....they decide they are sick of snow and cold, and zap off to the sun to lie on a beach.

So now, as everyone returns from wherever, the stories of their adventures during the last week are pouring out. Whether they went hot or cold, the change was good. Without the Vinterferie this record-breaking snowy period would have felt excruciatingly long and tiresome, so a whole week off is most welcome and truly restoring.

But I suspect this year there has been a little less ‘recharging of the batteries’ than usual, for which I hold the Winter Olympics entirely responsible. And as a Scot, I am finding it exquisitely enjoyable to be situated in a country capable of such splendid Olympic success. I am not even mildly embarrassed at being able to bask in their glory. It’s extremely convenient. With a clutch of eight golds, eight silvers and six bronze medals at this point, this land of 5 million souls is flying the flag for the strength of a small nation with spectacular aplomb. It’s utterly compelling, so those of us not in Vancouver are wiped out from having to stay up all night watching the games. We need a holiday.

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