Costly Norway is an excursion safe haven

3rd September 2010 at 01:00

Always on holiday: never on holiday. So it goes with us lecturers. The first proposition is essentially the judgment of the average Joe (or Jo). They are joined in their conviction by the college employers, who continue to chip away at the lecturers' only perk - no doubt on the ground that such excesses of indolence and pleasure can't really be good for us.

The second viewpoint is how teachers themselves see it. True, you don't go to work for at least a month in the summer, but that doesn't mean that the work doesn't keep on coming to you. For instance, I can never go to a new country without immediately starting to assess its suitability as a destination for a student excursion.

This year was no exception. It was my first time in Norway, and I was barely off the plane and on the train into Oslo before I was starting to draw up my checklist. By the time I had finished, I had found a lot of positives. In fact, if you want a cast-iron certainty that nothing will go amiss on your student trip, then the land of the midnight sun is a must.

To start with, you can forget all those tiresome risk assessment forms. Norway is one big risk assessment form masquerading as a country. Drivers rarely go over 50mph and are obliged by law to have their lights on day and night. Even the pedestrians practically make hand signals before changing direction.

And you have nothing to fear if you take your students out onto one of those cold, deep fjords. On a short fjord trip, we were obliged to wear not so much life jackets as full flotation suits and goggles (pictures available on request). And before we pulled away from the quayside there was a safety announcement that went on for at least ten minutes.

After untimely death, the other thing you worry about on a student trip is alcohol. Here, you need have no worries about Norway, either. Wine and spirits can only be bought at huge expense in state-controlled shops that take some finding. In 10 days there, I didn't manage it.

True, you can buy beer under 5 per cent alcohol by volume - at three times British prices - in supermarkets, but only at tightly prescribed times. Having my lager whisked away from the checkout belt at 8.05pm did give me pause for thought, though: could I really be trusted with a can of 4 per cent beer after 8pm in a wild party town like Oslo? Just to emphasise the point, drinking in public is a criminal offence, even if you are doing it on the balcony of your own flat.

In the past, Norway has had huge problems with alcoholism. Perhaps it's something to do with those long, dark winters. They tried a form of prohibition in the 1920s, then hit upon the idea of taxing and restricting their way out of the problem instead. So that cuts off the other possibility of student over-indulgence: hitting the clubs and pubs. With a glass of wine or a half-litre of beer on offer at pound;8 or pound;9 (yes, you did read that right), drinking out is how the super-rich get to flaunt their wealth in Norway: look at me, I can afford to sit in a bar and drink this stuff!

Not speaking the same language can also lead to problems on trips with students abroad. Brim-full of hormones as they are, fraternising with the locals will always loom large on their holiday agendas. And if they can't speak the lingo, then difficulties will ensue. What he - the local boy with his eye on the main chance - actually says is: how about it, darling? What she - the art student under the spell of tender nights and sweet music - actually hears is: I love you, sugarpops, and want to be with you always.

But in Norway, everyone's English is so good there is no need for the lovelorn to get tied up in linguistic knots. And even if they do, you don't have to worry about their charging off to drown themselves. At almost a tenner to get into the swimming pool, even suicide is too expensive to contemplate.

Steve Jones is a lecturer at a college in London.

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