Complaining about how expensive things are in Norway is a favorite pastime of international students. In this respect, we are already well on our way to fitting in with Norwegians, who also find the high prices in the country vastly unfair (despite their high wages, and general proportional living costs, which you just shouldn’t bring up).
What to do then if you need to buy stuff cheaply? There’s always Finn, also known as Norwegian Craigslist. Or you can try to find another student leaving the country and buy the contents of their life off them. But at this time of year, there is another option.
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In the United States we have garage sales. On a sunny day you put all your unwanted stuff on tables or laying in the driveway, make some lemonade, and try to pass off your stuff to an unsuspecting passerby.
Norway has an indomitable spirit of collective organization though, and garages are perhaps scarcer. Instead, twice a year, schools hold loppemarkeder. The translation is «flea markets,» but that meaning obscures the indelible Norwegian-ness of it all. A flea market can be any kind of collection of stalls or spaces people rent to sell their wares. It can even be a full-time job to run that space, one among many. This is different.
Welcome to Norway: Now fill out these forms
Loppemarked are held by school organizations, usually marching bands, to raise money for instruments, uniforms, or any other expenses. Every spring and fall parents embody the spirit of dugnad, the fervently-held belief that everyone should contribute to community, organizing what is a highly-complex operation.
Approaching a loppemarked a Saturday afternoon, you may detect the smell of coffee, hot dogs, or pancakes. Then the hustle and bustle of the masses opens up before you: furniture is stacked by the playground outside in the sun – 20 kroner for shelves? Yes, really. A little further along there might be rows of ice skates and roller blades, while tables around them are scattered with knick-knacks of indeterminate value. Inside the school’s gymnasium clothing racks are groaning under a whole neighborhood’s cast-offs. Here and there stand tables with piles of CDs, vinyl records, and books, which may or may not be organized in some fashion.
All the volunteers wear neon green or yellow vests and bustle about importantly. Occasionally a tiny neon blur will sprint by at knee height – children wearing their own vests try to run the show, selling baked goods or guessing at prices, but frequently get distracted and convince their parents to purchase something, which they then show off to all their friends while munching on cake.
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We stand on the precipice of the second weekend of loppemarkeder, with affordable furnishings, clothes, books, and various treasures as far as the eye can see. Take a day this weekend or next to hop from one to the other, snacking along the way, and admiring the organized chaos. This is Norway at its best on a cool spring day.