Supermarkets in EU member Sweden earn increasing fortunes from Norwegians flooding over the border to buy cheaper products from beer to bacon. The 2001 border spending by Norwegians was a record of about $850 million.
In a bid to stem the tide and encourage Norwegians to shop at home, Norway’s agriculture minister Lars Sponheim recently branded cross-border shoppers “Harry” — a Norwegian nickname that implies someone vulgar, cheap-minded and daft.
Many Norwegians retort that shoppers are smart to seek out bargains and that Oslo should instead cut subsidies to farmers, among the highest in the world. And Swedish shopkeepers are now entering the “Harry” war raging in Norway.
“I’ll give away 1,000 crowns ($96.48) to each of the first 10 clients on Saturday called ‘Harry’. The one who looks the most ‘Harry’ will get 10,000,” said Kjetil Dahlby, owner of the Kjothallen supermarket in Tocksfors, Sweden, near the border.
To qualify, shoppers have to be Norwegian and have some form of identity card to prove their name is indeed “Harry”.
No one wants to be “Harry” in Norway, even though Harry Potter books about a boy wizard tops best-seller lists and the names of late US President Harry Truman or Prince Harry in Britain do not trigger mirth.
Norway says there are just 3,682 Harrys among its 4.5 million population, many of them foreign-born or elderly. The name peaked in popularity in the 1920s, but even then only a tiny 0.7 per cent of baby boys were Harry.
The Harry battle is a side-effect of Norway’s decision to vote “No” to EU membership in 1994, when Swedes and Finns voted “Yes”. Border shops were doing far less trade pre-1994.
Under EU pressure, Sweden has cut prices even though Swedish food prices are still far above the EU average.
Norway, one of the world’s richest countries due to the North Sea oil, says sky-high prices are a side-effect of farming a mountainous nation stretching high above the Arctic Circle.
A halving of Norwegian value-added tax on food, to 12 per cent, last year has failed to stem the tide, partly because the oil-backed Norwegian crown has strengthened.