"So, how do I eat this thing?" Bjorn asked, scooping up a strange looking sausage for himself. "Looks like they all exploded. Was that supposed to happen?"
"It's all about the meat mix," Frank answered. "Isn't that so, Ante?"
"Yeah. They burst when you bake them. But that's normal," Ante explained. "You scoop the meat mix out with your fork and knife. Just leave the skin on your plate!"
"Okay," Bjorn answered, satisfied with the explanation.
Bjorn put a baked apple next to the sausage. Then he added a few baked potatoes and some greens.
"So this is what they eat down in Portugal?" Bjorn asked.
"That's what they say," Ante answered. "Here, have some wine to go with that!"
Bjorn tasted the food. It was delicious, as always, and the red wine made the whole setting quite festive, yet again.
"They live like kings down there, don't they?" Bjorn noted.
"It's the poorest country in the west of Europe," Espen corrected. "So no, I don't think they live like kings."
"That's assuming the people are as poor as the country," Thomas corrected. "That's not necessarily so."
"What you mean?" Espen asked.
"A country is not the same as the people of a country. If a country is poor, it may be due to all sorts of things. They might simply have a hard time collecting taxes."
"And they do," Frank noted. "That's what I heard. They refuse to pay their taxes, and so the country goes broke. It's the same with all the other countries down there. It's not only Portugal."
"Still. That doesn't mean the people are rich," Espen noted. "Didn't you see the news the other day? Hospitals closing and old people not getting their pensions. Hardly a sign of a healthy economy, is it?"
Thomas nodded. "If your health and salary depends on the state, you're screwed. But that will be true for us too pretty soon."
"So you expect your salary to be worthless one day?" Frank asked.
"Yep! I do. But not right away. I figure we have a few years to go yet."
"And what are you planning to do when that happens?"
"I don't know. I'll probably go back to fixing cars. Provided there will be any cars to fix, that is."
John chuckled. "No cars? That will be the day!"
"True. So I'm not all that worried about my future. It will be worse for those who have no practical skills. They'll end up starving."
"You are such an optimist," Frank noted with a grin.
"Real earnings are going down, you know," Thomas added dryly.
"They are not!" Espen protested. "We all got a raise I believe. Didn't we?"
Everybody around the table nodded. "And a pretty nice raise it was too!" Frank confirmed.
"It was indeed," Thomas conceded. "But that's because we all got a promotion. Real wages are still going down. If it wasn't for the raise, our real wages, in terms of purchasing power, would be falling."
"And why is that?" Bjorn asked with genuine curiosity.
"Because we have a resource economy," Thomas explained. "The price of iron and oil and coal and timber and fish, and all that stuff, is falling. So our currency is falling, making all our imports more expensive."
"So it's not the state's fault?" Bjorn asked with a smile.
"Actually. The state is to blame too," Thomas added, correcting himself. "They have promised too much, and they can't afford to pay, so they let the currency fall."
Everybody chuckled at Thomas' correction. "It's always the state's fault isn't it?" John asked.
"Sure," Thomas replied defiantly. "They always screw things up. That's how they roll."
"And the solution is to get rid of it, right?" John asked rhetorically.
"But what about people like me. I rather like the state. I don't want to see it gone."
"So you are fine with all the waste and the wars and their empty promises?"
"No. But it sure beats a world with no state at all. Imagine the chaos!"
"Okay!" Thomas noted defiantly. "And all you other guys are fine with it too, right?"
Everybody nodded. "Yeah, of course. We're not buying your nonsense you know," Frank added.
"So why force me to be part of it?" Thomas asked.
"We're not forcing you," John replied. "You can leave if you want to."
"Sure. To another country. But that's not going to help me, is it? I'll still be bossed around by people who think they own me."
"So go to Somalia. They don't have any government. Who's stopping you?"
Thomas shook his head. "So I can't stay here in the country I grew up if I want to live in peace from those people nosing around in my business?"
"No. Of course not," John said. "If you want to live in Norway, you have to live by our rules."
"Our rules?" Thomas asked. "Your rules, you mean."
"It's called the social contract. Didn't you learn about that at school."
"I never signed no stinking social contract," Thomas replied.
Everybody chuckled at Thomas' remark. "Of course not," Frank commented dryly. "It's not something you sign."
"So how can it be legally binding?"
"We signed on to it when we were born," John suggested.
"Really? Are you serious?"