My husband is away for work and I’m at home, with a cold. This is a chance to get important work done – like wandering aimlessly around the apartment talking to myself, choosing movies based solely on their potential to make me cry, eating comforting things that can only be served in big bowls, and asking myself the question that many (I assume) ex-pats ask themselves every now and again:
“What the hell-y hell am I doing here!?”
This week marks 6 months since I officially moved to Norway. I had been here many times before as a part of the back and forth 3-year long-distance relationship rollercoaster ride:
YAY WE’RE TOGETHER!
Boooo we’re apart.
YAY WE’RE TOGETHER!
Boooo we’re apart…
Rollercoasters can be fun but no one wants to live on one. That would just be gross. After a while you realize you want off, and quickly. So, at that point, you take the leap of faith, pack up your life, (get married, get a temporary residence permit), and off you go.
“Velkommen Til Norge”! “Welcome to Norway!”
In the last 6 months, I have navigated many of Norway’s government websites and buildings – taking numbers, standing in lines, handing in documents – all in an effort to make this new land my home, at least in a practical sense. High on the list of priorities was registering myself with the “skattekonto
” (tax office) in order to receive my “personnummer” (my national ID number).
As any expat in Norway knows, the minute you get your “personnummer”, you are suddenly a human being and can connect into the web of all things Norwegian. It’s no wonder it’s also called “fødselsnummer” (birth number) because it is a little like being born again (at least into this new land). You can get a job (in theory), a cell phone, a bank account, a family doctor – most of the things you likely had, and even maybe took somewhat for granted, back at home.
And once hooked into the system, I was amazed at the efficiency. Not only can most things be done online (and it’s brilliantly all inter-connected), but you also receive information about almost everything by text message.
I remember the first time I got one of these “official” texts – my doctor texted me with blood test results. This was a revelation to me. At home, I actually had to make an appointment to go and get this kind of information. They wouldn’t even do it on the phone.
“Hey my doctor texted me!”, I shouted to my husband.
“Okay”, he answered.
This is his standard response when he doesn’t know why the thing I am shouting to him about could possibly be newsworthy.
“They do that here”, he continued.
“Oh”, I said. “Cool!”
It was cool. And I may secretly have hoped that it was just some special treatment I was receiving because she liked me more than her other patients.
So I can make doctor’s appointments, and receive confirmations, by text. Hospital appointments too. I got a text from “Statens Vegvesen”(Norwegian Public Roads Association) about my driving test appointment. They even wished me “lykke til” – good luck. I have had texts from “UDI” (Norwegian Immigration), from my bank, and from “Aftenposten” – the national newspaper.
I take it upon myself to reply to all of these messages. My husband has tried to convince me that they are mostly automatically generated but that doesn’t stop me from replying – usually with a “Hei! Takk!” and a bunch of friendly (totally unnecessary) emojis. As far as I’m concerned, if someone texts me it feels weird (even rude!) not to reply. Some hard working computer in Norway really loves me. I’m sure.
Since September, I have also enrolled in Norwegian language classes, bought a car, and gotten a Norwegian drivers’s license. Most recently, we bought a house. (We bought it outside of Oslo so as to not have to sell any vital organs – although a view of the fjord might be worth one lung). I am incredibly fortunate and excited about all of this.
But does any of this make Norway feel like home?
Well… not yet.
As you know from my previous stories, I am not completely new to ex-pat life. When I went to France, it was because of a long-standing dream to live there, but also to work. I never had the sense that I would be there forever or make it my “home”. It didn’t help when the lady at the bakery downstairs from my apartment – where I had been buying my “Pain au Raisin” on the way to work EVERY DAY FOR TWO YEARS – asked if I was in town for the weekend on holiday. Oh France. How are you so cool and aloof?
Norway was different. I had never considered living in Norway and I didn’t (and still don’t) have a job. But a Norwegian “took me as his wife” (he just likes saying that because it’s sounds ridiculous) and here I am!
We discussed living in Canada together but the process was so complex, expensive and long-winded (seriously Canada, time for an overhaul) that we opted for Norway instead. Aside from needing to hire an immigration lawyer to navigate the mountains of paperwork, we also needed letters (hand written letters – remember those?) from friends and family about our relationship. The letters had to be accompanied by an albums-worth of photos to prove our relationship was legit and not some ploy aimed at my boyfriend getting residence status. (I think you’ll be hard pressed to find a Norwegian who is willing to engage in a fake marriage just to move to Canada.) Anyway, it all felt a bit invasive and weirdly “gammeldags” (old fashioned).
As a side note of “things that are gammeldags”, when I tried to transfer money from my bank in Canada to Norway, I was told I had to come into the branch.
“Well, I am in Norway so that’s not possible”, I explained.
“Okay.” the bank said. “You can mail a cheque to your dad and he can transfer it from his account”.
“Yes,” I replied. That would be a perfect plan. If it was 1978.”
I did end up mailing a cheque and my husband still thinks it’s funny . Mentioning a cheque here is like suggesting that you listen to your cool new “Saturday Night Fever” cassette on the 8-track player while you play Atari games.
But I digress.
In Norway (and many countries, I would guess) the choice to become an ex-pat for love (or a “love-pat” as I’ve heard it called, but that makes me feel slightly nauseous) is not an uncommon one. If you ask around my Norwegian class – of 22 of us, about 16 are here because of “kjærlighet” “love”.
So we have love. We have papers declaring us to be “residents”. We are learning the language (slowly but surely). But how do we actually make this place “home”?
Norway is now where I live, but I don’t know if it will ever quite feel like “home”. I am not Norwegian – as much as I love them – and I never will be. I can try to fit in by speaking the language, and eating weird fish, and participating in Norwegian past-times, but sometimes it is just the small things that can make a place really feel like “home”. And these things take time and patience.
In Toronto, I lived alone and worked (mostly) from home. I would sometimes realize I had gone days without actually seeing another human – which isn’t always a great idea for our wellbeing (or our need to get out of sweatpants and into something less elastic). Of course I had friends and family I could see, but sometimes the thing that made me feel most like I was “home” was feeling like part of a community – a neighbourhood.
In these moments of needing connection and conversation, I would walk down the block and visit the people in my ‘hood – at the grocery store, the fruit and vegetable store, the butcher, bakery, cheese shop, fish shop… I knew everyone who worked in those stores and I could stroll along chatting to everyone as I stopped in. And if I didn’t know them, it was still easy to have a quick chat. There was even a homeless guy who I got to know a bit over the years. I would sometimes buy him a pack of smokes and we’d talk about the weather.
I’d inevitably also run into a friend who was out doing some shopping – and stop for a chat. I’d also nod and smile at the people I’d never actually met, but whose faces I had come to know over the years. Those were rich moments and are, to me, an essential part of feeling at home in any city. I look forwarding to finding that in Norway, but I think it’s a little trickier here.
Part of the issue is that Norwegians aren’t all that prone to small talk with strangers, the way we are in North America. My husband sometimes marvels at the way we (me and other friends of his in Canada) can literally chat – sometimes at length – with pretty much anyone we meet. It can make for a long outing to buy groceries, but when it’s what you’re used to it feels perfectly normal.
On one of my first visits here, I stopped into a Kaffebrenneriet (a popular coffee shop chain). I was standing in line and a tray of glasses slipped off the counter and smashed onto the floor. A fairly exciting pre-coffee morning event. At home, this moment would be ripe with chat opportunities. I looked around expecting a bit of small-talk/chit-chat/acknowledgement of the whole thing, but nothing. NOTHING! Everyone just looked straight ahead and continued about their business. Of course, there was no NEED to say anything but it in my world corny, unnecessary comments were just dying to escape.
“Wow! We’re awake now!”, I wanted to say to the guy beside me in line, with a wink.
Or the even dumber, “Well I guess we don’t need coffee anymore! I’m awake! Hahaha!”
And then we’d all grin stupidly, take our coffees, and head out the door with a spring in our step – enlivened by some totally pointless small talk with total strangers.
But I get that Norwegians don’t really feel the need for this. Is it just the frivolity of it all? Or perhaps the intrusion into a stranger’s personal space? I haven’t quite figured it out yet.
I once went for a jog on a quiet path by the river. Another runner was coming the other way. As we approached one another, without even thinking about it, I smiled and waved (as I would do at home). Turns out, he thought I was feeling unwell and was waving for assistance. Awkward.
(I have since discovered that it is perfectly normal to greet someone while cross-country skiing – I really let loose at these moments).
Sometimes I wander in and out of stores just hoping for a bit of connection. There are days when I go to “Meny”, a local grocery store, and avoid the “self checkout” (even though I truly love using those scanners). I stand in the queue just to have this brief interaction with the cashier:
“Pose?” (Bag?), she asks.
“Nei takk” (No thanks), I answer.
“Kvittering?” (Receipt?), she asks next.
“Nei takk”. (No thanks), I answer.
It’s not exactly a soul-opening moment of deep sharing, but in a vast land of Nordic strangers, it’s practically a proposal.
Last month, I was at the police station to renew my residence permit. There sat the police officer behind his wall of plexiglass – or as I like to think of it: A holding area for my captive audience. I sat quietly while he looked at my paper work and then I couldn’t help making a comment about how impressed I was with the Norwegian system of texting. That launched a full conversation which ended in him even asking for the name of my blog. Can you imagine my glee!? The conversation was worth every hour, and Norwegian Kroner, I had spent filling out the application.
It was at this moment – at the police station – that I realized something. The government buildings and employees of Oslo have become my Toronto shopping street. I have replaced the nice lady at the grocery store with the officer at Politi. The cheese man has become the tax officer at Skatt. The butcher was my driving school instructor. In a new environment you find new ways to get what you need. I look forward to the day that I can chat with someone without making an appointment and standing in line, but, for now, it’s not bad.
In June, we are moving outside of Olso to a small town. I look forward to getting to know the neighbours and the people in the local businesses and creating a community for myself there. I know it’ll take time and I can’t just rush in – loud and emboldened – as I would at home. But one day, I’ll walk into the local cafe and the person behind the counter will say:
And I’ll smile and, in the shock, probably say something weird.
But I’ll be so happy because Norway will finally feel like home.
It is true: Norwegians say hi when they ski. I just discovered this recently and love it!
It’s true! Norwegians often wave and say hi when skiing, hiking, etc. 🙂
Been living in Norway for 10 years now and my “big break trough” came after our kids went to barnehagen, fotball og handball. Not sugesting to have kids to blend in but they do work nicely as an icebreaker into society. As for the rest, even after 10 years, if I suggest a street “pool party” with beach-volley, most of them don’t get it because the street party is on “sankthans” and that is on the 23th of June, so why have a streetparty on an other day.
Enjoyed the blog, recognized a lot, and just hang in there. They’ll grow on you
Hey Marcus… thanks for your comment. So you’re telling me I have to have kids? 😉 Hehe. Pool party with beach volley ball sounds pretty perfect to me! Thanks for reading my stories. And for the encouragement. 🙂
Oh I went through the whole “let him move to Canada” ordeal… immigration lawyers, piles and piles of papers, handwritten letters, albums full of pictures and it took almost 5 years. I also think it would have been easier for me to go with him lol But he liked it here more!
Once again, I love your stories and the way you describe your experience. And I can relate, because I grew up in an European country where we were raised to mind our own business too, and speak really when SPOKEN TO, and definitely speak our mind – no sugar coating… needless to say my bluntness didn’t earn me very many friends in Canadian high school system lol but, I can really say the ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ roll off my tongue subconsciously, but it took a few years and elbow bruises from my friends. I still cannot handle very much of the chit-chat (gives me a bit of an anxiety and a headache for sure), but I will smile and engage in some of the conversations… going on 15yrs to call Canada my home.
I’ve read a few of your posts, and as a Norwegian I find your blog very entertaining!
I’m not really a person who comments on blogs, but after reading this post I just had to.
Norwegians in general have been brought up to just mind their own business, and we are experts in doing so. If someone we don’t know talks to us, we feel uncomfortable. I myself am very sceptical of strangers.. And if a tourist would ask me for directions, I might just have a panic attack.. :-)) I’ve always been fascinated by the culture and way of life in the US. Strangers who talk to each other like they’re old friends. I often think that we have a lot to learn from them. However, if you were to go further north, to Nord-Norge, you would find the community you are looking for. They are so much more laid back, have lots of self irony and they are warm and welcoming. I hope you can settle down and feel at home someday here in Norway. I wish you all the best! 🙂 I’ll keep reading your blog, but I’ll stay away from the comments I think.. :-))
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Hei Linn! Tusen takk for din hyggelige melding. 🙂 I really do love it here and I am sure I will settle in after a while. I so appreciate hearing your view of things. It is so interesting to me! I do hope you will keep reading but I won’t expect comments 😉 Thank you so much.
Takk for ditt brev! I really enjoy reading your observations, experiences, and colorful descriptions of Norway. My mother was Norwegian (but born in South Dakota) & her family moved up to Saskatchewan, where I was born. Our Bestemor lived with us much of the time, so I heard Norsk spoken. Finally Mom & I visited her relatives in Mo i Rana, and I started to learn the language. Returned there with my daughter for another wonderful visit, and also with my husband on a Norwegian Fjord Cruise–fantastic. I have no one to speak with to better use the language I’m learning, but enjoy continuing on, nevertheless. We think Norway is a beautiful place, no junk laying around, and the houses all prettily painted, even hanging on the cliffs. I hope you can truly make it your home at last. Cheers!
Tusen takk! How interesting to hear your story. Thank you. It is indeed a beautiful place – a little expensive (as you’ll see I’m getting used to in today’s article) but fantastic.
I enjoy reading your adventures. My husband and I are here, hopefully permanently, after four years in the UK and the rest of life in North America. Keep the stories coming.
Dear Jill, I really think you would enjoy reading my autobiographical novel about the first two years I lived in Norway/Europe. I told you about it before: “Blue-Eyed Arabs of the North,” by Patricia Bjørnstad. You can get it on amazon or at barnesandnoble on line. At the very least, it would give you a chance to laugh, and you might find out some interesting things about surviving here on the “Mother Rock.” Good luck with assimilating! Best, Patricia
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Thanks Patricia! 🙂
I’ve read a couple of your entries and I somewhat relate to what you’re saying but I don’t think they’re that cold as people picture them. I’ve lived here for 8 months now and I can only say that norwegians are the nicest people in the world, but maybe I’ve just been lucky or maybe the student community is a lot more open than “real-life-adult-boring-go-to-work” life.
I like stepping out of my comfort zone and found out that the best way is just to go and say “hei hei” to everyone. The confused look on their faces is priceless and deep down they totally appreciate it. If you keep doing it you’ll soon break the invisible wall and all of a sudden will get the long-waited “hei hei” from them. Don’t lose faith.
You’re right Esteban. It absolutely takes effort on my part too! I really do love it here, and the Norwegians (of course I married one) 😉 , but things just take getting used to. I don’t think the Norwegians are cold. I just think it takes a bit longer (in general) to get to know them. The ones I know are truly fantastic. And thanks for the kind words!
I know the feeling of not “belonging” or feeling at home in Norway. Coming from San Diego, Oslo was a HUGE change for me from the weather to the lack of people having a laid back attitude. Not to mention, the missing out on the small talk, as you mention in your blog. Unfortunately for me, Norway still does not feel like home. I moved for the same reasons many others move to Norway–kjaerlighet, but the move was difficult, as seemingly, no one whipped out the “welcome wagon.” Another factor for not belonging was that my samboer and I did not have children, so there were alot of missed connections there in terms of fostering possible friendships. I am blessed that I go home (see what I mean, I still call San Diego “home.”) to San Diego 3 to 4 times a year, so I am able to weather some of the issues that I have or feel with Norway. I have lived in Norway for 13 years, and quite frankly, I am very surprised that I have lived here so long. However, as I venture to another country in Europe during the winter, I am beginning to feel that I don’t have a “home” or belong in any particular place–especially in America if Trump becomes President. I am beginning to feel more like a citizen of the world, in a strange way. I believe alot of Expats experience a type of culture shock, as it seems you have experienced to a degree. I believe the most important things for the “lifers” (those that immigrate to Norway and stay the rest of their lives) is to develop and foster strong friendships, have children and become rooted in the country. With no solid roots, one will always feel like an outsider. Norway will NEVER be America or Canada for that matter, but if one is to remain there, acceptance and assimilation is the only way to adjust, I suppose. As with everything, there’s always yin and yang, so despite norwegians’ lack of warmth and outgoing personalities towards strangers, it isn’t always bad. I do not know how long I will continue to live in Norway, but what I can say with absolute certainty is that I am grateful for the experience.
Thanks for your kind words Dora, and for sharing your experiences! I really do love a lot about Norway, and the Norwegians, but as you say it is just different. I suppose so many of us move around these days and become sort of citizens of the world 🙂 It is a great attitude, I think, to be grateful for all our experiences. Well said 🙂
Love your Blog. I lived in about 8 countries around the world and by far Norway has been the most challenging place to actually call “Home”. The Surprising part for me is the fact that I can’t actually pinpoint the problem. Could be the dark winter. not sure… anyways,I am lucky I am currently surrounded by an expat community because of my Son’s school. Otherwise, I would probably be going bananas.
Looking forward to your next article. 🙂
Thanks Kate! And very interesting to hear that. I have no kids but getting a dog might help me. Hehe 🙂
Well very jealous of how efficient Norway is! I live in South Africa as an expat and mostly I love it here but am getting increasingly frustrated by how things just don’t work! I’ve lived in many other countries where this is also true but here it all looks very modern and technical on the outside….underneath it’s a bit different…oh and six months is still quite a short amount of time for somewhere to feel like home. But having recently acquired a puppy I’d definitely recommend going down the dog route 🙂
Hi Clara. Yes, SA definitely has its own host of different challenges! I know that well (I was born there):) Yes, I need to be patient for sure and the dog will be a welcome addition to my settling in process.
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Lots of challenges but certainly lots of bonuses too!
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This is a nice blog. Me and my wife are planning to move from the Philippines to Norway but we change our plans and will be staying here. Hopefully when we have enough funds we can visit our relatives in Oslo. Thanks Jill!
Thanks Lorenzo. I hope you do manage to come for a visit! It is expensive but worth it 🙂
always enjoy reading your blog!! am planning a move from the US in the fall to be with my boyfriend who is born and raised in oslo.. concerned about the whole resident permit and job search thing so i enjoy smiling and laughing at your stories, thanks for sharing!! 🙂
Thanks Courtney! Good luck with the move. Very exciting and I’m sure it’ll all go great! 🙂
Smiles my friend….I so remember asking this question…I don’t know when Mexico became “home”. It was a long time coming, but it did come. For me, 6 months in a new country is still so very young, and yet you have made leaps at becoming a part of your new land. Congrats to you!!!!
Thanks Trish. Sometimes it feels like I’ve been here longer because of all the visits over 3 years, but of course living here is totally different. I am happy… just settling in and being patient 🙂 xoxo
I completely understand you. It is my 6th year here in Norway(2 years studying + 4 working ), but I still can’t feel it like home. I am used to the place, but not quite home. I would say that Norway is a dream of a country, but not my dream . It might sound depressing, but I think i learned to appreciate small things I took them for granted before (i.e 365 years of warm delicious sun :D, I am from South America, family, friends, dances, smiles …. ) . It takes time and patience.
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Thanks for reading! The change you had from living in South America must be huge! I thnk it would be harder than coming from Canada. I admire you 🙂
Nice writing and very interesting post! I just discovered your blog and am definitely impressed. I live in Germany and am able to relate to so much of what you’re saying here. The only place it seems acceptable to talk to strangers, here, is in the woods. 🙂 Ugh, when does an expat ever find home in their second country? I’m still waiting to find out…and I’ve been here for fifteen years! Anyway, looking forward to reading more!!!
Thanks! And it’s a good question. I don’t know if it ever becomes home. I’ve been an expat all my life but it certainly is easier when you move somewhere as a child 🙂 This will take time, no question!
So true!! I was surprised the first time I went for a walk on a path in the woods here, nearly everyone I met greeted me with a friendly smile. It seemed so out of character and caught me off guard. Must be something about nature that brings out the nice in people 😀
I think that’s true… especially when skiing, everyone seems to smile and say “hei”. Not so much when I was jogging though 😉
Thanks for the blog! When I feel ‘deprimert’ your blog really makes my day.
I live here for six months. We live in a subberban duplex sharing the wall with the Norwegian neighbors. On a good day we will get ‘hi hi’ from them.
Thank you! Your comment made MY day 🙂 Yes the friendly hei hei is nice. I’ve never met my neighbours or even seen them (in an apartment building)! 🙂
Really enjoyed your insights! I lived in Germany for 3 years, a long time ago, and can relate to much of what you are saying. Hopefully a smaller community will be ‘chattier’. After my 3 years, I didn’t feel at home in Toronto either. Another expat friend in Berlin told me that it takes 6 years to integrate. Hmmmm.
Anyway, it is definitely interesting to read your thoughts on it all. Thanks for sharing!
6 years! Oh boy. I’ll be patient. Thanks for reading Flora!
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Well, it was many years ago…probably everything these days goes faster!
I’m in the boonies too – we moves out of Oslo 5 months ago. In Oslo, and here, I practice my Norwegian with the folks at the grocery store. I got to know a few well enough to have a decent conversation with!
About it feeling like home, that will happen, suddenly, when you go back to Toronto and it doesn’t feel like home anymore. You won’t notice it before then but it means you’ve acclimated. Lykke til!
I was having the same feelings, until I got my dog here from Southern Spain. Norwegian dog people are sweet!!! I love that they wave hello as they pass by, and that we talk about breeds, ages, character… I really appreciate it.
Nice writing, by the way! 😀
Yes! We are going to get a dog once we are in our new place. I think it’s a great way to get out and meet people. And thanks! 🙂
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I am Australian, and for the first month I was in Oslo it KILLED me that people just ignore each other in lifts, queues, etc. I too am always on the lookout for small talk opportunities. Love your blog…
Thanks Esther. If we run into each other in a shop… let’s have some serious chit chat! 😉