So, it’s been 5 weeks since my last blog post. How are you guys? I missed you.
Should we be a little awkward around each other? No. Let’s just dive right back in.
As some of you know, I have been to Toronto to visit family and friends, I have been to Mexico to visit a community of people whom I see on an annual visit, and then I have been back to Toronto (to pack the last of my worldly belongings for shipment to Norway) and I am now “home”.
And yes, faithful readers, notice the use of the word “home”. This is a big and significant step for me. It did actually feel like I was coming home this time. I wouldn’t say that I feel completely “at home” here yet. It is still a strange land in many ways and I am still slogging away at my Norwegian and trying to understand the Norwegian ways, but coming back here did feel like it’s the place I now call home. (Of course, I still call Canada and South Africa home too, but maybe I am just destined to have many homes. Isn’t that perhaps just the way of the ex-pat?)
I feel like I have so many things to tell you. So many, in fact, that I have struggled to write anything. So this article will be a bit weird. Think of it as a tasting menu (at your favourite restaurant) rather than one big main course (at your other favourite restaurant). Allow me to give you some highlights and musings of my time away, if you will. I will be back to my “regular self” soon enough.
On my first morning in Toronto, I strolled out the corner coffee shop for a latte. I have grown unaccustomed to getting lattes in Norway because they are so pricey and I feel like a silly North American when I order them. I know that makes no sense, but it’s just me. Walking to the cafe, I realized I was practicing my order in my head (as I would do in Oslo). And then I clued in: “Oh! Wait!! I can order in English!”. Of course I can order in English in Oslo too, but I try not to. (I always hear my teachers voice in my head: “Speak Norwegian whenever you can!”). But lo and behold, I was in Canada land and English it is!
So, I ordered my latte. And quite possibly used as many words as I could to get the job done. It just felt so good! I felt so smart and fluent and expressive! There were 3 staff and I spoke to everyone one of them. I might also have spoken to every other customer in the cafe. Even the tiny dogs.
The weeks I spent in TO (or apparently it’s now called “The 6ix”. I don’t even know what that means), were basically a repeat of this first morning: 1. Drink expensive coffees. 2. Talk as much as possible.
I so loved my time with my family and friends. It was almost a mad panic to pack in as much visit time and chat time as possible. I was on a big “soak it all in” program. Like a sponge. A very, very chatty sponge.
Friends and family with whom I am in regular contact didn’t need so much of the lowdown about Norway so we jumped right back into old familiarity and closeness. You know that feeling of being with people who’ve known you (seemingly and sometimes literally) forever? That’s heaven, isn’t it? That feeling of being known and knowing someone so well that you just pick up right from where you left off.
I cried (again) saying goodbye to friends and family. When I said goodbye to my dad, I was okay until the final hug. And then a sob came from somewhere so deep down that it was actually painful. I looked up to see tears welling in my dad’s eyes too. If there’s one thing that gets me, it’s seeing my dad upset. He said to the driver “my daughter is moving to another country… she’s leaving today…”. That was the clincher. I cried all the way to the airport and the limo driver took it as his personal mission to coach me through the entire experience. He was lovely. Totally weird, but lovely.
First of all let me explain that most Mexican people don’t speak Norwegian. I think I have thoroughly tested that hypothesis. They really do prefer that you speak Spanish.
As I suspected, my once (not too terrible) abilities in Spanish have been completely erased from my brain to make room for my new Norsk. I thought I would be able to recall a little bit but the first day in the market I said “takk” and “unnsklyd” about a hundred times. A stroppy young Mexican teen actually remarked (when I was speaking English) that I really “should have learned the basics” before coming to Mexico. I didn’t know whether to punch him or cry. He had a point, but it was way beyond my abilities to explain that I did once know lots of Spanish but my brain had chosen to replace it with Norwegian… and, hey buddy!… I also speak French!!! (He was long gone by the time I thought all this through).
The community of friends I was meeting with come from all over the world (mostly the US) and are people I know to varying degrees – however, we are very connected by the work we do. I was amazed at the interest in my my life in Norway. Just so you know (if you don’t get out of Norway much) people are very intrigued by this place! It still occurs to me that there is a bit of a utopian view of the Nordics (especially from North Americans) and I admittedly shared it before moving here too. There are, of course, so many fantastic things about living in Norway, but it is not utopia. We too deal with sexism, racism, xenophobia (and all those non-tasty things) but we are outwardly a very homogenous, “liberal” group of people. (Please notice my use of “we”… now including myself as a Norwegian).
So, in talking about life in Norway (with friends abroad), I try to paint a fairly balanced picture. My basic talking points are usually as follows: the country itself (the landscape) is spectacular. Oslo is a nice city and is very walkable and small – which I like. I am still learning Norwegian and it’s hard because I speak too much English with my husband (pro-tip: always blame the husband for speaking English too well). And, lastly, I miss small talk and my friends and family. Oh, and… I have one friend.
The last point usually garners enough “awwwwws” and sympathy to make me feel really good. Truth be told, I do have more than one friend, through my husband. But I only have one friend that I made all on my own. Leaving Mexico, I can’t tell you how many people said, “good luck on getting another friend!”. Ah. Yes. A strange thing to hear after 40 years on this planet. But we can all relate to some degree, can’t we? (Please say yes).
The final step of my North American journey was to empty my storage locker and ship everything to Norway. I can’t tell you how good it will feel to have my “things” with me. I have only had my clothes for the last 6 months and now, as we get ready to move to our new house, I am so excited to have my furniture and other random items. I am sure I will open boxes and wonder why I ever thought I needed to ship certain things across the sea – but it’s my stuff, and one’s stuff is important when making a new home. Most of it has been in storage for a while so it’s going to be a bit like Christmas.(Minus the pinnekjøtt and snow… but there might be some Akevitt just for unpacking encouragement, of course.)
And finally, I was on my way back home. 4 weeks had passed in a flash.
I sat beside a couple of American ladies on the Icelandic Air flight from Toronto to Reykjavic. And I am sorry to say it, American friends, but these ladies didn’t do any favours for your international reputation. They had only booked through Iceland because it was the cheapest (fair enough) and were on their way to tour the Lake District in England. The comments were as follows, (as we came in to land):
“Wow. So this is Iceland? Doesn’t look great.”
“No. It looks boring. Is that farmland? It looks so marshy.”
“What language do they speak? French?”
(Here I couldn’t resist and had to interject:)
“No. They speak Icelandic”.
(Several seconds of silence).
“Oh. That sounds weird.”
And all of a sudden, I was fine with leaving North America and heading to my new homeland – glad for the experience of something so unique and new. Glad for the privilege of getting to know another beautiful country. Glad that I don’t think of other countries as boring. Thanks ladies.
And lastly, thanks Norway for my big coming home party on May 17.
Oh wait. What?
Just kidding. I was very excited to be here for my first ever “syttende mai” (Constitution Day). The Norwegians really know how to throw a party and they look good doing it. I look forward to many Mays. I may even get a bunad.