It just doesn’t feel right to end this year without one final article.
Especially since I have had two epiphanies that I need to share with you.
Like most epiphanies, they’re probably completely obvious to everyone else, except the person epiphany-ing (in this case, me) and like most epiphanies, I might wake up tomorrow and decide they were dumb. Or maybe I’m confusing epiphanies with New Year’s resolutions… anyway…
Here they are. I’ll put them into fancy quoted fonts for extra importance.
Epiphany #1 (Also known as The October Epiphany):
To feel at home here I need to make more effort – effort to learn the language, effort to meet people, and effort to do things. I have to be regularly willing to push myself into uncomfortable and intimidating circumstances.
Epiphany #2 (Also known as The December Epiphany):
As I begin my 2nd year in Norway, the honeymoon of being the newcomer is over. And that’s why it’s been feeling so especially hard lately.
Pretty obvious? I am assuming at least #1 is. Number 2 might require a bit more explanation. Luckily, they are intrinsically related.
After my depressing lament in September (for which I received much sympathy and advice – thank you), I decided to make some changes. It was time to push myself out of my comfort zone and into the discomfort zone. Dare I say, the danger zone? Take it away Kenny Loggins…
Look guys, I don’t want you to think I’m comparing my attempts at getting out of my house with flying fighter jets off an aircraft carrier, but actually I am. It sometimes feels that hard. So, as of October, I entered my personal Top Gun program. As one does.
My first foray into an uncomfortable situation was to join a local hiking group. I had seen some posts about it on Facebook and the starting point was just around the corner from me, so there was no excuse. Furthermore, it was an opportunity to get some exercise and speak some Norwegian – two things I was sorely in need of.
(There were other examples of going into “uncomfortable and intimidating circumstances”… like when I went to our local quiz night all by myself and didn’t know a soul. It turned out to be a music quiz. I just answered every question with Celine Dion, Justin Bieber or Rush. Canada for the win. But I digress…)
It just so happened on the day of the hike, my husband was at home sick. He was impressed and slightly surprised, when I told him my intentions to join the hike.
Then followed an equally impressive (and not so surprising) deluge of questions directed at him:
“Do I wear my mountian hiking boots. Is that weird?”
“Should I take a snack?”
“Do I take a back pack?”
“What if I have to pee?”
I was like a 10 year old going to summer camp for the first time. Except more neurotic. I think living here has actually increased my neuroses. This is what happens when you don’t know all the subtleties of a land that has a strict (yet unwritten and often mysterious) code of how things are done.
Norwegians have a way of doing things, for just about everything.
As a foreigner I already stick out – the minute I open my mouth – so I don’t really need to stick out in a million others ways. Sometimes I just want to quietly blend in.
So, outfitted in my Alfa hiking boots, Fjällräven pants and Norønna jacket, I felt happily able to blend. I’m every bit the Norwegian stereotype. At least until I talk.
As I arrived at the starting point for the hike, I felt like that 10 year old again – meeting your fellow campers for the first time. The group leader had a huge smile and introduced herself. And here, as always, is the moment where I separate myself from the pack. So I just got it over with right away:
“Hei! Tusen takk! Hyggelig å treffe dere. Jeg heter Jill og jeg kommer fra Canada, og norsken min er litt dårlig, så unnskyld. Jeg prøver!”
“Hi! Thank you! Nice to meet you all. My name is Jill and I come from Canada and my Norwegian is a bit bad, so sorry. I am trying!”
It’s quite the intro. Especially to a group of Norwegians, who typically use about 1 word for every of my 137 words.
But to my delight, most smiled broadly and introduced themselves. Others looked puzzled. But who could blame them really? A stranger had likely not said that many words to them in their entire lives.
So, dressed appropriately (we all looked the same), off we went. The hike was lovely and I chatted away. Over the course of a couple hours, I think I spoke with every person. They were friendly and curious and lovely – just how I have found most Norwegians to be, once you make a bit of effort and give them a chance.
We stopped for our lunch break and the whole group were very concerned about what I had brought. Did I bring lunch? Yes, I had. But I had forgotten two very important items of the Norwegian hike: a little pad to sit on, and coffee. Both were offered to me without hesitation. At least four people had brought an extra pad and were already placing them down for me. And the lady beside me, very concerned that I had nothing warm to drink, insisted on sharing her coffee. It was like hanging out with four sets of incredibly loving and concerned (and fit) grandparents.
I looked around the group and smiled to myself as I saw everyone bring out their similar “matpakke” (snack) and gear. You rarely see someone here do something completely different from the rest of the herd. And while I find it quite strange, coming from such a multicultural and diverse country as Canada, there is something also comforting about it. However, there is a part of me that wants to wilfully oppose every one of the prescribed conventions. One kindly elderly gentleman did let me know that my sandwich would be better off layered and wrapped in wax paper, as opposed to my tinfoil. Perhaps my first small rebellion will be to never do that. Long live the foil!
Norway has some fantastic networks for people who want to hike and ski, for day trips and also a whole network of cabins where you can stay overnight. This country is set up to get outside. And you can mostly go where you like. As long as you aren’t traipsing through a farmer’s field (you can in winter actually), or hiking on a person’s back porch (why would you), you can pretty much walk and camp wherever you want. Camping has to be 150 metres away from a private house. This right to traverse the land is known as “allemannsrett” (the “everyman’s right”). And I dig it.
There have been some instances, especially around the Oslo Fjord, where home owners have attempted to restrict access to land. However, this is strictly forbidden and the owners can get huge fines. So, you can have your fancy house by the water, but you can’t stop anyone from walking on the shoreline in front. (Are you listening Canada? Muskoka and Georgian Bay… I’m looking at you…)
Surprisingly, the best thing to come out of my hike had nothing to do with exercise or practicing Norwegian. One woman suggested that I might like to meet her daughter-in-law who lives very close to me. You know what it’s like when someone makes that kind of offer – there can be a slight reticence. Like when your mom says you should go and meet the new kid who moved in next door. But there was no time for hesitation. Let’s face it. I’m desperate. And I was epiphany-ing. Furthermore, the aforementioned daughter-in-law, I was told, comes from Sweden. This was enticing.
Don’t get me wrong, I love you Norwegians. We’ve established that over this year. But hearing she was Swedish was encouraging because right away she is also a foreigner, an immigrant, a fellow outsider. That being said, the Swedes fit in fairly easily here. The languages are so similar. They both have the Nordic sensibilities. The two countries are practically provinces of the same country.
(For my North American readers… that last sentence just annoyed the entire Norwegian and Swedish population.)
They have a lot in common. But of course there are many differences as well. As an example, the Swedes tend to be a little more chatty and out-going. This may be the reason why so many customer oriented jobs in this country (waitstaff, bartenders, store clerks) are filled by young Swedish folk. It’s a good deal for them since they make more money here than they would back home. It’s also a good deal for the Norwegian business owners who can fill their places with gregarious and friendly staff, rather than the somewhat lacking-in-customer-service-oriented Norwegians. Sorry nordmenn, but you know it’s true. Trying to get help from a Norwegian in a store can be like trying to track down the last Dodo before it went extinct. And even if you do eventually find it, it’s kind of annoyed that you did.
Anyway, off I went one day to meet my new Swedish friend. Another foray into the unknown. I am pleased to say we hit it off immediately and I am now the proud owner of two friends that I have made all on my own.
It was on a recent visit with this new friend, who shall be called “A”, that the “end of the honeymoon” epiphany occurred. She has also lived abroad (in North America) and can relate to how subtly difficult it can be to settle in to a new land. She was the one who pointed out to me that my challenges, as of late, might be due to the fact that the shine of being a newcomer has worn off. And she is absolutely right. In talking to her, it dawned on me that this is exactly what has happened. This is why I have had such a difficult few months. Epiphany! I wanted to reach across the table and hug her. I also wanted to leave her payment for her incredible therapy skills and ask if I could get an appointment next week.
When I say the honeymoon is over, it is not to say that my love for Norway has diminished. I still love her, even if some of her quirks irritate me a bit. What IS over, is the time of me feeling okay about being the newcomer.
Over this first year, I have felt pretty relaxed as the new Canadian in Norway. I felt proud of the Norwegian I have learnt (and I bask in the praise I receive from the locals) and I felt proud of the efforts I have made to fit in and to put down roots. But around September/October that changed. Something in my brain suddenly told me that I had been here a year now, and things SHOULD be different.
I SHOULD speak perfect Norwegian. I SHOULD have a job. I SHOULD have a big pile of friends and hobbies.
Almost overnight, I felt a bit ashamed that my Norwegian was not yet perfect, and that I didn’t yet have a job, and that I only had two friends, and that I still spent the majority of my time home alone.
So the honeymoon period ending was simply me saying to myself:
But putting that kind of pressure on myself hasn’t helped. At all. Now I have just taken all the loneliness and desire to settle in and heaped a pile of shame on top.
So, it’s a balance. The shaming won’t help, but, at the same time, I do need to make some changes coming into my 2nd year of living here. Norwegian fluency and work have to become a priority. Not to mention, I also have to get more active. We bought a really nice big couch when we moved into our new house in July and I fear that my rear-end is slowly expanding to take up all the space.
So, I won’t be having any New Year’s resolutions… but I will be making some “2nd Year in Norway” resolutions.
In the meantime, friends, enjoy this upcoming holiday season wherever you are. This a beautiful time of year in Norway. It is festive and dark and koselig. So much koselig!
Make sure to grab some ass (sorry I can’t resist)… and have a…