Have I been rude? Does it feel like we were out having dinner together and then I excused myself to go to the washroom and never came back? I assure you I didn’t climb out the back window with no intention to return.
So here I am. Let’s order some dessert, shall we?
(Side note: It’s hard to let go of “washroom/bathroom” when speaking English here. It is met with blank stares. I should have learnt my lesson about this when I lived in France. In Norway it is “toalett” or “do”. So now I say “toilet” in English, but it feels dirty.)
Let’s move on.
A reader wrote to me a while back and asked if I had stopped writing because I had become “too adapted”. Far from it, I assure you. I am still bumbling around embarrassing myself on a regular basis, but I have also made progress. I plan to let you in on all of it. But first, this is important:
Those of you who have been with me for the long-haul will remember “S”. She was first introduced way back, in my earliest article, as “my American friend”:
I have an American friend here (North Americans have to band together – we meet up and off-load our hours of pent-up chats)
In later blogs, the “North American friend” became known as “S”. In this article we were discussing the Norwegian urgency to get out and enjoy the sunny summer days (cue the Non-Norwegians saying “what sunny summer days?!”. They did exist I assure you. My garden/jungle is proof):
And who in their right mind wouldn’t want to get out and enjoy these days? However, I have noticed, among Norwegians, that there is a different kind of urgency (to put it mildly) about enjoying the sun and warmth. I was talking about this with my friend (you know: My one and only friend – let’s call her “S”. She comes from New York), and we were relating to a common occurrence with both of our husbands, as of late. We have had basically the exact some conversations. The scenario is that our husbands get home from work, to their respective homes, and we happen to be inside. It is a sunny spring day.
Husband(s): What are you doing inside?!?! It’s sunny and warm out!!
Me (and/or S): Oh, I was outside. I just came inside for a minute to… (and here you can you use your imagination to fill in the rest: get a drink, get a snack, do some work, answer some emails, go pee, wander around a bit, contemplate our new lives…).
Husband(s): What!? NO! You have to get outside. Summer is short here. YOU HAVE TO BE OUTSIDE!
Me (and/or S): Umm. Ok.
Thoroughly shamed, and somewhat bewildered, we slink outside.
It’s some kind of serious meteorological peer pressure.
Not only did we often feel like we were married to practically the same person, having the same conversations, but she also had a knack for pointing out the subtle differences between here and home:
My friend “S” and I were talking about this casual Oslo work attire. It’s impossible to tell what type of job anyone has. “S” put it perfectly in a text she sent me:
“It’s like um… are you the king? Or just a dude hiking? Or a lawyer…”
Last year, my husband and I moved out of Oslo to the country and “S” came to visit me. We tackled the “small-town-wave-dilemma”. For the record, I continue to struggle with the lack of waving. And I continue to wave, mostly in a friendly manner, and occasionally with enough passive-aggression to power my little electric car:
Yesterday was a highlight. “S” came to visit me from the “big city”. I was so excited you would have thought she was flying in from New York, not just taking the train down from Oslo…
The streets in the village are very narrow and it’s not uncommon to meet another car coming the other way. One of you has to pull over and wait. These are often the moments that I remember I am, indeed, in Norway. It is customary in small towns in Canada to do a lot of waving and smiling with other drivers in this situation. I don’t find that the case here. Often there is very little (or no) acknowledgement of the other driver. This is another one of those Norwegian-isms that is not considered to be rude, but just a reflection (I think) 0f the slightly removed and reserved manner. Somehow the smiling and waving perhaps feels invasive? Unnecessary? Too in-your-face?
Anyway, I have decided to smile and wave. To everyone. I told “S” about this plan and she was fully on board. She’s North American. Of course she get’s it.
First we encountered an older lady coming the other way. She pulled over so that I could cross the little bridge. She looked stern. I was worried. As I passed, I waved and smiled and she did the same. Success! “S” and I cheered enthusiastically at our win. As we curved along the streets, we came across a bigger challenge – the local bus. I could see he was pulled over to let a car way ahead of me pass. I am not sure of the protocols around here yet and I’m very wary of getting a bad reputation so soon. I didn’t know if I should now wait for the bus (it would seem to make sense). But, he didn’t seem to be moving so I quickly sped up to pass him. As we passed, I smiled and gave a hearty “thank you for waiting” wave. And we hit the jackpot. We got a smile and wave so enormous, we both let out a scream of delight and laughed the whole way back to the station. Victory was ours.
After dropping “S” off back at the station, I waited 15 minutes for my husband’s train to come in. I sat in the sun, on a bench, by the tracks. As the train pulled in, I looked up, and there he was stepping off and walking towards me. He had a big smile and suddenly I remembered exactly why I am in Norway. And it all felt right.
We drove back home as I regaled him with stories of my day and my visit with my friend.
“I am so glad I met her!”, I told him.
And, as “S” and I have said to each other:
“We would even be friends in ‘real-life’!”
Somehow Norway doesn’t quite feel like “real life” yet.
But we both know that it will, some day.
That was written on June 17, 2016. “Some day” was something we both looked forward to.
But this year, on June 5, Susannah (“S”) passed away after a battle with cancer.
I have struggled to continue with my articles. Many have been started and then left half-finished. Nothing new can be written without first acknowledging Susannah, and how much she has meant to me on this journey.
Susannah was my best friend in Norway. Hanging out with her was like being home. She made everything better, funnier, kinder, lighter, and easier. Our countless texts, and chats, and visits, made my transition of living here so much gentler and more enjoyable. I would like to think she’d say the same about me.
Our lives were so parallel, in so many ways, that sometimes I feel guilty for being the one who’s still here. We were supposed to be on this journey together. I have her photo on a table in the living room and every time I walk by I say “Hi Susannah” and I wink (who knows why I wink, but she’d find it funny, I know).
Every time I do something new, or something we used to do together, I think of her and I know a part of me is doing it for her.
There are so many moments that I still want us to share.
Thanks for everything, Susannah.
And thanks for reading, everyone.