Oh hi. I’m back!
I like to imagine that you’ve all been desperately wondering where I’ve been. The short answer is: at home. The long answer is: knee-deep in a litany of emotional ups and downs, challenges and successes, and seven drafts of yet-to-be-published-and-likely-never-will-be articles. And I have a job and a puppy.
It’s almost exactly a year since I last wrote.
So grab a coffee and a smørbrød, and let’s get caught up.
Yesterday, I was back at the police station to hand in my permanent residency application. It consisted of 45 pages, and a few tears and a drop or two of blood. I spent the better part of the last year jumping through hoops (that look a lot like Norwegian tests and cultural exams), and getting letters from the “kommune” (my municipality) and from my boss, and even from my husband. I had to document every trip we have taken out of the country in the last 3 years, and swear to the fact that we are still married and do in fact still live together.
It is astounding to me how nervous I get every time I have to go and hand in an application. The past two years have just been for renewals of my temporary permit but I am still fearful, each time, that they will somehow randomly decide they don’t want me here anymore. Like one day they’ll just say:
“Listen chatty pants, you talk way too much to ever fit in here and we also heard that you recently told a group of strangers you were having problems with your vagina.* That’s just not greit i norge”. And with a “ha det!”, I’ll be sent packing.
* In case you aren’t on Facebook and missed my post explaining this, I was at a bike event recently and tried to explain that I was having problems with my chain. But, low and behold, the Norwegian words for “chain” and “vagina” are basically the same – to my ears – so, yes. That happened.
But this police visit felt even more terrifying, given that I am hoping to no longer be “temporary” but soar into the ranks of “permanent”. (That being said, permanent residency still has to be renewed every two years, so I do question the use of that word. Things that are permanent are usually more, um, permanent.)
I had all my papers sorted into 3 colour-coded folders – because that’s just the kind of thing that pleases me. I had gone over a few key phrases in Norwegian. For example, “I realize that my income doesn’t exactly meet the new requirements but I hope you will take into consideration the letter I have attached from my boss”… because that, not surprisingly, isn’t a phrase I use day to day. And I double, triple, and quadruple checked that I had everything I was supposed to have. I also checked, at least 6 times, that the appointment was in fact on September 20th at 12.30. And checked Google maps 3 times to make sure it would take 30 minutes to drive there. I, of course, planned to give myself an hour. Because that’s what people with colour-coded folders do.
Given the 12.30 time slot, and the fact that all my papers were already packed in my bag and ready to go, I had a whole morning to obsess over infinitely unimportant things:
- Should I wash my hair? It’s not really dirty but would I seem more wholesome and Norwegian if it’s shinier and fluffy? Shit. I should have had my highlights done. These dark roots are decidedly non-Norwegian. Why didn’t I go see the hairdresser before today!? Panic. Fine. Wash and blow dry. But no makeup. Just natural wanna-be-Norwegian radiance.
- What do I wear? Norwegians don’t dress up for work. Dressing up is for May 17th and parties. So, jeans it is. And a pair of Converse, because they are basically required footwear here (unless you are in running shoes) and luckily make up a good portion of my footwear selection. Then the real dilemma: do I put on the “Marius genser” (typical Norwegian wool sweater) and really push the whole “look-how-Norwegian-I-already-am agenda”? No, it’s 18 degrees. That’s ridiculous. Maybe the Norønna wool hoodie? No. I’m going to the police station not climbing a mountain. So I opted for the next safe choice … a light knit top with stars on it, because I swear that every woman in Norway over the age of 40 has a top, or scarf, with stars. Perfect.
So, minutia decided, I headed off to the police station. Now that we live outside Oslo, I no longer have to go to the station in the city, but rather to a smaller station in a town nearby. It is smaller and has parking, and generally feels (slightly) less intimidating.
This was my third visit to this station, so I knew exactly where to go and what the process is. First, go to the machine at the entrance. You press the appropriate button (depending on your type of appointment) so you can get a ticket with a number. Or so it says. The ticket that comes out will, in fact, not have a number at all, but will let you know that you should not take a ticket because your name will be called when it’s your turn. Fine. I know this, but I still press the button and take the ticket from the machine. And read it thoroughly. Every time.
Then I go and sit. With my useless little piece of paper. And I wait.
While I wait, I assess the crowd: Where are they from? Are they nervous? Do they have all their papers in order? Why did he wear a suit? Why did she wear those shoes? Do they all speak perfect Norwegian? Why did I smile at that lady? Now she’s looking at me strangely.
Get up. Go to the bathroom. Use the wheelchair one because you forget where the other one is. Worry that one of the officers will see you using the wheelchair bathroom and consider this very “usivilisert” (uncivilized) and “uhøflig” (rude) behaviour, and will make a note in your file that your application should be denied.
Go back to the waiting area. Sheepishly. Look around to see if anyone else noticed you used the wheelchair bathroom.
Notice that one lady is clutching a pile of papers in a coloured folder. Feel smug that you have 3 coloured folders and she has opted for just one. Then notice she is speaking perfect Norwegian and feel the smugness decline rapidly. Then further notice that her husband has come with her. Make a note to self that her husband is better than mine. Further note to self to bring this up with my husband (even though he is travelling for work and couldn’t possibly be here, and would be if he could, but in my fear allow myself to believe that him not being with me will look bad… “Oh, her husband’s not here. He probably wants her to leave the country. APPLICATION DENIED”).
Sit and wait.
12.30 comes and goes.
This is very unusual in Norway. These are prompt people. Which I thoroughly appreciate.
Have I somehow missed my name being called?
Get up and wander about for no reason, except hoping someone will notice and say “Oh, do you have an appointment now? We didn’t see you! Come on in!”
Wander over to the front desk and approach the officer. I am momentarily taken aback by how young, and blond and attractive she is. I think she should be on a TV cop show. I let her know that I had an appointment at 12.30 and I am worried I have missed it somehow. She says not to worry and my name will be called.
I pee again.
More people arrive. One guy goes straight up to a counter and starts asking questions. I judge him silently for being so uhøflig! I glance at the lady beside me (with the husband and one folder). We exchange a look of indignance at the man who didn’t even take a number from the non-number machine!
He leaves. My name is called. I get up.
At the same time, another man approaches the counter. He thinks his name was called. I look at the officer. She says “Yillian Koorshman”. Close enough. It’s me. I smile at the guy. Sorry dude. This is all me.
“Uff da… veldig travelt i dag, ikke sant!” (Wow, very busy today, isn’t it!). I smile and spread my folders on the counter. Norwegians aren’t big on small talk, but using “uff da” and “ikke sant” in my first sentence is like firing the puck into the net in the opening minute of the first period.
She starts going through the papers. In my mind, I like to imagine she is very impressed by my neat penmanship and, of course, coloured folders. I explain, proudly, what each folder contains, hoping she’ll exclaim: “How brilliant! Application approved!”.
She dumps all the papers out of the folders and pushes them back over to me.
Right. Note to self: No coloured folders required.
She sorts through things; stamping, rearranging, reading, typing. She comes to the letter from my boss and looks puzzled. I use the sentence I practised about my income. She raises one eyebrow. I ask her if she thinks this will be a problem. She makes an indistinct noise that I can’t determine to be good or bad. Then she says:
“Reglene van være veldig firkantet”
“The rules can be quite rigid” (and she indicates this by drawing a square in the air with her fingers).
This should be embroidered on the Norwegian flag. They do like rules. Which is totally fine, except when I am looking for the exception to the rule.
In reply, I make the sing-songy “mmm mmmm” noise. A Norwegian noise meaning “yes, I hear you, I agree, or maybe I don’t agree but I acknowledge what you are saying so keep talking”. I have made the noise without even realising it. I later reflect on the fact that this was a positive sign. Very Norwegian! I hope she noticed…
I let her know that there was one trip I forgot to write down on my application. She says just to add it in writing at the bottom and put my initials. I ask her if I should write in Norwegian (dumb question… why would I even ask that??)
She says, peering over her glasses, “well you are applying for permanent residency so of course, you should write in Norwegian”.
I’ll beat myself up over that question for days … no doubt.
I can feel that things are wrapping up. I ask her the most pertinent question of all in these types of cases: How long does she think it will take to get an answer.
She says she has no idea. It goes up and down, she says. But she tells me not to worry because if my application is denied I should still get temporary residency.
*Should* still get temporary residency.
I don’t think she is intending to be unkind or unsympathetic, but I’m also not sure she realizes the impact those words have.
Then she just stares at me.
I stare back.
A few seconds pass.
“”Ferdig” I ask? (Finished?)
“Ja, ferdig” she replies.
I leave the counter and smile at the one-folder lady and her husband as I pass. All of us here have an unspoken bond. We all know how taxing this process is. I feel for her, and silently wish her the best. Just as I do for all the others sitting there, waiting.
I drive back home, with puppy, to get some work done. Later, my husband gets home from his trip.
Our marriage, our home, our dog, my job, our community, our friends, my not-so-bad Norwegian … It occurs to me that this all feels very permanent, but unfortunately, that’s not for me to decide.
So, I’ll be waiting. Hoping.