Thursday, June 17, 2010

Four Lessons

This week marks the fourth anniversary of my move to Stavanger. Because I have a lot of time on my hands (maternity leave started but the Kid seems very happy to stay where he is despite my pleas to the contrary), I was reflecting on how my thoughts toward life in Norway have changed in the last 48 months. In honor of my anniversary with Norway, I present to you four of my more salient learning points.

1. This ain’t Burger King.

Although the burger joint promises you can have it your way, that’s not true for day-to-day life here. I have always believed (down to one part cultural programming and another part wild need for control) that if you yell a little louder or ask a little nicer or know someone a little higher up or are willing to pay a little extra, that you could really get almost anything you wanted done. Not true here in Norway. While one of these four criteria might come in handy on occasion, for the most part, the overruling sense of equality (and, I daresay, even egalitarianism) means that I get what you get and you get what he gets and he gets what she gets. In short, there is not a lot of special treatment. And yelling a little louder (or really yelling at all) definitely does not work in ANY situation.

2. Mick Jagger was spot on…

when he cautioned that you can’t always get what you want, but you can usually get what you need. When I first came here, I felt a sense of impending doom when I realized all the worldly goods I could not nip to Target and buy on a regular basis. Four years on and I realize I don’t actually need most of those things. And the things I really want seem to materialize at just the right time. For example, I have been craving a batch of a bestie’s Saltine cracker toffee (it’s a southern thing and only sounds gross to describe in literal terms but is heaven on earth in your mouth). Problem is, no Saltines at the grocery store here. Or so I thought. And then last week I discovered they were here all along in the Asian market. So, Mick, you were right. I might not have Target, but I can get what I need with a little looking.

3. Norwegians will never be able to navigate roundabouts.

Sorry, Norwegian friends. You’re cool and all that, and there are lots of things you are extremely good at, but driving just isn’t one of them. This lesson is not new information, but my reaction to it over the past four years has certainly changed. The first months were spent with me gently honking when someone veered in front of me as I just assumed it was a wee mistake. When I realized it was not a mistake and was a deliberate move to enforce the mentality of ‘he who enters first, wins’, my honks became louder and my gestures a little… grander. When out driving with Husband last week, he gasped as I entered the roundabout and cut someone off without even making eye contact. ‘When in Rome, darling!’ I told him.

4. Not right, not wrong… just different.

This is a mantra I live by when teaching about cultural differences. I don’t think I have ever given a seminar or class where I have not drilled this phrase into the heads of the attendees. Truth be told, for a long time it was just a politically correct thing to say, and I didn’t really believe it myself. It’s hard when something is different and feels wrong not to judge it as such. But today I observe these differences less in terms of good or bad and more in terms of better and worse. We can never fully eradicate from our minds a reference point of ‘back home’… so why try? There’s lots of Norwegian ideals I will never be on board with. And that is okay. It doesn’t mean I can’t have a happy and productive and integrated life here. As long as I am open to the different, me and Norway might survive another four years together.


  1. FINALLY! Independent confirmation that I really am a better driver than most of these idiots!

    Nice to have you back in the blogosphere.

    Good luck with The Kid. Hope everything goes as smoothly as possible.


  2. I enjoyed reading your blog.

    I think these "lessons" combined with the general norwegian style of saying as little as possible, and frowning upon anything loud is why norwegians are known for being impolite and unfriendly

  3. I kind of stumbled on your blog and cannot stop reading it, saying "ha-ha! Someone else got it too!" and laughing!

    I will follow it for sure :)