Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Random Musings and Golf in Norway

This trip to Norway ends in just under three weeks. Although I have mixed feelings about it, the trip home is inevitable. And that means that I need to start winding down the Norwegian focus of this blog for the time being—I’ll pick it up again if I move here next year. Since I’ll be traveling so much during the rest of this year, I’m thinking that I’ll keep it up as a travel blog of sorts so everyone can know what I’m doing, and hopefully hear something interesting or funny along the way. I guess that means I’ll need a different blog title too: we’ll see. But before that happens, I’ve got some unfinished business in Norway. And I’ve got more things to write about too: a trip to Oslo that starts June 28, a boat festival, some concluding remarks before I leave and whatever this blog entry is. I guess you could call it a collection of random things I’ve noticed that didn’t deserve entire blog posts. Some just deserve a sentence. All of them say a little bit more about Norway.

Gas costs a lot here—At the equivalent of roughly $8 a gallon, gas is incredibly expensive here. This is both expected and stunning at the same time. Sure, it’s Norway; everything is expensive. But Norway has more oil than most countries in the world. And its incredible wealth can almost be exclusively attributed to the oil up here. So while the Norwegian government already has plenty of money from finding the oil, lots of extra money from various taxes and steady income from heavy vehicle and property fees, Norwegians also cough up kroner at the pump to further prop up their collective wealth.

As close to the EU as it gets—Most Norwegians are proud to tell you that they’re not members of the EU, and probably won’t ever be. But most Norwegians also don’t know that Norway has adopted more EU directives than any other European nation except Malta. Although Norwegians have voted against joining the EU twice, the last referendum was split almost 50/50 among citizens wanting EU membership and those against. In addition to the adopted referendums, Norway also honors many agreements and treaties with EU nations, and is also a member of the Schengen area and the European Economic Area (EEA). Some have even called for a third referendum on the issue.

If you’re going to break the law, don’t do it while driving—Although most crimes in Norway are punished less-severely than in many other nations, the same cannot be said for traffic violations. While the maximum jail sentence for any crime—including murder—is 21 years, drinking and driving will land you in jail for 30 days. You’ll lose your license and have to pay a fine equivalent to 10 percent of your income, in addition to other fees and classes. Speeding violations get similar treatment: all of the penalties are the same except that jail time will be reduced or nonexistent. Norwegians are serious about their traffic laws, clearly.

The land of trampolines—It is impossible to take a walk or drive through a neighborhood in Norway and not see several trampolines. I would estimate that 2/3 of all homes have one. They are far more common than swimming pools in the United States—maybe about as common as grills—and are even featured in parades and other public events. This is kind of surprising considering Norway is so focused on safety, but they love their springy apparatuses. Bounce away, Norway.

They LOVE black licorice—I’ve touched on this slightly in my post on food, but this phenomenon can’t be understated. Norwegians die for this stuff, it’s featured prominently in convenience stores and grocery stores. There are as many black licorice items as chocolate ones or other candies at any store or movie theater. And Norwegians don’t just like it plain, they prefer it salted. In fact, the majority of black licorice treats here are salted. This item is the one thing that Tonje misses the most in the United States, and many Norwegians stash it in their luggage when they travel. Although I’m an adventurous eater and really like all Norwegian cuisine, I just don’t get the fascination about salted licorice. I guess it’s one of those things that you just need to grow up with. Norwegians don’t need to worry about me diminishing their supply of the black stuff.

Norwegians love to dub things “Norwegian”—This one is particularly humorous to me. When I first met Tonje, I remember her telling me that she was really excited about showing me Norwegian pizza and Norwegian tacos for the first time. I had visions of salmon pizzas and cod tacos covered in licorice and brown cheese. But I was, frankly, surprised to find that Norwegian pizza is just…pizza. And Norwegian tacos are the same things that you make in your home in the United States—not traditional Mexican tacos, but the stuff that comes in the Old El Paso boxes. I still have no idea why they refer to these two items as “Norwegian”, but I’ll let them enjoy their sense of proprietorship.

Dialects—There is no definitive number of dialects in Norway that I can find, but I'm guessing the number is somewhere around 20, if not more. The dialects generally differ based on where Norwegians grew up, and are almost always mutually intelligible. But for someone learning Norwegian, the dialects can often seem like different languages altogether. The standard Norwegian language is Bokmål—the one I’m learning, and the one spoken in Oslo, usually—but a newer version of Norwegian called Nynorsk is also officially spoken. Interestingly, although I’m learning Bokmål, Tonje speaks Trøndersk, a dialect common in the central regions of Norway. While I would say “ikke” for “not”, she would say “ittj”; for question words like “hva” and “hvorfor”, she would pronounce them with a hard “k” to start. These are just a few of the myriad differences found among the dialects. In some extreme cases, the dialects may be so different from one another that someone from Oslo might not be able to understand a Norwegian hailing from rural environs. And to further complicate matters, the indigenous Sami people of the North speak an entirely different language more similar to Finnish or Russian that virtually no Norwegians understand. Fun, fun.

Snus—This smokeless-tobacco product is almost as common as coffee in Norway. Sold in either loose or pouched form, snus is a form of chewing tobacco—for lack of a better term—that is made in an entirely different process from American tobacco products which supposedly strips it of most of tobacco’s traditional harmful effects. Whereas chewing tobacco products are generally reserved for baseball players, hunters and high schoolers in the United States, I have yet to meet someone in Norway who doesn’t at least occasionally slip some snus into their cheeks. This goes for girls too: they even have snus cans marketed towards them in prettier packages. The product is gradually being introduced in the US, and if—as those who study such things claim—it is indeed a much healthier alternative to smoking and other smokeless-tobacco products, then maybe it will be a welcome means to wean nicotine addicts off of the stuff that you need to burn.

My trip to the golf course—Golf isn’t very big in Norway for obvious reasons—read: the climate. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t courses here. Trondheim has at least two such facilities within its vicinity: one with nine holes and the other with the full eighteen. Most Norwegians need to possess a “greencard” in order to play golf in Norway. For about USD 200, you can take a class teaching theoretical and practical golf skills so that you are then “more” equipped to hit the links. After seeing many shirtless, cigarette-smoking, cut-off-jean-wearing individuals in the US digging up courses, I kind of like this concept. I wanted to play some golf while I was here, but I neither possess clubs nor a “greencard” so I had few hopes of actually getting on a course while I was here. Fortunately though—in a rare generous gesture towards tourists—Norway doesn’t require visitors to obtain a “greencard” to play—money, I guess.

So yesterday I walked up to Bymarka—which, as you’ll remember from my Tour de Norge post is very far away by foot—to at least hit some range balls. The course was beautifully situated atop a mountain overlooking Trondheim and the fjord. It was really picturesque. And despite the fact that everything in Norway is expensive, the prices at the golf course were actually fairly reasonable: about $50 for a round or so. I asked for two buckets of range balls and some rental clubs. The attendant asked my handicap—presumably so he wouldn’t give me the good clubs if I was a hack, which I kind of am—and, after I told him “about 15”, he brought me back a 6 iron. Just a 6 iron. “Hopefully these will work,” he said. “These?” I thought. I walked towards the range with a quizzical look on my face and just a 6 iron in my hand. After contemplating whether it was more embarrassing to just hit two buckets of range balls with a 6 iron, or to go back in the shop and ask him if this was indeed all that he meant to give me, I decided that the latter was probably more prudent. “6 irons are all I’ve got to rent out,” was the matter-of-fact response. Glad I checked.

I then proceeded to hit two entire buckets of range balls with just a 6 iron. It was lucky that he didn’t give me a driver since the fences guarding the edges of the range were only about 2 meters tall. I had a good time, and it was good to swing a club again. It was also nice to see that Norway takes just as much care of its golf courses as it does its nature: the place was splendid and they don’t let just anybody out on the course—me excluded. I’m looking forward to actually playing a round in Norway at some point to really get a feel for the course. When I do, I guarantee you my 6 iron will be sharp.

1 comment:

  1. Trampolines remind me of Comedy Central's "The Man Show"