Thursday, July 14, 2011

Until Next Time

And, like that, I’m heading home. On May 14th I flew from Ljubljana, Slovenia to Trondheim, Norway to spend over two months living with my girlfriend, soaking in Norwegian culture, looking for jobs and learning the language. I got so much more out of the trip than that. In this—my last post in Norway for a while—I want to summarize some of the most compelling things I’ve noticed about Norway. I want to talk about some of the things I really enjoyed. And maybe I’ll talk a bit about things that weren’t so great. The trip has changed me too, and I hope to touch on that as well. I’ve missed the United States more than I ever thought I would: I’m glad to be going back for many reasons. But Norway has a bit of me now too. And I know I won’t be able to stay away for long.

For easy reading—and easy writing—here are some highlights:

My Favorite Norwegian Food—This is hard. Close contenders include sodd, kjøttkake (meat cakes; and pronounced hilariously close to ‘shit cakes’) and some of the flatbreads that are made only here. But the more I eat it, the more I’m convinced that brunost—or, brown cheese—is my favorite Norwegian nosh. Put some strawberry jam on some flatbread, break out a cheese slicer and place some brunost on top and I’m in heaven. Brown cheese=win.

My Least Favorite Norwegian Food—At first I thought this would be difficult: Norwegians regularly eat raw fish that has been left in the open air for months, so that ought to be a competitor. But it’s not—I actually like that stuff. The worst food, by far, in Norway is salted black licorice. I might hang from the gallows tomorrow, but there’s no contest here. I’d rather give myself a pine-cone suppository than come within ten feet of salted black licorice again. I’m sorry to everyone whom I’ve offended.

My Favorite Norwegian Experience—Again, there are lots of contenders here: the Nidaros organ concert, lounging in Steinkjer, catching fish, golfing in Bymarka, etc…. And I could say that getting to live with Tonje for a few months was the best experience—it was, but that’s not what this post is about. The best experience for me was a trip to Tonje’s parent’s cabin at Inderøy. Taking in nature, living simply, fishing and rowing around in the fjord are all activities that define Norway. This appreciation and respect for nature, solitude and finding your personal peace are some of the main reasons I love this country. It’s the biggest advantage Norway has over other nations. And it’s something that Norway had before it found oil, and will still have when that stuffed pension fund runs dry. When I find myself inundated by the deluge of stimuli and work inherent to graduate school in the United States, I hope I’m still able to hear the creak of that old row boat as it drifts over the waves. There’s nothing on my mind, but I’m smiling. Maybe a fish will bite.

My Least Favorite Norwegian Experience—As I write this, I’m seriously concerned that I will pass out and collapse on my keyboard. An overwhelming aroma of paint, paint thinner and primer is turning my brain into dead coral. I feel like Artie Lang and Anthony Bourdain's lovechild. I could call the beautification process of Tonje’s apartment building my least favorite Norwegian experience, but I won’t. It has to be any attempt to get in or out of Oslo. Trains are shut down for the most part, roads are essentially closed and the systems designed to solve these two problems are laughable. I’m already getting palpitations just thinking about it, so I’ll leave it at that. I look forward to visiting Oslo again when a jetpack isn’t required to get around.

The Best Place I Visited—The pub, Den Gode Nabo, just down the road is a contender. It’s a beautiful, old pub that looks like the lower decks of an ancient boat and even has a floating barge on which you can hang out and have an ale. Antikvariatet, the café/pub next door, is better, but only just. It’s also a contender. But the greatest pub on Earth couldn’t hold a candle to Norway’s natural environment. And I haven’t even seen the good stuff—the scenes on the Atlantic coast of Norway. But among the several cities and areas I’ve visited—including Inderøy—I think that the most beautiful place I’ve been to is Mosvika, where Tonje’s grandmother lives. I’ll include its surroundings in that as well as the drive into the little town is breathtaking. Nestled in the foothills of high cliffs cut out by rivers lies this small coastal town. It’s sleepy, pretty and feels like a sea town. The gulls aren’t vicious here; the houses and people are simpler; and nature’s might is palpable. I miss it, and I was only there for a few hours.

The Weirdest Thing About Norway—I’ll back off of black licorice. And I’ll give the shoulder-bumping pedestrians a break too. The weirdest thing that I’ve noticed about Norway is a real sense of financial hypocrisy. Most Norwegians are more than happy to pay lofty taxes and buy expensive products because they believe that they are contributing to the greater good. And they are, probably. But despite this apparent selflessness, there’s a real sense of status and “coolness” here, one that you wouldn’t expect. Unlike in most countries, it’s very common to be asked how much something costs here. Salaries are openly discussed, and not-so-subtle bragging about wages isn't rare. A fair amount of Norwegians will only buy designer or high-end brands or luxury automobiles. I’ve talked to several Masters and PhD students about their career ambitions. When I asked them what they want to do upon graduation, what their passion was, they simply said that they were looking forward to good money. One doctor, completing his residency, said that he was really looking forward to sitting behind a desk, collecting a check and having other people do his work for him. Now, of course not all Norwegians are like this. And yes, Americans are much worse in general. But some of these individual’s sentiments are surprising considering the sense of financial community in which these Norwegians grew up. Lots of people here don’t feel like they’ve made it until they’ve got a degree and a fat paycheck. That’s not uncommon in the world. But it does seem strange here. I hope they find their passions.

The Best Drink—Since I enjoy a good drink from hour to hour—eh, I mean from time to time—I wanted to comment on the best Norwegian alcoholic drink I’ve sampled. Since wine cannot be successfully grown here, this contest comes down to beers, ciders and liquors. There’s no contest here: it’s akevit. I haven’t yet tried some of the famous moonshine that apparently is floating around under-the-radar in Norway, but I doubt it can beat akevit. There are some decent beers in Norway—even bottom-shelf ones aren’t awful—but akevit is truly unique and its tastes knocks the socks off of any of the Viking beers. Try the Linie variety if you have the chance.

What I Missed Most From Home—After my family and friends, there’s a close race for second place for what I missed most from my homeland while I was across the pond. The price of goods and services is way up there. The better infrastructure places high. My television, my Netflix account and having a cell phone are also contenders. But above all of these, by far, is my car. It’s not just my car really, it’s driving in particular. In the roughly 11 years that I’ve been driving—well over 500,000 kilometers—I’ve never gone this long without putting my hands on a steering wheel. It’s probably a combination of the ability to go wherever you want to whenever you want to; not having to rely on other people to get somewhere; and the sense of freedom you get when you’re driving. My brother’s picking Tonje and I up from the airport on Saturday. No matter how tired I am, I’m driving home.

So that’s it. I’ve pretty much run out of things to write about. And the packing needs to start. As I said earlier, I might still write posts for this blog, they’ll just have a different focus until I return to Norway. Writing here has served as a great capsule for my memories: it started off as something for others, but I think it ended up being more for me. It’s been space for me to experience catharsis and vent. And it’s been an exciting way for me to immediately share what have been truly amazing experiences for me in a country that I love. I’ve learned in the past that neither I nor my listeners have the patience for long stories after trips. And many of the stories in this blog would be lost to bad memory and sloth if I hadn’t written them down. I’m glad I did.

I’ve been away for almost a quarter of a year. That’s not much for some, but it’s the longest I’ve ever been away from home. Living here with Tonje was the best experience I’ve had so far in my life. Experiencing all that Norway has to offer was an added bonus. Although I now have a pretty good sense of what this country is about, I also have just barely scratched its surface in many ways. And I can’t wait to get back here and work on becoming a true Norwegian.

This trip was great because I found out that yes, Tonje and I live well together. I also got to experience a lot of what Norway has to offer. But spending lots of alone time in a foreign country while constantly making subconscious comparisons to your cultural reference points and your own personal preferences will also teach you a lot about yourself. The things that lie close to your heart are hard to say because words make those feelings seem small. Letting others read those thoughts makes what seemed monumental in your mind just words, something really ordinary. And although I hope that those of you who’ve read this have been entertained, and maybe intrigued sometimes, I also hope that you’ve seen what this place means to me: something beyond the words.

I may move here next year. I don’t know. We’ll see how the job search goes. But if it’s not next year, then I know it’ll happen sometime in the future. And whenever that is, Norway will still be here, unchanged, because that’s how it always is. I’ll pack my bags and take a last shot of akevit. I’ll walk to the bus station, bumping shoulders with passersby along the way, closing my eyes and thinking about my car. Somewhere, an inventory manager will be wondering why the sudden spike in Budweiser sales has slowed. And I’ll miss Norway before I’ve even left it.

Ha det bra, Norway.


  1. I'm a Canuck, via 15 years in the UK (mostly Scotland) living here since September. And most of what you say definitely accords with my experiences. Your comments about Norge having implemented more EU rules than any other country is interesting, and i'd like to find out more. This is the first time i have not lived in a Free Trade country in a very long time and i didn't realize how much i took it for granted -- even perhaps was a bit opposed to Free Trade. But as a consumer, my oh my, what a difference!
    The one thing i would add to your stock of comments is that old chestnut - "Det er Norge", which i get told every time i ask why one of the nonsensical things that puzzle me is happening! Det er Norge, indeed! Thanks for a good read...

  2. Thanx for the post, very interesting info, i am from Cyprus and i want to move to Norway. I decided to open a business in Norway, and i discovered a company which helped me to do that
    I would like to make a lot of friends in that country, coz living alone is awfull :(