As a Norwegian teacher, I am constantly asked if Norway really is the best place in the world, as the UN claims. I’ve never liked this question. I secretly roll my eyes every time I hear these words despite the genuine interest. I try to keep it to myself, but knowing how expressive I am, it is likely written all over my face. My standard answer is something like “some things better, some things worse, all depending on your political stance, your relationship with alcohol, sex, work versus leisure time, and your personality I suppose”.
I thought I had grown accustomed to both my American and Norwegian lives... as a native American, I’ve spoken some degree of Norwegian for over 25 years and I have spent somewhere between 3.5 to 4 of the last 14 years in Norway. I have visited friends and family in more random countryside valleys and suburbs of Oslo than most Norwegians. But, I still note countless differences that separate the two cultures. But, with the exception of rømmegrøt, changing clothes on the beach, and wishing everyone used a dynetrekk, I tend to accept the differences.
It is January and my Brazilian Weegieperience in Buzios, “Little Norway” is well underway. I am trying to take in a new Norwegian experience, not a nynorsk opplevelse as much as a ny norsk opplevelse. It feels somewhat awkward to speak Norwegian in a place that doesn’t feel Norwegian, despite the hodgepodge of trøndersk, østlandsk, and nord norsk that I’m taking in. This makes me think about what Norway feels like and what I wish it would be...
Imagine a Norway where despite it only being a 5-minute walk to the nearest corner store, it takes over an hour each way because there are so many genuine inquires as to how your day was and if you have plans for dinner, or if you would at least like to have a drink.
Imagine a Norway where the only description of skin color is related to poor SPF use.
Imagine a Norway where no one cares if you hang your laundry out to dry on a bright Sunday afternoon. And, after you’re done hanging out your laundry, you go to the store and to the bank, and maybe even call to get your satellite fixed.
Imagine a Norway where the citizens are so proud of their heritage that they proudly paint their houses in red, white and blue and buy matching patio furniture.
Imagine a Norway where when drunk, you don’t have to remind yourself what the word for “cheers” is, it is written right on the side of the beer can in large red letters.
Imagine a Norway where you know that the corner storeowner doesn’t speak Norwegian as her first language, and it is still very new to her, but she is praised for any attempt she makes.
Imagine a Norway where the bus driver reminds you when it is your stop, not because you told him where you’re headed, but because he thinks you look like someone who would live there because you have eyes the color of the ocean.
Imagine a Norway where there isn’t a need for meteorological propaganda such as “det finnes ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlig klær”.
Imagine a Norway where your most challenging daily task is finding where grovbrød is sold.
Imagine a Norway where you take a never-ending stroll on the beach. Not what Norwegians sometimes confuse with the rock-stone-pebble combination that is harder to walk on than stilts, but a beach-beach with actual sand.
Imagine a Norway where when the power goes out, everyone says, “oh isn’t that nice, we get to use our stearinlys.” And, when the power comes back on, everyone cringes and says “what a pity, it was cozy while it lasted”.
Imagine a Norway where the food has color and taste, aka no boiled fish and potatoes.
I have always longed for this type of Norwegian experience- one where I wasn’t looked upon as the village idiot for smiling slightly at passersby, where neighbors come by in the evening when they didn’t see you all day long, just to make sure you are safe and sound. But, more than anything, I’ve longed for a Norwegian experience that I could afford.
However, the most beneficial part of my Brazilian Weegieperience was learning what a ferie actually is. I now realize that we Americans have as little of an understanding for what a vacation is as Norwegians for what a beach is. A real ferie is not one week long. A real ferie involves eating lots of ice cream. A real ferie means beer whenever you want it. A real ferie is not defined by how many cities you can possibly visit in the least amount of time, but rather by how the experience makes you feel at the end of the day. A real ferie is feeling like although you wish you could retire at 32, you are ready and willing to go back to work, even if that means writing your dissertation.