Thursday, April 30, 2015

Could I Be Part Norwegian? That Explains a Lot.

Seagulls don't talk. I like that about them.
Before we boarded the from-the-airport train in Oslo, Norway, Younger Daughter, who currently lives in one of the capital city’s outer neighborhoods, whispered advice.

“Norwegians don’t make eye contact with strangers and won’t strike up conversations. If you attempt to chat with strangers, they’ll think you’re weird.”

I found that information comforting rather than off-putting because I dread getting stuck with a chatty seatmate who plays a version of Twenty Questions. If you’ve spotted me on a plane, train, or bus, you know I favor the window seat and my gaze seesaws between my Kindle and the view outside.

Maybe I’m Norwegian. That would explain a lot.

While waiting on the T-bane (Oslo’s rapid transit), I surreptitiously observed commuters. Men and women wore no-nonsense shoes, toted backpacks, and sported no-fuss hairstyles.

Maybe I’m Norwegian. That would explain a lot, especially my love for of clunky Merrell shoes.

Before I could tell my daughter about our likely Viking ancestor, a man eager to enter the arriving T-bane elbowed me aside. He said nothing in the way of apology, and I shrugged it off. Later, a commuter let a door smack me in the face. What the heck?

In the privacy of her apartment, my daughter told me Norwegians rarely apologize for bumping into others and don’t hold doors. “Men and women are equals, so men don’t hold doors for women. And Norwegians figure they’re bothered you enough by bumping into you, so they don’t bother you more by apologizing.”

Since I’m the kind of American who says, “I’m sorry” when someone crashes into me, I began to doubt the existence of a Viking forebear.

From my daughter, more insights followed: “The resumes of Norwegians tend to be brief and factual. They don’t brag.”

I’d rather stick a pencil in my eye than puff myself up, so I put the Viking back into the family tree.

“Generally speaking, Norwegians are tolerant. You won’t hear them criticize people.”

Hey, I’m tolerant.  I try to guess the name of my Viking ancestor. Leif, Harald, Nils?

“There’s no real word for “please” in Norwegian,” my daughter says.

Whoa. Leif's days are numbered. “Is there a word for thank you?” I ask.

“Takk,” she says.

I’ll work with that unless someone far younger pushes me out of the way to snag a seat on the T-bane. If that happens, Leif’s toast. 


Jennette Marie Powell said...

No chatty strangers sounds very appealing to me! But no excuse-me's or door holding? Huh... I'll hold the door for a man if I get to it first. I like to be left alone, but I also like basic courtesies!

Patricia Rickrode w/a Jansen Schmidt said...

Well then, I am definitely NOT Norwegian. I'm way to out going and chatty. And knocking into someone, even by accident, warrants at the very least, an excuse me. Oh well. Different strokes for different folks.

Good thing you had your daughter to guide you along. I'd have been one foreigner Norway would love to get rid of.

Fun stuff. And how exciting that you got to visit Norway! I'm jealous (but I guess we won't be talking about it - wouldn't want to risk irking that long lost viking).

Patricia Rickrode
w/a Jansen Schmidt

Liz Flaherty said...

I guess I'm not Norwegian, either, but I'd love to go there anyway--at least until I needed someone to talk to.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Jennette,
I'd hold the door for anyone, too. Maybe Norwegians think holding a door sends the message the person behind them can't manage on his/her own. They are not being discourteous; they're acting the way they've been brought up to act in public. The visit was eye-opening for me.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi. Jansen/Patricia,
Oh, we'll talk about it all right. Since when are we strangers? Like you, my daughter's outgoing. Sometimes she can't stop herself from initiating a conversation. She says people chalk up her chattiness to being foreign.

On my return, my hands were swabbed for explosives or God knows what by TSA in Newark. I thought of you.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Liz,
Until this trip, Glacier National Park in Montana represented the most spectacular mix of lakes and snow-capped peaks I'd ever seen. Norway blew past Glacier on the second day of my visit--and then kept surprising me.

We are lucky mamas to have kids who live in interesting places.

Lynette M Burrows said...

Love this post, Pat! I must be part Norwegian, too. Maybe too much. There are days the characters in my head take over and I have been known to be oblivious to the folk behind me and let doors do what doors will. However, a please and thank you and excuse me have been known to escape my lips. Perhaps I'm not Norwegian after all. lol

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Lynette,
We may have had one Viking ancestor each, but ours were mild-mannered.

What struck me about my daughter's observations is that the traits considered positive in one culture are negatives in another. Next time I curse myself for not being more outgoing, I'll remember I have an excuse: I'm part Norwegian.

Lark Howard said...

Enlightening post, Pat. A few years back friends--an English couple--invited their Norwegian friend to join us at a house party in France. She was rude, unsociable, and stubbornly demanded to sit in the front seat of every car in which she was riding. We all thought she was rather horrid. Apparently she was only Norwegian. :-)

Patricia Rickrode w/a Jansen Schmidt said...

You were swabbed!!! You're as suspicious as me. (Swabbed sounds like some kind of pirate lingo, doesn't it?)

And when are we going to get together and talk about that trip? I may be moving a lot closer to you soon, if all goes well. Stay tuned for more information about that.

Patricia Rickrode
w/a Jansen Schmidt

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Lark! I gave you a too harsh impression of Norwegians. The unwillingness to make eye contact and enter into conversations with strangers is accurate, and apparently the culture doesn't emphasize niceties like holding doors for others, but the people aren't rude or unsociable. That said, friendship is built on mutual interests and shared experiences, so your Norwegian guest might have felt she hadn't had time to build those. Does that excuse her unsociability? of course not. Norwegians travel widely and know other cultures expect different behavior.

I do have some insight on your Norwegian guest's insistence on riding in the front seat: On Oslo's T-bane, unless a car is very crowded, a Norwegian is reluctant to sit next to a stranger. He/She would rather stand. That kind of behavior is baffling for those of us who live in the U.S.'s fourth most populous city, but apparently it's commonplace in a country with a population that's less than that of the Houston, Sugarland, Woodlands areas combined. What can I tell you? Some people need more space than others.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Ahoy, Jansen/Patricia!

My part of the world needs more scallywags like you. I look forward to talking about our travels in person. Yo ho ho!

Karen McFarland said...

First Korea, now Norway. Well Pat, you really know how to get around. It seems you have daughters all over the place. lol. But before I make any assumptions about the Norwegian culture, I do have to say that country is beautiful. And I hope you enjoyed your visit other than being knocked around a bit. Besides the fact that they're not very chatty. I, of course, do not relate to that being Irish. lol It is an education when visiting other countries and observing the manner in which they live. We are not all from the mold. Otherwise, I hope you totally enjoyed the trip! :)

Anonymous said...

Hi, Pat,

I guess you're going to be really unhappy with me and I'm not anti-Scandanavian (Ja kan tala svenska oksa mycket bra - tack, tack) but having worked and travelled in those countries I only have one word for the place: monotonous.

People of Irish descent always claim Scandanavian ancestry - names that begin with "Fitz" are all of Norsk heritage.

I claim other ancestries too, depending on the fertility of my imagination on any given day.

Don't be too mad.

- Patrick

coleen patrick said...

I think I need to dig deeper into my ancestry!!! Feeling Norwegian right now. :)

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Karen,
I totally enjoyed the trip. Yes, it took me a while to get used to those doors flying back at me, but it's always interesting to observe the ways of others. Someday we'll meet for a long chat. I'm looking forward to it.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Patrick,
I'm not a bit mad but am convinced you didn't see the bits of Norway I saw. One of these days, take the train from Oslo to Bergen. The trip is five hours of breathtaking scenery. By late April/early May, spring had crept into the valley that holds Oslo, but the route to Bergen climbed mountains, and we found ice and snow. Would you believe we had sunshine in Bergen? So beautiful!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Me, too, Coleen!