Monday, December 6, 2010

Lesson learned: Norwegians are prompt

This past weekend, Lillehammer hosted the World Cup ski jumping competition. It was another freezing cold weekend, and spectators were sparse, but a few of Erik's colleagues decided they wanted to attend the competition as a group. Seeing that we live just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the venue we invited his colleagues over at noon for some Christmas cookies and coffee before the finals on Sunday afternoon.

We planned on making a few American-style Christmas cookies, and bought a Norwegian kranskake for our tabletop as well. Saturday afternoon we busied ourselves with decorating the tree and making cookie dough, and Sunday morning we jumped right into baking at 8am. By 11:30am, the final batch of gingerbread cookies came out of the oven, but we still had to finish the dishes, sweep and vacuum the floors and carpets, change our clothes, and eat some lunch (since I hadn't had breakfast, other than sampling the cookies coming out of the oven) before guests arrived at noon.

However. . . at 11:50, the first two guests arrived! As I sprinted to the bedroom to change out of my grimy yoga/baking clothes, the second family arrived! By 12:10, our house was filled with about 15-20 of Erik's colleagues and their children. Erik told me later he had gotten a text from a colleague saying he would in fact be coming to the party, but would be arriving a little late. . . at 12:30.

Having a houseful of Norwegian speakers was a disorienting experience, and a little overwhelming. After about an hour of the party, Erik asked how I was doing, and I whispered, "I think I'm ready for them all to leave now!" I tried to put my finger on why I felt so off-balance, and I think it's because this house is my home, it's my sanctuary, my English-sanctuary, and it's easy to forget that I'm in a foreign country here.  I was a bit unprepared for the body-slam of Norwegian that came busting through my front door that morning. People literally poured in the house, some of whom I've never met, who I didn't know if they were spouses or colleagues, whose names I didn't catch, whose names I didn't dare ask they repeat for a third or four time "En gang til?" (One more time?), children who whispered their names, a few who looked at me like, "duh-we've met!" Then to wander from one room to the next, trying to play hostess, yet unable to just effortlessly merge into an on-going conversation, I felt like I didn't belong in my own home, which then reminded me how this just isn't quite "home" yet. I was grateful that Greta was a little clingy, as she also seemed a bit overwhelmed by the sudden influx of children in her home, playing with her toys and climbing into her crib (umm, hello?).

The other struggle that I have in both small and large social gatherings is my desire to blend in, and not be the reason that everyone must switch over to English. For one, it's important for me to hear Norwegian as much as possible. But on the other hand, I feel like I must appear to be either very shy or stand-offish, or submissive, as I stand there and say nothing, because I'm only following 25% of the conversation.

And 25% is just an educated guess. No scientific tests have been run to test the theory that I understand 25% of Norwegian conversations.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Let the Christmas festivities begin!

Christmas Tree at Maihaugen
resplendent in hand-knit ornaments
Pappa and Greta by the tree,
ready to brave the brisk outdoors
Saturday seemed to be the official kick-off of the Christmas season in Lillehammer. Maihaugen, the open-air museum, hosted a Christmas market as well as several activities for children around the grounds. In the late afternoon/early evening was the opening of Christmas Street, the main pedestrian shopping district in downtown Lillehammer, complete with a nisse parade, led by the Nisse Far, a small brass band, and a variety of festive oversized dancing animal heads, not unlike Chinese dragons. It was a brisk day, around 10F/-12C, for most of the day, but we were well prepared. The events at Maihaugen were scheduled both in and out of doors, and we stopped inside for several snack breaks throughout the day.

Julenisse spotted outdoors!
Lunching on grøt (rice porridge)
Our day began around 11:30am, with the Maihaugen parking lot already filled to capacity. We visited a few of the historic cabins, decorated to celebrate a 1700s Christmas and a 1890s Christmas, and then spotted a small gathering of julenisser among the rocks, where baby goats had been leaping only a few months earlier.  We then headed indoors for a quick lunch of risengrynsgrøt (rice porridge with butter, cinnamon, and sugar) and waffles. That sat pretty well with the kiddo, and if it hadn’t, the next event on the agenda would have improved any sour mood: pepperkaker baking (gingerbread cookies). A long table was filled with more children in hand-knit sweaters than I have ever seen, and the women running the event kept an efficient schedule of doling out chunks of dough, rolling pins, cookie cutters, onto a cookie sheet, into the oven, quickly cool on the racks, and into a little wax paper bag. Afterwards I thought we could likely skip that event next year, as making gingerbread cookies at home will be a far less hurried and thus more enjoyable event. But, I must admit that having that bag of cookies on hand was rather nice to have as the day progressed.

Cutting out pepperkaker cookies
The day at Maihaugen concluded with visits to the animals in the barn and a fair amount of time in the 1930s village where a number of artists were selling their wares. I had high hopes for the Christmas market, as some friends spoke very highly of it, but I was a little disappointed. New England had its fair share of “craft fairs” that my craft-minded friends and I dubbed instead “crap fairs”, and this market was not without its share of that (although a smaller share, to be fair). Still, Norwegians love their Christmas elves and decorating with hearts this time of year, two holiday themes I have not, and will not likely, entirely embrace. So, after one last snack to warm up our insides, we headed downtown for the Christmas parade.

Mmmm, waiting for the cookies to cool
We timed our arrival to Storgate well. The nisse parade was about to start, and we only had to wait a few minutes before a parade of body-less decorative horse-heads and people dressed in elf-like costumes came spinning and twirling down the street. They were followed by a throng of people, many of whom were carrying lit torches--even rather young children! Mixed into this throng of people was a small brass band playing Christmas carols--"Joy to the World", if my memory serves me correct. We followed the parade down the street to a large Christmas tree which seemed to be already lit upon our arrival. At that point, the two adults voted that we were hungry (while the lone child was nearly asleep) and it was time to ditch the festivities and go get pizza. We believe the parade marched around downtown and lit two more Christmas trees, although I think it will be another year before we find out for certain. 

All in all, a fun-filled, exhausting day, and we all arrived home toasty warm.

Riding the tractor
Shopping in the 1930s village
Downtown Lillehammer in pre-parade excitement

The parade: a blur of people, lights,  and song

As if we needed an additional reminder that
we are living in a foreign country: small
children are trusted to carry flaming torches
in large crowds of people

The post-parade blur of people and lights.
Quite the festive scene!
Our own very tired (but warm!) nisse