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.


  1. Hang in there. This is such a good reminder to me how students who don't speak fluent English feel in the schools. My current guy has been here from Jamaica for less than 12 months and I need to keep reminding myself that although he keeps up a good front, he is not able to follow everything.

  2. Well done for trying so hard! Until I start my lessons Im very happy for everyone to switch over to English in my company! All the Norwegians we know speak excellent English and seem very happy to speak it! I realise that is no help to me at all my Im using the excuse that Im still trying to settle!

  3. I'm sure you'll catch up in no time and then find that the conversations you so desperately wanted to be a part of were actually super boring work stuff!!

  4. Language learning and adaption to another culture is a roller coaster ride. You are giving Greta an incredible gift and I'm sure Erik is very thankful for your openness to move to Norway. One day, one event, one phrase at a time.

  5. I know exactly how you feel! Parties have been the most uncomfortable for me, I really want to participate, but when the vocabulary isn't yet there, it's really frustrating. On the plus side, it does seem to actually get better with time. I've found that listening to NRK podcasts have helped a lot with understanding (okay, not so exciting to listen to, but you're exposed to a number of different dialects, and a lot of the time you understand the context of the news).