Wednesday, September 21, 2011


When one is learning a foreign language, it is very common to swap words between the languages, or fill in the blanks in one's memory with a word from the other language. Sometimes I just "norwegian-ize" an English word, and surprise! It works!

Greta is particularly good at throwing Norwegian words into her English sentences. One of the steadfast switcheroos is using the verb å bruke (to use) instead of "use". For example: "Can I bruk this spoon for breakfast?" or "I don't want to bruk that color!" I have tried to break this habit, playing a "game" in the car of "What to we use when we have cold hands?  We use mittens!" She thought it was really fun, and played along well, only to fall back on her use of bruke almost instantaneously. Often they are more amusing substitutions, such as this gem from yesterday: "I don't know which pappa I'm going to gifte meg (marry myself) to when I'm a mamma!" We completely understand her patched together sentences; it's our English speaking relatives who have trouble.

I admit I do the same thing--using Norwegian words in my English sentences. My use of the word barnehage is probably the best example. It does literally translate to kindergarten, but in the British sense of the word (preschool/daycare), not the American sense (first year of school at the age of 5). One of Greta's barnehage teachers, who is married to an American and speaks excellent English, would translate barnehage to kindegarten when she was speaking to us in English, as well as translating pappa to daddy. That one amused me--and confused Greta--more than anything: Erik is Pappa to Greta, and has been since Day 1 of Life, not Day 1 in Norway. He has never been "daddy", so it seemed particularly bizarre to hear that translated for our benefit.

With the number of new words we are immersed in, we sometimes find ourselves searching for the English word. This seems to be happening to Erik most often with the whole building process. He's been doing so much reading and research on home-building, products and supplies in Norwegian that he sometimes doesn't even know the English word. Our carpenter is Irish, but has lived in Norway for over 20 years, so we generally all speak with one another in English. But from time to time, the two of them stumble onto a construction word or phrase that they can't remember, and briefly switch to Norwegian just to get the point across.

Erik and I were at a tile store a few days ago, and were discussing the options with each other and a sales clerk. We both stumbled to find the word "grout" in English. It was as if my lips couldn't make the vowels come out correctly. It sounded too much like "gråte" (grow-tah), which means to cry or shout. Certainly we couldn't keep our tiles together with crying?? What is that word?  Ow, ow, grout!

Other times a Norwegian word sounds similar enough to an English word that my mind makes a leap of faith that they mean essentially the same thing. Take this story for example:

You might recall that Greta had "camp week" at the barnehage, and they spent the week learning about fall, hunting, animals, and exploring the woods. One days activities included a "skatt jakt". I knew that jakt meant hunt, and my Nor-glish brain took a leap of faith that "skatt" meant--well? What does it sound like to you? Scat! You know, animal poop!

This made sense to me. It fit perfectly into the week. The kids were learning about hunting. They were identifying animals that live in the forest. They were going out on hikes every day studying nature. Of course they were going to find animal poop and learn what was rabbit poop, what was moose poop, what was fox poop, etc. . . Maybe some die-hard teacher would even "plant" it out in the woods so they would have a great variety of poop to discover on their jakt.

Side note: Tika often accompanied us to the laavo (tent) to pick up Greta that week. She loves running through the woods, sniffing around, finding leftover grilled food, and the kids love seeing her. I noticed her making her own deposit of, you know, poop on the perimeter of the camp area one day (and seeing that I did not have a poop-bag with me, it was left to nature).

The afternoon of the skatt jakt I picked up Greta from the "camp" and chatted with Greta and her teacher about her day--what did she find on the jakt? "Did you find any rev bæsj? (fox poop) Any ku bæsj? (cow poop) Did you find any Tika bæsj? Because I think Tika left some the other day!" Greta is all giggles. . . "Noooo Mamma!" and the teacher just smiles and says something unintelligible in Norwegian, as she has a northern dialect that I can't always understand.

A week later, Erik and Greta come inside from a little walk they had done around the neighborhood. Greta collects stones, leaves, flowers, sticks, feathers, and we are often assigned to carry them all. Erik came in, displayed the fine array of flowers and leaves, and said "Look at Greta's skatt!" 


Erik said, "Skatt. . . her treasures! We were on a skatt jakt looking for treasures. And look at them all!"

Oh boy. . . that explains a lot. I did think it was a little weird to go out looking for animal poop, but I just thought it was all part of the Norwegian experience. So, maybe the barnehage kids didn't think that finding my dog's pile of poop to be such a great skatt after all. . .


  1. Ha! Maybe Greta's barnehage tante just thought you were really into identifying poop. That's a hilarious story. Along the same line, soon after my husband and I met, he told me a story about his "daddy" (apparently that's what he thought all Americans call their dads). To this day, I still can't get shake the goofey image of a grown man calling his father "daddy".

  2. Ha ha! Great story! I'm constantly mixing the two languages, often hilariously without even realising! I start at the barnehage tomorrow so no doubt I shall make many, many mistakes!!!

  3. Hilarious story. I still mix up my British English/American English and that is probably only with about 500 different words. You're operating at a whole other level. Just on Thursday, I was in the kitchen at work and suggested to my co-worker that she cover the gelato brain froze. I cold only think of "cling film". It took me a minute to mumble "saran wrap". You're going to speaking Nor-glish for the next decade or more.

  4. I shudder to think of what went through your mind if you heard a parent say to a child "skatten min"! :)

    I was having a conversation recently with a bilingual man from India (so Hindi and English) and he talked about how so many people mix them on the streets of Delhi and that it drives him crazy. That it is lazy and people should force themselves to come up with the correct word. At first I thought he was right -- we say matpakke, regntøy, tur, grøt ... any number of Norwegian words every day instead of using their English equivalent because it is EASIER. Esp. when we hear words like skattejakt at the barnehage - we just use it. And that is lazy.

    But then I decided this man was completely wrong and really this language mixing simply reflects our mixed identities. So be it. I think my children's English will be wonky until they spend a whole summer in the US or something intense like that.

  5. One more thing! ... I was just thinking of all the barnehage teachers who deal with foreigners and what they must think of OUR countries! I can just hear them saying, "I think Americans look for POOP on their treasure hunts!" :) I have had so many similar mix-ups and the funny thing is that it is so hard to explain how and why the mix-up occurred that I usually don't bother. Which leaves people probably thinking very strange things about Americans!