Thursday, September 27, 2012

Capital Cities

With grandparents in town for a week in late August, and our 10-year wedding anniversary approaching in late September, Erik and I decided to escape for a brief 4 day trip to Stockholm. The fact that it coincided with a 3 day ecology conference for Erik helped with airfare. Well, at least for one of us.

Erik pointed out that I have been in five European capital cities within the last two years. That seemed rather impossible, but he was right. Granted, we were in Copenhagen for all of 8 hours on a long-layover on our way to Paris. But that enabled us to explore the downtown for a few hours in the days leading up to Christmas.

April 2011
A Royal Wedding

Pre-Christmas 2011
A half-day layover tour

Christmas 2011
Eiffel Tower at night

June 2012
The Royal Palace

August 2012
Drottningholm Royal Palace

As we wandered around the charming streets of Stockholm last month, Erik wondered out loud if having lived in Europe for the past two years has somehow made us a bit more jaded when it comes to fully appreciating the historic richness of these cities and the feeling of "OMG, I am walking down the streets of PARIS. I am in STOCKHOLM of all places!" We agreed that yes, we are perhaps a little jaded. We certainly don't respond to these cities like a Minnesotan who has never traveled further than the borders of the state might upon arriving in Europe for the first time at the age of 40. But, on the other hand, we're not so jaded that we can't admit that Stockholm really impressed us, Paris overwhelmed us, we only skimmed the surface of Copenhagen, and Oslo (while charming in its own right) was obviously the resource-poor capital of a very poor nation while all those other aforementioned cities were booming.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Media darling. We hope.

My pursual of a midwife and nursing license in Norway came to a sort of standstill back in May, when the appeals board upheld SAFH’s decision that I should essentially begin my entire education from the beginning. Back in June, we were in contact with a former head of a nursing department at a local nursing college, but the spark from that initially promising meeting fizzled out over the Norwegian fellesferie (common vacation time in July). Every other Norwegian that we spoke to has been equally disgusted and disappointed in the decision, and their response is almost exactly the same: “You need to take this to the media! That’s how things get done in Norway! Take this to a politician!”

But frankly, I didn’t have the energy to mount another battle. The process of making the right contacts, assembling the papers and presenting our arguments one more time was overwhelming. It was summer. I had just failed two Norwegian exams. I was feeling defeated on several fronts. And I was juggling two new jobs, a bit overwhelmed in this shift from stay-at-home-study-Norwegian/mom/wife/home renovator lifestyle to full-time-job(s)-speaking-Norwegian/mom/wife/home renovator. Not to mention blogger. I hadn’t forgotten my desire to blog about this all, despite what you may think.

Instead, the media come to me. Our neighbor, who owns a fat black lab dog who is Tika’s best doggy friend and invites herself into our home whenever she has the chance, is a TV journalist for the local news office of NRK. NRK is the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, a government-owned public television and radio broadcasting company, and the largest media network in Norway. After chatting with Erik in a neighborly over-the-fence chat about my current job situation, he told a fellow journalist about my plight; a journalist who has some experience investigating the health care system and related matters.

In mid-August, the journalist came to our house. I presented my case, summarizing as best as I could what has transpired over the past two years, trying to highlight our best points and not get caught up in the minor details. Oh, and trying my best to do this in Norwegian, of course. I handed her a stack of papers, offered her the 3-ring binder of documents and correspondence, and gave her a half-dozen names of people who have been “on our side”. Her response included, “Wow. I had initially thought I could get this on the air next week, but now I think I’ll need some extra time to interview people. I’m thinking the nursing and midwife organization, SAFH, NOKUT (the accrediting agency that has approved  both my bachelors and masters degrees), this nursing instructor, the local midwives, politicians. . . “.

Go girl.

A few days later she was back in our home, with a camera and microphone to boot. We sat on my couch, and she peppered me with the sort of “touchy-feely” questions you’d expect them to edit out into 15-second clips to highlight a few points. It was rather overwhelming. I was very cognizant that this could very well end up on not just the local “fylke” (county) news program, but on the national news program, and I did not want to sound like a blubbering, incoherent, grammatically incorrect foreigner who thinks she’s good enough to catch Norsk babies. But, on the other hand, I also wanted to succinctly answer her questions, to give her good soundbites, and adequately express both my frustration and my competence. But, on the third hand. . . sometimes the words just weren’t there. That elusive word or phrase that would capture my thoughts perfectly was not in my active Norwegian vocabulary. It was frustrating, and made me worry more that I had sounded like a simpleton and a thinks-she’s-entitled foreigner. Had my fluent husband been sitting at my side, he could have provided a few nice soundbites. He, however, was sitting at an ecological conference in Sweden.

The filming moved upstairs, where they filmed the typical “at home with family” shots of me reading a story to Greta in her room. The next week, they came to the museum shop, and filmed me doing the typical “underemployed menial tasks” of organizing T-shirts by size; a few days later, they came to the nursing home, and filmed me doing more typical “underemployed menial tasks” like loading the lunch dishes in the dishwasher, all the while asking me loaded questions like, “what is it like to work here, when you have such a high education?” Honestly, what am I going to say? “This job sucks, quite frankly. Somedays I cry after work because I think of all that I gave up to work here.” And piss off my colleagues and boss and get fired the next day? (Because honestly, the jobs don’t suck. They are just a little. . . you know.) But, is saying, “this is a great job, I love working here,” going to support their story—and mine--that Norway is throwing away my competence? It was a delicate balance. A nuanced balance. One that I can only hope was captured with my not-so-nuanced “mastery” of Norwegian.

The news report has yet to be aired. The journalist contacted me last week, and wanted to film me again at home, hopefully with the whole family. Erik is in the middle of a 12-day trip to France, and won’t be home until late this week, so the report is at least delayed until then. The journalist said she has had some “interesting” interviews with the nursing/midwife professional organization and has others still to interview. I feel like she is absolutely on my side, as I called her after one episode of filming and expressed my concern that my response to a question had not come out as I had intended. She immediately reassured me that she would not use that particular quote, as it would “not support our case, the fact that you are qualified and not working at the level that you are educated to”.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


Not "AHZZ-low".
Not "AHH-slow".

Repeat after me: "OOOH-shlow" (like you're doing a haunting, ghostly oooooh).

Got it? That is how the locals* (in Lillehammer) pronounce "Oslo".

I've been down to Oslo quite a few times in the past 6 months, for both "business" shall we say, and pleasure. Any any rate, it's enough times that I'm beginning to get a little sick of certain parts of town, and often have a list of things that I can find only in Oslo. Have not yet found that must-go to restaurant for dinner, however.

In May, on one of my solo sojourns to Oslo to fail a Norwegian exam, I saw posters advertising a two-day children's festival in early June. I reported to Erik that we would be attending this festival, in an all out effort to do something relaxing and enjoyable in Norway. We are very lucky to have friends who have a generally empty apartment in Oslo, just mere meters from the Majorstuen T-bane (metro/subway) stop, a major top in Oslo Sentrum, and they generously lent us this apartment for the weekend.

Greta tries the cello, and makes her
mamma tear up. . . 
Norwegians like their summer music festivals, although they tend to showcase a bunch of artists that I've never heard of. A pretty major one is Øyafestivalen, that goes on for several days. The children's version of this was thus aptly named Miniøya, although did not feature as many bands and likely had about 200x the number of strollers as its parent festival. Make that 2000x.

We spent a full day at Miniøya, enjoying life sized giraffe puppets (people on stilts), face-painting, bag decorating, food tasting, story-telling, puppet shows, a violin/cello making/trying/coloring station, and a rather odd performance by Pippi Longstocking (in Swedish) from Sweden's own Pippi Longstocking World.

In our defense, this is not considered
 bad form, or bad parenting, to allow
your child to climb or pose on the
Vigeland statues.
On Sunday, as the weather was gorgeous, we headed over to Frognerpark, the largest park in Oslo, which contains the Vigeland Sculpture Garden. The sculpture garden has hundreds of statues by the artist Gustav Vigeland, depicting the circle of life and life stages. They are amazing statues and it is a park that continues to amaze. It was Greta's first time visiting the park, and even she was quite enthralled by them. If you go anywhere in Oslo, I would recommend Frognerpark. I think Greta would, too.

We had specifically headed off to eat our last breakfast at a cafe I had heard about through the grapevine, Laundromat Cafe. It had just the funky brunchy vibe I was looking for, with comfy chairs, telephones decorating the wall, and a laundromat in back (ok, wasn't really looking for a laundromat). But my cappuccino was poorly made and my apple pancakes drenched in syrup. And not even good syrup. Think Aunt Jemima. Probably was Aunt Jemima. Big disappointment to the start of my morning. . . So we are still looking for a good breakfast joint in Oslo.

Despite the disappointing cappuccino,
we still had a koselig time (and check
out the deco-phones).
Since many of my recent trips to Oslo have revolved around a meeting with SAFH about nursing shit or a Norwegian exam. That usually means we have a meeting in the middle of the day, leaving not enough time to do anything significant before or after, especially if it's a day trip (a train trip from Lillehammer is 2-2.5 hours). But in early August, when my mother-in-law invited me to join her and her friend for a few days in Oslo at the tail end of their visit, I happily agreed. Seeing that they had tourist destinations on their itinerary, and not just wandering, I decided that I would hit some of the big sites in Oslo this time around, too.

The Oslo Rådhuset, or City Hall, is a strange-looking, imposing square brown building on the Oslo Harbor. It is known to many as the brown cheese building (brown cheese is a Norwegian specialty). In fact, it is the home to the Nobel Peace Prize award every December, and the inside is especially impressive. I believe I stuck my head into the building 5 years ago, but remembered very little of it. My parents gushed about the building, so I tagged along on a tour with my mother-in-law and her friend.

Painting inside the Rådhus (City Hall)
where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded

I also put a tour of the Oslo Opera House on my to-do list for this trip, which was truly cool as well. The Opera House was designed by Snøhetta, which is designing parts of the Twin Towers memorial in NYC, and was finished just a few years ago. It has been identified as one of the best pieces of modern architecture in the world. Also worth checking out.

Toss in a tour of the Parliament building, the Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture, and the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, and a few tasty cappuccinos, a few somewhat disappointing dinners, and a very rewarding gelato, and I've summed up my time in OOOH-shlow the past few visits, including, as usual, a good deal of wandering.

Oh, and how could I forget. . . On the tail end of my final day in Oslo in August, I joined the locals on their hourly pilgrimage to IKEA (pronounced in Norwegian and Swedish: "eee-KAY-ah". Do you think I'm kidding? There is a bus that leaves central Oslo every hour from 10am-midnight during the week for the 20 minute ride to the nearest IKEA (there are two outside of Oslo). The bus was cram-packed with people, and there were at least a dozen of us with standing the entire ride. And after having spent the day walking around Oslo, sprinting around the train/bus station to find the damn pick-up/drop-off location, and with the anticipation of walking around the store itself for the next two hours. . . I was not exactly pleased.

Free IKEA bus every hour!
They're not kidding!

*If you live in Oslo itself, apparently one would pronounce it with a more refined "Oooh-slow", without the slurring of the "S" and the "L" together into a "SHL" sound.