Safety in the same, amidst the ny and different

During an expatriation – having a respite from the ny (definition and pronunciation the same as our new), a break from the different, a harbor of hospitable homogeneity is sometimes welcome, therapeutic and wholly necessary. Somewhere, where a shared language, common experiences and a duplicitous feeling of home allows one a place for letting down your guard, a determined safety, a place to exhale. In. Out. In. Out. Repeat. In. Out. In. Out. Sigh. Whether this craving for same amidst the different is positive for the procession of phases within an expatriation or not … it IS strong, powerful and real. And we accommodated it. Fed it. Stoked it. Fulfilled it. (The craving that is, people.)

And I can relate that experiencing a peer’s different and ny, with them, in their new, is a glorious thing. Suddenly, you become tourist to their guide as they share with you what they have gleaned, learned, found, cherished. And with no pressure, or judgment, or fear of alienating oneself for expressing those little annoyances, confusions, conundrums that can be caused by the differences in cultures. Because we get it. We are doing the same thing. THAT. Is a glorious thing.

Beautiful Bergen, NorwayWe recently shared all of the above and more – including but not limited to – excellent food lovingly prepared, beautiful community, boxed wine, unbridled play, sledding adventures, hearty belly laughs, impromptu dance parties in medieval fortresses, up-late sleepovers with finger nail painting, old school video-gaming, brown cheese and temporary tattoos. Traveling to Bergen, Norway for a long weekend with a family from our home-town in Oregon was gloriously bucket-filling. And whilst there, sighing and laughing and replenishing – we learned. We experienced. We grew.

NorgeNorway is not Denmark. I know. Gross over-generalization. But as aliens having landed here in Scandi-land from a galaxy far, far away, I will admit sheepishly that we (at home) not knowing any better may or may not lump all the northern European inhabitants into a characterization of similar ilk. We don’t know yet the distinguishing characteristics and differences. But I am learning. So I will share. As Copenhagen may not = all of Denmark, nor Bergen = all of Norway, my clarification rather than Norway is not Denmark… BUT Bergen is not Copenhagen. (Duh says those of you who know.) Maybe it is an unfair comparison. Oslo may be better able to hold up for direct assessment being Norway’s Capitol replete with culture, architecture and scenery not to be missed, more akin in population, attitudes and offerings to Copenhagen. But I haven’t been to Oslo yet. I’ll revisit the comparison when I do. You can hold me to it. I have been to Bergen. In the winter.

Meeting the locals on FløyenI was told that the wintery wonderland that we landed in late Thursday night was not normal for the city streets of Bergen. The mountains that surround the fairy-tale town on all sides have frozen precipitation that paints the landscape in a broad white-stroked backdrop. Norway is the backdrop for the Disney hit Frozen you know. And Frozen’s Elsa is loosely based on (Danish) H.C. Andersen’s Snow Queen – which is chock full of trolls and magic and ICE. Norway. The sheer prevalence of references to magical creatures here makes it distinguishable from Copenhagen. Tivoli aside, they are very into fantasy here. And why not, it is fantastic here. For instance, trolls are everywhere. Peeking out windows. Hiding behind trees. Little ones in every shop for the tourists to buy. Huge ones that greet you on the mountain-top. Witches are apparently to be wary of as well. No witches hereThe myriad of signage regarding such atop Mount Fløyen, looming large above Bergen, was amusing if not confusing. Castles, tall-ships in the harbor, pointy little leaning brightly colored row houses of Bryggen, all add to the fairy-tale character of Bergen. But don’t get me wrong, don’t think that it is all sparkly rainbows and unicorns here (evidence in gallery below). The Norsk are the warriors. They are the hunters. They are the Vikings from tales of yore.

I have shared with you before how I think the Danes are hardy with their biking in the driving rain, the snain, the sleet, the snow. Naked Danish dips in the frigid Øresund only reinforce first impressions. But. Heels and furs and cocktails and Noma and the cultured cosmopolitan tendencies carried by most Copenhageners is for want here in Bergen. But, Norwegians. Wauw. Within three days my esteem for the Norsk was definitively etched. This is strong stock. Through soupy and continually precipitating ankle deep slush, troops of Norsk run in packs like wolves. They run through town and then UP mountains with skis on their backs, pulling children, carrying multiple packs or sleds. Orienteering Bergen's icy cobblestone streets

They charge full-speed down icy cobblestoned streets and passages staring at maps in a world-class orienteering challenge that was like nothing I have ever witnessed. Our hosts’ home affording a perfect vantage point for the crazy zig-zagging, looping, map-reading-while-running, barely watching where they are going, crashing down hills, nearly impaling selves on broken railings Norwegian street race. And we were able to experience it all in the safety of our own familiar. Without retribution or misunderstanding of our amusement. With a communal sense of awe at these Norwegians. Impressive. All of it.

As an Oregonian, I have often held fast to the mantra that “there is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” Turns out – it’s Norwegian in origin. Makes sense now. The Norsk hold true to the sentiment that there is “no problem that can not be solved by going outside.” I would conclude this is also a very Oregonian sentiment that I can whole-heartedly get behind. With a landscape and rugged sensibility that surrounds one in Bergen, there is a gravitational pull to experience outside. Thank you for sharing it with us friends. It is certifiable. And worthy. And fulfilling.

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Aliens in Denmark

Everyone around you is speaking a foreign language. Normal looking people – living normal looking lives – just foreign. But wait, we are the foreign ones here. Alien. Officially we are aliens in Denmark. They gave me a card showing this – it has my “biometrics” on it – no really, not only does it show my official photo, but my fingerprints are stored on a chip held within that card. We had to fly on a plane from Portland, OR to Sacramento, CA to have our “biometrics” registered with the Danish Consulate in America before we could move here.

We were also granted the special CPR number that unlocks many aspects of Danish life. They gave it to us. Without it – you can do very little here. Can’t open a bank account without it (which means you can’t get your contractually agreed upon relocation funds without it.) Difficult to sign a lease without it. Can’t get a mobile phone without it. I can rent a car, but I can’t lease a car without it. But. What we can get is free medical care with that card. We can now go to the library with that card (and they do have some books in ENGLISH). My children could go to university for FREE with that card. It’s a good card. It was quite a process to get it. No one told us the process. We may or may not have done it correctly. But we have that darn card now.

Does it make me feel less like an alien? Maybe? Minutely. I will admit that when I am out and about, I don’t speak much. Everyone speaks English perfectly enough, but only if you do first. “Hej!” Traditional Danish greeting. It is pronounced exactly the same as an American “Hi!” Be wary of using it if you want to be understood. To immediately announce oneself as a non-Danish speaker upon entering a specific establishment when greeted – you say “Hello!” not “Hej!/Hi!” This is a sure-fire clue for the purveyor to use English to ask if you need any help or assistance. I feel a sense of sheepishness for employing this entrance and absolutely do not enjoy admitting that I have no idea what they are saying. Most of the time my deer in headlights expression is clear enough for them to switch over to English. Sometimes I muster an “Engelsk?” and they flip right over. Other times I just smile and nod, smile and nod and hope I am not agreeing to something ridiculous. This tactic usually horrifies my eldest who already feels quite conspicuous as an outsider that me feigning some sort of understanding is abhorrent to him. There is a claustrophobia in my muteness and not understanding. If you know me – muteness is not my natural state and is somewhat challenging. I like to talk. Talking is therapy to me. I work through things by talking. Everyone speaks perfect English, but only if you do first.

Looking at the cup half full – muteness does afford a heightening of alternate senses. I listen. And the sounds can be deafening. I live in the city again. I have not lived in the city for twenty years when I was living in a “garden level studio apartment” on Capitol Hill in Seattle, Washington. It was nowhere near a garden. It WAS subterranean. My tiny kitchen looked out at the sidewalk and onto the bus stop. The city sounds (even the horrible brake squeals of the metro bus out my window) were my white noise. Those noises fill my window again. Fill my life again. The police cars sound different, like a European movie that I am suddenly living. The church bells tolling. Children laughing. There are not so charming sounds as well. The garbage trucks that seem to take an eternity to move down the street. The raucous young folk returning from a late evening whose peels of laughter and boisterous language seem to echo through the street bouncing between the buildings. I can’t even describe to you the level of noise on New Year’s Eve. Like Denmark had started another World War. I listen to it all. I hear.

I look. There is so much to see. My camera roll is filling up again with all the looking and seeing. This is bucket filling for me as I am very visual and love to take photographs. This is good. The light here is amazing. I will dedicate another post solely to the Nordic light alone. When there is light that is. It is winter in Denmark. I observe. I watch people. What they wear. What they buy at the grocery store. How they ride their bikes. In furs and heels and cute scarves. How they chat with their children in their cargo bikes – pedaling along. In the dark. In the rain. In the wind. In the SNOW. So much to see. I look at it all.

Riding bikes in the snow - I have seen little that stops the Danes
Riding bikes in the snow – I have seen little that stops the Danes

What I know is that I want to be a part of it all. I will use my special Alien card and sign up for those free Danish lessons. Will it help? I don’t know yet. Will time help? Probably. In the meantime – I will take my brother’s advice upon leaving Oregon – learn something every day. Get out there and experience it. I’m trying bro. I’m trying.

New Year’s Eve in Copenhagen near the Lakes