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.
We 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.
Norway 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.
I 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. The 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.
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.