May 13, 2009 § Leave a comment
So I’ve had it in my mind the last week or so that killing myself at the gym would give me the much needed sense of accomplishment I was lacking. As tiring as it was, I did find that overexerting myself in workouts made me feel better about simply sitting around and looking for jobs online for the rest of the day. Yesterday, I decided to try out the new personal trainer bike, which featured a full blown training video system with customized trainer and workouts. I completed the half hour course, which was absolutely exhausting, and trudged over to work on my weights. As I was pausing between sets a trainer ran up and asked me if I wanted to join his strength training class. I let him know about my knee surgery but said I would love to try it out. Bad choice! The class was phenomenal and I got one of best workouts I’ve had in a long time. However, the workout was too good! By the 20th minute of our leg exercises my already fatigued legs completely gave out mid-lunge. Yes, embarrassing, but I was more worried about how I was going to walk home much less go into work! My worries turned out to be correct as I woke this morning with quite possibly the most excruciating pain I’ve ever experienced shooting through every possible muscle in my lower body. I considered dosing myself with some ibuprofen in order to last the training session at work but decided against it.
I headed down to the restaurant at around 3:30 p.m. and the returning stress masked the resistance of my leg muscles to every movement. Though the sky was a bit cloudy, there were a large number of people reclining on the sofas of the restaurant. I walked up and down the harbor for a while, scanning the restaurant for people I recognized from the previous meeting. At one of the bars I spotted a guy from the interview group training as a bartender. I went down to ask him where we were meeting and he directed me to a spot further down the boat. I found my group nestled in a cove lining the outer wall of the kitchen. Rather than sitting in silence for twenty minutes, I was invited to a conversation by a Swedish girl who addressed me in English. I used the opportunity to get to know the group a bit and answer the questions they had about me. My nerves subsided quite a bit with the opportunity to communicate with the group and not simply sit and attempt to understand the conversation.
A young blonde woman arrived and began leading us on a tour of the restaurant. I was finding it really hard to understand her and grew more and more anxious about the important information I was missing through the language barrier. I tried to follow her gestures and applied my previous restaurant knowledge to this new, unfamiliar location. She led us over to a sort of computer system, one which was far less developed than what I was used to. I noted at this point that I was possibly the shortest member of the group as I struggled to see what she was explaining. Two members of the group went up and entered certain information on the system and then she asked for another member to try it out. The group parted and I found myself out in the open. I made my way up and could feel the stress burning through my skin. She said something and all I could manage to make out was the beginning of a number. I kept trying to pick-up what she was saying and was eventually rescued by a whisper from a girl from the group who stood to my right. I felt so out of place, especially since I’m normally good with computers and a quick learner.
We moved on to the beverage part of the kitchen. There was a full room of refrigerators containing every kind of glassware you could imagine and beer and wine bottles. The trainer demonstrated some act of inserting a key card into a part of the machine that enabled you to retrieve the required drink from the tap. The Swedish girl in the group leaned down to me, asked if I understood what was going on and explained it when I shook my head. We were led back to the beginning of the kitchen area. Our trainer began filling pint glasses with water and setting up 11 glasses on trays the size of a 52 inch T.V. We took turns lifting the trays and laughed at the impossibility of successfully lifting them much less being able to deliver drinks. This began the first step of our humiliating task. After gathering the energy to lift the overweight, oversized trays to our shoulders the trainer had us follow her around the entire restaurant. As we did our best to keep the trays above our shoulders while maneuvering around the unfamiliar boat all the occupants turned to watch us. I regretted not having taken the ibuprofen as my legs screamed for rest and my shoulder threatened to give out from the weight of the tray. We stopped for a break at the bar in the lounge area and the surrounding guests clapped and laughed as one of the girls spilled several of her glasses. Our trip continued back to the other end of the boat and then up a set of stairs that led to a bar area that had been transformed to look like an island: twenty foot palm trees, fake grass floor covering and bamboo fence along all the banisters. The trainer explained a bit more about the job, all of which I understood none of, and then pulled out a schedule book. The Swedish girl leaned down to tell me we were going to tell the trainer when we could work. I signed up for every day available, included May 17th, Norway’s National Independence Day and largest celebration of the year.
We finished up by returning the trays with glasses to the kitchen and picking up our uniforms from a ship docked to the side of the boat. By then the stress had subsided quite a bit and we joked around while trying on the different sizes of jackets and t-shirts. I had befriended the girls in the groups as they had helped me understand the trainer and I had helped a bit with their serving techniques. It turned out that the trainer was Swedish, which fully justified my complete inability to understand what she was saying. After exchanging numbers with one of the girls we said our goodbyes and headed home. I definitely felt more settled as I was leaving, but I have yet to survive a full shift so this feeling will be short-lived. All I can do before tomorrow is study the menu and hope for the best!
May 12, 2009 § Leave a comment
The day is bright, I’m off to the gym and I’m pretty sure I’ll have a job by the end of the day. I’m not sure it can get quite better than this! The past week has been full of rain and about twenty job denials. I have to admit that I was getting to a point where I thought that I was never going to get a job and would have to resort to something drastic. But today presents a whole new set of feelings and I am regaining my excitement for the future. According to my friend Haley, my lack of writing is known as blagging (blog lagging). Now that it has a name, I feel I have a duty to keep it up!
There are a number of differences in Norway that challenge me at least several times a week if not several times a day. The first thing I’ll bring up is the hot water temperature. Due to the extreme high expense of food you have to cook the majority, if not all, of your meals at home. We don’t have a dishwasher so we do a good amount of cleaning dishes in the sink, which is where the water comes in. I believe that in the US there is a temperature limit with the hot water furnace of 120˚ F (about 48˚ C). I never thought I would appreciate this feature until I experienced the scalding stream that emerges from the faucet when you turn it in the hot water direction. I can even determine the numerous experiences I’ve had burning my skin while washing dishes or attempting to take a shower.
The next large difference is how Norwegians love their time off! I’m not quite sure the actual reasons for it, but most shops close around 3:30 or 4:00 in the afternoon and almost everything is closed on Sunday. My cousin joked that its typical Norwegian for the whole city to shut down for the weekend, especially if the weather is good. I’m finding it hard to adjust to the need to get everything done early in the day, especially after living in L.A. where everything is open just short of 24 hours.
As long as it’s not snowing, Norwegians are outside all the time. We experienced some brief yet powerful rainstorms this week yet the amount of people walking, biking, sitting outside at cafes and riding the buses never faltered. In my experience, rain in California is treated like falling acid and avoided at all costs. I can’t remember the last time I went about my day in the rain as though nothing were different. Then I arrive in Norway, where they actually experience seasons, and find that rain fails to slow people down. On the way to the gym, as I fought my umbrella’s desire to flip inside out, I passed large groups of runners, bicyclists, moms pushing carriages and street cafe occupants, all of whom were outfitted in weather-friendly clothing yet otherwise unaware of the downpour. I’ll have to experience a real Norwegian winter before I can approach the storms with such nonchalance.
I’ve returned from what was arguably the most nerve-wracking and silently humiliating experience I’ve had in Norway and quite possibly in my life. I returned for my job callback, which turned out to be an information session with enough paperwork to essentially submit my translation skills to a full blown language marathon. After arriving at the restaurant, I was led to the back lounge where we had all waited the previous day. There I greeted the other seven people who had made in through the initial interview period. I settled in the cushions on the long sofa bench by the bar and stared out the widow while trying to pick up as much of the conversation as I could. The majority of what I picked up from the other applicants was their desire for money and wonders about whether or not this callback was confirming our employment. My pounding heart sank when the woman who came to meet us was not the same we’d had the day before. I would have to adjust my attention to understand this new woman’s demeanor and language pattern. Norwegian has so many different dialects and adding in different speech rates and personalities makes it that much harder to follow people.
We were led up to the same dining area we had filled yesterday, this time occupying a single table rather than three. The director was friendly and laid back, hair in a loose bun and wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. I had arrived, again, as the most overdressed, my hair slicked back and wearing my manager outfit. Apparently, tousled hair, torn jeans and a tank top would have sufficed. However, due to my language handicap, I felt that overdoing it in the few areas I could control would be to my benefit. Then it was off on the Norwegian roller coaster. I used every ounce of available brain power to pick up the general topics she flew over. Not only was her Norwegian extremely hard to understand, but I had such a substantial amount of stress brewing in the pit of my stomach that I was finding it hard to pay attention. We had been handed a packet with all the rules and regulations and though I tried to follow as much as I could, the vocabulary was a way out of my league. Several times she asked the group questions. Normally, I would have been the first one to answer, but in this case I only knew the answer in English and didn’t want to spotlight my linguistic limitations. The hinderance of my natural personality was icing to the increasing level of my stress. Living in a country where I don’t know the language has transformed me from a bubble of enthusiasm, energy and passion to a shy and timid observer. We ended the meeting by filling out our contracts. I had to cautiously glance at the other applicants’ papers to see exactly what I should have been filling out in each section. Luckily enough I wasn’t alone in my struggle with the contract and I was able to exchange aid with the Swedish man seated next to me. I’m still hoping that I ordered the correct amount of uniforms and that what I ordered were, in fact, uniforms. I guess I’ll see tomorrow.
Instructions were given to return the following day at four and we were released from the meeting. As soon as I emerged Christian walked up and asked, “What’s with the face?” Before I had a chance to relay the torment of the last two hours I spotted the Swedish man moseying out of the restaurant. I decided to take the opportunity to confirm the little I had understood from the meeting. It turned out that, despite the extreme similarities between Norwegian and Swedish, he had failed to understand any more than I had. I asked him whether we would be working the next day or were simply going in for training. He responded by saying that he was just going to show up at four and hope that everything went smoothly from there. I felt slightly relieved that someone was experiencing an equal degree of confusion. On the way home Christian and I stopped by the Salvation Army to look for shoes. I had gathered that we needed good tennis shoes as part of our uniform, to make it through the 9-hour shifts. The ones I use at the gym are falling apart and with Norway being as expensive as it is, Salvation Army was our only affordable option. I found some plain white vans and purchased them for about $14; they’ll have to do until I can afford some new sneakers. Coming home was an absolute blessing. I’d killed my legs at the gym in the morning and my unsettled feelings about work weren’t helping. We received a care package from my Auntie Tasha this morning and it was a saving grace! She’d included the equivalent of gold here in Norway, those things you can’t find and if you do they are too expensive to buy. Our treasure trough of peanut butter, protein bars, popcorn, nuts, tuna and celebrity magazines significantly uplifted our spirits. Nothing like reminders of home to bring you back to your happy place .
May 11, 2009 § Leave a comment
It’s been almost two weeks since I moved up to Oslo. While I enjoy finally having a place to live, I’m finding myself overwhelmed with the difficulty in finding work. Yesterday I spent another afternoon searching for work by walking around the area Grünerløkka handing out my CV to every cafe and restaurant. It was bustling with people out to soak in the sun in the parks and sidewalk cafes. Most locations informed me that they weren’t hiring any more people for the summer or that there were already too many employees who wanted more shifts. After hitting every available cafe in the area I called Nadine, since we had planned to meet up at some point. I found her at a small sidewalk table with a group of old friends, who were either pregnant or had babies with them. I introduced myself and then explained who I was and where I had come from, all in Norwegian. Her friends were extremely kind and receptive and told me that I spoke really well. I find that the body language of most Norwegians I meet grows considerably more comfortable when I express myself in Norwegian and let them know that I understand quite a bit.
After saying goodbye, Nadine and I headed towards the city center in order to look for other employment opportunities. As we were walking she asked to see my CV and immediately exclaimed when she noted that there was no picture on it. In my research of how to write a CV, I had come across an article that said you should only post your picture if you are applying for a job where looks are important, like modeling. Apparently this was wrong and Nadine explained to me that a picture would be one of my selling points. I experienced another sinking feeling as I realized that I had submitted picture-less applications to all the best cafes and restaurants in the area and most likely would not be hearing back from any of them. We ended up finding a small street cafe and I treated Nadine to a coffee for her help. Norwegians love their sun! We sat out at a small table and watched the mounds of people rolling by. It’s nice to savor the seasons this way, to hold on to every moment of sun you have, an appreciation I never had living in Southern California.
The rest of the day was relaxing and social as it took my mind off the stress of finding a job. Nadine and I headed back to her apartment where we made a fresh salad with chicken and tortillas. We then moved to the balcony with some red wine and sat with our legs propped up as we chatted and watched the sun set. I’ve been getting thrown off by how light it is here into the night. We are only in the beginning of May and it doesn’t get really dark until about 10:30 p.m. My night patterns have changed and I have been staying up really late, most likely because I am so used to going to bed a couple hours after nightfall. I can’t imagine how I will be sleeping when the summer months hit. The rest of the night was spent watching the finale of the Norwegian version of Bachelor and a couple episodes of the Heroes TV series, from a bootleg version purchased in Thailand.