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 .