Postcard: A Norway Expat
At the moment, we're in a town called Stryn. (Make a note of the spelling, 'cause it'll come in handy next time you play hangman.) We're on the edge of a fjord. I mean right on the edge - I could fish off our balcony if I had a permit. And if I had some fishing gear. And if I even remotely knew what I was doing. On the other side of our apartment is a cliff that shoots up about a quarter of a mile. If there's an avalanche, we're going to look like a taco shell stepped on by a sumo wrestler wearing ski boots.
But even in this spectacular fjord 5000 miles from the States, I don't feel so far from home. Between CNN, ER, Sex in the City, Friends, 60 minutes, Oprah - even Seinfeld and MASH reruns - America is rarely more than a few zaps away. Roughly 85 percent of Scandinavian programming is American. The biggest downside is having to continually explain to my friends here that Jerry Springer and Ricki Lake guests are not a complete representation of our demographic.
When I want to feel like I'm still in Europe I can go to the gas station. As you've probably heard, they've figured out a way to tax gas so that it's more expensive than 12-year-old Scotch. It's over $5 a gallon now. Last time I filled up, it cost me nearly $65. And that's for a tiny two-door, not a customized Humvee.
The other thing I can do to remind myself I'm in Norway is to eat American food. In the same way that pineapple often denotes a "Hawaiian" dish, corn stands for American. So, at the local restaurant here, the "American" pizza is a normal cheese pizza loaded with canned yellow corn. What's on an American sandwich? Peanut butter and jelly? Nope. Corn. Of course, we are guilty of the same thing. I'm sure Mexicans aren't exactly lining up for a Taco Bell burrito to get an authentic culinary reminder of the homeland.
But I do miss real American food, and find myself bingeing on brownies, Rice Krispy Bars, Pop Tarts, and bagels when I do return to the States. But I think the thing I miss most are the washing machines. We have a washer, but as is the case with nearly all European models, each cycle lasts longer than a national political convention. The mindset is that it takes a good hour to get clothes clean. My friends here couldn't believe it when I told them my mom's machine could do a load in 12 minutes flat. Even my European friends who have lived in the States can't believe it. I mean, they've seen loads take only 12 minutes, they just don't believe it gets the clothes clean. They think - and I'm not kidding here - that Americans are all walking around in partially washed clothes.
I may have totally clean clothes now, but I'd have a hard time expressing that in Norwegian. Norwegians speak near-perfect English, are incredibly patient and understanding when you try to speak their language, and they're quick to commend your efforts, no matter how horribly you muck up the pronunciation. Which may explain why, after nearly a year here, I'm still walking around Norway proudly conversing like a 4-year-old.
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