Surviving Winter: Part Two.

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So you can survive the long nights and darkness through proper diet and preparation (mental and physical), but what about the actual “winterness” of winter – the snow, the cold, the ice? What about those times when – much to your dismay – you need to actually leave your home and embrace the tangible and phenomenological fact you are not a hibernating animal and that you live in a cold climate that gets lots of snow (sometimes in a short period of time) – how do you manage that?

It might seem strange for those that know me well to think about me talking about surviving the cold and dark of winter. Afterall, I am frequently spotted in my neighbourhood taking the Spaniel out for her evening bathroom trip in shorts and a t-shirt, even in winter. I am a naturally warm person and wear shorts indoors almost all year because I find indoor temperatures too warm most of the time. I would rarely wear sweaters simply because I get too warm too quickly. However, I’m still no stranger to dressing for winter weather. I’ve spent time in Northern parts of the world (including Northern Quebec where temperatures were well below -25°C (-13°F)), so I claim some authority on the topic of dressing for winter, even if I find 10°C a slightly cool summer day!

1. You embrace the Norwegian attitude to weather and clothing

There is a very common saying in Norway. It is one you will hear repeated ad nauseam by children and adults alike and should really replace “Alt for Norge” (Everything for Norway) and “Enige og troe, indtil Dovre falder” (United and true until the mountains of Dovre fall) as the national motto: “Det fins ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlige klær.” (“There’s no bad weather, just bad clothing”) – it’s a mantra throughout the year, be it rain, snow, or horrible winds – and it’s true. There is no bad weather so long as you are dressed to suit the weather. Just as you don’t drive 100 km/hr on the highway in fog or torrential rain, you drive for the conditions, you should also dress for the conditions. Don’t fight the weather because it will do what it’s going to do with or without your cooperation. You just have to work with the weather. This means sometimes sacrificing fashion for function, but thanks to a lot of fantastic designers the two are not always mutually exclusive.

2. Learn to love wool…

On the topic of quality and type of clothing, there are fewer products that are as effective as wool. And at the mention of wool right now I imagine everyone’s skin is getting a little itchy and you’re having flashbacks to horribly itchy wool sweaters knitted by grandmothers world-wide. I was one of those people, but I’ve also learned that wool doesn’t have to be itchy or uncomfortable though. There are fantastic wool blends and styles that you can wear that you hardly notice they’re wool at all.

The Norwegians (along with other Scandinavian nations, like Iceland) have made wool into a fashionable style and sweater patterns like the Mariusgenser are icons of Norwegian culture and fashion.

Most importantly, wool is warm and it keeps you dry. It doesn’t absorb water like a lot of synthetic materials so it’s great for going out to do snow-filled activities. When it is very cold and I want to protect myself from wind burn or cold I layer up with wool socks, a wool sweater, and wool hat/mitts/scarf.

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Robot friend wearing a Mariusgenser and skiing

3. When it gets cold, remember that acronym you learned that one time….

The military loves acronyms, and for good reason. They help you remember things relatively easily and sometimes those things can save your life. During my six week-long survival training at Canadian Forces Base Bagotville I learned many acronyms related to survival in all sorts of environments and conditions, and one of the first I learned was: when you get cold, remember C.O.L.D.

Clean: clean clothes will help retain heat much better than dirty clothes. This is because dirt proves itself to be a poor insulator when it embeds itself between the fibers of your clothing, thus stretching them and allowing colder wind/air to breech your layers much easier. This is easy to solve with a load of laundry and avoiding unnecessary dirtiness, which admittedly is not a common problem when you’re not in a survival situation, but is a good “pro-tip” either way.

(prevent)Overheating: The sweating that results from overheating not only dehydrates you (which is just bad overall), but is also containing dirt (oils and the such) which goes against the above-mentioned “C,” and can make you feel wet (which will violate an up-coming letter). To prevent overheating you’ll need to regulate your clothing and your activity. My parents (and even the Norwegian herself) have called me crazy for shoveling snow in just a t-shirt (but with hat and mittens), but I can promise I never started shoveling like that. More often than not, I start with a jacket and a sweater (in addition to all the other typical winter gear), but as I start to work and get warm, I start to shed the layers to keep myself from getting too warm.

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No bad clothing — as the mountain trek continued, I started to shed even more layers.

Loose and Layered: Much to fashionistas’ disdain, wearing loose and layered clothing is the best way to keep warm and to prevent overheating. As with the example above, having layers to shed allows me (and you) to regulate your temperature as necessary. This ensures that you’ll neither be too cold or too warm. As for loose layers, not only is a comfort-related reason, but looser clothes allow warm air (generated from your body heat) to circulate around you and keep you warm (and if your clothing is clean, then it’ll be properly insulated so that the colder air doesn’t penetrate as well). The best set up for loose and layered clothing looks something like this: a warm set of wool underwear (longjohns). These are meant to keep moisture away from you while still keeping you warm. For this reason Wool is your best option (see below), but a high quality synthetic will also work. Your next layer is your insulation layer and are meant to keep you warm while also helping to keep moisture out. Eastern Mountain Sports has a great guide with lots of tips layering.

Your final layer is your outer layer and includes good boots, outer jackets, and hats and mittens.

Dry. The final part of COLD is dry. As mentioned above, regulating your temperature to avoid overheating and sweating is key to keeping you dry, but so is avoiding getting wet. This is where the outer shell of your clothing and good choice of material is important (as is not jumping in the north Atlantic in January, but a topic for another day, perhaps). Wool is, as mentioned above, a miracle material that keeps you warm and dry even when it is wet.

The quality of your clothing is also important, not all products are created equally (and in winter, fashion comes secondary to functionality).
4. The weather outside is frightful? Go outside anyway!

Just like the last post that helps with the psychological survival of the Norwegian winter, staying active can help you beat the winter cold. Just because the weather isn’t perfect doesn’t mean you can get out and enjoy it. Go out and participate in activities you can only do in winter. Rediscover your sense of wonder in winter. Build snowmen, go skiing, or sledding. In addition to that, any sort of physical activity (be it indoors or outdoors) will make you feel better which will help push away the winter cold.

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Or snow creatures like these two fellas.

5. Find your inner summer – embrace the Norwegian sense of koselig

For all my discussion about getting out and enjoying the weather – about clothing, and layering, and wool – sometimes you just need to stay inside and embrace the other Norwegian winter tradition: “kose seg inn/hjemme” (cozy night in/at home).

Loosely defined koselig means cozy or nice, but this word is not an easy one to pin down or define. Some things can be koselig in some situations while in others they are just strange (see my discussion on BBQ and Norway). In winter when you go cross country skiing you bring an orange, something to cook on a fire/grill and when you reach your destination you sit outside, soak up any sun that might be out and enjoy your winter bbq. This is something most Norwegians would find koselig. Remove the skis from that situation and suddenly you’ve got something that most would find not so koselig.

It takes a person about a year and a half to get a good handle on the meaning and practice of koselig, but what I’ve gathered in this time are tealights, wool blankets, good food, fires (in the fire place that is), and/or good company comprise the essentials of koselig. I have yet to determine if it is possible to overdose on koselig, but what I can say is the more of it you have in winter the better you will fare those long, dark, cold months.

Good luck and stay warm!

Surviving the Norwegian Winter. Part 1

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This blog has been in the works for some time now. Every since the first “I don’t know how you manage” comment (see below), I’ve been working on a post to on how to survive the Norwegian winter nights. My most recent push to write this comes from a recent post on Fit is a Feminist Issue, and a previous post of mine on embracing the Norwegian night.

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“Eternal Light and/or Eternal Night”  Some seasonally-inspired graffiti in Vardø, Norway. By Steve Powers (aka ESPO). Photo by me.

When friends/family in Canada discover what my winter days are like, their reaction is to either ask: “how do you do it?” or to comment: “I couldn’t do that.” But all things considered, it’s much easier than one might suspect. As is evident by my previous posts, I actually kind of enjoy the winter night.

Of course there are some physiological drawbacks to living so far north/without sufficient sunlight. Norwegians and other northerners are often deficient in Vitamin D. This can result in a sluggishness, or a desire to curl up under your duvet and never leave the warmth and comfort of your warm, soft bed. As far as I’m concerned, both of these are perfectly appropriate in small doses. Who doesn’t have a day where getting out of bed is the hardest thing to do, or where you choose to do absolutely nothing except eat cookies and watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer marathon on netflix? It’s when these are prolonged that there’s a more serious problem. (Note: there are other, far more serious side effects to deficiency of Vit.D; however, I am not one to talk about those. Consult a medical professional if you’re concerned).

Learning to survive the Norwegian winter nights is not just about learning to overcome the the physical effects that come from a lack of daylight, but also learning to overcome the psychological ones as well.

Living 3° south of the circle means the sun barely lifts itself off the horizon in winter. That translates into very few hours of direct sunlight between November and March. But I’m lucky – north of that circle and it’s mostly twilight or very minimal daylight. Tromsø, Norway gets 60 Polar Nights (no sun at all only a blue twilight). A lot of making it through the long nights and minimal sunshine is controlling your state of mind, being prepared, mentally, for the winter months, and having some self-awareness of your needs.

1. Embrace and seek out the positives in the extremes.

This is all about your mentality going into the winter season. Trying to shape your mentality by being positive is a good skill to have. I try to seek out all the awesome benefits that living in Norway (with its extremes in daylight) provide me. For example, with all the darkness here, I get to see stars almost the whole day (so long as it’s not cloudy). I spend those cool clear “nights” watching the skies for aurora activity, meteors /meteor showers (there’s usually one a month every month, and some of the best ones are in the winter. In December it’s the Geminids and it gave a spectacular showing, and in January it’s Quadrantids).

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I also like the calmness that comes with the winter nights and I know I am not alone among my Nordic peoples. Many people enjoy the time to refresh and relax after a long and busy summer. Winter and those long nights are a time to light some fires and candles (see: the eternal quest for Koselig on the fantastic blog A Frog In the Fjord).

2. Get out and enjoy winter and darkness anyway.

This is a double whammy of physical and psychological. Psychologically, getting out and getting active makes you forget about the fact the sun went down at 2pm. Physically, getting out and being active means you are releasing delicious endorphins which everyone loves. Both of these will not only affect your mood, but will better your chances of surviving that long winter (no matter which line of parallel you find yourself living on).

Just because the weather is bad, and the sky is dark, and you haven’t seen in the sun in days, doesn’t mean there isn’t a world of wonder out there to enjoy. Go find fun out-door winter activities. I like ice skating because part of me still wants to put on my hockey jersey, grab a stick and pretend I’m playing for the Canadian women’s national hockey team in the gold medal game against the USA. I’m sure at some point the Norwegian will get me on skis and I’ll figure out whether I have what it takes to be a Norwegian badass (lite – ski jumping is not in the cards).

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One winter activity I am looking forward to at some point is heading to Lillehammer’s Olympic Park where you can try out their bobsleigh/skeleton track. One day (hopefully in the relatively near future) I am going to go to Lillehammer, and sign up for the taxibob, which is where, with an experience bobsled driver, I get to hurl myself down the track at 120 km/hr, experience 5G force, and say that I’ve been bobsledding! (Bucketlist goal).

Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean the walks with the dog stop either. The Spaniel loves the snow and doesn’t really notice the lack of sunlight. We go out and play frequently. I’ll throw snow balls and watch her dig for them after they’ve fallen to the ground. She runs around, bounding through the deep snow until she’s tired out and ready to cuddle up under a wool blanket. Her love of snow makes me want to get out and play in it. I become a little kid again. Last winter the Norwegian, Spaniel, and I went sledding down a hill near our apartment. It was a lot of fun (and good exercise running up the hill to go again).

3. The importance of a proper diet.

This point addresses some of the physical effects of shorter days and is one that you can be prepared for in advance. A good diet is important all year round for your own health and well-being, but perhaps more so in winter where you’re likely to have the draws of sluggishness combined with holiday eating. A good winter diet will also be rich in vitamin D (the happy vitamin). You normally can get it from the sun, but when you don’t see the sun (and there’s certainly debate on whether you should get it from sunbeds), you get it from supplements and food.

In Norway this means fish, and lots of it. I was never a huge fan of fish, but learned that I was eating the wrong fish (I like salt-water fish, not the lake fish that was common when I was growing up). The good news for me, my favourite fish are full of delicious vitamin D (salmon, mackerel, trout, herring) and a great way to up my happy vitamin intake. Orange Juice and Milk are also enriched with vitamin D and are a good idea to get at least every now and then in winter. A little research, a little reading, and a little prep work will help you to feel better throughout the winter.

Now anyone who has lived in a northern nations knows that eating locally in the summer is delightful. Strawberries are the summer-time pride of Norway and are some of the best strawberries I have ever eaten. (Truly, North Americans, you do not know what you’re missing). But eating fresh, locally-grown produce post-October is difficult in Norway. So if you’re going to buy out-of-area produce, I sometimes like to go tropical. This is more psychological than anything else, but eating a pineapple in the middle of winter makes me think of delightful sandy beaches and 25° weather (and hey, where they grow, pineapples are in season during my winter!). I might be alone in this, but I find it helpful to my mentality.

4. Get out with friends or family or the dog

Don’t underestimate the restorative value of companionship. Getting out and being around people is a major psychological benefit. I think there’s a general tendency towards hiding yourself away in winter and waiting for the time it doesn’t take as much effort to go outside. But getting all dressed up in your winter gear and heading down to a local coffee shop/ pub/ restaurant to hang out with people is a great way to beat the dark, winter blues. That is to say, do (almost) all of the things you would do in summer, just do it with more clothes on.

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I find that I rarely commiserate about the lack of daylight. Every now and then I’ll mention something off-handedly to the Norwegian, but it’s not something we really talk about. It’s just a fact of life and instead we tend to focus on all the fun we do during the season (who went on a skitur, who is going to hytta over new years, who wants to build a snowman in the park later).

I also believe there is a sense of comradery that comes from passing by someone in the dead of night (so, you know at 4pm) during a snow storm. You might not say anything to them, but there is a common acknowledgement, a kind of “we’re surviving this together” feeling. In short, you just don’t let it get you down; you enjoy regular activities and seek out company knowing that, like that stranger you passed in the street, you are surviving together, and that soon the summer will come with its first Utepils followed by endless daylight and bar-b-ques.

5. Go to syden. Literally go south.

Sometimes you just can’t fight it and you jet-set off to somewhere warm, somewhere south — syden (for what the helvete is Syden, see the Frog in the Fjord blog). Since we’ve already determined that it’s just about the same amount of money to go out for dinner as it is to get a flight to Spain, some people just abandon Norway for a week or so to soak up the sun utland (out of country). Of course not everyone can afford this (financially or otherwise), but for many Norwegians it is a very viable solution to a yearly problem, and cheap trips are frequent and affordable for the average Norwegian.

For me, this year, I’ll be heading to Toronto, Ontario, Canada to defend my thesis in January, and so my trip is technically “syden,” and while it is more “business” than pleasure, it’s still syden and utland, and so it counts, right?!. Although most S.Ontario folk will also quietly curse their lack of daylight, I can be happy in the fact that Toronto, Ontario definitely gets more sunlight than Trondheim; I plan on soaking up as much of it as possible.

On learning a new language: 7 awesome reasons to learn a new language.

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I’ve done some talking about the difficulties of learning a new language. I’ve talked about the frustration of not understanding the people around me, about being misunderstood when I try to speak Norwegian, and the anger I feel at myself when I cannot say what I want/need to. Now I thought it would be a good idea (and some encouragement) to talk about some of the great things that comes from learning a new language.

1. Life-long learning is awesome and there are lots of fantastic studies that show learning languages helps keep your brain young and healthy. Many studies have shown that learning a second language can help delay the onset of diseases like Alzheimer. Learning a second language also helps you multi-task better, you become a better listener, and have increased memory.

2. You can be understood by people of other cultures. Specifically with the Scandi languages, you learn one you become pretty understandable in the others. By learning Norwegian I can sort of understand the Swedes and Danes (it’s easier to read Danish than Swedish, but I can still do it mostly). This helps your job prospects in Norway/Sweden/Denmark, but it can also help you abroad working with translations for the foreign press, working for international companies or embassies.

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A Norwegian, A Sweden, and a Dane meet on a mountain… Norwegian robot on the left, Swedish Robot on the right, and a Danish robot dog in the middle. (no offense to any Danes who may read this, I just couldn’t fit another full-sized robot).

3. Learning a new language helps you understand your own language. Most people never learn formal grammar rules in their own language, but when you learn a new language you start to understand the formal rules of your native language.

4. I have a new language to supplement my English vocabulary. It might not be the best use of a new language (or any language), but now I can swear in two languages! And Norwegians, especially those from the North, are known to be particularly creative in their vulgar vocabulary (heck, they even have swearing championships!). More than just swear words, however, Norwegian provides some interesting words to accentuate my English vocabulary by providing words where there are no suitable English equivalents. Such examples include pålegg — literally anything you can put on a sandwich. Google translates it as “topping” but this really doesn’t do justice to the many uses of pålegg. Almost anything can be pålegg. Others include utepils (literally: the first beer you drink outside (after the long, dark, cold winter)) and drittvær (literally: shit weather which we have that expression in English, but they are not conveniently put into one concise, useful word!).

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5. I also have a new language to read wikipedia articles in. This is useful when there just isn’t enough information in your native language (and google translate is horrible sometimes).

6. I am shy to speak around native Norwegian speakers. I get self-conscious about what I am saying and how I’m saying it. Some people say the best way to talk like you’re fluent (even when you’re not) is when you’re drunk; however, I am never more fluent than when I am travelling. When I travel I speak a lot of Norwegian with the Norwegian. It’s like having a nifty code-language to speak to someone in (note to self: does not work when travelling to other Scandinavian countries). There were entire days travelling outside Norway where I never spoke English. Not only is it good practice, but I feel less shy about speaking where I’m less likely to be understood. Codes are fun — they don’t know what you’re saying and as an extra added bonus, they also don’t know how poorly you’re saying it.

7. Finally, learning a new language means you get creative in how you speak. Many of the strange words/phrases I’ve come up with in Norwegian are hilarious and yet useful. Since I never remember the Norwegian word for curtains, I call them window blankets (“vindu teppe”). It often makes me wonder why we don’t call them window blankets to begin with! Along the same vein, you suddenly start speaking in a hybrid of the two languages. I often replace common English words with Norwegian words. I say “Norwegian, can you hent me that ting over there” (hent = fetch/retrieve, and ting = thing).

Every time I become frustrated with my progress, I just remember that the rewards for learning a new language far outweigh the difficulties. It offers me the possibilities of being understood better  by my family and friends in Norway, significant benefits to brain health, and a sense of pride/achievement when I finally can speak and understand without needing to look for a quick translation. I look forward to that moment.

Stages of Culture Shock: Reverse Culture Shock

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I realize I didn’t finish my series on reverse culture shock. This was sort of intentional. Firstly, I was waiting until I finished writing/editing/re-writing/re-editing my thesis (finished – yay!), but also because the final stage of culture shock has a lot to do with what happens after I finished my thesis: I return “home” to Canada and have an oral exam (the defense).

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You see, the final stage of culture shock is actually a reversal of the original culture shock. It is an aftershock of your original unsettlement. Reverse culture shock comes as a surprise to almost everyone because it happens in that moment you return to your original home and feel out of place where you would normally feel in place. Sometimes the biggest surprise is not with you who is returning to your place of origin, but to those people around you. I’ll return to this in a moment.

Perhaps the biggest change was the expected feeling I was suppose to have when I returned to Canada: an expected feeling of being at home. It wasn’t home. It was familiar, it made logical sense, I could find my way around the cities without issue, speak to the people understand the cultural codes and norms (even threw in a few unintended “eh’s”), but it wasn’t home and my times visiting were met with a feeling of unsettlement that I had first experienced when I moved to Norway. I can’t say I was surprised by this. I had settled and felt very at home in Norway. I viewed my travel as “going to Canada (for a visit).” But not everyone else shared that view.

As I said above, however, sometimes it’s not surprising the way you feel, it’s surprising how everyone else responds to your return. I may have seen it as a visit, but a lot of people in Canada referred to it as “coming home” and acted as if I was “home.” It is hard to articulate how this feels – the expectations of others that you feel “home” while you feel unsettled. All I can say is that this failed to jive with my feelings of being in Canada.

Now, as with the other stages of culture shock, not everyone will feel completely unsettled in their return, in fact, like all the other stages of culture shock, it’ll present itself differently for each person.

The first time I returned to Canada, I had not been out of the country long, but still I noticed my perspectives and experiences had changed. The two biggest changes were in driving and shopping.

The driving one is quite simple: my style of driving had changed. For starters, I wasn’t use to high speeds of driving. In Norway the fastest you can drive most of the time is 80km/h. You don’t go over the speed limit in Norway for very, very good reasons primarily related to the weather and narrow roads (but the roads in Norway are another driving challenge that helps keep speeds down except for the truly reckless).

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All of these images were taken from a local news paper on the same day. Images acquired from adressa.no.

Driving in Canada that first time back (in winter), I was overwhelmed with the speed. Driving home from the airport my parents were driving significantly over 100km/h at one point (side note: the speed limit is only 100km/h, but it is very common to drive over that limit). I also found that when I drove around, I drove as if I was in Norway, not Canada. I rarely drove the city speed limit (50/60 km/h) and instead was hovering somewhere around 45 (40-50 is a common speed in cities). I was also preparing for a speed bump every 20 meters. All this is to say, the drivers behind me were very angry with my slow and (excessive) cautious driving around the city.

The second was a little more unusual for me. I miss the selection in Canadian stores – especially large chain grocery stores. I love that there are 18 types of BBQ sauce for me to choose from because sometimes you want a Kansas City style and sometimes you want a Louisiana style. I love that the selection of cereals spans almost an entire aisle and runs the gamut of healthy to sugar. But when I returned that first time, my eating habits had changed slightly (and significantly my subsequent returns). I was looking for items Canada didn’t have (or that I found outrageously expensive – and I’m living in one of the most expensive countries in the world). The selection was there, just not the selection I was use to. For example, I craved brunost and jam, but couldn’t find brunost.

My perspectives on the world have changed. I wouldn’t say drastically, but there are several noticeable differences. It’s a quasi-common quip that to many North Americans going out to dinner is a semi-occasional occurrence while travelling (abroad) is a luxury, but to many Norwegians it is the reverse. It is not uncommon for a meal out with the Norwegian to be around the 500-700 kr range ($80-$120 cdn). You can get a plane ticket on sale for that price, and a return trip for around 1200* (*if you find them on sale. The average European, major-destination price seems to fall in the 2000-2500 nok range). Two dinners out and you’ll be able to take yourself and a friend to Barcelona, Spain (where things like eating out are ridiculously cheap compared to “back home”).

Now, while I don’t necessarily see travel as an “every day” non-luxury thing (for many ecological, economical, and other well-thought-out reasons), I do see the point. It’s better to stay home and not eat out than it is to eat out and blow half of your travel fund on a single meal.

Reverse culture shock makes you realize how much you change in a short amount of time. How your life experiences shape who you are and how you act. The Norwegian has quipped more than once that I am becoming “more Norwegian.” Other European friends have made similar quips about becoming more European. It is in returning to Canada for a visit that I realize just how much these comments are true.

My point to all of this is this: living in a different country, leaving your own culture, fundamentally changes you in some (but not all) ways. You learn to see the world different, you come to expect certain things and do things a certain way. And all the while the world you left – your home country – moves on. It also changes. Just look at all those Norwegian Americans/Canadians who still speak “Norwegian” but it is an old, unused version of the language. They eat “Norwegian food” that their grandparents (or greatgrand parents) ate, but those are not as common place now. Both worlds change and the resulting confusion, unsettlement, is reverse culture shock.

Commercials in Norway: an introduction to Norwegian humour.

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I’ve had to become accustomed to a world of different experiences since moving to Norway. The extremes in daylight/darkness, waiting for shows I’m watching to premier in Norway (even though they’ve already aired – weeks ago! – in North America), the lack of hockey on TV (except for the new show Iskrigene (literally translated as: the ice wars)). One thing I’ve needed to grow accustomed to is the oddity of Norwegian broadcasting: specifically timing.

Timing doesn’t seem to be Norwegian broadcasters’ strong suit. Take commercials for example. Now commercials are, by and large, an annoying interruption to a show I’m likely enjoying. This is not unique to Norway. In fact, despite what Norwegians might think, they actually have fewer commercials than Canada does. This is evident by the awkward places that the broadcasters decide to put the commercials.

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Oh, something intense is about to happen… let’s just interrupt with 3 commercials about the show you’re watching followed by 5 commercials about cheese….

There are often pauses in television programs where the North American programs are edited for commercial breaks, but the Norwegian channel has decided to not use that opportunity to air. What you realize is that the number of commercials breaks are far fewer than these North American programs are edited to allow. This is great, but often these come at strange moments to take a break (in the middle of a character confessing a murder, for example).

If you must suffer through awkwardly placed commercials, then you can at least rest at ease that many of Norway’s commercials are hilarious to watch. The very creative commercials I’ve encountered in my time here have helped me to understand Norwegian humour a little better. I don’t know that I’ve ever laughed as much at commercials than I have in Norway. Tina – a primarily dairy company responsible for all the delicious sour creams, milks, cheese, and ice creams that I eat – has got to have the best marketing department.

Mr. Melk was a series of commercials with this ridiculously muscled man encouraging us to drink milk by juggling ping-pong balls on his abs,

Or walking up a wall.

Tina has also capitalized on popularity of “goat versions.” In this commercial for goat cheese, we see majestic, beautiful Norway, with a noble looking goat who, perched on top of a mountain, sings of the greatness of goat cheese.

And what Norwegian (or person who has watched Norwegian TV) forgets the “ost er ost” advertisement campaign from Jarlsberg cheese? In this series of four a wife/girlfriend comes home from shopping and the man asks “did you buy Jarlsberg” and the woman says: “no, cheese is cheese” and then the man decides that since cheese is cheese that obvious “dog is dog”; “colour is colour”; and “man is man”

Then there’s this one from Netcom (telecommunications company) which actually made me cry when I saw this going to the movies with the Norwegian (they took senior-citizens to the movies!!!)

Not all telephone commercials need to make you cry, however. Some of the commercials are event inventive and instructive. For example, this one that reveals the perils of pocket dialing.

So if the television programs are going to be interrupted in strange and frustrating ways, at least the commercials are top quality. There truly are some creative people in the advertisement departments scattered around this country, but can you really be surprised, we’re talking about a country of people who are actually quite funny if you can crack their tough outer shell of shyness.

Life with a dog.

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I’ve been meaning to blog about my dog (the Goose) for quite some time now. I’ll admit she isn’t the most obedient (unless I have a squeak toy) and she isn’t the best trained dog on the planet. She’s never pulled me from a burning building, found a lost child, or performed a medical miracle on me or anyone else. She can be gross (drive-by farting), annoying (she’s like a cat sometimes), or just frustrating (“you have 10 tennis balls all over the floor, but you want the one that is on the shelf?!?!!”). Despite of (or because of) all of this, she is by far the best dog on the planet.

I got her as a puppy in 2008 and she has been with me ever since (minus a 2 year stretch). And she has, without a doubt, been one of the biggest factors in making my life better. I’d like to highlight some of the things my tiny cocker spaniel has taught me.

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Every car has a cat under it!

She loves cats – she was partially raised by a cat when the other dogs wouldn’t play with her because she was an energetic puppy – and mostly just wants to play with them and lick their ears. So the one time she found a cat under the car, she began to associate all “under the car” with hidden cats. It’s like a strange game. She pulls towards the cars, lowers her head a little and looks under. Sometimes I see a wag of her little tail (there IS a cat!), but most of the time she just moves on and waits for the next opportunity to make a new friend!

It doesn’t matter to her how many times she’s disappointed (at the lack of cat), each new car presents a new opportunity. How many times we get disappointed by something and never try it again? I try to see every new experience, every “car” as a new opportunity. It doesn’t always work; sometimes I’m disappointed, sometimes my human side (and my human pessimism) gets the better of me, but that’s just sometimes. It has changed how I see the world, how I treat the world, and how I respond to new experiences.

Every walk is a new adventure.

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Almost every day the goose goes out on a walk (Norwegian shitvær need not apply). Most of the time we do the same route (more or less). I like following a few set routes because I know exactly how long they will take (and can thus plan the rest of my day accordingly), and because I know what it takes to make her satisfactorily tired. Sometimes we go on a longer adventure – I have extra time, or it’s an extra nice day and so I shake it up, maybe head down to the fjord and follow a very scenic walking route. Sometimes we even make special trips to go somewhere new with the dog (those are my favourite. It might seem strange to non-dog people to plan a day around a dog, but it’s not, and here’s why): No matter where we go, how long we go, or what the season/weather is like, every time we go it is a new adventure for her.

There is always something new to see, new experiences to have, new people to fuss over, new dogs to play with, new smells, new opportunities and she enjoys it. It’s not some boring walk for her – something that she needs to do so at her Doctor doesn’t tell her to lose weight (Vet’s are like that. They poke ribs and then say someone’s getting a little chunky/hefty/other euphemism for overweight here. Imagine if human doctors did that!). A walk is an adventure. This spirit of adventure has encouraged me to also view them as adventure. While I still stick to my same set routes most of the time, I’m also more open to trying new routes or occasionally, letting her pick the way we go (side note: that inevitably led to the fjord because she wanted to go swimming. She always wants to swim). Those walks are one thing I constantly look forward to. I get to explore this beautiful city, get exercise, and enjoy time with the best dog and the Norwegian (when she’s home). Tied to this is:

Saying “Yes” to adventures keeps you young.

My awesome aurora-hunting pal and best fur buddy. This was taken a year ago and it was amazing that I could get her to sit still for a long exposure.

My awesome aurora-hunting pal and best fur buddy. This was taken a year ago and it was amazing that I could get her to sit still for a long exposure.

A few weeks ago during the predicted CME/Northern Lights display, I planned my day accordingly. I charged my camera, I packed my bag with an extra sweater, a flashlight, reflective items (a staple this time of year in Norway), and a small tripod. I took the dog for a walk when I normally did, came home we ate dinner (not the same dinner mind you, but we both ate), and when the time came, I got my stuff ready to go out. As I was heading to the door my little dog followed me. I put on my shoes, sweater, and back pack, and she looked at me with wistful eyes. It’s not that I didn’t want to take her, I hadn’t decided one way or another. But as I reached towards her leash and she whimpered a little (the “yes, I want that” whimper. There are many stages of whimper) and wagged her tail. If she was game to go, who was I to stop her! So on with the reflective gear for her, and off we went.

The goose’s eagerness was not diminished by her previous walk. She wasn’t too tired for an adventure or to hang out with me (I’m assuming I’m one of her “best buds” being the one who feeds her and all). To her, there was only one option that night – join me on my quest for some photos of the northern lights. The walk didn’t benefit her much – she already had a walk; it was closer to bedtime than “going out” time – but she came anyway, and gave me some pleasant company in the process. She wanted to hang out with me. She is still relatively young (6 years) and I know there will likely come a time when she will be too tired to join me. But right now she views life with puppy-like enthusiasm, and that is something to be admired.

There is no yesterday, there is no tomorrow.

A few weeks ago an aggressive dog was in a near-by park off leash. It took seconds before this dog charged at the Goose (who was on leash); she yelped, did some version of doggy judo, and then stood her ground/barked at the other dog. She was okay after the attack. Of course both the Norwegian and I were angry beyond words. We were most angry that the owners (who knew their dog was aggressive) had it off leash and didn’t try to prevent or rein in their dog after the fact. They also didn’t say a word to us (no I’m sorry, no “is your dog okay”). We had words for them, mine were a little more expletive-filled than the Norwegian’s. The Goose was initially shaken at first (and I did what I knew to do, which is not touch her/bother her in a state of fear/anxiety/anger since it will only reinforce that behaviour. I made sure she was okay and checked her after she and I calmed down – though she did a much better job than I did). I fumed the entire walk. After the initial shock, however, the Goose just continued on with her happy-go-lucky way. She didn’t let it bother her or affect her walk past that single moment.

We all know those live life to the fullest things. We see theme in motivational posters, memes, optimistic emails and social media posts. It’s a cliché and it’s a cliché for a reason. We only get one chance and we might as well do with it the best we can and enjoy it as much as we can. This is no more evident than in a dog. Every day, every car, every walk is a new opportunity. Every opportunity is just one single moment. Whether you agree with his methodology or not, Caesar Millan has it right: dogs live in the now. They don’t care about yesterday, they’re not worrying about tomorrow. Life is right now. That is important to learn. Human’s are, by our nature, concerned with the past and the future, but it is important for us to pay attention to the fact that it is RIGHT NOW that we are living. Sometimes it’s good to just be in the moment.

Holding grudges only affects you, not anyone else.

Back up to that aggressive dog for a second. A few days later, I ran into that dog again. This time, happily, it was on leash. It took the owner’s entire body to hold it back from chasing after Goose, but there was no incident. Lucy saw the dog and the other dog saw her (and clearly recognized her), but Lucy didn’t react. She wagged her tail at first, then when the dog displayed aggressive behaviour, she just ignored him. She didn’t hold a grudge. What happened had happened and she didn’t care about that at the moment.

I, on the other hand, knew that dog and immediately felt my previous anger. I held a grudge. (Side note: I don’t blame the dog, I blame the owner. I do not buy that “aggressive” breed malarky, specifically because I’ve met far too many aggressive dogs of all shapes and sizes and I’ve met many “aggressive breeds” who have been the sweetest, kindest dogs. I blame the owners and their failure to properly train and socialize their dog). I didn’t hold on to it long. I drew inspiration from the Goose to just be neutral and not react. Our calmness and “avoidance” of the other dog was a way for me to let go of the grudge and treat each situation as a new opportunity (like the cats under cars). I was still vigilant for both Goose’s and my own safety, but only as much as I would be under normal circumstances. I’m supposed to be the “calm assertive pack leader” – the goose’s attitude helps me to be that.

Every toy is a joy!

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Her favourite toys are balls. I secretly wanted a frisbee dog because they seem so fun and cool, but I’m not disappointed with her love of balls. It doesn’t matter their size, though tennis balls are best. Nothing could make her happier (unless the tennis ball squeaks. Squeaking things > non-squeaking things). She gets a very pure sense of joy out of playing with a ball – she loves it even more when I play keep away and I chase her around while she keeps the ball away from me. All I have to do is say “Immagetchoo” (I’m going to get you) and she does this hoppy run, play growl and then she’s off. It’s such a simple thing, but it makes her very happy. She gets such pleasure from playing with a ball. She loves when she gets “new” balls (even if it’s just an old ball she hasn’t seen in a while).

I am a pretty simple person. It doesn’t take much to make me happy, but sometimes the Goose reminds me to take stock in the simpler things – walks, swimming, tennis balls, kibbles.

You don’t always need to talk to have a conversation.

Sometimes I wish I could speak “dog” to her and have complex conversations about her thoughts, wishes, feelings, and dreams (I want to know what she’s dreaming about, damnit!), but we can’t do that. We may not speak the same language, but we have conversations with each other every day. Hers usually revolve around a desire to eat, go under the wool blankets, or go for a walk. Mine are a little more complex. I often sit down and have full conversations with the Goose. She is one of the best people to talk to (the Norwegian is also a great conversationalist). She listens to me and doesn’t ever pass judgement on me, my thoughts, or ideas.

She is the epitome of unconditional love

Dogs love unconditionally. The Goose loves me just because. Sometimes you just need that in your life. She can read when I’m sad/worried and she comes over to show her version of affection whether I wanted her to or not (this often involves a very cat-like imposition into my space and then a very dog-like licking of my face). She doesn’t do it because I have opposable thumbs and control the kibble box. She doesn’t do it because she wants a walk. She doesn’t care if I’m rich or poor, intelligent or not, have advanced graduate degrees or not. She does it because we have a bond and that bond means the world to her (and to me!).

A brief (Norwegian) history of ski jumping, skateboarding, and the emergence of the Norwegian badass!

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“All we did in the winter was homework and ski jumping” an older man from nearby Orkanger reminisced to me. “You had to build your own ski jumps. We didn’t have much downhill skiing then because you had to prepare your own hills. Nowadays, all the young people have the hills prepared for them. to start ski jumping, you must go up to the Bymarka park to the different levels of ski jumps. Back then, you just went down the jumps; it was natural. Some kids were afraid, though. Maybe they didn’t jump because it was always dark. Then they didn’t have anything to do in the winter except for study.”
I asked if he still jumped. “Well, I stopped when I broke my pelvis. Now I have an artificial hip. Most people don’t hurt themselves too badly, though. They usually stop when they are about thirty years old and have a wife and child and can’t risk it anymore. It’s not really dangerous at all, though,” he insisted as he limped away – In Cod We Trust pg 135

Norwegians love skiing. They truly love all sports that involve wooden planks attached to your feet being used as a form of snow-related transportation. Cross-country skiing is nearly a religion here. My first winter in Norway there was a cross country event of sorts (I’m not sure if it was championships or if it was a “regular” event), but people were glued to the tv, watching with baited breath for the winner. When I looked, I saw one skiier trekking on by after another. I didn’t really understand the whole tension and excitement over the event (I still don’t find it particularly exciting).

One of the many planks-and-snow sports that Norwegians love is ski jumping. The reference to Bymarka in the quotation above is right in my city. I see the city’s ski jump frequently. It’s very tall from this Canuck’s perspective (which is safely at the bottom of that hill).

Ski jumping was invented in Norway. One of the many Norwegian badasses decided to launch himself nearly 10 meters into the air to show how badass he truly was. From that point on Norwegians embraced this sport with open arms (angled-behind you, as you flew through the air). Fridtjof Nansen (who is the ultimate badass) was also a fan of ski jumping (until he found something even more life-threatening to do instead). It is as if all the other hazards of the Norwegian landscape are not enough (rough seas; tall mountains; bears and moose, driving on Norwegian roads and highways), they had to invent ways to use their landscape to create even more opportunities to face death in order to swear like a Nordlander while giving it the finger.

Now, let’s think about this for a second.

Norwegians young and old can strap themselves onto giant planks of wood, trek up a huge hill comprised mostly of ice and, hurl themselves down the aforementioned hill where they will launch themselves off a ramp which will propel them several meters into the air, travelling a speeds exceeding 90km/h (60mph – and for those keeping score, that’s faster than you can drive on most highways in Norway), before attempting a graceful and elegant landing on the snow-covered ground below. We’re talking about a sport that up until very recently excluded women from Olympic ski jumping competitions because of the perceived danger to our internal organs?!? These claims are obviously ridiculous, but their fears were that the impact of the landing could jostle our fragile internal organs. (First of all, if ski jumping has the potential to jostle my uterus/internal organs, then it can certainly jostle a man’s internal organs. Their logic seems to be that my uterus is more important than a man’s internal organs (or his dangly bits)? What if a man jostled (or dislodged — as it was argued) his kidney? C’mon, that’s just sexism through and through! Men were allowed to hurl themselves off a giant hill, but us women folk couldn’t? Hundreds of Norwegian women badasses around the country had been denied their opportunity to prove their fearlessness in the face of high speeds and higher jumps. Glad they got it together. Second of all, how on earth was that used as a justification for so long!?? I digress)…. Despite all of this hurling, plummeting, badass-ness of the majority of the Norwegian population…Norwegians couldn’t skateboard?

skateboarding in Norway

thanks to google for finding me this article.

This was something that The Norwegian and I spoke about one night and I was in a state of utter disbelief to learn that skateboarding had been illegal in Norway for 11 years (between 1978 and 1989); in fact, Norway was the only country in the world to ban skateboarding. At that time, owning, buying, selling, and/or using a skateboard was illegal. To “stick it to the man” and skateboard anyway, Norwegians came up with pretty inventive ways to skateboard without getting caught. For example, Norwegian skaters built ramps in the forests and secluded areas to avoid police. This, in turn, led to some pretty fearless skaters – not just fearless of the police, but also in their skills/stunts. Probably because as children they got their start flinging themselves off ski jumps!

As that news paper article suggests, the major reason for the ban was out of concern for children’s (and the general public’s) safety. Yet, downhill skiing was a perfectly appropriate winter activity for Norwegians of all ages! I am all for the protection of children. I think it’s a noble cause to protect children form unnecessary harm. But here’s the catch, if you’re willing to let children launch themselves on wooden planks down a giant hill that will force that person to fly only before the laws of gravity ensure their timely plummet to the ground, then what is the issue with skating down a sidewalk (besides the fact that Norwegian sidewalks are death traps in their own right – but that’s a topic for another time).

The average cruising speed of a skateboard is around 10km/h (8mph) to about 40km/h (25mph) (depending on board, skating surface, weight, height, velocity and all those other mathy things that I can’t solve because I have advanced degrees in pretty words and pictures and not math). Perhaps it’s because flinging yourself down a ski jump doesn’t (often) harm other people, only yourself, but I’m curious how many (exactly) non-skater injuries really occur.

Now I’m not saying ski jumping is dangerous (any more so than other extreme sports: speed skating, bobsleigh, race car driving, trying to walk in a city like Athens), but if ski jumping was a-okay, then why, oh why, was skateboarding seen as a particularly dangerous/bad sport? Happily, Norway has changed its views on this and now in the summer time for those few precious months where there’s no snow, I see skateboarders and roller skiers alike cruising on the precarious Norwegian sidewalks. Whether it’s hurling themselves off hills, cross-country skiing across a barren landscape just ’cause they can, sailing across the pacific ocean on a precarious looking raft, or just mountain climbing because you had a few hours off, one thing is for certain, Norway is largely a country of badasses!

Postscript: Four months after I wrote this blog post it exploded in popularity (compared to my other posts). This is now, by far, my most popular post. I can’t really understand the explosion in popularity (do you have a quiz on Norwegian badasses?), but who ever you are random visitors, hopefully you’ve enjoyed the post.