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When in Norway, try to fit in with the locals

Posted on August 29, 2011
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If there is one thing I learned on a recent trip to Europe — my first time overseas, not counting Newfoundland, by the way — it is the real and true value of bacon and eggs.

It was with more than a little anxiety that I boarded a plane a few weeks ago, destined for Norway with a brief little six-hour layover in London.

On that flight from London I encountered my first real culture shock. When the flight attendant — who, like every male in Norway, wore his blond hair spiked and flattened at the same time, so it looked kind of like a four-year-old had frosted his head — asked what I’d like to drink I said, “Water, please.”

Then he threw me. “Still, or with gas?”

My face said, “What the %$&* did you just say?!” My mouth said, “Pardon?”

He said it again, but clarified with some sort of hand signal and the word “bubbles.” I told him still water would be just fine.

After the overnight flight across the ocean, during which I slept for a solid four minutes (in a series of one-second naps) I was just two more flights, a bus ride and an elevator from my destination. Arriving in the evening, exhausted, I didn’t get a chance to immerse myself in all that is Norway until morning, when I went to the hotel’s breakfast buffet.

But I was confused. Maybe I slept through breakfast and it was lunchtime already. The first thing I saw was a platter of herring — also known as Bergen bacon.

Yep. It was breakfast. I could tell because the spread also included hard boiled eggs, more fish and Wasa bread — a crisp bread beloved by the Norwegians because it is both dry AND tasteless. There was no ham, no eggs over easy and no French toast to be found.

I was in no position to complain, however. Those Norwegians might be completely cuckoo for breakfast fish (instead of something more tasty like sausage, egg and processed cheese on a maple-infused pancake bun) but they are also fit, trim and healthy. They eat chocolate to fuel themselves on marathon cross country ski trips not to fuel them through an episode of Bachelor Pad. And if you are ever travelling in Norway, I have learned that calling someone “fish breath” is actually a compliment.

We took a bus tour that day and stopped at a museum for a tour and lunch. “We have some nice fisk soap for you,” our guide said.

Fisk soap is a common lunch, much like our peanut butter sandwich or our foot-long sub. Except it doesn’t taste like soap or fisk. It tastes like fish soup.

If you eat all your fisk soap, you get dessert, which is a pancake with sour cream and jam on top. I am not making this up. Sometimes I think these Norwegians are just trying to be difficult.

The next day started, again with a hearty breakfast of herring, olives, yogurt and, apparently, whatever else the hotel was trying to clean out of its refrigerators. And on yet another tour and another lunch stop we got to enjoy another local delicacy — fisk soap!

I can’t argue with the Norwegian diet, though. As far as I could see during my time there, I was the fattest person in the country. I could tell by the stares that they must have thought I was the King of Canada, I was so obviously well fed.

In addition to their healthy diet, Norwegians walk a lot and even ride bicycles to work. I saw about 100 bikes parked outside an office building and thought these people are extremely health conscious and environmentally friendly. Or they have all been nailed for DUI — driving under the influence.

The language in Norway is another cultural barrier, broken only by the fact that Norwegians all learn English in school. It’s a good thing because unlike say, Spanish or French, where I can pick up a word or two and get the gist of what they’re saying, Norwegian is a random collection of consonants that should never be touching each other and vowels with dots over them and slashes through them. A “ham sandwich” is a “skinkesmørbrød.”

Then there are other Norwegian words that are so close to English it’s as if they changed them just to be difficult. “Parking” is “parkering.” Come on!

Also, on the roads there are many signs — and I am not making this up — saying “fart.”

I thought that was just classic Norwegian humour, but I looked it up and learned that fart, in Norwegian, means “speed.”

So if you ever wake up in Norway, make sure you get to the buffet with great fart. If you are slow, all the fisk might be gone and you might get stuck eating something really gross. “Gross” is, I believe, Norwegian for “bacon double cheeseburger.”

Chuck Brown

26 Aug 2011–chuck-brown-when-in-norway-try-to-fit-in-with-the-locals

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