A travel list that won’t fit in a suitcase

I couldn’t sleep last night. As I tossed and turned I could see the clock beside me ticking away the minutes of sleep I had left before my toddler would be up for the day. Around 2am I finally dozed off and when I woke, I was tired but strangely content. It took me a few minutes to remember that sometime during the few hours of disturbed sleep, I had a wonderful dream: my mom was sitting next to me in my bed in Oslo, reading by the lamplight while I slept.

It’s time for me to go home.

I used to find packing for an overseas trip stressful. Until recently I’d start gathering my things weeks in advance, compiling various lists of what I needed to carry with me on the plane and what would go in the suitcase at the last-minute. In the final days leading up to my trip I’d already be living out of my suitcase. But since moving to Norway I’ve found that if I forget something, I can just buy another one. I live in an expensive country with strong currency so a trip to Target in the US or a cornershop in Germany or Italy (or wherever we are) is worthwhile. As long as I have a pair of contact lenses with me then whatever it is that I forgot to pack, I could probably do with a replacement anyway.

Goodbye to sub-zero temperatures.

Goodbye to sub-zero temperatures.

Now, preparing to go to America basically means dumping a few random drawers worth of clothes into a suitcase and heading out the door, which is exactly what I’m doing at the very last minute.

I am feverishly excited to go home. Yes, home – that’s what America and my hometown in Ohio are for me. But as much as I’m looking forward to getting a break from chilly Oslo and a 25-minute routine to leave the house that starts with putting on wool underwear, it’s important to remember how much I have in Norway. Regardless of whether it will ever feel like home (whatever that means), this is where my life is now and I like it. It’s not Norway’s fault that it’s so far from Ohio.

So I need a list – but not of things to pack.

When I’m giving those unbearable goodbye hugs, I need to remember how much I have to look forward to this spring in Norway. More for my sake than for this post, I’ve made a list:

1. My son’s nursery. When I told his teacher, Bogusia, that he’ll be gone for a few weeks this winter she said everyone would really miss him. My two-year-old apparently entertains his friends with jokes and games during lunchtime, which Bogusia said they will miss everyday.

2. Burgeoning friendships. I’ve met some wonderful people in Oslo who probably don’t know how important they are to my having adapted so quickly. As I said farewell to them, some had already decided the venue for our first meetup when I returned. Farah suggested we take our families to a new pizzeria that just opened up, and a new Norwegian friend, Julie, invited me to take a fitness class with her. As simple as the gesture was, it made me feel incredibly happy to know how warmly I would be welcomed back.

3. Work. After a break from my career I am finally getting back to it and have found some amazing opportunities in Norway. Work is probably what I am most looking forward to jumping into this spring.

4. A European excursion. My husband and I are planning to head somewhere warm for Easter and the best part is that we haven’t decided exactly where we’re going. Italy, Greece, Spain – all of these places are close enough that we can be spontaneous with our plans.

You’ll see a little less of me over the next few weeks as I take an unpaid vacation from my unpaid job as a blogger to spend time with my grumpy but wonderful dad, eat my mom’s homecooking and hangout with my awesome niece and nephews. And as the days pass and my return to Norway comes closer, I’ll keep this list in mind rather than one filled with items to put in my suitcase.

Advertisements

6 adjustments of living in Norway

1. Military time. Checking the time shouldn’t involve math but living on the 24-hour-clock has me constantly trying to decipher code. It’s as if Attila the Hun has been reincarnated to keep me on schedule in case he decides to give conquering Constantinople another try. According to my oven clock we don’t have dinner at 7pm but rather at 19:00. My son goes to sleep at 20:15 and he issues a Drill Command at 07:30 that it’s time for breakfast.

plugs2. Plugs. I have electronics from the US, UK and Norway, and all three countries have different plugs. I employ a byzantine contraption of four adapters just to recharge my Kindle.

3. The Missing. Awhile back I was on the phone with my 8-year-old nephew who lives in Ohio. When I told him I missed him he very simply said, “so just come back.” I wish it were that simple. We schedule our trips to the US via a carefully honed mathematical equation with the following variables:

  • X= how many days it’s been since I last saw my dad
  • Y= how many more days I can go without playing basketball with my nephews
  • Z= number of days until my flight to the US

There’s also my variation of the mathematician’s “imaginary number” – the number of family dinners, birthdays, movie nights and weddings that I miss, which can’t always be factored into the algebraic equation that gets me home twice a year.

4. Language gap. My son loves Kraft mac ‘n cheese and I love that he loves it because it’s so American. But the kind we buy at Meny, our local grocery store, doesn’t have cooking instructions in English. The back of the box has Finnish, Danish and Norwegian, none of which I’m fluent in. Even the measurements are cryptic: 1 dl of water, 2ss of butter… Google Translate is my guiding light.kroner

5. Understanding currency. In the US a hundred cents makes up a dollar, but here there’s just the kroner. With only one unit to Norwegian currency, along with the fact that the one unit alone has essentially no value because of the high cost of living, I feel like I’m paying for everything in pennies.

6. Starting from scratch. When my husband and I moved to Norway no one knew us and we knew no one. We started from scratch to build a social circle and a professional network. Although we have made some wonderful friends, every once in a while I wish I could run into someone who I have a bit of history with.

Unscientific election poll: paint Norway blue

Despite the garbage that is thrown about in the runup to Election Day I love the American presidential race. Cable news channels and their obsession with combing over the minutia of the candidates can be exhausting but I miss having a front row seat for the madness.

It turns out that Norwegians are well-informed about the elections. Local media provides daily updates and even covers the power battleground states have, including the importance of my homestate, Ohio. The cover story in popular Norwegian tabloid Dagsavisen (the days news) on Saturday was about how undecided Ohioans will settle the election for the nation.

I made my decision and sent my absentee ballot weeks ago so my vote has been counted – I tracked it online so there’s no chance of it getting “lost.”

The Dagsavisen cover story sparked my curiosity about how Norwegians felt about the US elections. I decided to find out the word on the street and here is what I heard:

Karl-Erik, 57, says its hard not to be aware about the US elections. Although it isn’t a big topic of discussion among Norwegians he says it’s all over the newspapers, radio stations and news channels. He thinks Obama should win because Romney is “just a rich guy coming in trying to be at the top of everything. Being president is the next thing for him, it will look good on his CV.”

Sabina, 19, doesn’t know when Election Day is but she is passionate about Obama because Romney proposes a strict kind of leadership. “I will be worried for the world if Romney wins,” says Sabina. Why? “Because he doesn’t stand for freedom and other Obama-ish things.” English is not her first language and she struggled to find the right words to further describe Romney.

Linn, 26, hasn’t been following the elections closely but knows that tomorrow is the big day. She has faith that Americans will make the right choice, which she thinks is re-electing Obama. “He’s had a tough time these four years but he’s the one who knows how to fix the economy,” she says. “He needs time to continue what he started.” Linn says the presidential election is a subject that comes up often with her friends but they choose not to discuss it with Americans who are voting for Romney. “Its not the right thing to talk about with them.”

Bjørn, 28, says: “Romney is a liar who can’t do what he says he can do.” He says the first thing he’ll do on Wednesday morning is find out who won. He wants Obama to win because he has been successful in creating jobs and a new healthcare plan. Bjørn couldn’t pinpoint what gives him such a negative impression of Romney, but he was sure Obama could fix America’s problems.

Tone, 24, doesn’t know when the elections are and only discussed them enough to say to her boyfriend that the topic is everywhere in the news yet she hasn’t been following. Tone wants Obama to win. “Norwegians love him because he’s pretty cool and sounds great when he speaks.” She didn’t know the name of “that other guy.”

Petter, 55, is skeptical that Americans will make the right choice, which he thinks is to re-elect Obama. His reasons for choosing the President is plain and simple: Romney is too old. As for the election process, Petter thinks its ridiculous that Americans “keep getting back to issues that [Norwegians] stopped talking about 20 years ago, like homosexuality, evolution, abortion.” He says these things don’t matter when it comes to choosing a president, and that where the law stands on those issues should have been resolved already.

I sensed some apathy about the elections among the small selection of locals I spoke to. As an American I like to think that my country is so big and so wonderful that everyone should care, but perhaps Norwegians don’t need to be as vigorous with their interest because they are isolated from some of the ways the US affects the world.

Happy Election Day everyone! Don’t let a nasty poll worker keep you from casting a ballot.

The EU wins the Nobel Peace Prize and I bought a Gandhi party mask to celebrate

Norway has a few things in common with Ohio. For one thing, there are Buckeye trees here. Buckeyes on the footpath, already strewn with autumn leaves, felt like a welcome gesture meant just for me when I arrived in Oslo last fall.

The other thing is that both the Buckeye State and Norway are occasionally thrown into the media spotlight and then completely forgotten. During every US election cycle Ohio’s status as a battleground state gives its residents national importance. Political pundits, campaign staffers and election junkies become obsessed with how Ohioans will vote and what it means. And then, on the first Wednesday of November, Ohio is forgotten.

Every October, Norway makes headlines by announcing the Nobel Peace Prize winner. This year the European Union is the recipient of the $1.2 million award. Once again there is controversy, this time it’s that seemingly 500 million citizens of the EU are now Nobel laureates, including some unemployed and unhappy Greeks.

The Nobel Peace Center in Oslo.

Norway’s sacred Peace Prize cannot come up in conversation without someone remarking on the absurdity of awarding it to Barack Obama in 2009. Everyone outside the selection committee, from Norwegians to Obama himself, was perplexed. Then there was the Chinese dissident who got the prize in 2010, damaging Norway’s political ties with the whole of China.

Controversy has surrounded the prize for decades. Mahatma Gandhi was nominated five times and never won. The Nobel Foundation has said he was passed over because the selection committee felt he flip-flopped between being a freedom fighter and an ordinary politician.

Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 and since the Nobel Peace Prize cannot be awarded posthumously, the committee has lived with the regret ever since.

It seems they are trying to make up for their mistake by honoring him in an exhibit called Eye on Gandhi featuring photos from his last days. I went to the Nobel Peace Center today and found the homage a disappointment.

For one thing the gift shop took an icon who showed the world how much one can accomplish through nonviolent civil disobedience and turned him into a boorish stuffed toy.

What does one do with a Gandhi doll? Have a cuddle? Set a doilie in front of it and serve it imaginary tea?

The very first piece in the exhibit, a larger-than-life photo of the smiling Mahatma, glosses over the Nobel Committee’s previous remarks on why Gandhi never won the prize. The exhibit states that if had he not been suddenly killed, he would probably would have gotten it.

Lame excuse.

Lead the entire nation of India to liberation from the Brits and Norway will make a party mask out of your face. And then sell it to foolish tourists for a whopping $17 each.