As much as I love sharing my thoughts and observations on Norway and Norwegians, you’ve heard plenty from me lately. So here I present Life in Norway’s second guest post, this time from Gerry. He works at NTNU (Norwegian University of Science & Technology) and moved from Mexico to Norway in April 2010…
Through the window, snowy Norwegian roofs greet me as I enter my office. I take my coat off, toss the backpack on the desk, and shake the last crumbles of snow from my boots as I remove them. First order of the day is getting a cup of coffee.
That’s a given.
In most ways, my work here is the same I did back in Mexico. I sit in front of the computer, crunching numbers, working equations and writing papers. I have snacks all around me and leftovers lunch ready. Even the subjects I work are much the same!
It is the life, the day-to-day differences between the countries, are remarkably larger.
I can count the number of times I saw snow in Durango: three (and the last can barely be included, as it was more of an icy slush than actual snow.) Contrary to what many people outside of the country believe, Mexico can be quite cold; my hometown easily reaches -5 celsius mid-winter. At Trondheim, though, “cold” means as low as -20, plenty of snow, slush, and rain, so saying I actually met snow when I came here is hardly an exaggeration!
However, it was in April when I arrived, once precipitations had ended and only heaps of muddy snow were left from the snowstorms of the departing winter. The first “fresh wave of whiteness” came the next September for me. At first, I was elated, contemplating for the first time in my life an almost perfect, uninterrupted sheet of snow covering the city. It was almost magical! (had I not acquired enough winter clothes and equipment by then, my thoughts would certainly differ… but I did, so I stick with the “almost magical” statement.)
After a couple weeks of constant Norwegian snow, enchantment faded into bother. Why is my skin so dry? Why do scarf have to be so itchy? Why are slopes specially icy? Yes, I was whiny; but only for a while. Come December, I was adapted to Norwegian winter: snow was neither charming nor a particular nuisance. It was just part of this lovely country and my daily life in it.
Oh, I almost forgot: there’s some summer here too! It’s the best week of the year! (DISCLAIMER: This joke belong to that South-African comedian at the office Christmas party!)
I like food. I eat it all the time. Some of my Norwegian friends eat food too; or at least that’s my impression.
Unfortunately, national cuisine is one thing that still has to make a good impression on me. Most restaurants I’ve seen and patronized serve foreign food, and the few Norwegian dishes I’ve tried aren’t specially good or bad to my taste (uncultured as it is.) Yet meatballs are wonderful, as are crab and reindeer; heck, I eat salmon easily every week! None of these things had been in my mouth prior to coming here. I can’t say though, that I am a big fan of lutefisk, brown cheese, or certain sausages.
I guess my real problem with eating habits in Norway is the difficulty of finding Mexican ingredients. Tex-Mex food is not Mexican food, so tomato-flavored “chunky sauce” and somehow-sweet “taco shells” aren’t really in my shopping list. I was delighted to find green chili peppers, as bland in taste as they are, and corn meal, to make my own tortillas (wheat flour ones are good, but there are some things you can’t use them for, like dipping soup)
But we Mexicans need a wider array of chili varieties, as well as cumin (which I spent a whole year looking for), spicy candy, and, well, you get the idea. While here I have been able to improvise a lot of things and at the same time had to learn to cook with many new ingredients.
Overall, I am happy with my meals, as much as I complain. There’s just always that bit of desire to be able to go to a street stand and fetch some beef tacos with lots of sauce, grilled onion and lime juice.
Make no mistake; if a Norwegian leaves the table without addressing you or saying good bye or “have a nice meal,” it’s not that he or she is being rude or is upset.
Being from a rather “warm” place in terms of social interactions, at first it struck me as odd the lack of personal approach of many of my colleagues. Initially, I was much more drawn to the Spanish staff in my department than to the Norwegians, partly because of the language, partly because of the familiarity in the social interactions. I was used to shake hands every morning and hug people just out of friendliness. Eventually, I got used Norwegians, as I am a particularly reserved Mexican myself.
And I can hardly complain. Back in Mexico, as a country, we aren’t much of the law-abiding kind. Norwegians, and their guests from around the country, have what it seems to me a very high sense of civil responsibility and the law. And once you get through their Nordic shell, the nationals are kind and quick to offer their help and solidarity.
Their approach to life is highly based on nature; they mostly bike instead of driving, their favorite sports revolve around skiing (I just learned a year ago!) and camping activities like hiking, shooting and fishing.
Norwegians drink large amounts of beer and spend large amounts of their pay on it, which is not all that different from Mexicans in terms of consumption. Our beers are cheaper, though!
As a society, I see the deeply love their country and their national identity. Not to the point of zealotry, like some other countries (you know exactly which one I am thinking of, right?) The only times I see a Mexican celebrating their nation is on Independence day (because that’s pretty much all you can do in a parade with flags all over the place) and when the national football team wins a match (it doesn’t matter if it’s important or not)
Norwegians seem to love their country enough to wear flags with respect, to keep the land it clean and green, and to appreciate their history and their fellow co-nationals.
As a summary, I am delighted to be in Trondheim. Really, I have already arranged for another two years of contract! I can’t deny I miss my homeland. I miss my family, my traditions, and my culture.
But Norway has welcomed me warmly, and despite the differences between my country and this one I live in now, I feel quite well here. Now, enough of this and let’s see what’s have I in my matpakke for lunch!