The phone rang. Caller ID showed it to be the same Oslo number that had called several times this week. For some reason, I thought it was the local newspaper, trying to sell me a subscription to its dead-tree editions because, well, my brain was AWOL this week.
I answered. It was a Norwegian polling company, wanting to ask me about the media – TV, radio, internet. I decided I was in an answering mood (being the last one in the household to turn 15), so I agreed to answer the questions.
These sort of things always end up feeling a bit bizarre to me. My habits are not standard, and are comparatively limited. It started with questions about the radio. I listen to the radio only in the morning, and then to only one station, which is the main Norwegian national broadcaster’s regional broadcast; it’s the only way I keep abreast of some of the daily things (including traffic reports and newspaper headlines) in my county.
After answering “no” to all the other stations, I was asked about TV. I don’t watch the main Norwegian TV stations, I don’t watch TV news, I don’t watch culture, sports or children’s programs. My TV diet consists of various crime series, “Ugly Betty” and “Star Trek: TNG”. Limited and unenlightening fare, yes, but I don’t watch TV for enlightenment. For documentaries and animal programs, I answered “foreign stations” (that would be Discovery, National Geographic and Animal Planet).
As we went through the questions and answers, the female caller and I exchanged a few laughs (one brought on by my asking if there was a “makes me puke” choice) and I learned that she was probably my age. She was asking me about the main broadcaster, NRK (who I’m assuming paid for the survey because of some other questions), and I told her that if all TV stations were to disappear leaving me with only NRK, I’d probably watch it. “Habit,” I told her. “I belong to that generation that grew up with only one TV station, so NRK is familiar”. She told me that she was the same generation, but had had access to Swedish channels since she was from Eastern Norway.
I remember as a kid that we far from the Swedish border would be a bit envious of those closer to it, because of the choice it gave them. (Not that Swedish television is better than Norwegian.) We had just NRK here in Bergen and we waited desperately until 6 pm when the broadcasting would start for the day. Televisions back then had no stand-by mode, and even though we got transistorized TVs, the old habit of turning the TV on 5 or 10 minutes before the program started, harking back to the days when vacuum tubes needed to warm up first, was kept up in my grandparents for the rest of their lives. The result was that we’d often watch the analog clock face with a sweeping second hand that was broadcasted until the program started. When we finally got a color TV, we discovered that the clock was white on a blue background.
“What about British stations?” my pollster asked. “Only on the radio,” I replied, remembering that our radio was always set to BBC and no one was to touch that dial. (Perhaps that’s really where I got my “foreign” habits from; we never went completely native in our media choices in my family.) My grandparents were glued to the radio whenever Alistair Cook’s “Letter From America” came on.
As the questioning wound down, I told her that my odd diet (ignoring the Norwegian stations and watching so many “foreign”) was because I was foreign myself, and spoke English fluently. She asked me if I was British; I told her I was American. She then said I must have been in the country a long time, because I spoke Norwegian very well. “Thank you,” I replied. “So do you.” Then I laughed and apologized for being silly, but I had always wanted to reply that way. She laughed too and said she’d probably do the same thing.
The funny thing about being questioned, is that it had me wondering if I shouldn’t try listening to internet radio, or watching streaming video (it may work on my Mac, finally). One thing that didn’t come out, was why I listen to only one radio station: The display on the stereo in the living room no longer lights up, so in spite of having several channels pre-set, I can’t tell what station I’m on or which one is the one I listen to in the morning. For that reason, all radios in my house (oddly, I have four), are tuned to the one station.
As I hung up the phone, I thought about keeping my land line subscription after all, for “entertainment purposes”, because that was a most enjoyable 20 minutes.