I've never eaten at McDonald's as much I have in Norway. Ironically. You'd think I'd be a regular when I lived in California, but no. Meanwhile, in Norway, McDonald's has been vote Best Employer for 2016. If Burger King had moved into my local mall some 20 years ago, I'd be eating Whoppers. But it was a McDonald's, and Quarter Pounders. And I am now admitting my guilty pleasure: I do eat McDonald's stuff often—up to once a week.

One reason is that the place itself fascinates me.

There are five cash registers, but rarely are there lines in front of them. Because the registers move at different paces, and people don't remain at them to wait for their food, people don't line up in front of them. Instead, they hang back in a loose group and wait for an employee to call out "Next customer" (actually, they call "Available register"). Whoever was first (as defined by everyone else literally watching each others back) moves to that register. Because the people waiting for their food and the people waiting for a register tend to stand around willy-nilly on the same part of the floor, people often have to ask if you are waiting in line to order or to get your order. There is no "fast food" in the American sense, i.e. all ready and handed to you while you are still at the register.

The employees are friendly and smiling, and very, very often not Norwegian, and mostly young. If I want to know what ethnicity has moved into my neighborhood lately, a trip to my local McDonald's will reveal all. It delights me to see so many different people, some more fluent in Norwegian than others, all getting along and all giving the same good service. And McDonald's has won Best Employer due to its focus on and promotion of diversity in the workplace, under the motto of being a "good neighbor" in their neighborhood. (Their own comment on this in Norwegian.)

So today, the smiling cashier who represents one of the other 79 ethnicities besides Norwegian that McDonald's has hired, served me while wearing a T-shirt proclaiming "Great Place to Work". It's also not a bad place to be a customer.

Daily Prompt: Willy-nilly


In school we learned that what makes a rain forest a huge and dense forest is, well, the rain. Alaska actually advertises its soggy and mossy pine forests as northern rain forests. I've wondered why Norway doesn't do the same. In the summer, this wet country is as lush as a tropical rain forest. Anywhere from 18 to 24 hours of daylight in the middle of summer and a lot of rain makes everything grow incredibly fast. We don't have the tall, dense canopies of the tropics; our denseness tends to be closer to the ground. But the huge number of trees, the millions of leaves, create a solid green along roads, up mountainsides, across vistas, and around my local pond.

Summer where I live has been cool and wet. Nature seems not to care. The moment the ground thaws and temperatures stay somewhere above 10 C, stuff grows. Norwegians with lawns find themselves a bit frustrated: All the rain makes the lawns grow fast, but all the rain makes it impossible to mow said lawn. What we learned early in school about plants thriving on sunlight and water is never clearer than when looking at the lushness of my local pond.

The combination of blue and green, of water and leaves, is always attractive and calming to humans. Never more so during an undisturbed moment, viewed through thick foliage on a late summer's day.

A lush spot in my local pond, Ortuvann

A lush spot in my local pond, Ortuvann


Gulls herald spring for me. They head for open sea during winter, and when the snow disappears from the land in April, they come back and start screeching at each other at 4 am in the morning. I'm one of the few people who can sleep through that racket, so I welcome the noise.  Gulls, in spite of their seemingly huge numbers, have become a protected species in Norway. They've lost their habitat by the ocean, and come into cities to build nests on our office buildings which often have gray gravel on the flat roofs and provide perfect camouflage for baby birds. The roofs of my apartment buildings are black asphalt but the gulls build their bowls of sticks there, too.

Since April, I've seen a gull perched on the corner of the neighboring building every morning, as I go to shut my bedroom window (yes, I have the Norwegian habit of sleeping with an open window). Often the gull starts calling in a voice meant to carry across the Atlantic. I have been aware of gulls on the roof all spring and summer. Until today.

This morning, the bird with a 360 degree of my co-op was a crow. Crows are as big as common gulls but this one seemed even bigger. And with its dark coloring it was a startling contrast to the morning view I've had until now.

I knew it wouldn't be sitting there if the gulls still had flightless young on the roof. The lack of any calling from any gull confirmed that there was nothing to protect from crows (or magpies) any more.

A city girl takes her nature where she finds it, fascinated by and grateful for the life that insists on existing in an urban setting, and delighting in still discovering subtle changes as the days move on.

The hectic growth season of summer is over, heralded by a hooded crow.

Junior update

Junior Gull has been spotted again, in good health and twice as big since last we saw the little one. An adolescent magpie was hanging out on the balcony outside my office window, and an adult gull was quite upset at the corvid's presence. A behavior the gull would have only if it had babies.

Maybe Junior is fine after all?

I assume so. A gull chick twice as big as Junior was when last seen (a week ago) was out on the mossy roof, oblivious to its parent's worry.

So Junior's grown a mile or that's another gull chick.

Whatever. There's a baby out there to watch!

They do blend in with the gravel roofing

They do blend in with the gravel roofing

Missing: Junior Gull

"Somebody needs to go check."
"He's on vacation. I'll do it."

I learned that one of my co-workers gets into take-charge mode when it's about someone's life; in this case, a gull chick.

I took a picture of Junior just the other day from my side of the building. This afternoon, one of the girls next to the window noticed an adult gull gave Junior a vicious peck. It looked like Junior may be hurt.

The cause of drama at the office

The cause of drama at the office

Curiosity and compassion got the better of the co-worker who saw the peck and the take-charge one sitting next to her. They went out the emergency exit, onto the balcony surrounding our building. We happen to have the roof of the shopping center flush with our second floor balcony, a roof covered in gray gravel and perfect for nesting gulls. And right on the other side of our balcony, on the roof, next to a plank a roof worker had left, was where Junior was last seen.

At one point, eight co-workers were all crowding at the window, searching for the little bird, concerned but also knowing that every year there are chicks that don't make it.

"The janitor's found dead bodies on the roof before."

Poor janitor. Not the most pleasant part of his job, cleaning up after the nesting season.

My two co-workers out on the balcony got the gulls screaming at them, but fortunately were not dive-bombed. Also: No Junior. They couldn't see Junior anywhere.

Junior is missing.

If you do it twice, it's a tradition

Living in Norway means living with all kinds of traditions, some ancient, like bonfires on Midsummer's Eve, and some much newer, like Valentine's Day. Here in Bergen, the joke is that if you do something twice, you've created a tradition.  Celebrating Halloween is becoming a tradition, one for the 21st century, and has been supplanting Norway's original trick-or-treating done on Christmas Eve. At Christmas, many Norwegians decorate their trees with tiny Norwegian flags. I thought the flag tradition was as old as the flag, but it started right after WWII. After being denied anything that looked like the flag colors of red, white and blue, Norwegians got a little carried away their first Christmas after the liberation. It's a tradition that's dying out, though. I haven't seen the tiny flags on trees in recent years.

I think that when we think of traditions, we think of something that has survived the generations and is still appreciated. We don't always realize they may become replaced and die out, and for those of us who remember "the old ways", it's upsetting to watch younger generations get other habits, because, you know, "It's tradition!"

Traditional may be other things besides rituals. The melodies of hymns are often listed as "traditional" since we no longer know who the composer was, but we all know the tune. And another tradition is how you arrange the cutlery in the kitchen drawer. You may call it family habit, but isn't that just another form of tradition? In my kitchen drawer the knives are on the left, the forks in the middle and the spoons to the right. When I last visited my mother, I noted that was the same order in her drawer. And I remember that was the order in my grandma's drawer, too. You don't change tradition.

The Daily Prompt: Traditional

July 22

It's 10 AM and I'm watching a memorial ceremony on TV from Oslo, reading the names of the 77 who lost their lives 6 years ago in what has been called Norway's 9/11: The bombing of a government building, and the shooting of young people attending a political camp on the island Utøya on July 22 2011. I'm crying again. On July 22 2011 my TV was on for 6 hours, broadcasting everything that was happening, starting with an explosion in downtown Oslo at 3:25 pm. There was complete confusion: Nobody knew what had broken windows in many buildings. By 5 pm it was confirmed that a bomb had gone off. We would learn later that 8 people were killed. The offices of the national newspaper VG were also hit. Rereading their report—before anyone knew what was going to happen next—the caption on the link to a video stands out: "Hallo!? Er det noen som trenger hjelp?" Some of the strongest images I first saw on that day were of people filming the rubble and smoke and confusion, calling out with desperate voices to any survivors.

And then another report: Shots fired on the island of Utøya where members of the Labour Party's youth group was gathered for a summer camp.

That was Anders Behring Breivik's plan: Cause so much confusion, mayhem and death in Oslo that emergency services would not be available at Utøya (less than a half hour away from Oslo by helicopter). He was a little late in parking his bomb. On a Friday in the middle of vacation time, many had already left the office by 3 pm so the number injured and killed was less than it could have been.

Civilians, people who happened to live on the mainland by the lake Utøya is in, actually got out their boats and headed towards people in the water, people who had jumped in the lake to escape the bullets. The police were slow to react and to organize their response; they were relying on the usual chain of command, which didn't work because it was vacation time in the police, too. In their defense, nobody was expecting an act of terrorism, a mass murder, a lone killer who was well-prepared and very determined. But yeah, Breivik started shooting at 5:21 pm and the police didn't get to the island until a good hour later because they didn't have their own boats. Once the police were there, though, they overpowered and arrested Breivik quickly.

I keep crying as I write this, as I listen to the memorial speeches. I remember the shock 6 years ago. It was my last day of vacation. Bored, I turned on the TV and wondered why NRK was broadcasting news at 4 pm. I quickly realized that something horrible had happened in Oslo and continued to watch. Then the reports of shooting started to come in. I stayed glued to the TV until bedtime. The events were so unbelievable, so overwhelming, so shocking. The next day I did not turn on the news at all. I was feeling overwhelmed. On Monday July 25, I stood in the pouring rain in downtown Bergen, with thousands of other people, participating in a combination memorial and peace march.

But as I revisit the events, I realize something that gives me joy: Norway didn't change after July 22. Norwegians are still trusting people. Nobody has spoken out in hateful ways. The memorial today focused on peace, on fighting the elements that create racism. And: We haven't yet learned to be afraid about being out in public, in spite of terror alerts. Of course, that's also deliberate: Not letting "them" win. Business and life as usual is the Norwegian way.

The challenge for Norway after "22. juli" has actually been in how to handle the personal aftermath, how to support those who survived or who lost a loved one that day. Today's memorial service was inspired by the one held in Nice this year for last year's Bastille Day attack. We learned that it is better to remember our lost loved ones, to name them, rather than stay quiet about it. That being allowed to share grief in public is better than grieving alone.

My reaction to July 22—in 2011 and now—tells me I'm more Norwegian than I thought.


Egg cups are un-American

My own egg cups

My own egg cups

The thing about growing up with a Norwegian grandfather is that you assume everybody has a cheese slicer and egg cups. Turns out that one of the things American immigrants left behind in Europe were egg cups. I was reading an article on Lifehacker about how Americans eat soft-boiled eggs, seeing as how there is no such thing as an egg cup in the US. It was only then that I realized why a British friend who lives in Hawaii asked if I could get egg cups for him.

In every hotel I've been in in Europe, they serve soft-boiled eggs for breakfast. That is to say, they serve a hot egg that is still nearly raw, or a hot egg that is nearly hard. I therefore rarely eat soft-boiled eggs in hotels. But they do have egg cups (and teaspoons) for the eggs. And I have egg cups at home. Any complete set of dishes also includes egg cups here in Europe.

Now for some etiquette on eating a soft-boiled egg:

A cup and eggcup from my childhood

A cup and eggcup from my childhood

I learned by watching my Norwegian grandpa who had been a sailor for many years. I was quite proud of myself when I mastered lopping off the pointy end of the egg with a knife creating a "hat", like he did. Salt and eat the egg white in the "hat", then salt the rest of the egg and eat that.

Turns out that's the vulgar way. The in-polite-company way to open a soft-boiled egg is to crack the top of the egg with the back of your teaspoon, and peel the shell of the "hat" portion off. Then salt and eat.

All of this is of course easier to do with an egg cup.

Do add salt. Some people add butter. The taste of butter dominates too much for my liking, but I do like herbal salt on my eggs.

Oh, the perfect way to soft-boil an egg? Who knows. Many years ago I happened to win an egg cooker in a lottery (to my delight, as it turned out) and even that thing needs a bit of tweaking so I get my perfectly boiled egg: Solid white, runny yolk.