Exploring "explore"

Explore:1. travel through an (unfamiliar) area in order to learn about it. 2. inquire into or discuss (a subject) in detail.

I tend to "explore" according to definition 2. You'd think I'd be quite the globetrotter, since I live abroad and have always had a passport. However…

I am not a bold or unconventional traveler. I have never backpacked and have never found the idea appealing, either. I "interrailed" once on the coastal steamer that goes up Norway's coast from Bergen to Kirkenes and back, but we had a roof (deck) over our head and access to a shower. We slept in the 3rd class lounge. (I don't think they have 3rd class any more.)

I will use an outhouse (I grew up with one so that doesn't faze me). I will use public restrooms (see previous sentence about outhouses).

But I don't watch travel programs. I don't voraciously read travel magazines or read up on other countries (even though I grew up with somebody who did). I pick my vacation abroad out of a catalogue and let the tour guide tell me about where I am.

I have sometimes felt guilty about my lack of interest in "abroad". Why am I not as excited about foreign lands or foreign people as other people are?

My best theory is that it's because I am already always "abroad". If you alter definition 1 a bit to read "live in a (unfamiliar) country in order to learn about it," you see what I'm actually exploring—living in a foreign country. The local quirks and habits of both people and language. The customs, the foods, the oddities, the niceties. The woven paper hearts on the Christmas tree, the oversharing when drunk, the blank stare when you do something not Norwegian or ask them about something that seems blazingly obvious to them, the adding of ketchup to spaghetti with tomato sauce (they've stopped doing that now), the years spent trying to nail down exactly how to wish someone a happy new year.

This explorer stays busy staying at home.

 

The Daily Prompt: Explore

Water and habits

As a native Californian, I still feel a bit of worry when I let the water run, like I see so many Norwegians do. It's standard: They let it run to get it nice and cold. They well afford to: The one place that never seems to run out of fresh water is Norway. The never-ending supply of that most vital of fluids can lead to some bad habits and disappointments. Norwegians are always faced with culture shock when they leave their country, because the moment you set foot in Denmark, you get recycled water. Norwegians always complain about how tap water tastes elsewhere. They also complain about being told not to waste the water, especially when they want to shower every day just like they do at home.

Norwegians are encouraged to take shorter showers at home, but this has nothing to do with water and everything to do with the price of electricity—used to heat up the water.

During lunch at my first job in California, the discussion turned to personal hygiene. The showers-every-day woman chewed out the showers-every-two-days woman. As the discussion went on, it became clear that showering every two days was the norm around the table. I still have that habit.

Californians don't shower as much as Norwegians (or that one co-worker) do because we, a) have dry heat so we don't sweat much, and b) are always told to save water. Since I don't have a job that makes me sweat and I don't live in a hot climate, there's no reason to shower more often.

Also as a Californian, I have so wished that the record-breaking rains Bergen, Norway, had last year could have been sent to my home state. It has felt almost unfair that there is so much water falling from the sky in a place that doesn't need it, while completely bypassing a place that desperately does.

I'll keep my California habits. They serve me well the moment I go traveling. I will drink recycled tap water in Germany and I will limit my showering in Spain. After all, it is Norway's fresh and clean wetness that is the exception.

Water and bones

As healthy and as long-lived as Norwegians are, they are plagued by one baffling disease: Osteoporosis. As a woman who has lived here for part of her childhood and all of her adulthood, this is something to be concerned about. Is it genetic? Is it dietary? We may have the answer, finally. Good dietary habits when I was a child in Norway included a tablespoon of cod liver oil. As a child, I actually liked the stuff. Didn't like fish, but I didn't mind that spoonful of omega 3's and vitamin D, intended to compensate for the lack of sunshine. (The rule is to take cod liver oil or "tran" in all months with an R in it. There is also the rule not to fish in months without an R in it, so those two rules dovetail nicely.) As an adult I can't stand straight "tran" any more and get my fish oil in capsule form.

In the years since, Norwegian researchers trying to understand the national epidemic of broken hips have proposed many theories: Sedentary lifestyle, not enough milk or calcium in the diet, not enough fish in the diet, not enough sunshine. However, in comparison to countries with a similar population or lifestyle, none of those theories held water.

Water itself may be the reason.

Most fresh water comes from underground, moving in aquifers that give off minerals to the water. All over the world, humans dig wells to get to this water source. But in Norway, our main source of drinking water is surface water. We get it from lakes and reservoirs replenished by rainfall. And that water has hardly any minerals in it since it doesn't pass through rock.

85 % of Norway's drinking water comes from surface water. And the current best theory about why our rate of osteoporosis is so high is the lack of mineral content in our water, especially the lack of magnesium.

It is the one thing that makes sense to me. I have already discovered that magnesium helps my digestion and bowel motility. Now I'm going to double my intake in hopes of compensating for decades of drinking fresh, clear and cold water straight from my tap.

 

(Re current best theory: PDF article in Norwegian with introductory paragraph in English.)

 

Misguided versus misogynistic

Yesterday’s post about a badly behaving co-worker, reminds me of another time a male co-worker behaved badly. In that second incident, a good man made a mistake. I did go to HR this time. I felt he needed to know that he had been terrifying.

Norwegian men can get so tall. The guy in this incident also towered over me, as well as being in a position of authority.

At a company picnic, with free booze, taking place after work at a rented boathouse in a secluded inlet, Tall Guy tried to get me alone. After a weird conversation where he asked me if I was lesbian (huh?), he convinced me to dance with him on the pier. I wasn't too bothered by him at this point, since we had cubicles across from each other, and got along at work. We were alone, then, far enough away from the lights from the boathouse to not be easily seen.

Then he started talking about something he needed to tell me. I was expecting another awkward Q&A about personal stuff and tried to get out of his arms (we'd been dancing) and go back to the rest of the party.

That's when he grabbed my forearms. I tried to break free, but he just held on tighter, constantly saying he wanted to tell me something.

I asked him to let go of me, but he either didn't hear me or didn't care. I was was starting to feel fear.

There was nothing else to do but to stop struggling and hope he would release his grip. He wasn't terribly coherent (we'd both been drinking), but he kept holding onto my arms, moving them as he tried to make his point. I was too focused on finding a way to break free to pay attention to what he was saying.

At some point, he seemed to finish, and let go of me. I dashed away immediately, back into the boathouse. He followed a few minutes later, but left me alone.

This was a Friday.

On the Monday, I talked to a contact at HR, a female psychologist who had been helping me with some personal stuff. I told her what had happened, and my reason for telling was that he needed to know that what he did was Absolutely Not Cool. She totally agreed.

She, him and I ended up in a meeting together. He was quite chagrined. I took his apology to be sincere. I could go back to trusting him.

Some men seem to be afraid of what #metoo will mean in interacting with women. That we won't know if the man is flirting, or joking, or whatever. Trust me, we know the difference. And we are able to also know when we're dealing with a misogynistic fellow or a misguided one. We can be quite patient with the latter. We have been too patient with the former.

Threat or warning?

I always joke about how I don't make threats; I warn. That's because I don't believe in idle threats. I think if you threaten somebody, you should also mean to carry the threat out. So I may as well warn. It's a bit weird to write the above, because I'm a relatively harmless person. But let me give you my own little contribution to #metoo and the time when I had to issue a threat-warning.

Folks think Norway does things so much better when it comes to sexual equality, but there have been and are jerks and abusers here, too. And a lively debate about it, complete with derailing and strawmen. The men I know are good men, men I can trust. I have not attracted the worst of them, and I consider myself extremely lucky.

Then there's the co-worker who one day put his hand solidly on my rump as I was passing by his cubicle. I cannot remember how I reacted. I have a temper and I may well have given him a death-glare. Or just kept moving. Not that he cared. His had a big, self-satisfied grin.

A couple of weeks later, he did it again. This time, I whirled around on him. I know I used my death-glare and matching tone of voice, too. To his self-satisfied grinning face I told him that if he ever did that again, I'd go straight to HR.

To my surprise, his smiling face collapsed in shock, then fear, and he backed away, back into his cubicle.

I was surprised, because I didn't know if HR could help, and I wasn't expecting 161 cm me to intimidate all of 188 cm of him (he was more than a head taller than me, for you non-metric folk).

But I would have done it. I would have gone to HR, and maybe my conviction was what sold it. I still felt safe at work, I still felt I would be heard. I would carry out my threat.

He never touched me again.

With the #metoo movement and the discussion about sexual harassment, I have often wondered why my co-worker backed down instantly. My theory is, he wasn't expecting me to get angry. Because when I read about how women react, they typically have my first reaction. The one where we aren't sure what happened, and we don't want to provoke a larger, stronger man further. We try to defuse rather than defend. But getting angry is a natural and justified reaction. And so we have #metoo.

To my fellow sisters out there: I wish you empowerment, I wish you faith in yourself, and I wish you a death-glare that will serve as an excellent warning.

 

Daily prompt: Warning

Oaths and passports

I have been to the US embassy in Norway only twice. The first time was when I was 13, and had to say an oath in front of some embassy officer in order to get my passport renewed, seeing as how I was living in a foreign country. I remember my first passport, probably lost in a move, and I assume I'll remember my last, currently on its way to the Department of State in Washington, D.C.

My first experience at a US embassy was why I was expecting an office and a massive desk and flags all over when I went in for my renunciation appointment. Instead, I got a typical waiting room, and numbered windows, and some magazines to read while waiting. Basically travel magazines about the US in Norwegian.

I remember getting my first passport. Or parts of getting it. Sometimes, being a child is a lot like being a dog: The grown-ups stuff you in a car (or plane or bus or whatever), maybe first it involves dressing differently than usual, then you go somewhere else, and you don't know why but you go along because you're loyal and you love these humans. And then you find yourself having your picture taken—8 years old, long blonde hair held back with a headband, showing off your widow's peak, your eyes looking slightly off camera and a wee smirk on your face because you're clueless and they just told you not to smile—and then you get a passport and that almost-smirking black-and-white photo with the stupid headband follows you for the next 5 years, making you pray and hope that the next photo will look better.

I sure as hell didn't wear a headband the second time!

I also messed up the oath. I'm not clear on why we went to the embassy, Grandma, Grandpa and I, but we did. (Just doing that dog thing again.) While there, we had to swear allegiance to the US again. I guess it was something like this:

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.[2]

I don't remember the military part. I do remember tripping over some unfamiliar words, the officer looking a bit concerned, and Grandma quickly saying I meant to be an American citizen even if I didn't understand all the words, I nodded agreement, and so I got my passport renewed.

You should see me now, Grandma!

I swore a different oath on December 3 2017, during the ceremony for new Norwegian citizens. It wasn't terribly formal, though most dressed up. I could invite two people and did, but they couldn't sit with me during the program. There were songs, speeches, restless children running around, and then they called us all up in a group (last names starting with A through M), and then called out each person and gave us a handshake and a book. It was not an obligatory ceremony, just a nice little gesture to us newbies. They served coffee and cake afterwards.

The oath ("troskapsløftet") I read out loud that day reads:

Som norsk statsborger lover jeg troskap til mitt land Norge og det norske samfunnet og jeg støtter demokratiet og menneskerettighetene og vil respektere landets lover.

Yes, that's one sentence. My translation:

"As a Norwegian citizen I swear allegiance to my country Norway and  Norwegian society and I support democracy and human rights and will respect the country's laws."

I take this latest oath seriously.

I also hope that the US and Norway never stop being allies.

Renunciation Day

As the man said, as he took my signed papers, when I finally get notification that the Department of State has approved my renunciation in a couple of months' time, the date on all the paperwork will say January 30, 2018. My renunciation day.

All the having to be my own travel agent, map reader, logistician and accountant aside, the big moment was the US embassy itself. I reread a good description of the renunciation process itself before I left home,  and the part about the physical visit to a US diplomatic post was very helpful. I was (as is my habit) confused by where to stand, but a guard called to me and got me in the right place. He was Norwegian. I had to empty all my pockets, put my purse, watch, and belt in a small bin, and switch off my cell phone. I got a number, almost like getting a coat check ticket. Then I went to the sign that said "Wait here" and waited there.

All of this was outdoors, in front of the guard hut or security forehouse or whatever they call it. You can see pictures of it here. Now you know which door me and my bin went through first.

I was called in, handed my bin, and was told by another Norwegian guard to walk slowly through the metal detector. After that I got to select items to bring in with me (I chose wallet, passports, glasses, some papers), and then it was back outdoors for a few steps to the rear of the embassy building itself.

We were two who had appointments at the same time, and nobody acknowledged that I had taken a queue ticket so I was second. When it was my turn no more than 5 minutes later, the Norwegian at the window told me he'd get my caseworker.

It was "Miss Fox" this and "Miss Fox" that. Also, they had American-style drinking fountains in there. (I did not use the bathroom so cannot tell you if the water level in the toilet was US swimming pool deep-end standard. That's right. Cultural differences extend to toilet bowls.)

The caseworker at the window was an American*, and asked me to first go pay at the cashier's window next to her. "How will you be paying, Miss Fox?" said the nice young lady there. "Credit card," I said, and put it in the little metal tray under the glass divider between us. "Oh, uh, I don't know the word in English, but…" "Skal vi ta det på norsk?" I asked. Yes, she too was a Norwegian. I had forgotten to change the "regionsperre" (that was the word she couldn't translate on the fly) on my credit card.

So back out to the guard pavilion, get my purse, stand there and start the cell phone, log in to my bank and change the settings for my credit card to be allowed used in North America—because, duh, you're in the US when you're at the embassy—switched off the phone, put it back in my purse, put my purse back in the bin. And in the most Norwegian way, five guards were loitering around, talking about whatever while I was doing that. In Norwegian. Slow day at work.

I went back to the cashier's window. Whereupon she charged me USD 2,350. Yes, over two thousand dollars to renunciate.

Then back to window 4 where the lady there made me reread all the documents (DS-4080, DS-4081 and an information sheet) and since I'd filled them out, they were still correct, but now a man's name from the embassy had been added. Something that started with J.

Then it was wait until my actual case worker was available. The guy ahead of me was ahead of me in room 6, too.

Room 6 was window 6, but with walls and a door surrounding the two chairs in front of the glass divider with the metal tray.

Mr. J (I assume) was also an American, neither pleasant nor unpleasant. Just there to walk me through this.

After a few initial questions, it was on to the documents. Did I agree? Did I understand? Yes.

"Sign this. And the copy."

I could feel my insides shaking. I took a deep breath to steady my hand so my signature would match what I had on the passport. My US passport, brand new just a year ago, never used.

Mr. J had my passport. He compared the signatures.

Another document. Did I agree? Did I understand? Yes. More taking a deep breath. More signing, first one, then the copy.

I found myself wondering if I was doing the right thing. There's always that niggle, the second-guessing, the desire to not make the irrevocable so final, to have a choice, a way out, a way back.

Mr J wanted to know if I would share why I was renouncing. I told him I'd spent 44 of my 57 years on this planet in Norway and I knew I wasn't leaving. He was amazingly non-committal in his response but not unfriendly.

The final document was the actual swearing part. Mr. J made me read it out loud. It did start with "I, Keera Ann Fox, etc." because I'd typed that part in before submitting the forms back on January 2. It's form DS-4080, "Oath/Affirmation of Renunciation of Nationality of United States".

The first part was just personalia, confirming my identity and such, but reading it aloud also reminded me of my very American past, and my niggling doubt had become more keen as I got to the oath part itself on the page:

I desire and hereby make a formal renunciation of my U.S. nationality, as provided by section 349(a)(5) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, as amended, and pursuant thereto, I hereby absolutely and entirely renounce my United States nationality together with all rights and privileges and all duties and allegiance and fidelity thereunto pertaining. I make this renunciation intentionally, voluntarily, and of my own free will, free of any duress or undue influence.

But as I starting saying the third sentence, something shifted. By the end of that sentence, I was sure my decision to give up this citizenship, to become wholly and only a Norwegian citizen, is the right one for me.

I signed the oath, too, in duplicate.

It'll take a couple of months before I hear from the Department of State via the embassy. They will most likely approve my request and issue me my "Certificate of Loss of Nationality of the United States". (Which I have read I should always bring with me when traveling to the US in future.)

There will be no follow-up meeting. Everything will be done via e-mail.

***

I left Mr. J. and the American water fountains. Back to the security cabin to retrieve my bin and my other worldly goods. I told the guards what my errand had been. The most talkative one was from Tromsø. We quipped back and forth about Bergen, its less than stellar soccer team, the problem with Drammen (he thought it was the worst place in Norway; I have no idea if he's right), and his fondness for snow. He pronounced it "sny" (try to say "snee" with a disgusted sneer or an Elvis lip to approximate that). From what I heard from the others, all the nice embassy guards were from all over Norway. Made them laugh when they questioned what a Los Angeleno was doing in Bergen: "Meh, one west coast city is like another."

And then I handed back my coat check ticket and left.

I took no picture of the embassy. It has never been nor will be my embassy. I was there for just over half an hour. When I left, heading back to the subway to go back into the city center, all I wanted was to go home. Home to Bergen.

And I wanted someone to hug me. Even Mr. J.

Because I got a divorce. I signed the papers. And it does make me cry.

 

*) I know embassies hire natives (that's part of the deal of getting to squat in another country); I was just wondering when I'd encounter an American as I went through all the processes. I was also surprised at how many guards there were.

Dethroning 1964?

We've had one of the wettest and coolest summers ever in Bergen in Norway this year—rainy enough to have us wondering if we will break a record. The current record for the most rain in one summer is from 1964. That's the record we're trying to break this year. Actually, we've been very against breaking the record, but once we got to mid-August after a wet and miserable "summer", we all thought "Oh, whatever, may as well go for broke".

I know about the rain in 1964. In 1964, my grandpa ordered a Mercedes 190 D with a diesel engine direct from the factory in Stuttgart, painted in a shade of blue picked out by my grandma. He took my grandma with him to Europe to pick the car up and they drove it around in Germany and then up into Sweden, all the way up to Kiruna (I assume). There they put the car (and themselves) on a train and went to Narvik in Norway. (There is still no road between Kiruna and Narvik.)

From Narvik they made their way down to Bergen and visited relatives. While on the coast of the Osterfjord, visiting the farm of Mundal Grandpa grew up on and got his name from, my grandparents enjoyed three sunny days. They were told those were the only 3 days of no rain the Bergen region had had that whole summer.

We are not going to break 1964's record, when 810 millimeters (31.89 inches) of rain fell in the months of June, July and August.

As of last Wednesday we were short 75.1 millimeters (2.96 inches), and on Friday the weather gods blessed us with glorious sunshine. I actually broke a sweat on Saturday. Today it has rained heavily, but not enough to dethrone 1964, and the forecast is for no rain the rest of the week.

The weather gods have a very, very wicked sense of humor.