17th of May breakfast

The great national holiday in Norway, on May 17th, is a far more involved and formal event than the equivalent celebration in the US, on July 4th. There are also a lot of traditions and traditional food associated with the day. This year, I'm going to partake in a 17th of May breakfast in town.

In some ways, Constitution Day in Norway, is not exactly a Sunday or religious holiday. It's a day off but buses run on Saturday schedules and restaurants are open.

A bunch of us got Norwegian citizenship during 2017 and have decided to go All Norwegian the only way foreigners can. So we've decided to have the 17th of May breakfast buffet, which is a tradition. It includes rømmegrøt (sour cream porridge) and that's all I need to know (although cured meats and smoked salmon with scrambled eggs are also traditional fare).

Constitutional Day ribbons

Constitutional Day ribbons

I've booked a table that should also offer a fantastic view of the parade(s). There are three but we'll miss the early one that starts at 7 am. We'll catch the main one that leaves from Bryggen, and then we'll see the Children's parade that goes in the opposite direction and ends at Bryggen. Maybe we'll also catch the rowing race in the bay, too, before breakfast is over.

What a lot of Norwegians do is show up in their bunad (national costume) and line the streets for the parades. They may stay for a bit after the parades, but then they go home. A meal, maybe just chilling a bit, and then it's back out if you have kids. Schools have their own 17th of May activities that usually start around 3 pm. Parents march in the local parade with their kids. Afterwards, it's games and hot dogs and ice cream at the school. I remember that part from my own childhood here.

I never spent 17th of May in town as a child. We had our local school parade and school activities so no need (or opportunity) to go to town. I therefore didn't realize the day ends with fireworks until I was invited to watch one year. I am looking forward to seeing the fireworks again!

Hipp hipp hurra!

The Daily Prompt: Partake

Almost 950

When I read that Bergen was getting ready to celebrate 950 years in 2020, I suddenly felt old. I remember when this plaque was new: 


Stones from all the counties of Norway were used to create this commemorative plaque for Bergen's 900th anniversary in 1970. The caption reads "1070 Bergen City 1970 / Norway's cities lay down these stones". (The number of cities has increased a lot since 1970.)


When I see the word "haul" the American in me automatically puts a "U" in front of it. I haul, however, without a truck or trailer. I own no car, so life is about getting stuff home without one. Or getting stuff back out.

Hauling becomes a project as well as a test of wits and endurance. I am actually proud of myself for being able to haul a 27" iMac home on the bus, the wide, flat box with a brand-new and expensive machine securely strapped to a small, collapsible baggage trolley. The cashier at the Mac store couldn't get over how clever I was with four bungee cords and two wheels. I was rather happy I was impressing a young, handsome man.

The awesome plaid of my shopping cart

The awesome plaid of my shopping cart

I have a similar set-up for groceries: A proper granny-bag of a wheeled shopping cart, conservative blue tartan and all. It holds two large grocery bags of shopping, and makes hauling canned and bottled stuff so much easier on the arms. I supplement with a rucksack, and there's the weekly shopping taken care of. I call my wheeled wonder my car.

So that's how stuff makes it into my home. But then there's getting stuff back out. And that takes on the feel of a project.

For example, there are bins for receiving clothing around where I live, set out by the Salvation Army and one other charity, but they are just far enough away that my bags of clothing to donate need to be on wheels—especially if said bins are full or out of order.

And there is the old stereo that has been sitting in a closet because the display doesn't work and who plays cassettes or even CD's nowadays? Norwegian appliance stores will take your stuff for free, as per the law, and there is a recycling fee baked into the price we pay for our electronic stuff.

The speakers are big, the stereo itself is heavy and did I mention I have no car and it rains a lot where I live? So it's a project: Dig the stereo back out of the closet I so carefully (and I could have sworn, temporarily) stuffed it in, wrap it in big, black plastic bags, get it strapped with colorful bungees to the trolley and then go to my local appliance store's back door where the recycling bins are.

I know what to do. I just don't feel like hauling ass to do it.

The Daily Prompt: Haul

The frigid north?

Snow in Fyllingsdalen as seen from my living room

Snow in Fyllingsdalen as seen from my living room

A lot of people think I live in the frigid north. I don't, actually. Where I live, an umbrella is far more useful than a fur coat. Norway is more like Washington state than upstate Alaska. The sister cities of Bergen and Seattle both tend to be rainy, not snowy, in the winter. This winter, of course, decided to be an exception. Or maybe it's this spring that's acting up.

It snowed on Tuesday and Wednesday. Big, wet, fluffy flakes that covered the ground with a soggy white blanket that only children bound and determined to get some sledding done can enjoy. For the rest of us, the challenge is footwear and temperature. Regarding the latter, if it freezes, this pretty slush will become pretty dangerous to traffic. Regarding the former, rubber boots will keep one dry but they slip on wet snow, and leather boots with good soles will help you walk safely, but may get wet—or worse: Road salt will soak in (though waterproofing helps).

Such are the challenges of leaving in a part of the world that likes to flirt with freezing temperatures but never actually gets into a serious relationship with them. That is left to places like Oslo or Trondheim or Svalbard. Bergen is known for its rain and mild winters.

And outside a few flakes drift past my window—again.

The Daily Prompt: Frigid

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.