Moon landing

HalfMoon.jpg

I cannot remember when men first landed on the moon, in 1969. I was alive and old enough to remember something like that. We had a TV. That is to say, my granduncle had a TV—up on the old farm, in a little valley above a fjord. There was nothing on it until 6 pm, when a children’s program would come on, then the news. All in glorious black and white. Everything was in black and white until 1974 when Norway decided to allow the broadcasting of color TV even though protesters thought it would be bad for people.

People have the weirdest reasons for not wanting change.

My folks kept their black and white TV for quite a while. It wasn’t broken and we were used to it. The first thing I saw in color was at a friend’s house, a scene from a British series, “Black Beauty” (yes, the one about the horse). The only thing strikingly different from seeing the same show in B&W was the grass. Incredibly green in color. Black Beauty was still black.

But why can’t I remember the moon landing?

Because I was asleep. It was night time in Norway. I was 8 years old. I couldn’t stay awake even if I wanted to. But I remember my grandma telling me they stayed up to watch it. My grandparents saw astronauts in real time step onto another world. On a TV on the old farm Grandpa was born on in 1901.

Today’s prompt: stripes, lemonade, astronaut



A tale about teeth

Norway has been good to me, dentally. My grandpa was also good to me. Orthodontics are subsidized but still cost out of pocket. So the year I had no cavities I started wearing a retainer.

One thing Norwegian children have been through together, is the school dentist. In my part of Norway, the school dentist got the nickname "pinaren", which translates to "the tormenter". An awful lot of kids ended up afraid of the dentist.

Somehow or other, I didn't. I got my first filling at age 8 while I was still living in California. They filled my mouth with all kinds of weird things there; I remember a ring-like device jammed in to keep my mouth open and some sort of small rubber sheet jammed in there, too, in addition to the usual suction device and tampon. In Norway, it's just suction and a tampon.

When I was 12, the school dentist looked me over, then called my grandpa in. Grandpa had been waiting in the hall. Seriously, the dentist told me grandma that I had no cavities. I teared up in joy and relief and knowing I had no cavities but why the serious tone? That's when the dentist suggested is was time to take care of my serious overbite and crooked front teeth. So Grandpa ended up taking me to the orthodontist's.

Back then, there was one place in town and one orthodontist "all" the kids went to. A friendly bearded, guy who made me a retainer, a big pink thing molded on both my lower and upper teeth. I was clueless so I wore it during the day. Didn't realize it was to be worn at night until some graceless adult said it was nice something shut me up. (That's when I realized it was to be worn at night, duh. And that some grown-ups aren't really grown up.) I had nevertheless managed to wear it enough to make a difference. After two years of that, a weak, my receding chin was strong and properly positioned. I got another small, light retainer to wear to straighten out my upper front teeth and close the gap between them.

Kind of weird to think back and realize my look since age 15 wasn't the one nature gave me. But yeah, sometimes when I look in the mirror, I send Grandpa (and the school dentist) a bit of thanks.

Orthodontics for children is subsidized and so is mandatory oral surgery. The one wisdom tooth that had to be removed with a scalpel I ended up paying only half price for; the social security office refunded me the rest.

Today I got my teeth X-rayed, checked and cleaned. In Norway, the dentist does all that. Not like the US, where a dental hygienist does all the advising and cleaning and flossing, and then you see the actual dentist for 5 minutes in case of cavities.

The art in my dentist's waiting room: Monkey? Child? Clown? At least it's not scary

The art in my dentist's waiting room: Monkey? Child? Clown? At least it's not scary

My current dentist has a surprisingly light touch. He pokes and prods and scrapes and I hardly feel it. This time around, he seemed to be even gentler than ever. I wonder if it's because I was saying to myself "Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om" (I'm trying out some things). At any rate, the annual check revealed no issues, no cracks or holes in either teeth or aging fillings, and a price hike from last year.

Dentists in Norway are not subsidized like doctors. My GP works for the city and is part of the universal health care system. I saw him today, too, and paid NOK 155. My dentist, who runs a private practice, as most do, charged me NOK 1150 (includes the pretty pictures of my teeth). It's cheap insurance, really, to keep my choppers chomping (why aren't they called "chompers"?).

I don't remember the clown painting from last year. I also don't remember the drawing of a sleeping cat on the wall opposite the dentist chair, a perfectly round circle with triangular ears poking out of it. The cat, not the chair. But I like that there's a picture of a cat on the wall. I like cats. And sleeping cats have always meant that all is right with the world. Today, at the dentist's, it did feel that way.

Form-filling fiend

Digital film rolls remind me

Digital film rolls remind me

Something interesting has crystalized so far in 2016: A clear desire to change citizenship. I start by applying for Norwegian citizenship, and hope they'll let me keep my US one until I decide what to do about it. The background for this are FATCA and FBAR. FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) cracks down on expats who haven't been filing taxes, starting in 2010 (the IRS wasn't too particular about chasing Americans around the world before then). FBAR (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts) is a requirement made of US citizens to report all their savings in foreign finance institutions to crack down on hidden assets (like in the Panama papers).

The US is the only nation, besides Eritrea, that taxes based on citizenship, not based on whether you actually had any income in or from the US. For someone who happened to be born on US soil to foreign parents and hasn't worked in the US ever, this must be at best baffling, at worst, a nightmare. It's becoming a nightmare for us expats, too, because FBAR requires that foreign finance institutions report any assets held by customers with a US citizenship, a bureaucratic and invasive request most don't want to (or can't) honor. The result is that an expat may end up not having access to their own foreign bank account.

I have panicked a few times over this. I have no options if I suddenly cannot access my own checking and savings accounts. I have worked and paid taxes in Norway for 35 years, and this crack-down from the US feels unfair and even mean. I am not the only expat who feels this way. As of 2015, there is a record-high number of people renouncing their US citizenship, spurred by FATCA/FBAR. The US government has raised the fee of renunciation from $450 to over $2300, hoping to dissuade people.

So, I am applying for Norwegian citizenship (which has its own fee of NOK 2500 4200). Many Norwegians are suprised I don't already have one. Honestly, I never needed one—until now.

And I was very much a typical American, proud of her country, and still identifying as American, never as Norwegian. But during 2016, that has changed.

Fear and anger have led me to the website for applying for Norwegian citizenship. I have spent the evening filling it out, including the part that wants to know where I've traveled the last 10 years. It's a good thing I photograph the hell out of my vacations, because dates plus what I took a picture of helped me recreate all my vacations. The application now has a long list of one-day-in-Denmark-some-more-days-in-Germany/France/Austria/etc-then-another-day-in-Denmark plus some US trips.

They want to know I'm not a criminal, so I set aside the citizenship application and have fired off a request to the police for a background check. I'll hear from them via the electronic mailbox I just signed up for to speed up correspondance with government agencies.

I have also started on my taxes. Oh. My. God. You have no idea what that's like! How many questions, and that it's not enough to report what was in your bank account at the end of the tax year; the US wants to know the maximum that was in your account during the year. Fortunately, I qualify for the streamlined tax return (still had to fill out about 12 pages just for 2015), and need to fill out tax returns back to and including 2012. All of this to bring me up to date and compatible with FATCA/FBAR—and to prepare for a possible renunciation.

So I am filling out forms, left and right, in English and Norwegian. Speaking of Norwegian, I need to document that I know the language. I don't have any papers from when I graduated middle school here in Norway in 1976, which is the last time I was graded in Norwegian. I'm wondering if my employer could be bothered to type a letter that states I know the language. Or maybe I'll do what my Polish co-worker did: She didn't bother when any documents; she just told the case-worker, in Norwegian, that she's been working for many years in a Norwegian company, talking to sales people on the phone in Norwegian about insurance.

I shouldn't have any trouble. I sound like a native. I just can't prove I am one.

Yet.