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

Finale

It arrived. The one document that makes everything irreversible. It makes me catch my breath. I get emotional opening the thick envelope from the US embassy in Oslo. They returned my passport, canceled. That's what makes the envelope thick. The rest are slim papers: The actual Certificate of Loss of Nationality of the United States, with several sheets attached. The first one tells me my options if I want to reconsider my loss, and the next ones are a set of the paperwork I signed at the embassy, now embossed with the embassy's seal.

My eyes skim the papers, seeing dates. Renunciation date. Processing date. Dates that show actions and decisions. Final acts. Final decisions.

I tear up again.

Also in the envelope, a receipt I am to return in an enclosed envelope, confirming receipt of the other stuff. The instructions say to return this receipt as soon as possible  to complete the renunciation service.

I have to buy stamps.

But first, I need to breathe. However much I've wanted this, it is still emotional. Norway is my only country now, for better or worse.

OK, thinking that actually helped.

Whew.

Certificate-of-Loss-of-Nationality-et-al.jpg

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.

Since last we spoke 5 months ago and what's next

So, I dropped off the face of the Earth—no, I didn't, just dropped off my blogging. The autumn got rough. Maybe a lot of bad weather during the summer was a part of it. Maybe it was astrological.

I had a stressful fall. Maybe I gave myself a stressful fall. Seriously, I drive myself nuts sometimes. I had a trip to Oslo in October, to attend some lectures for a college course (studying insurance), and instead of enjoying traveling (because I do), I gave myself three nights of sleepnessness and "stage-fright" bowels and why did I do that to myself? I know how to travel alone. I know how to be in a hotel room. I know how to take public transportation. But I found myself totally fixated on that last, as if I would miss my train/bus/metro whatever even though the stop was around the corner from the hotel and the metro ran all the time. Sheesh.

I did have nice weather, had some great meals out (a waiter at Bacchus by the cathedral conspiratorialy told me the day's specials in my ear and I was rather charmed by that; also fell in love with Max, a Swedish chain of healthy burger joints, also right around the corner from my hotel) and enjoyed the huge, modern buildings that make up the business school campus I visited each day.

But I think I have to see my anxiety (?—not really familiar with that sort of thing) in October as related to my stress levels in September, where some aspects of work had me, after the wonderful slowness of summer where we got all caught up and lived stress-free, feeling like nothing I did was good enough. One morning, as I went to open my front door to go to work, I started to cry.

Huge warning signal. So I called in sick, I called my boss, and she was absolutely lovely and supportive. She let me do other things in September and in October sent me to an IT department to help do beta testing.

So that's what I've been doing for the past nearly 4 months. Helping my company troubleshoot changes in our systems to accommodate new legal requirements.

The days and weeks have flown by. That's the good part about it. My energy and desire for working overtime a lot has not been so good. So I don't know if this is something I'd want on a permanent basis but it has made me realize that I have to start making changes. I need to find a better way to handle my stress and I need to find a different way to approach my job—or even get another job.

I am feeling more energized again. More willing and able to actually give all this some thought, to start to put together some future plans. I could feel a definite psychological change when Saturn moved from Sagittarius (where it does not feel at home, at all) into its own sign of Capricorn. And for me, personally, that meant it finally left the part of my horoscope where it was creating all kinds of hidden stressors, and internal conflicts. I remember 29 years ago, the last time, and it wasn't that bad this time, but it was there. Oh, yes. Saturn speaks loudly to me.

Weirdly, I took an exam (in said insurance course) and felt so on top of things that day. I was actually proud of myself. I did things I don't normally do, like read all the questions first, to see if any were the kind I knew I'd need time for, then started. I felt really grown-up right then.

I also attended a ceremony for new Norwegian citizens. The county I live in hosts these ceremonies in beautiful Håkonshallen twice a year. I was moved by the occasion—and proud.

Now I'm in for a lot of Capricorn but out in the open. About me, myself and I but consciously, rather than subconsciously. Saturn will be joining Pluto as they both travel through the sign, hitting my own planets in Capricorn.

So far, it's all good. I've started doing a wee more exercise (working on Sagittarian things like butt and muscles, using Capricorn things like knees and bones), and I've started doing a wee more housekeeping. I finally found someone (else) who speaks my language, even though Capricornian FlyLady also helped. So combining that with an app that simply lets me mark of an X each day, Seinfeld-don't-break-the-chain style, and my home is tidier and more under control, but it still needs a good spring cleaning. Later.

Next on my agenda is a day off from work, in spite of a looming deadline with the beta testing, to renunciate my US citizenship. I am required to show up in person and the US embassy gave me an appointment for this Tuesday. There will be butterflies, since I'm going to a US embassy I have never been to before (partly because they built a new one a couple of years ago, and partly because I've never needed to go). It'll take all day because that's just the nature of things: Getting to and from airports, to and from the embassy, and allowing time for a one-hour appointment that might be two.

And that will be another blog post, I'm sure.

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.

 

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.