A glimmer of a post

I could give you all kinds of astrological reasons for why my flow suddenly choked, but suffice to say that the communication planet Mercury is slowing down to turn around and right itself on Sunday. Until then, I shall amuse myself—and hopefully you, too—by wondering about the "false friends" language has. Things that look related or alike, but do not mean the same thing.

Take "glimmer" for example. A word that means faint or wavering, especially of light. The dying beams of your flashlight are glimmering. Then there's the Norwegian word "glimmer", which means brilliant or excellent or brightly shining and flickering. Both the English and the Norwegian word have made the rounds but started with German. At what point did the English version come to mean faint rather than bright?

Anyway, if someone tells you you're glimmery or something like that in Scandinavia, beam brightly and steadily with pleasure.

 

The Daily Prompt: Glimmer

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.

Visceral

I've seen "visceral" used to describe something I perceive as instinctual or pathological from the context, but honestly, I don't know what the word means, so I looked it up. Oh, what do you know: It can mean instinctual. Visceral means "relating to deep inward feelings rather than to the intellect" according to my dictionary, and it also means relating to the visceral nervous system. Now to look up what that is. Ah, it is another term for the autonomic nervous system.

OK, so visceral is that stuff in us, literally or figuratively, that is beyond our conscious control, our conscious thought. It is that part of us that responds before we've had a chance to form a thought about what we are responding to.

I realize that a lot of my reactions are visceral. I feel or sense things and cannot give a good intellectual reason for the sensation or description of it. That actually frustrates me because I understand my world best when I can put it into words. But the body doesn't use words, and sometimes I have to accept that I feel a certain way and I cannot translate the feeling into language or logic.

Modern man has been taught to think, and therefore perceive, with language. And so all of our thoughts involve words. It is actually a reconnection to our non-intellectual, original selves, to think without words, to perceive without sentences, grammar and structure, when we allow ourselves to be visceral and not try to move beyond that. Let the feeling itself be the perception, let the instinct be all the thought you need.

The challenge, of course, is that if you do want to share it will take words. But if you are by yourself there is no need for a translator. Just feel.

The Daily Prompt

In a jiffy

Some words in the English language are a lot of fun to say or look at or both. Skedaddle, poppycock, aviation, jiffy, moron. Today's Daily Prompt (I'm obviously not doing them daily) is Jiffy. I am a person who walks fast and likes to get things done quickly, but I never say I'll get things done in a jiffy. I'm never too sure how long something will take me, and  am absolutely certain that a jiffy is not long enough.

As Wikipedia points out (I found that link in a jiffy):

Jiffy is an informal term for any unspecified short period of time, as in "I will be back in a jiffy". From this it has acquired a number of more precise applications for short, very short, or extremely short periods of time.

And there's the rub. Extremely short periods of time are wonderful at the dentist's. Who wants drilling to go on for more than a second or two? Or have a metal tool scraping plaque off your teeth for more than a moment? These things are wonderful when they stop, and the sooner they stop, the better. All dentists should be able to do things in a jiffy.

Me? Not so much. I type fast, and I assume I think fast, too, at least when I'm not upset or stressed, but doing things in a jiffy? Never happened. Never will happen. I don't know where the time goes, and my routines are not complicated, but I still have to leave half an hour to get washed and dressed and made up. And another half hour to get breakfast and eat it without feeling rushed.

Also: "gif" is pronounced like "gift" minus the "t". Yes, I'm in that camp. Because there's jif and jiffy.

Gate or gate?

"Gate" is one of those words that linguists call "false friends". The word looks alike in two different languages but does not have the same meaning. So a movable barrier in a fence in English is a street in Norwegian (pronounced as GAH-teh). I'm bilingual, equally comfortable with my mother tongue English, and with Norwegian. I learned Norewgian at age 8 so I speak it without an accent. Being bilingual does not mean translating stuff on the fly. Both languages exist with their respective glossaries, grammar, idioms and sentence structure.

On occasion my brain will glitch and try to speak Norwegian using English sentence structures, which leads to some awkward phrasing and some fumbling around as I try to correct myself. The reverse only happens if I'm trying to translate Norwegian into English on the fly. Somewhat more frequently, my brain will toss in an English word while I'm speaking Norwegian or vice-versa.

I have yet to refer to a street as a gate, or a gate as a port, perhaps because these are basic and common words. (A gate is called "port" in Norwegian, like in portal.)

Some words are may not be interchangeable now but could have been at one time. A gate is a hole or gap for passage. The word comes from the proto-German "gatan" and the narrow passageway has evolved into the thing allowing you to go through a fence  or wall in English-speaking countries, or the thing that allows you to go through a city in Scandinavia and Germany.

The Daily Prompt: Gate