When you relocate somewhere where there is a different culture and language, it’s not rocket science to figure out that the change is enormous.
There are different grades of enormity here. When you relocate with work, you have guidance. When you relocate with a partner or a family member who comes from there, you have some sort of guidance and an inbuilt support structure. When you relocate based on a brochure and a few weekend trips, the hill to climb is big. Huge. Think Everest.
I think I can say that we have been to the mountain. It has been hard at times but never dull. There was the time we sat in London and had 24 hours to sign a rental contract for our Oslo apartment that was written in Norwegian. Just fyi, if you try to Google translate a legal contract, it stops trying by para 2. clause 3c. After that, you’re on your own.
And then there was the time I spent 3 days hunting for dishwasher salt in every shop here to get rid of the mocking flashing S on the display of our otherwise nice new dishwasher. Again, in case you ever need to know, you don’t need salt here as the water is soft so they don’t even sell it. Dishwasher salt is only needed when the water is hard, dummy.
But the most interesting times are those when you are trying to figure out if something is a characteristic of the local culture or if it is just someone being plain peculiar or exceptionally nice.
Like when people push ahead of you getting on the bus… are they all having a bad day or is that just what you do here?
Or when people walk past you on a train platform leaving just a hair’s breadth between you and them even though they could have left a gap of 3 feet… is there is a convention for the long-sighted on here today or is this just the way it is done here?
Or when our neighbour’s son turned up on my son’s birthday (unbelievable coincidence) with a huge bag of toys which he had outgrown and which his mom had cleaned pristinely. Are they the kindest family in Oslo or is this what people do here?
My experience is that Norwegians are incredibly welcoming, helpful, and calm, oh so calm. It’s like they have figured things out but they don’t brag about it. They know what is important in life – nature, warm children, fish and work-life balance.
But I am still learning. For one thing, I still haven’t managed to get warm son to eat all forms of said fish. For another, I am not up close and personal with the work-life balance situation yet but that’s a whole other story. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, there are still many unknown unknowns. There is much to figure out on this life-long journey called integration.