Hello! It is Saturday. There is coffee to start the day – strong, hot, a little milk and sugar for this American. And then a walk to Meny, the local grocery store.
But first we stop at the local market. Not the market that is in Jan’s apartment building – that is like a small grocery store, and has a fairly wide variety (but limited selection) of many food and household items. The aisles are so narrow it is difficult to squeeze by other people. It is good to go there to pick up a few things for a weekday dinner, but when there is more time we like to go to other types of markets.
Today we walk to a larger grocery store (but still small by U.S. comparison – and as I walk those aisles, I wonder again at the excess that we as Americans expect in our shopping experience).
But first – on the way to this grocery store is a market owned by a Kurdish family, and we stop there to see what fresh vegetables and fruits are in season, available, and call to us for our dinner tonight. The plan is to stop there on our way back to the apartment, as it would be silly to carry our choices from this market up to the grocery store, and then back home again.
We talk with the owner a bit, who of course knows Jan after their nine years of association. Although he doesn’t speak English, the owner is very animated in his greeting and I understand his sincere warmth quite well. And as we exchange our smiling non-verbal “hello,” another customer who speaks English asks me where I am from. And when I say “Maryland,” I hear a gasp from the street (meaning, just on the other side of the tomatoes from where I am standing), and I turn to see a young woman smiling at me and saying “So am I!! What city are you from?” It turns out she is from a community about thirty minutes from my home. She moved to Oslo in December to join her Norwegian husband. In just a few minutes of conversation she gives me so much wonderful information. It is a delightful exchange.
And then Jan and I continue to the grocery store, walking slowly and savoring the pleasant Oslo morning. We pick up the ingredients for the American dinner I am going to cook for him, improvising a bit when I can’t find specific items. We carry our purchases back home, stopping at the Kurdish market to get our fresh vegetables and fruits.
As we walk, Jan shares with me a little of what he knows about the Kurdish man who owns the shop. When he first bought his apartment and got to know this market, it was new and the owner had recently immigrated to Oslo. Although Jan doesn’t know the details, this man had been imprisoned and tortured by the Turks. He had scars on his face and teeth knocked out – physical evidence of what he had experienced … and then as now, his positive and warm outlook. Obviously a man whose spirit and warmth cannot be broken. His shop has grown and prospered over the years when other neighborhood markets have failed, and from my conversation with Jan and interaction with this man, I feel the attention to his customers and their needs is obviously a reason. During the Oslo winters he stays open, but admitted to Jan that he barely breaks even; he’s open to serve his customers, and when the weather warms up and he can display his delicious produce and flowers outside again, then it is his good time. That carries him through the winters. We bought a few items from him that might have been available for a bit less at the grocery store. That felt so right to this American who is used to getting everything I need at the nearest large discounted store.
And then, our errands complete and groceries put away, we hop in a taxi and head to downtown Oslo for a light lunch accompanied by a live jazz band, and then a couple of drinks at Muddy Waters with live blues providing a musical backdrop. Oslo bar and restaurant storefronts open so that the street, sidewalk, and front of the establishment all flow together into one energetic street party. Norwegians truly do relish, enjoy, and savor every last drop of the sunshine and fresh air that they can, and I sure am enjoying being a part of it!!