Before visiting this beautiful country, I had heard of the “reserve” of the typical Norwegian. One of the books I had read described an experience of a British woman, married to a Norwegian for twenty years and living in Norway. For those twenty years her neighbor never seemed to notice her. And then one day the neighbor came over to her home; he’d locked himself out of his house and needed to use her phone. After that their relationship progressed … in that he now might wave to her if they were outside at the same time. Perhaps in another twenty years he might say hello with his wave?!
Although Jan had told me about his loved sister (who is nine years older than Jan) and her family, and how friendly and welcoming they would be to me, I didn’t know what to expect when we visited and stayed with them for two weeks. His description compared to my expectations didn’t match.
And of course, Jan was right.
Kari and Henry have a comfortable home, gentle demeanor, welcoming manner, curious and insightful questions, and a warmth about them that speaks of over forty years of love together. Their four children are grown, but they are close to their parents and three came to visit while we were there. Everyone spoke English (although I enjoyed when the family animatedly spoke together in their language). One son lives with his son on top of a mountain nearby. Another, with his wife and two young children, is restoring an 1860’s home overlooking one of the fjords – also nearby. Their daughter lives in Bergen and is finishing her PhD (in English) at the University there. And their youngest son lives in Illinois with his wife, where he is also finishing his PhD (in Palaeontology) at the University of Chicago.
Their daughter also plays flute, and we enjoyed an afternoon of playing through duets with much laughter and camaraderie, and then gave an impromptu performance for the family.
Their oldest grandson is 12 years old. He rides his bike down the long mountain road to school … and then UP that steep mountain road back home in the afternoon. His English is excellent – so good in fact, that he helps to teach it to the younger students in his Montessori school. He and I spent a few hours together playing the Norwegian version of Monopoly, and reading through the Norwegian translation of Calvin and Hobbs. Such fun! And, he caught a trout in the lake twenty steps from the house, and fried it for me to try. Delicious!!
Kari joined Jan and me in a couple of visits into Bergen. The most insightful time for me was when we visited the areas where they grew up. They had not visited there in fourteen years. Seeing it would have been interesting enough, but to listen to them talk about their shared memories really brought it alive to me. Their first home was in an old German Barracks, torn down a long time ago now. We stopped by a small overgrown area, and they shared that it had been their garden (yard). Jan has a picture of himself there, wearing Kari’s rubber boots and nothing else – of course, that was when he was very young!! – “watering” the yard. 🙂 They shared a few of their experiences at their school and with the surrounding children; living where they did brought a certain stigma. There is no way my American middle class upbringing can fully understand the life and surroundings and experiences they had, but listening to them talk gave me a little insight and helped me understand the deep feelings between them now as adults.
In shops and restaurants and in meeting Jan’s friends, my experiences with other people here have been of the same warmth and friendliness. Although English is spoken and understand by just about everyone, I am eager to learn more of the Norwegian language so that I can absorb even more of the culture.