I've been taking weekly Norwegian classes off and on over the past few years. Although almost everyone I've met in Norway speaks very good English, and there are free translation tools online to help with understanding Norwegian media about the band, the classes have been really helpful to me. Learning a new language is like lifting a veil and suddenly things become more clear. On a recent trip to Oslo, as I walked down a street I had been on many times before, I saw a familiar shop sign and realized, 'That's a furniture store!' I just love those little bursts of understanding that I'm having more and more often when visiting there. So even though I don't 'need' to learn Norwegian, and I don't expect to gain true fluency (especially not at this pace ;-) ), I am enjoying the classes and the experience of learning.
One of the things I like best about my class is that for two hours a week, I am surrounded by other people who love Norway for some reason. We have three classmates who are learning the language because they are in relationships with Norwegians and intend to move there soon; we also have classmates who have Norwegian ancestry and want to learn because they plan to travel to Norway; and we have two classmates who have lived in Norway before, one while in the Merchant Marine over 40 years ago, and one as an exchange student in high school nearly as long ago.
When a classmate travels there, they bring back interesting stories and photos; we discuss Norwegian news and trends with interest; my teacher sometimes takes time away from grammar lessons to talk about history and culture and traditions in Norway. A couple of the Norwegian boyfriends have visited class as guests and helped with dialogue practice. Attendance is pretty flexible, and sometimes it happens that there are only 2-3 students meeting. Rather than cover new course material on those days, we practice conversation skills and talk about Norwegian culture.
We've had some interesting discussions about Norwegian dating culture, courtesy of one of our classmates who is engaged to a Norwegian guy. She shared this fun article a while back, and we talked about how in Norway it is very common for the woman to make the first move. This was later confirmed by some of my international friends, who added that they enjoy meeting men in Norway because they feel safe and respected, and not at all anxious about perceptions of women who make the first move as being 'forward' or 'loose'. It is ok for a woman to know what she wants and to go for it, in other words. Meanwhile, the dating culture in America seems to be the exact opposite, and women tend to avoid making the first move for lots of reasons, including a fundamental need to feel safe. I think it's amazing that women in Norway approach men and that both men and women seem ok with this practice - but it's probably a good thing I am not single and living in Norway, I'd be perpetually alone because I think it would be near impossible for me to make the first move ;-)
Also on the subject of relationships, a classmate once asked the teacher how to say 'I love you' in Norwegian, and that started a conversation about how Norwegians don't say it that often. Apparently it's more of a thing in American culture (and maybe others, too, but we often just compare Norwegian/American in our class), especially in movies and TV shows there is often a stress on the importance of the milestone of saying 'I love you' for the first time. In entertainment, these words often preface or signify the beginning of a lifelong relationship - as if saying the words has a binding power of some sort ;-) Or as if not saying the words betrays indecision or ambivalance, etc. I think it's good not to get hung up on the words, though. It's a wonderful thing when you love someone and neither of you has to say it, you demonstrate that love through your actions and your faith and trust in each other.
One of the first things I learned about Norway on my visits there is that children are treated with care and respect, and their needs are a priority in society overall. This goes well beyond the amazing parental leave rights, it's about how children are raised; they are the focus of the family, they are encouraged to be independent and to contribute in meaningful ways. I have never witnessed a Norwegian parent raising their voice at a child, or dismissing or overlooking them in conversation the way too many Americans do. I love watching Norwegian families with small children when I am out and about, and I sometimes imagine what it would have been like to grow up there.
Also I don't know if it's because I am a visitor that I experience it, or if Norwegians are so welcoming and helpful all the time. I'm always surprised when someone offers to help me find my way or translates something for me. One of my favorite travel memories is of the Norwegian couple who 'adopted' me at the Moods of Norway fashion show in 2010. They stayed with me throughout the event, explained who different performers were, made sure I got on the right bus when it was over, and said goodbye to me warmly when we parted at the town hall. Then there was the man who sat next to me at the concert in Fosnavag who quietly offered commentary and helpful information throughout the concert. Whenever I ask someone for help, I never get the impression that I am imposing or bothering them.
Something that probably took me too long to learn is that I talk entirely too much for most Norwegians' comfort. Norwegians do not seem to talk as much (or as loud or as expressively) as many Americans do, they do not feel uncomfortable with silences during conversations, they certainly don't feel the need to 'keep the conversation going' in the way that people seem to here. I grew up in a large family, if I want to be heard, I often have to push my way into a conversation. We talk over each other all the time - it's not intended to be disrespectful, it's just a pattern that has become acceptable to us. We all have so much to say when we get together! And no one gets offended by being interrupted, they just wait for the next opportunity to jump back in.
According to my teacher, Norwegians are too polite to interject when someone else is talking. Sometimes when I warm up to a topic, it can take me a while to realize no one else has said anything for a while :blush: Once I was talking with a Norwegian friend on Skype and I started to ramble a bit when there were silences. Suddenly the other person disconnected the chat, and at first I thought it was a technical problem - they'd call back and we'd pick up where we were. But after a few minutes I realized that no - they had hung up on me. That was definitely a wake up call that I had been rude, without intending to of course, but the result was that I learned if I wanted to avoid offending my Norwegian friends - and probably other international friends as well - I really need to slow myself down and listen more. Now I try to remember to leave longer pauses in conversation to allow another person to have a chance to consider their response and reply. In fact on my last couple of trips I have challenged myself to say as little as possible, so I can listen and learn more.
There have been other times when I have completely misunderstood a situation, for cultural reasons more than anything else. Once a friend was talking about a gathering she was planning that evening with friends, and I wanted so much to be invited along, but in the end I wasn't invited. I later made other plans that night, and the next day she didn't mention the gathering at all, so I figured I wasn't missed and had done the right thing. But something my teacher recently told us about invitations and hospitality prompted me to ask a classmate about the situation. She told me that if my friend talked about a gathering in front of me, that meant I was included, and my friend was probably hurt or disappointed that I didn't ask for more details so I could attend. The thing is that when I was growing up, I was taught that it is rude to ask for an invitation to an event or to a person's home, and that if someone wants to include you they will invite you. Here I was trying not to be pushy or obligate my friend by asking to be included, meanwhile based on my classmate's interpretation, my friend thought she was clearly telling me I was welcome.
Another time, a Norwegian friend offered me a thoughtful and generous, but open-ended, gift. I responded right away with gratitude and delight, and wondered with anticipation what the gift might turn out to be. After a while I started to think that perhaps my friend had changed their mind or I had done something to make them think I wasn't interested. Another Norwegian friend says my friend was probably waiting for me to say what gift I wanted, and may have been insulted or hurt when I didn't accept the offer by asking for something specific. If that was the case, that expectation wasn't clear to me at all. It never occurred to me to tell my friend what I wanted, I had assumed when they made the offer they had something in mind. I'm not even worried about the gift itself, I am more worried that I might have offended my kind friend.
But these misunderstandings are not the norm, and considering they started with kindnesses, I am grateful for them despite any confusion or sadness I felt at the time. From what I've read in various places, it seems that Norwegians have a very good sense of what is unsaid as well as what is said - and although they are apparently very direct in their speech, a lot is communicated indirectly or implicitly as well. I can't tell you how many times I didn't understand something while it was happening, and then when I went over it again in my mind later on, another meaning suddenly became clear ;-) By then the moment is past, obviously, but the realization is helpful still especially if you understand a friend better after all :-) People have been so kind to me, in not so obvious ways, and I often don't realize until later how much I have to be grateful for.
I always leave Norway feeling much better than I did when I arrived, and as soon as I get home I start wondering when I will go back again. That is a sure sign that something is good for you, don't you think? ;-)
I know that a lot of fans are also interested in Norway and Norwegian culture, so I share this kind of stuff because it might help others when they travel there or are in touch with Norwegian friends online. Unfortunately I don't think any of this was much help except to point out that even when you think you understand a situation, you may not understand it at all. You may not ever find out that you inadvertently burned a bridge or unknowingly ignited a fire, because while wrestling with your own questions and confusion, you missed - or misunderstood - important information and signals from others. But I guess as long as that desire to understand and be understood is still there, hopefully we will all get where we need to go in the end :-)
Back on topic.
My teacher talks about the egalitarian standard in Norway, and how each person is valued equally - their time, their ideas, their basic human rights. In one recent small group conversation, I mentioned how remarkable I think it is that the guys are so kind to all the fans and so genuine as well. Her response was that these are typical Norwegian values, that each person has worth and should be treated equally. So it seems I may have been making the wrong assumptions about why the guys interact the way they do with fans, it is probably just their natural way of treating people, fans or not. But I still think it could be part of the process of finding balance between what they give of themselves on stage and what they are able to take back in a way. This is just a guess, though!