Further reflections on expat life in Norway
I’ve had a great week here in Norway, living as an Australian expat with my family. The top 3 experiences were:
- Our residency was approved and we have the right to stay here indefinitely!!!!! It’s a huge relief to have the red-tape finally sorted out. Now we are waiting to receive our Norwegian ID numbers.
- Also this week I received a contract to sign to receive a bank account in about 2 weeks time – nothing is done in a hurry here!
- In the meantime, without a bank account, we are grateful for the kindness of acquaintances, e.g. my office manager arranged a guarantee for our bond, my colleague tops up my mobile phone, another paid the VAT and duty on a delivery from eBay, our landlord is waiting until we have an account to be paid our rent, the school finance officer accepted a cash payment and then paid from her own account for after school care. None of these things can be done without a bank account. Our landlord said that Norway is moving towards becoming cash free and we discovered that neither he nor his bank would accept cash for our rent! He said that cash is viewed with suspicion and the only people that will suffer when we are cashless are the beggars (most of whom appear to be from Romania).
- We moved into our apartment. It’s warm, has natural light (at least until winter!), has lovely blonde wooden floors, great views of the city and fjord, is super quiet, the landlord is friendly and has lent us all of the furniture that we need and the rest we easily bought at Ikea and had delivered, and the apartment is close to the school and not too far from my work. All in all it’s perfect and we are super relieved to be settled in. Our air freight finally arrived from Canberra and our children were delighted to unpack and rediscover the treasures that they have missed for 2 months.
- My husband and I have a shared philosophy that we should not accumulate ‘stuff’, however we had inevitably acquired a lot of stuff in the 16 years that we’ve been living together. Leaving Canberra with limited space for belongings meant that we carefully considered every item and culled many possessions, paring back to the minimum of what we adore and what we need.
- We have worked tirelessly since Friday to move and unpack and sort everything and now we have almost finished. We have now placed some bits and pieces around the apartment making it interesting, including Arabic calligraphy on papyrus of our children’s names, a hand-natural-dyed and woven Afghan carpet, a hand-painted Tibetan thangka, a large antique Omani coffee pot, a Taiwanese coffee pot, an indigenous Australian painting, a hand-painted Japanese fan, a Tibetan carpet, 2 Omani lamps, a Turkish hand-embroidered silk runner, a Nepali paper lantern, art made by a family friend, my mother’s mosaic, and some paintings done by our daughter. This eclectic mix along with lamps and candles has made us feel at home without cluttering or creating disharmony although it certainly wouldn’t suit some people!
- The washing machine does not do a great job of spinning the water out of the clothes and we don’t have a clothes dryer so we have a clothes airer permanently set-up in our kitchen because that’s the only space available. The oven chooses to switch itself off sporadically and the dishwasher takes longer to wash the dishes than if we did it by hand but these are just small idiosyncrasies that we will accustom ourselves to.
- This afternoon I took a walk up the hill to find a bin for recycling glass and metal – that is something for us to get used to, there are separate bins for paper, plastic, glass+metal and non recyclables and there are refunds on aluminium cans and plastic bottles returned to supermarkets, all of which means that we carry rubbish around with us which is not something that we did in Canberra. I also found a collection bin for recycling clothes and shoes and deposited some items that shouldn’t have come with us after-all!
- Today our son was invited to his first birthday party. It was only my 2nd time to see anyone else from the school because my husband does drop-off and pick-up. I made good contacts with 3 families and had enjoyable conversations with a lovely Mexican woman (Melissa) and her Norwegian husband (Ove). He lived in Qatar as a child and they just took their family of 5 to India for 12 months. I also chatted with an American woman (Jenny) here for her husband’s sabbatical at NTNU and a Swiss woman geologist who is here for her husband’s work. All three have invited us to spend time with them in the next 2 weeks before the school holidays. It feels great to be making connections and having conversations! The frisson of meeting new people is a great thing but it’s the conversion to real friendship that takes time, care and work. Let’s see how we go with that!
- I went to a Norwegian birthday party.
- The woman (Tone) that we met at Trondheim airport on arrival has taken us into their social circle. She had been living in Houston for 3 years and has returned with her family to their home in Trondheim and understands what it’s like to be the new foreigners in a strange town.
- I met the birthday girl (Gunn) at a bbq hosted by Teresa in the summer and she generously invited me to join her party of 14 friends, all of whom were Norwegian. I didn’t know it was a party and expected a quiet gathering for baccalao, because that’s what we discussed in the summer. I dressed casually in jeans and a woollen jumper and was the most casual there but I don’t think it mattered (time will tell!).
- I walked to Teresa’s house and we walked to the party together. Teresa, Gunn and Tone all warmly included me in their conversations and switched to English whenever I was nearby. Their lovely friends were accepting and only a little mystified about why I was there but instantly understood when I explained that Tone had taken me under her wing. I was charmed when they sang a Norwegian birthday song with an accompanying dance (rather than sing an adaptation of Happy Birthday). Teresa and Tone wrote a poem about Gunn and read it out to the party. I have no idea what was said in the song or poem but everyone enjoyed both!
- The food was all prepared by Gunn and it was amazing. She served a prawn salad, a salmon, coriander, rocket and mango salad, hommous, good cheeses, crustaceans, and a whale carpaccio. I had previously vowed to myself that I wouldn’t eat whale because I consider it unnecessary to kill those majestic creatures but at the party I decided to embrace Norway and try it. Gunn grew up on a small island and their primary protein source was whale, so she ate it nearly everyday as a child. She said that as sanctions were placed the price has risen incredibly high and she now only eats it on special occasions. It was delicious served with shaved parmesan cheese, rocket and olive oil!
- I had the great pleasure of sitting with Gunn’s best friend, Pål during dinner. He won my admiration instantly when he told me that he loves to learn languages and that he reads all that he can about every topic, especially sociology and history. He was fascinated to hear me talk about spending time in Arab countries and he entertained me with his wit and interesting mind. We agreed that the key to happiness is low expectations and your own glass of G&T but that it has to be good quality gin. I do hope that I will see him again!