I had this big plan to post something on July 16 to celebrate my first anniversary as a Norwegian resident. Espen, however, had a bigger and better plan: Travel! His plan wins, of course, and in just a few days we head to —
Never mind. That’s a post for another day, when I can tell you all about where we’ve gone. Suffice it to say, we will still be away when July 16 rolls around, so here we go.
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d someday live abroad. And if I hadn’t gone and married this Norwegian fella of mine, I’d still be living my rather humdrum life. It wasn’t a bad life. I had bought a little condo and was busy girling it up. I had a job that I liked just fine and that paid the bills. There was the occasional outing with friends, and of course I visited my family from time to time.
But my life now is so beyond what I ever expected that I still mutter to myself, “Wow! That’s my husband!” and “Holy shit, I live in Norway!” Espen is his usual awesome self, full of good humor and kindness. (Just the other night he drove for an hour to find us a good place to check out the sunset.) And then there’s this amazing family of mine here. From my stepkids to our grandsons, to my in-laws, they’re all incredibly supportive and loving. I know how lucky I am in this regard, and I never take it for granted. Heck, even the weather has been uncharacteristically beautiful this spring/summer.
Despite all this goodness, though, there are still things I’ve had to muddle through. The person who has always found comfort in the familiar now must face the unfamiliar in some way every single day. Topping that list? Learning Norwegian.
I’m happy to report that I have finished my first year of language class! I even survived a class change late in the school year. We had all gotten into our groove with one another and our teacher, Harald, when he announced that our class was being canceled and that we would be scattered about into new classes after the Easter break. It was hard news. We had all become friends. We recognized that we had a good group, and we supported one another. No one likes being the new person in an established class, and yet this is would soon be our fate.
Harald spoke to me and my friend/fellow student Nick about moving to the higher-level class he would be co-teaching with Helene, one of the intermediate Norwegian instructors. Of course the prospect scared the hell out of me, and I told him so. But he reminded me: “You were nervous when this class started, too, and you made friends. You’ll meet new ones.” It’s good when teachers know your personality.
Another teacher. New students. New, higher level … it was a lot to get used to. It took a couple of weeks before the nervousness subsided, but in the end, it was a great move. Helene, who co-taught our class, was fantastic, and between her and Harald, my Norwegian has improved quite a bit. And just as Harald predicted, I did indeed make new friends. Once again, I was in a class full of people from around the globe, and as is often proved, despite our many differences in backgrounds, ethnicities, and religions, we are all more alike than unalike. (Be sure to check out photos from my first year in school at the end of this post.)
While my language skills have improved over the last year, I’m still humbled whenever I’m in a real-world situation. There’s always this undercurrent of anxiety. “Will I say it right? Will they understand me? Will I understand them when they answer?!” I go over and over in my head what I want to say before I finally muster up the strength to say it out loud, and then there’s the flop sweat that pours out of me as they begin to answer either too quickly to catch or in a dialect that I don’t understand (or, worse, both). I recently learned that some Norwegians use a pejorative to describe immigrants’ attempts at the language. Knowing this makes it that much harder to try.
But try I do. I have to. It’s the only way I’ll learn. I listen to conversations between Espen and my father-in-law to see how much I understand, and friends and family help me by talking slower. It has helped. I’m starting to understand a little more of the news and some commercials. We took our grandsons to see a movie and (after I woke up — ha ha) I was surprised by how much I understood. Best of all? While in the city one afternoon this spring, I managed to chat with an older Norwegian lady who needed help finding the bus station. She even complimented my Norwegian! That little victory went a long way to boosting my confidence.
Next up was my residency. Not that I was afraid I’d get kicked outta the country, but it can be intimidating going to the immigration office, which is at the police station, and having them review all your paperwork. The application fee is pricey, and then there’s waiting for the decision. I got the news earlier this week that I’ve been approved, and for two years! Thank you, Norway!
While having my residency approved was undoubtedly an important victory, I have to say that the one I’m most proud of (outside having made more new friends) is that I got my driver’s license! The level of anxiety attached to getting this little plastic card was so great that even after I got the news that I had passed the driving exam, I was still nervous!
Allow me to explain. When you arrive in Norway as a resident, you have a year to turn in your home-country’s license and take the driving test for a Norwegian license. It used to be a straight swap. Not anymore. It makes sense; you want to make sure people know what they’re doing on the road before you go giving them a license. But the examiners are notoriously strict. And then there’s the fact that when you turn in your license from your country, Norway keeps it. That’s right. If you fail the Norwegian driving exam, you no longer have a license to drive anywhere.
You can’t just show up at the testing place with your car. Nope. You have to book a few (expensive) hours with a local driving school so they can review your driving. If they think you’re ready, then you can schedule a time for the (expensive) driving test. When you’re approved to go for the test, you rent an (expensive) automobile through the driving school. That booking includes another (expensive) driving review, which takes place during your drive to the testing center.
To top it all off, you get one chance and one chance only to pass the test. If you fail this driving test, you have to take the full-length driver’s education course from a driving school … which takes several weeks and costs about $5,000-$6,000. And of course you have to pay to take the actual test again. So as costly as it is to swap out your license the first time, having to start from scratch is exorbitant. Had I failed, I wouldn’t be getting a license for some time, not until I could afford to. So yeah. I was nervous.
It’s been a year full of changes, and I can hardly believe how fast the time has gone by. It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were getting the apartment together and I was starting language class. Can’t wait to see what the next year has in store. Hope you’ll continue to join me for the ride!