Return to the Father Land

I haven’t been back to the mother country—or is it the father country, if it’s my father who’s from it?—since taking the job as Editor of America’s only Norwegian newspaper. Two and a half years, a full one and a half years longer than some people thought the paper would even exist! I’ve learned an enormous amount about Norway in that time, obviously. And even more about who I am.

Last time around I was here with family, as the only member of our immigrant branch who didn’t speak Norwegian, eat lutefisk, or covet a bunad. Last time I wasn’t entirely sure why I was there, to be honest, brought along to meet a family with which I’d never identified by a father I didn’t (and don’t) have a good relationship with.

My father’s father (bestefar, or just Rolf) brought his wife and son and daughter to America after the Second World War. It was the land of opportunity, and Rolf was just the sort to do well in pursuit of the American Dream. He was a hard worker—construction, fishing, concrete pouring—a self-sacrificing scrimper—one might even call him cheap—and a brilliant investor. Rolf died a millionaire.

He returned to the motherland infrequently, and his fully Americanized children, though bilingual, grew up with the arrogant certainty that they lived in the Best Country in the World™. They loved Norway, but they weren’t particularly engaged with the progressive, wealthy country it was becoming.

And I was even less engaged with it. My aunt spoke enough Norwegian to my cousin that he grew up bilingual, but my father did not do the same with me. All I knew of the country of his birth was Christmas cookies and the revolting fish cakes he would buy at the local Scandinavian deli. To me this handful of people represented the entire country of Norway, but the version of the country they represented was already out of date before I was born. Their worldviews—particularly those of my father and Rolf—were staunchly conservative and even xenophobic. We argued. I was never very close with any of them.

When last I went to Norway—before this job, even before Frozen made the whole world take note of that starkly beautiful country—I thought of fjords and the midnight sun. I did tourism, but not even particularly well-researched tourism. We stayed a few miles from Trolltunga and didn’t even know it. We did one mad day of sight-seeing in Oslo, hitting the highlights with furious intensity.

My father warned me not to talk politics with the Norwegian family, but I made no such promises. It was clear to me that if such a conversation did occur (and they inevitably did) I wasn’t the one who would look foolish. I’m not sure my father understood exactly how strange his conservative views looked to the Norwegian side of our family. They only warmed up to me after they learned that I thought differently from him.

A nisse in an airport.
Nils Anders Wik waits to board the flight to Norway.

This trip, that begins today, is different in almost every way. I don’t know if I will see any of my family members, but if I do I will feel much closer to them.

I feel I know so much about Norway, maybe more than makes any sense, for a person who’s only been on that one strange trip. I can’t wait to see how much of the perception I’ve built up is accurate. Already, sitting on the Norwegian Air flight next to a woman from Oslo, I have learned that it’s true: all Norwegians really do read crime novels and eat Kvikk Lunsj and oranges at Easter.

Jeg snakker litt norsk nå, men allerede ingen vil snakke det med meg. The crew announcements in the terminal and on the plane have been almost exclusively in English (wouldn’t that be annoying if you were Norwegian? Can you imagine flying out of anywhere on American Airlines and hearing important announcements only in the local language?). So that part is true too. Jeg håper bare at jeg kan lese noen norsk. I’m ready. Immerse me. I want to learn more!

I’m traveling alone this time, another difference. I haven’t been on an international trip without the Husbot since my summer in London (and even then he visited me)! In other words, I haven’t done it since I was young and poor and dumb, and tried to save money by sleeping on beaches and trains. I well remember the loneliness of being an international traveler abroad. But I am better at being alone now than I was at 22, and it’s only one week.

Finally, of course, I’m traveling for work. I’m being flown in and put up in hotels and treated to meals and shows all because they think I am a journalist. Which is on the one hand totally awesome. But also humbling and a little scary. I’ve got to do this right!

So here it is, my first installment. A little too personal for the work blog; a little too Norwegian for my own. Off to a great start!