No turkey, but reason for thanks

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COMMENTARY

Thursday was Thanksgiving, a major holiday in the US that leaves lots of expatriate Americans homesick and longing for turkey and guilt-free conversation in English. In Norway, the fourth Thursday in November is no holiday, but as this expat has discovered over the years, other things can fill the void.

No turkey, but other things to fill the void.

I took the day off on Thanksgiving, which, in case anyone noticed, explains yesterday’s lack of new stories on this fledgling web site.

I admit I probably would have gone ahead and just worked like normal on Thursday, churning out more stories if I’d been home in Oslo. I’d literally had a fun taste of Thanksgiving at the American Chamber of Commerce of Norway’s annual Thanksgiving Charity Dinner the week before. I’d lacked the energy to stuff a turkey myself (they’re a lot smaller here but also tastier), invite local friends and once again explain the significance of what for me was once the most important holiday of the year. I’d decided to ignore Thanksgiving this year, and try not to feel overlooked by all those Norwegians who quickly forget how significant the day is for their American friends. They’d understand if they’d ever spent the 17th of May alone in, say, Amarillo.

This year was different, though. Another good friend here, also a foreigner in Norway, had invited me to spend the day in Bergen watching her defend her doctoral dissertation. She’s from, as fate would have it, Turkey, but understandably hadn’t given Thanksgiving a thought. I welcomed the chance to be part of her cheering squad, and figured her invitation would help fend off any Thanksgiving-abroad gloom.

Most memorable of all
It all turned into probably one of the most memorable Thanksgivings I’ve ever had, despite the lack of turkey and stuffing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. Or maybe because of it. Watching my good friend defend her thesis, and then enjoy the praise and respect of her colleagues, brought a whole new meaning to the expat experience in Norway – and spiked my appreciation of it.

We’d met 20 years ago at the most elementary level course of Norsk for utlendinger (Norwegian for Foreigners.) She already had her MD and had worked as a doctor in Turkey, but faced not only having to become fluent in Norwegian quickly but also having to repeat much of her course work to win Norwegian certification. There wasn’t even a Norwegian-Turkish dictionary in those days. She had to convert Norwegian to English, and then English to Turkish, as she struggled to make sense of what was going on around us. It was a lot easier for me.

Yesterday I watched in awe as she defended her thesis in Norwegian, before a room full of academic officials and colleagues in white coats, many of whom had posed the traditional challenges to her conclusions in difficult dialects, which always add to all those other challenges facing us foreigners. Her performance was inspiring and filled me with a pride that triggered a surprising wave of emotion. It’s not easy being a foreigner in Norway, but she’s done very well here indeed, and even I was able to follow along.

So as my fellow Americans “back home” celebrated Thanksgiving, I gave thanks for having a friend like Dr Cigdem Akalin Akkök, and for having had the experience of living here in Norway – struggling along in my own way and now trying to share events here with other non-Norwegians through Views and News from Norway.

Happy Day-after-Thanksgiving, and now I’ll get back to work.

(Story written November 27, 2009)
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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