Summer in the city

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EXPATRIATE MUSINGS

Martina Scapin, daughter of an Italian diplomat, returned last summer to the city where her parents were posted when she was born – Oslo. She shares her experiences of living and working in the Norwegian capital, before heading back to her studies in London.

Even though I was born in Oslo, the summer of 2009 was my first real introduction to the city and its people. My Italian father, who has a passion for Scandinavia, reminded me often of my birthplace, but I never really breathed its air like I did those two months in August and September.

A summer in Oslo proved memorable for this Italian expat student. PHOTO: Views and News

I’m not Norwegian, but the country left its imprint on me from an early age. My father’s love for Scandinavia was hard to go unnoticed, and after having lived in Copenhagen I, too, began to catch the Scandinavian bug.
So after two years of university studies in England, I decided it was time to discover the city that had given my family and me so much.

Working gal in Oslo
In August I found myself living in the apartment my parents bought 20 years ago, wondering what I would do for the next two months. The job hunt began. CVs were handed out just about everywhere, and just as I was starting to lose hope, I got a call from a woman working in a chain of souvenir shops downtown, asking me to come in for an interview. I arrived beaming and trying not to appear too eager. The next day I was told I had a job.

Suddenly I was a working gal in Oslo and boy, was it good! Coming from England, where shop assistants earn around NOK 60 an hour, I was shocked/amazed/exhilarated when my paycheck arrived a month later. This could finally explain why Scandinavians always come out on top of those “happiest in the world” lists, with 13-year-old kids already jet-setting around the world. I was definitely not feeling the recession here, and by the looks of most others in the city, they weren’t either.

Search for the soul.
In addition to experiencing the financial side of life in Oslo (which can be beyond good but doesn’t equate to total happiness in my book) I decided it was important to get to know the Norwegians. I was planning to dig into their souls and see what they’re all about. I quickly understood this was easier said than done. Without a beer or some other alcoholic beverage, it seemed practically impossible.

I’m not talking about older gents who are usually harder to crack anyway. No, this was dealing with 20-something adults at social events. At one point I managed to lure a Norwegian man into an intense political debate, talking for what seemed like a good two hours, and I was feeling rather pleased with myself. I thought I had actually made a friend, when another bright-eyed but slightly intoxicated friend wobbled over to me and told me not to look so smug, because the guy was obviously going to ignore me after tonight. This was, sadly, true.

Socializing in packs.
Apparently, Norwegians have a tradition of socializing in packs. Once they have found their pack, they hardly leave it, and if you happen to pop a little hole into that pack (like I thought I did) you can find the hole tightly shut the next day. My Mediterranean blood had a very hard time dealing with this. My parents, living in Oslo again themselves, said it was just the way it is. I have heard that once you really crack the shell, they become friends for life, but since I was only going to be around for two months, I had a hard time seeing that happen.

After coming to terms with how Norwegians ticked, I became interested in Norway’s mythological history. Trolls, for example. These little creatures are, alongside the Vikings, the most important symbols of the country and represent its land and nature. Theodor Kittelsen is one of Norway’s most famous artists, and I spent lots of time poring over his drawings, especially those that illustrated some of Asbjørnsen and Moe’s fairy tales. These trolls can send shivers down your spine but they’re also part of what makes Norway so special. The strong sense of mysticism and close connections to the outdoors are captivating features of the country.

The two months passed quickly, and I left Oslo feeling re-connected and happy. Until we meet again, ha det bra!

First published January 13, 2010

Views and News from Norway/Martina Scapin

For more expat commentaries on life in Norway, go to Views on the News.

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