A Kentuckian’s adventure to Norway: Rolling, skål and a little thing called Eurovision

Me at Oslo Sentralstasjon.

It’s been over a month when I revealed Norwegian to be the final choice for the language blog. Since that time, I’ve been a faithful and diligent student to it and I … well. I kinda, sorta went to Norway.

As one would say in Norwegian, uh … hvad?

Let’s do a quick rewind to early 2008, before the language blog began. As I mentioned before, I discovered an intriguing song competition called the Eurovision Song Contest, a highly watched annual series which airs every May (though not broadcast in the United States, unfortunately). Eurovision, as it’s most commonly referred to, would play a huge role in my trip to Norway.

[For the Americans reading, imagine if (almost) every country in Europe had American Idol. Now imagine if all the winners for each contest got together and competed in a “Grand Prix” of sorts, with representatives singing virtually anything from ethno-pop ballads, to heavy metal power anthems, with occasional drag queens and costumed performers. Add a dash of controversy and kitsch and you have a rough image of the 56-year old tradition that’s watched by hundreds of millions around the globe annually.] Over the course of that time, I learned more about the contest and followed it heavily the next year, in the midst of stage one of the language blog. I also met other fans virtually who would soon become part of my inner circle of friends, most of them European, all equally if not more so passionate about the competition as I was. In May 2009, Norway won the 54th annual Eurovision Song Contest with the song “Fairytale” by Alexander Rybak, eclipsing the runner-up by a record number of votes. I didn’t have any travel plans set at the time, but coincidentally I had been considering visiting Norway and Sweden by the end of the year. I gave a lot of thought to attending the Eurovision Song Contest. Not only would this be an opportunity to meet my inner circle of friends, but there was a strong possibility that Norwegian would be selected for the blog. It would be the perfect opportunity to have an intimate encounter with the language. By October, I had already booked my plane tickets.

Arriving to Oslo Airport.

A month has almost past since I took off to Norway, but the details line up perfectly in my head, even though they seem innumerable. The plane was small. No televisions in the seat for my third time abroad. I switched places with a young mother and sat by an American. Behind me, I heard snippets of Norwegian spoken by young blond people around my age, which I playfully nickname as “rolling.” Every now and then during the latter half of the flight I would open my eyes, passing snow-capped hills and steep fjords and later fall back asleep.

I got off at Oslo Airport at Gardermoen around middag (noon). The first words I saw were a bright “Hei” with the appropriately-themed “Share the Moment” from a Eurovision advertisement and ankomst (arrivals). Oslo Airport was quiet and impeccably clean. Every other person seemed to be wearing designer clothing. I spotted more blonds, including a young woman cleaning the men’s bathroom. After checking email and my Facebook of course, I bought my ticket to Oslo Sentralstasjon.

Walking down Karl Johans Gate.

Walking on the street, I continued to hear the rolling, except it was stronger and sometimes faster. I got lost searching for my host’s home, and several times I had to ask “Snakker du engelsk,” sometimes repeating myself. I finally found my destination and met my host, who was more than gracious the week I was there. After helping me understand Oslo’s orientation, I saw my first glimpse of NRK (Norway’s CBS or ABC), this time on an actual TV. Coincidentally, the first-semi final of Eurovision was airing. My host served me some tasty brød and sjokoladepålegg, as I studied the label and pronounced every other word I saw on TV or from books he had on his table.

I met half of my inner circle at the Oslo Opera House, which is adjacent to the Oslo Fjord. Both matched in serenity and impression. I was late and they were inside taking a tour of the building, which partially relieved a few of my nerves I’d been holding onto for nearly a year. I remember the hugs and the smile that never left my face so strongly as I type this, along with all of us taking photos with our cameras.

Me with my international (and awesome) group of friends.

The week was filled with non-stop meetings and activities related to Eurovision particularly with an incredible dress rehearsal of the final, marking this as my first experience of seeing Eurovision in person. Some hours before, we had a detour to Vigeland Park Friday of that week, in which I was honored to participate in my first ever international picnic. Meeting with so many people, most who had traveled from other parts of Europe themselves and exchanging goodies from our native lands was undeniably one of the major climaxes of the trip. The day before, some of us had been interviewed in a Danish newspaper (see pages 60-61) about our special group of 10, with some of us coming from Iceland, Ireland, Portugal and even Luxembourg. I have the newspaper article and I’m happy to say I can read it comfortably (if you remember, Danish is mutually intelligible with Norwegian).

Care for a Norwegian beverage?

The entire time I was there, I was beginning to uncover more and more tidbits of Norwegian culture. Solo soda and flavored seltzer water was something I never passed up at a Narvesen. The people were louder and much more diverse than I imagined. Beer was incredibly overpriced, along with candy. And Norwegian itself continued to sound like it was rolling to me, although I was able to make out signs that had frokt (fruit) or grønt (greens) or the vær (weather) section of a newspaper. One vivid memory I have is being at a 7-11 (which are everywhere in Oslo) with two energized Norwegian middle-aged women, kidnapping my flag and saying “Heia Norge” before jumping into a rolling conversation with me.

The night of the Eurovision final was the last time I saw mostly everyone. After lots of dancing and celebrating Germany’s triumphant win, I said my goodbyes at the prestigious Euroclub, where we tended to meet nearly every night I was there. With an American flag around my neck and German warpaint on my face, I walked the streets of Oslo, draped in an Azerbaijani flag to keep me warm. (I cannot make this up.) It was past 4 AM and the sky was well lit, but the spirit from earlier was far from gone. Many were gathered, either talking or still celebrating, while some were leaving Oslo right away, walking with suitcases in tow or hopping in a taxi. I had even ran into several friends before making it back to my host’s home.

A mother and her daughter at Oslo Fjord.

Sunday, the second to last day I was there, was a great opportunity to observe Norwegian more closely. I went back to Oslo Fjord upon suggestion of my Danish friend Kris and walked around Akershus Fortress, snapping shots along the picturesque pathways. I felt brave enough to practice my norsk, so I made a short video (listen to it here).

When I left on Monday, I ran into my Irish friend and his aunt, who lives in Oslo. They got coffee and we chatted for a bit before he left. After being interrogated for security by a sweet Swedish girl from Småland, I had to get my luggage scanned. After everything went through, the alarm went off again. But the guard had laughed, patted my back and just said “værsågod” followed by a brief bit of rolling. This was the last time I would hear it before getting on the plane. When I landed back home in Kentucky, my voice was gone. My family greeted me and I yelled a loud, “Hey, hvordan går det,” incredibly happy to see them while forgetting where I was. It was around midnight and SDF was as quiet as OSL when we left.

Norway from the plane.

There were many things I acquired from my short trip. Apart from the ones related to learning Norwegian, I can certainly say life-long friendships were formed, along with an experience that can only be described as an adventure. But my feelings for Norwegian, however, have changed. It’s hard to explain, but listening to it after learning it for several weeks I was a bit frustrated I didn’t understand more of it than I did when I was there. It was harder to pick up on words, listening and speaking, than I assumed. I do think this has solidified my determination to become fluent in it (if only to understand my Scandinavian friends I met in Oslo).

So, will the Kentuckian meet his goal? Jeg håper. If not, I can always brag that I’ve been to Norway. I still have a bunch of kroner in my wallet if people don’t believe me.

4 thoughts on “A Kentuckian’s adventure to Norway: Rolling, skål and a little thing called Eurovision

  1. I just started my own langauge blog and was wondering who were my predecessors… woah, you have had a great achievement. 😀

    If you are curious, here is mine:

    It is written with a different objective. Because I could speak both a European and an Asian language at native level, and know a couple of others at various degrees of fluency, I thought I should write a bit to share my experience with others.

    Continue enjoying your adventure!

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