Thursday, February 22, 2007

Day 208: Cultural Observations

I have been severely remiss in discussing things on this website. I'm going to start aiming for twice weekly don't get you're hopes too high.

The other day the power went out. For all of Longyearbyen. While somewhat scary seeing that Arctic darkness turn into TRUE darkness, the stars were amazing. Zero light contamination. It was also incredible to hear how totally silent it got. (Ah, the sound of your heating turning off). We tried to get outside and take some photos, but by the time I was coordinated enough to borrow someone's tripod (eh, 30 minutes later) the power came back on. Still, here's something from the front of my barrack:

A big part of the issue of not posting here is me having no where to go with my busted leg. After much mental reckoning, I finally decided earlier this week to buy a snowmobile. A bit of searching found one somewhat within a price range that I could consider - a 2003 scooter that the local rental business was selling. Sort of a cleaning out the "old" stock kind of thing, a rather good deal for a very decent scooter. However, the speedometer light wasn't working, so I left it with them to fix before I gave them my life savings.

This was on Monday. I told them I wanted it ASAP, what with my leg. I finally called them on Thursday, wondering why I hadn't heard back from them (as they promised they would call as soon as it was ready). As it turned out it was totally ready for me to pick up, they just hadn't called. So I get in there, and they ask if I have insurance. (I have health insurance, not vehicle insurance). They're still willing to give it to me, but I need to register the vehicle with a Norwegian ID number. Apparently I also need this magic number to get the afore mentioned insurance as well.

So I remain scooterless and powerless. The special number could take weeks to get...or only days, maybe, depending on which rumors you believe. Is it even worth it? The thing's so expensive and each week that passes makes less time for me to use it. The scooter business people are not helping anything. I was so desperately looking forward to getting out of the house this weekend. The taxi driver's started to recognize my voice on the phone. Not being able to drive myself home today because of some paperwork was crushing.

Here's the cultural observation of the day. As I'm finding, and please I hope not too many people will get up in arms about this, most of the Norwegians I am coming in contact with are not particularly friendly. They're nice, but not especially friendly, in the casually-outgoing lets-be-friends sort of way. Knowing that I can be somewhat reserved, I assumed that this was my problem. However, another American recently moved into my dorm, and we got into conversation and were making plans to hang out within hours of meeting each other. Is this an individual thing - people just happening to hit it off? I do not think it's because of some special American bond - if anything, I usually avoid Americans. I'm motivated to make the observation that there does seem to be some cultural thing - either on the American side or the Norwegian side - that affects how people approach each other. I've never had such a difficult time getting to know people. And I've had Norwegians (the few people I've managed to get close to in these two months) tell me that this is true - its hard to break the ice here. Even after living in China, and other areas vastly different than my Californian upbringing, I've rarely been so aware of such a drastic difference in basic social interactions.

Well ok, China was a whole other world. But still.

Last weekend we had a crayfish party. I'm still hazy on the details of why, but its a Swedish tradition where you eat a lot of crayfish?

And wear hats?

There you go.


Hans Mundahl said...

Nice hats!

I had a similar experience living in germany, with meeting people, not with hats.

The impression i got was that people in germany anyway were much more wary to get to be friends, but once they did they really wanted to be friends, deeply and truely.

I found I was more willing to hang out and be friends my my american definition, but maybe not keep in touch for ever after I left the country.

This different set up going in made it hard sometimes when we both thought we were friends but this meant something quite different from each side.

Does that make any sense?

Der Wilderer said...

In Europe, Scandinavians and especially Norwegians are well known for their rather reserved behaviour. It's much harder to become a part of a community than, say, in France or Italy. So it's definitly a cultural thing and not about you being American or whatever. Maybe you should have some hard drinks together. The crab-shot gives me the idea you've tried that before ; )

Anonymous said...

Norwegians consider Americans for being superficial...

Anonymous said...

well, we won't find any truth that way. Chinise for instance do consider Europians too superficial also.