02 September 2008

Snakker Du Norsk?

One of the good things about living in Norway as an ex-pat is that everyone, or almost everyone speaks some English and most people speak it extremely well. It makes life very easy, although things like letters from the council can still be pretty bewildering. Despite that you could easily spend your whole life here and get by without any of the lingo, still chuckling to yourself every time you see signs that says ”Fart” (speed).

When I first arrived I was keen and tried translating all my out going emails into Norwegian. That was until I sent one inviting people to a software launch and my translation read ”if you would like to come and join us to watch Roxar throw their new software into the sea...” the phrase I chose for launch (sjøsette) being specific to boats... The mail did the rounds of the Norwegain geo-community faster that a dose of clap in a mining camp and I became the laughing- stock.

Shortly after that I managed to pay 350 000 nok (£35 000 / $70 000) to the electricity company because my English keyboard put in a ”.” instead of a ”,” as the decimal and the internet banking system didn’t recognise it. I went on a course at the Uni but was away so much that I only got to half the lesson, pretty soon I had an offical looking letter in norwegian saying - well I don't know what it said so I asked a friend to translate it and he said
"you have been kicked off your Norwegian course for not attending enough!"
I said "oh really and they write to me in Norwegian to tell me that I failed my norwegian language course?"
"It would seem that way" he replied.

At the point I kind of unofficial put things on hold until I had time to do it properly. And that is the problem, there never seems to be time to do it properly so you muddle on and you get by. Before you know it you have been here six years and it's a bit embarrasing so you lie to shop keepers and taxi drivers and say you only arrived two months ago.

However beyond the embarrasment, the tolerance of the locals hides the problem. It’s tough to mix with people. While they are very friendly and very accommodating, if you are in the pub with a bunch of them, they will chat to you in English, but if left unsupervised will immediately lapse into Norsk. It means that you can’t go to the toilet because you know as soon as you come back you are out of the conversation! You become fantastically adapt at: a) not going to the toilet and, b) drifting off into your own private space as the World babbles around you in a sing-song white noise.

I have many Norwegian friends and they are fantastically forgiving of my pathetic attempts or even my lack of attempts at the language. The rest of the community as well. Can you ever imagine going into a shop in Manchester and just saying ”do you speak Norwegian? Or even French, or Spanish, and then just assuming that they will. It will never happen.

My concession is to try and speak clear and simple English, its any attempt to at least meet them half way, I have British friends who not only speak less Norwegian than me but also speak fast, garbled and parochial English – come on guys you know who you are… I also have a couple of British friends who have learnt the language fluently – a great effort this has generally involved two things: 1) a lot of time, effort and dedication and 2) a Norwegian woman! Since I have neither of these, I think I’ll stick to throwing my software into the sea and lying to taxi drivers about how long I have been here.

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