Wednesday, 26 May 2010


Why is it only at moments of great magnitude, when in extremis, that I have to speak Norwegian? I have come to realise the reason one has to learn Norwegian is not to speak to Norwegians themselves, but to communicate with Poles, Latvians, Russians, Iranians, Somalis, Columbians and many others.

For women, one of the most stressful things about moving is finding a good, friendly, kind and very, very, very skilful hairdresser. There are many women who simply refuse to do the research involved, and resort to flying home to have their hair cut,(depending on the destination, this can work out to be cheaper anyway, fare included). But I had no time and horrendous hair....I rushed off and ended up with an utterly charming and very splendid Polish hairdresser who spoke good Norwegian but no English. Thus we chatted away in Norsk, she more than me, and supplemented our speech with numerous exaggerated hand gestures and meaningful pointing of digits. It was reminiscent of a 'Carry On' film, but the results were perfectly acceptable...the hair was fine, although the addled brain inside the head was exhausted.

And only yesterday I overheard a hilarious conversation as a Brit tried to explain to a Polish builder how to arrange the new tiles in his kitchen. A remarkably wide range of languages were employed, and one way and another, they came to an understanding.

Meanwhile, we have had a terrifically good Columbian dentist over here. It’s not especially easy speaking to a dentist in one’s own language as it is... with all sorts of industrial-looking hardware hanging out of one’s mouth, whatever language I chose to speak was unlikely to be at its best. My Spanish is Primary One level, and we hadn’t yet reached ‘dentistry’ so yet again I was obliged to communicate in Norsk. It wasn’t just the dental work that was excruciating.

A further example to back up my thesis occurred at the Legevakt itself, otherwise known as A&E. We were there to attend to an offspring’s broken arm, and had been waiting many, many hours. A very kind Iraqi nurse kept popping into the waiting room to check all was well (in Norsk) because we had been joined by a challenging fellow-patient, a fairly astonishing example of Norwegian masculinity.

A noisy and very large young man had appeared at the Legevakt holding his hand high in the air as blood surged down and dripped off his elbow. To say he was ‘out of his box’ would be putting it mildly...despite his drastic injury, he was so hyper he was quite unable to sit down. As he pranced and whirled about the waiting-room, he told me all about his injury in Norwegian, but once I asked if he spoke English, he went through the details several times again. He had been at a party with all his old mates from the drug rehabilitation centre when his best friend had stabbed him right through the hand. He didn’t blame him at all...I guess it was that sort of party. But he said it was quite interesting to have his hand pinned to the table with a kitchen knife. I vaguely inquired if it hurt.

‘No way,’ he replied. And here I must resort to using a ‘beep’ may pick an expletive of your choice. ‘I’d already taken enough (beep) stuff, both in liquid and powder form, to deal with any (beep) pain I might be about to face. It’s no (beep) problem. It’s by no means the worst (beep) pain I have ever endured, I can (beep) assure you. ’

‘My, what florid English you speak? Where on earth did you learn to speak so.... fluently?’ I asked, trying to disguise my horror.

‘Off the (beep) telly, naturally. That Gordon Ramsey bloke. He’s so (beep) cool. I’ve been watching him for (beep) learn a (beep) of a lot off him.’

‘Yes, I’m sure. Well I’m sure he’d be thrilled to know he’s teaching people to speak such terrific English as well as how to cook.’

‘Too (beep) right. Ramsay’s a (beep) genius.’

You see, even the most hyper Norwegian with a serious habit and a life-threatening injury is capable of speaking the most artfully phrased English. Really, it’s embarrassing.

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