Warm Me Up

Uh oh. It’s official. We’ve hit the January blues. I know it’s quite common for people living in wintery climates to hit a bit of a low after the holidays have worn off and we are stuck in gray, cold Jaunary with no spring in sight and no holiday twinkle lights to make us feel cozy. We’re all starved for heat, warmth and outdoor physical activity without having to dress in 10 layers. But it’s more than just that this year, and our detour to California last year spoiled me with more than just mild winters. I now remember the way January 2007 and 2008 felt.

I am dying for the feeling of understanding EVERYTHING. The feeling of reading signs and eavesdropping and knowing what is being announced on the loudspeaker on the train platform. I remember feeling this way in the Netherlands. And in Germany. And here in Norway it isn’t any different. The truth is that many, probably most, people here speak English at an amazing level. I could ask for help or directions if I needed to and the reply would be given in very clear, adorably accented English. So I’m spoiled. And I know it. And I feel really lucky to have avoided the linguistic isolation of Crimmitschau. But without speaking Norwegian it is still impossible to avoid feeling a bit disoriented in day to day activities.

For example, in the grocery store we have the system down to science. We read the total from the digital cash register, answer ‘no’ when they ask if we want a bag, give the money, pick up the change and answer ‘yes’ when they ask if we want the receipt. I know the script by heart. But once I a while, some helpful or cranky cashier deviates from their set lines. Asks if that item next to the conveyor belt is ours or if we have a smaller bill or if we are enjoying the weather. And for a moment it’s always stunned silence, during that moment you try to frantically search your brain for some familiar word from what was said and piece together the possible meaning of it all. Once in a while, we do figure it out and kind of answer with a stuttering ‘nnnnei’ or ‘taaakkk’ or whatever is appropriate. But mostly, we have to resort to asking, in our most practiced Norwegian, ‘Do you speak English?’ And usually they do, and often they are happy to. Despite that however, the whole exchange leaves you feeling exposed, a bit embarrassed and somewhat inadequate. As I walk through life in a foreign land, I sometimes find myself thinking ‘Please don’t talk to me, please don’t talk to me, please don’t talk to me!’

So, as much as a sunny vacation on a beach somewhere would probably do much to cure most cases of the January blues, I’d tolerate a quick getaway to a place where I can participate in banter about the weather, have conversations with friends that I’m certain don’t get lost in translation, and get through the grocery store without outing myself as a foreigner. Sun and heat would just be an added bonus.

4 thoughts on “Warm Me Up

  1. Laner,I clearly remember walking across the Vietnamese-Chinese border six years ago and having a Chinese cab driver pick us up and I could understand him. It was the first time China felt like home and it was a huge relief. It's hard, I feel your loneliness girl.

  2. I remember feeling this way as a kid living overseas. It's fun at first but gets old fast. Can't wait to have an all American gab fest weekend!

  3. lane, this is EXACTLY how i felt when we were living in helsinki. even after taking a couple of finnish courses it was so difficult when the cashier would ask a question. the only difference is, if i even so much as paused for 1 second, most of them would immediately speak to me in english. hang in there, the days are getting longer every day…

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