People are strange

It has taken me a while to get to this point. To the point where I can say I am proud of my forever foreign-ness. To the point where I am finally able to appreciate identifying with several cultures simultaneously.  I have accepted it as a positive thing, an advantage even. 

Acclimatisation, assimilation, integration – I do my fair dose I would say. I learnt Norwegian, I eat brown cheese, I have learnt to ski downhill AND cross-country. I am amazed at myself. Amazed that I even manage to step outdoors when the temperature goes below -5 degrees celsius. No mean feat for a warm-blooded Cypriot. 

Yet even a cultural chameleon must have limits. Some things should remain strange. Difference is good. I like noticing quirks, things that only foreign eyes, ears, senses pick up. Things that make it fun to say “only in Norway”. Here are a few of my favourite quirks.

The “ja” (yes) on the in-breath

This one is hard to describe and not immediately noticeable, but once you hear it, it’s hard to ignore. For the longest time I could not make sense of it. I would just try to be as subtle as possible every time I heard it, despite screwing up my nose and raising my eyebrows in puzzlement.

What is it exactly? The best way to describe it is a noise that people make to indicate agreement or interest in something being said. Sounds like the word yes – ja but it is spoken on an in-breath. So it sounds like the person is short of breath. It is subtle, you may not have noticed it yet, even if you are around Norwegians a lot. Some people do it ALL the time, others infrequently. But it is most definitely a common occurrence.

Unison clapping

Mostly noticeable at the theatre or after some kind of performance. Norwegians like to applaud in unison.

At the end of a show, when the curtain goes up and the actors come on stage, the audience claps and cheers. Each to their own beat. Then, several seconds in, the clapping gradually begins to coalesce into a unified clapping sequence. Everyone clapping to the same beat. Clap, clap, clap clap. It is so strange to me, but it is like clapping to the beat of a Greek zembekiko. It takes a second or two but everyone falls in line and joins the chorus. I usually like to double clap just to keep the foreign-ness alive.

Roller skis

Ah – roller skis. It’s no joke that Norwegians were born with skis on. So much so, that for some, the joy of gliding along, moving arms and legs, uphill and down cannot be simply a winter thing. It’s just too good to stop. You do not stop when the snow turns to ice, unforgivingly hard and slippery. You ski as long as the ground is white and when the snow melts then, you crack out the roller skis.

Roller skis are a cross between skis and roller skates. A little like two mini skateboards, one on each foot. You clip your boots in to those grab your poles and keep on gliding. Roller skiers are dedicated. They are often clad in lycra and in full training mode when you spot them. Speeding along roads, pavements and cycle lanes. The skiing must continue!

“People are strange when you’re a stranger”

The Doors