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Norwegians Do Exist

Norwegians Do Exist

With a month and one day left, I have finally met some Norwegians. It’s only taken me five months, but I can affirmatively declare that friendly ones do exist.

….I am exaggerating of course, but there is a degree of truth to that statement. Norwegians are a very closed group of people. It is hard to become good friends with them, let alone even talk to them. If you see a Norwegian on the street, do not make eye contact. If there is an open seat on the metro or bus but there is already someone seating in the seat adjacent to it, do not sit in that chair—stand if you must. Do not ask strangers how they are, or even what time it is. The only exception to all of this is, of course, when they are drinking. Norwegians become unbelievably friendly and welcoming, but only after that second beer. Still, if you run into them the next day soberly, they will pretend they don’t even know who you are… (I am not being mean, ask any Norwegian and they will make jokes about how closed they are too).

So ya, I would honestly say that has been the hardest cultural shock that I have endured here in Oslo, especially because Americans are notoriously open and welcoming to everyone, even strangers. Plus, talking to strangers is quite possibly my favorite pass time so the Norwegian culture is extra obtuse to me.

However, a few weekends ago was an interesting change. First, on a Friday, I had curry night and watched game of thrones with the guys as usual, but then afterwards I went out with my friend Will and his Norwegian friends that he knows from university back at home. They were so fun and at the time, it was the most Norwegians I had ever spent time with since I’ve been here!

You see, most (if not all) of my friends here are international students. The University of Oslo has some 2,000 of us and they do a good job integrating us together as one community. While that is amazing, and I love everyone I have met, I truly did want to meet more Norwegians during my exchange. For that reason, I signed up rather abruptly to work at RF, the Math and Natural Sciences Faculty pub and café.

Yep, you read that right. The math faculty actually has their own bar in their building on campus. Surprisingly, all five faculties at the university have their own bars that are open during weekdays as a café, and on the weekends as a bar. They are run by the students of the faculty and are basically the cheapest places you can go for mediocre coffee and a variety of beer.

I just learned the other day that the Math pub (called RF-Kjelleren) was founded before there was even a math faculty—the math degree originally was housed under the philosophy department back in the day. It is a quirky place, quite fitting for math and science students. Their mascot is a bear called Major, and all throughout the pub there are drawings, even mosaics, of friendly bears. They even have a famous teddy bear that they bring out at all parties and events whose name is Minor. This cutie has a Facebook account where you can befriend him—check it out. The café/pub also has game nights, quiz nights, massive parties, intern parties, movie days—basically everything you could imagine. There are always people in there studying, chatting and drinking coffee (or beer). Reminds me of a fraternity almost, but actually not at all… I don’t know, it is more unique haha. Hard to put into words…

Anyways, at orientation in the first week of my semester, some Norwegians said that the best way to become friends with them is to join their clubs and sports—specifically these pubs. I thought it sounded great, but for some reason every time I walked through the doors of RF in the basement of the math building, I would get too intimidated to ask to join. Luckily, within the first few weeks my two German friends from my buddy group, Juli and Laura, forced me to go there and stayed by my side as I asked if they still needed interns. They call volunteers ‘interns’, which I first thought was some weird Norwegian-English translation mix up, but turns out the Norwegian word interne literally translates to ‘insider’—kinda cool that they call all of the volunteers “insiders”. I happened to talk to the head of the café, so when he asked if I wanted to work as a barista, I just said “sure!”, without much contemplation. I signed up for the weekly Monday shift from 2-4pm. As soon as I started, I quickly learned that my shift really goes from 2-5pm because as it is the closing shift, we have to clean up which takes time. This is especially true when no one is motivated to move quickly and efficiently.

The entrance to the math pub “RF_Kjelleren” in the basement of a building called Vilhelm Bjerknes Hus located at the University of Oslo Blindern Campus.

Skipping forward, I did really enjoy my time working as a barista at RF. I missed having a regular job—something that I have had since I was sixteen years old, so it felt comfortable to have some sort of responsibility again. Additionally, the RF café is famous for their “baffles”. These are the wonderful Norwegian waffles that the students of RF adapted to call baffles because back when they first started, they added beer to the batter. You’d be glad to know that today’s recipe is remarkably lacking in beer, yet full of other yummy flavors, specifically heaps of cardamon. Furthermore, one baffle is only 10 kroner—approximately 1 USD—hence they are extremely popular. I got really good at making (and eating) these waffles every shift I had. Even the managers of each shift are called “Baffle-masters”.

Behind the counter at RF. You can see the variety of beer they sell on the weekends, a mosaic of a bear (of course), as well as the baffle station.
Figures at my last shift we accidentally screwed up several baffles. But don’t worry, there is so much batter that a few slip-ups are harmless.
The finished products. The most common toppings provided for all Norwegian waffles, including baffles, are jam, brown cheese, sugar, whipped cream, and a type of sour cream.

Also, it was fun to start to see regulars in the café every Monday, and I got invited to several Facebook groups dedicated to rock climbers and hikers by this particularly friendly Norwegian who would spend a lot of time talking with me some days.

Surprisingly, I never made a latte myself until my very last shift. There were a few reasons why… First, I was terrified to fail. I had learned several times how to do it, yet I remained terrified that I would mess up someone’s drink! However, the main reason I made a latte for the first time at my last shift was because of my decision to attend the ‘thank you’ dinner on Sunday evening for all the café workers. It was there where, being the only non-Norwegian, that I had to push myself father outside my comfort zone than ever to talk to all these people I had never seen before.

The dinner started at 6pm and as usual, I showed up about 15 minutes late. I don’t have access to the building when it is locked on the weekend, so I didn’t know how to get in except post on the Facebook event how I was locked out and needed someone to come get me. Right after posting that is when this guy walks up. Turns out he was there for the dinner and I was relieved to not be alone.

After a few minutes we were let in and walked to the basement where the pub is located. The room was chalk full of people speaking loudly in Norwegian. I followed the guy I had just met to meet his friends. To my surprise, when they found out I was American and jeg snakker lit norsk (I speak a little Norwegian), they started to all speak in English for me and continued throughout the rest of the night.

A night that I originally thought would end in me leaving around 7:30-8:00pm, accumulated into a late-night evening in which I arrived home well past 1:30am. It was just so fun! Norwegian tacos were on the menu for the dinner, which is basically just a delicious burrito with meat, veggies, guacamole, and cheese. I made conversation with all those around me during the meal, as they realized I was the silly girl who posted on the event page. When we had all finished eating, everyone grabbed a pint of beer from behind the bar and just kept talking. I was enjoying myself so much that I did the same. We laughed, talked, played games, even had a limbo competition (No big deal, but I won). Me and my new friends were the last ones to leave, and I walked home with this blue-haired, spunky girl named Aurora chatting about everything under the sun.

Throughout the night, however, they found out that I had never made a latte, which they thought was absurd. This one guy named Anders, who was to be the “baffle-master” during my last shift the next day, promised me that he would force me to make one. Turns out you also get a free drink during your shift (which I never knew) so that way I could make one just for myself and be assured that I wouldn’t screw up someone else’s drink.

The very next day, when I showed up for my last shift ever, I got to making baffles as usual. We were running low, and they are the most popular item we sell besides regular coffee. Then Anders came over to me after a few minutes and simply said, “It’s time”. He first made one to show me again how it is done. Looked easy enough, I thought. Then it was my turn. Just a precursor, I have no clue what the correct terminology is for anything coffee related, so be prepared for me to call certain aspects of the process “things”. Anyhow, to start, I turned on the grinder just for a few seconds to get the right amount of expresso that I needed. I filled up the handle-thingy with the coffee and inserted it into the machine and pressed go. Following that, I got the milk out, poured just the right amount into a metal cup and then placed the foamy spout thing just below the surface. I turned it on and waited till it was hot enough. By that time the expresso was done. I took a clean glass, poured the expresso straight in, and then gently started pouring the milk and foam into the cup. Of course, I messed up a little and there was too much milk on the top, and certainly no fancy design was made in the process, but nonetheless, it was delicious. Ta-da! My very first latte! By the end of my shift, I had made several others for customers, including a mocha (I know, how fancy!).


My (not so) beautiful first latte!
Anders one-up’ed me when he made his latte following mine. He can actually make a bear design in the milk! Quite fitting for the theme of RF, am I right?

It was remarkably sad when my last shift ended. But luckily it was a Monday, and at RF that means all the interns gather at night after closing to drink and hang out together. I always knew they all did it every Monday, but I had been too scared to show up to anything RF hosted because I didn’t know anyone and certainly didn’t want to go by myself—this was why even attending the dinner on Sunday was such a big deal, although I probably got over my fear only because free food was involved. Anyways, all the Norwegians I had met on Sunday’s dinner told me that I have to come hang out on Monday evening. I enjoyed spending time with them, and so, after my shift ended, I worked out, showered, and then took my dinner to-go in order to hang out at the pub.

When I showed up around 7:00pm, there were only about eight Norwegians sitting in several groups and they all kind of stared at me when I walked through the door. I didn’t know what to do, as I didn’t recognize any of them. I opted for sitting at a table by myself. I took out my computer so I would have something to do and I started to eat. I messaged my roommates in our group chat how I had freaking pushed myself to come here but now I was all alone and how I didn’t know what to do. I was especially asking them how long do they think I should stay there before I could leave without it being awkward. I wanted to leave immediately, but I couldn’t exactly come there, sit for five minutes, and then walk out. I had to wait out the uncomfortable awkwardness… Plus, my roommates all responded with “Stay strong, Shayna!” So there I sat.

As I am sitting there, this one guy kept staring at me. I was thinking maybe he thought I wasn’t actually an intern and that I didn’t belong there. I was tempted to scream over to him, “I’m an intern! I’m an intern!” I didn’t of course, and instead I tried to just focus on pretending to do work on my computer. However, after about five minutes, that guy just stood up and walked slightly closer to me, all awhile just blatantly staring at me. You could say I was more than taken aback, and more so freaked out. Norwegians never stare, this was so out of the ordinary…

As I was trying to pretend I didn’t notice him, the guy just kept staring. After a minute (the longest minute of my life), I turned and just said “What?” Then I thought maybe he was looking at all the stickers I have on my computer. I stupidly have some political crap on there so I have gotten used to strangers coming up to me to discuss certain topics. So thinking that was it, I then asked the guy “Sorry is it something about my computer stickers? Is that what you are looking at?” He simply responded, “No. I am just staring.”

With that, he came and joined me at my table. Conversation flowed so smoothly and I forgot how awkward I had felt walking in. His name was Olav–basically the most Norwegian name that exists. It even turned out that he thought I was weird for not sitting with them originally and for the rest of the night kept making fun of me for having sat by myself. Soon after we got to talking, my new Norwegian friends that I had met on Sunday showed up and joined us at my table. It ended up being such a good night, and since then I have gone every Monday night to hang out with them.

I guess what this has taught me, is that showing up places by yourself and truly pushing yourself outside your comfort zone is the way you met amazing people that you otherwise wouldn’t have. If I hadn’t pushed through how uncomfortable I was to sign up to volunteer as a barista, I would have never made a baffle. If I hadn’t forced myself to attend the thank you dinner alone because I wanted the free food, I would never have made my first latte. If I hadn’t stayed strong at that table sitting alone, I would never have made the fun experiences I have had with some incredibly funny, non-politically correct Norwegians. The whole experience has made me feel more independent than ever, which is an extremely empowering feeling. I hope I can continue pushing myself in this manner for the rest of my life, because I never know who I might meet. My advice to anyone would be to do the same.

Any who, thanks again lola blog for letting me account my life through writing. As always, until next time…

(p.s., I am extremely behind on blogging about my travels, so stay tuned for when I find the time and motivation to sit down and document!)

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