Alice in Vikingland: Adventures of a Foreign Student

Of Cold Meat, Fresh Bread And Calm People

The first thing that hit me as I walked down the airplane was the serenity. At first, I wondered whether it was an «off» day of some kind. Why would the number one airport of Norway be this still?

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A few steps in, I got to see how wrong I was. The airport was crammed with weary travellers of all ages. However here, unlike in other metropolitan airports, even the toddlers and pets seem to be trained to be quiet so as not to disturb fellow travellers. This quietude has prevailed from the airport to the streets and on to the classroom.

Now, I have been blessed with two left feet and come from a culture that prides itself on its vibrancy and it’s love for small talk. The classroom is posing to be an uphill battle. How do I make friends with Norwegians when they seem so averse to idle conversation? Even my bag’s zipper seems to me as loud as drums in this class of 160. I did manage to make friends in a kindred Italian who is as befuddled by the primness of our fellow classmates as I am.

Coming from a culture that has warm pasta and fresh bread available at all times, Maria was surprised by the amount of cold spreads that are eaten with untoasted bread at both breakfast and lunch. From the basic butter and jam to the pineapple cream cheese, the salami, the « Italian salad» (or as as Maria calls it, blasphemy) and the leverpostei (liver paste), and the very Norwegian brown cheese, there is something for everyone, albeit something cold.

By day three, we understood the magic of the pålegg (topping for your toast). Contrary to food at cafes or even at the subsidized student cafeteria, these spreads are affordable and quick. They have a higher shelf life and keep well as a packed lunch. One can buy these spreads in metal tins to pack away or in higher quantities for home meals. Even my need for something spicy was satisfied with a spread of mackerel in tomatoes.

The complement to the pålegg is, of course, the bread. Norwegians consume approximately 38.5 kilos of bread each year, one of the highest amounts per capita in the world. Bread is mostly mass produced every day. These bread are usually sturdier than their Mediterranean counterparts as they need to withstand the moisture from the toppings.

An assortment of brown and white bread is found at every grocery store and I soon found my perfect soul-bread in mini flute breads. These flute breads are pre baked and need to be put in the oven for 10 minutes to be transformed into freshly baked bread. Don’t want to use the full packet? Throw the packet into the freezer and just bake it as per instruction next time. You can make your sandwich and eat it too in a span of less than 5 minutes. Plenty of your break left to indulge in the vast open fields and parks around your work space.

With my breakfast and lunch sorted, it is now time to face my reluctant friends-to-be. I ball up all my courage, making sure to walk without my shoes thumping on the floor and greet a young man sitting alone hello. He turns around, smiles cautiously and says, «Hi, I am Raz, so very glad to meet a Norwegian at last.»

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