Saturday, October 31, 2009

Norway: Halloween in Oslo

Halloween has ancient roots, but when it comes to the modern-day commercial extravaganza, no one does it like America. That said, the Halloween of America is slowly working its way around the world.

In the lead-up to Halloween, several stores here in Oslo set up small costume sections. There is also at least one full-time costume shop right in the city center. One of my new friends at the Embassy invited me to her big Halloween birthday party, so I went to the costume shop the weekend before Halloween to see what was available. I didn't buy anything that day, but the shop was a real mad house.

Thankfully Halloween fell on a Saturday this year. After a very long Friday night, I woke up late and started trying to think of something to wear to the party. I hadn't bought a costume, and since I was still living out of a suitcase, I didn't have many options.

I didn't have many options, but I did have a few because while I neglected to pack such things as gloves and scarves, my magical suitcase did contain a fine assortment of tribal wearables from Papua New Guinea. Being delicate, and in some cases rare, these tribal pieces warranted hand-carrying. Plus they were very light.

I also traveled to Norway with face paint and fake blood, but those are travel essentials.

Anyhow, a few hours before the party, I started trying on different combinations of tribal gear. I was going to go completely authentic (with no western clothing at all), so I ruled out a few options that were perhaps too revealing or that seemed prone to major wardrobe malfunctions.

The temperature at the time was like 2°C (36°F), so I was going to be cold no matter what I chose to wear.

As I was in the middle of getting dressed, there was a knock at my door. When I answered, I was greeted by a young ghoul – my only Norwegian trick-or-treater of the night – who held up his bag and shouted something I couldn't understand. His father stood a few feet behind, smiling like a cheshire cat and playing a red ukulele. I'm pretty sure this was the first time that I ever had a trick-or-treater with live music accompaniment.

I think the father was smiling about my costume. At least it was obvious that I was celebrating Halloween.

I hadn't expected to receive any trick-or-treaters, so I hadn't bought any candy. Luckily, though, I had a few random candy bars in my suitcase, and I gave one to the little boy. I didn't know if others would follow, but I had my two remaining candy bars at the ready just in case.

After my guests had gone, I finished getting ready. I was going as a witch doctor, and I based my costume on a sorcerer I had met in PNG. I was wearing a grass skirt on my waist and one over my torso like a grass shirt. Then I finished off the outfit with a headdress and armbands made from cassowary feathers and a trio of necklaces made from shark vertebrae, bat teeth, and cassowary quills. I also painted my face black and white.

When I was finally ready, I slipped on my coat and sandals and stepped out into the cold night. The coat provided warmth and some concealment, but it was still pretty obvious that I was dressed up. Just outside my building, there were some Norwegians walking by. When they saw me, they immediately started cracking up. As I continued walking down the street, I met other people, and the reaction was the same.

This boisterous laughter was a cultural response. If the roles were reversed and I suddenly saw a costumed person when I did not expect to, I might have done a double-take at the most. I can't imagine ever breaking into side-splitting laughter in such a situation. The loud laughing was off-putting to me, mostly because it wasn't warranted. My costume was unexpected and different, but I don't think it was comical on any level.

Many of the laughers were probably also drunk, or at least buzzed, since it was a Saturday night.

In any case, while it can be annoying, a little laughter never hurt anyone. I continued on my way, leaving a trail of merriment in my wake.

The party was maybe a 30-minute walk from my house, so I decided to take the tram which would cut the trip down to 5 minutes. As I was approaching the stop, a tram pulled up. I didn't want to wait for the next one, so I started to run. When I did, I could feel the grass skirt falling off my waist. The wardrobe malfunction was coming much sooner than I had anticipated.

I held the grass skirt in place with my hand and shuffled up to the tram. Ordinarily, I would not have expected to have made it, going as slowly as I was, so I think that the driver saw me and waited. Thank goodness for small favors.

Unsurprisingly, I attracted a good measure of attention on the tram. It was diffused somewhat, though, because there was a group of other costumed people sitting near me. My costume was a good icebreaker, and my fellow costumed passengers had plenty of questions for me. They asked me about the elements of my costume and the authenticity of the whole ensemble. Then after their interest was piqued, they started asking me about PNG in general. Before we reached my stop, I think I had posed for a picture with each of them.

The tram ride had been a nice respite. Once I stepped off, the crazy laughing resumed.

I didn't know the exact location of the party, but after wandering around for a few minutes trying to call someone for details, I ran into several ladies from the office who were also on the way to the party. They knew right where to go, and we were there within 5 minutes.

The party was good fun. There was plenty to eat and drink, and the crowd was lively. Probably half or two-thirds of the people at the party were from the embassy. The others, Norwegians, were friends of the birthday girl.

Having only been in Norway a bit over a week on Halloween, there were many people at the party that I didn't know, including many from the embassy. As I was meeting people, I started putting names to faces – which meant, for example, that I was putting a name to a zombie face or a pirate face. It's funny because months have passed as I am writing this, and the default picture that I have in my mind for some of these people is still the costumed one. I've mentioned this to some people, and they told me that they see me the same way – as a witch doctor forever more. I guess that's the power of first impressions.

At the party, the balcony doors were left open all night (to maximize floor space, I suppose). No longer wearing my coat, I was feeling the chill.

At one point as I was standing around talking, an ice-cold hand moved under the thin layer of grass on my back and started creeping toward my shoulders. Attached to the hand was a middle-aged Norwegian woman.

“You're not wearing anything under here!” she exclaimed.

Since you could clearly see the skin on my back through the grass skirt, a physical inspection was hardly necessary.

No doubt about it, though: This woman was hands-on. I'm also going to go out on a limb and call her a cougar – the first I encountered in Norway.

She made the same “discovery” that I was nearly naked several times, and each time with an unexpected icy touch to my back, arms, or chest. The flirting wouldn't have been so bad if her hands would have been a little warmer. I was the one not wearing clothes, yet she was the one whose hands seemed always to have just come out of the beer cooler even though they hadn't. This fact didn't escape her notice, and she commented on how warm I was.

After several encounters with this woman, she had a new revelation. “You're not wearing anything on the bottom either!” she announced.

Playing along, I responded, “OK, I want everyone's hands where I can see them.”

She had a good laugh about this, but I had serious doubts as to whether or not she was going to behave herself. We chatted for a few more minutes before I went to refill my drink and joined a new group. She went home soon after.

A few hours later, around 1:30, I followed suit. The party was still in full swing, but I had reached my limit of eating, dancing, karaoke, party games, and small talk.

I bid everyone farewell and rode the elevator down to street level.

By this point, the tram had already stopped running for the night, so I started walking home.

Just around the corner from the party, I ran into four ladies coming out of a different apartment. These ladies fit my Scandinavian stereotypes perfectly. All attractive blonds, they appeared to be in their late 30's or early 40's. They were all dressed for a night out on the town, capping off their stylish outfits with fancy boots and fur coats and caps. They had all been drinking, I think, and they were all a bit giggly as a result.

When they saw me, one was like, “Whoa! What are you?”

They got points from me straight away since they decided to talk to me rather than bust out laughing.

“I'm a Papua New Guinea witch doctor,” I responded.

They thought this was super, and the four ladies rushed over to me for a closer look.

Then one of them voiced a concern.

“Wait a minute,” she said. “You're not really from Papua New Guinea! You've just painted your face!”

I got a kick out of watching her trying to expose my charade. You could really see the wheels turning in her head.

I had never intended for them to take my costume seriously, but since they were going in that direction, I decided to humor them.

With mock indignation, I responded to the young woman's accusation.

“I guess you've got it all figured out!” I ranted. “I spent six years living in a cave, eating rats and lizards, talking to spirits, learning spells from Papua New Guinea's national sorcerer, but I guess that doesn't mean anything to you! I guess it's all just one big joke!”

This was all total BS, of course, but their reaction was hilarious.

They were like, “Wow! We had no idea. Don't be angry with us. We're sorry!”

With my new-found credibility, I told them there were no hard feelings.

Then one of the ladies took it further. “Can you do a trick for us?” she asked. Actually, she more begged than asked. Things were getting fun.

“I have half a mind to turn you all into banana trees,” I told them, “but the climate here isn't suitable.”

Then I offered to read their palms instead.

It was as if I had just asked a bunch of kids if any of them liked candy. All the ladies were clapping and cheering at the prospect of a palm reading.

As my first subject presented her palm to me, I studied it carefully and started tracing the lines with my finger. I figured that the tactile contact was just as important as my reading, so I traced her hand several times to prepare her for a goose-bump moment. Then I gave her a very detailed, very generic reading based on the junctions of her “happiness”, “health”, “money”, and “danger” lines.

She was as pleased as punch.

Then the second woman came for a turn. I went through the same routine but tossed in a “friendship” line to keep things fresh.

She was as happy as a clam.

Next up was woman number 3. Again, I tried to make it interesting. This time, I got a bit more cocky.

“I'm seeing a dog,” I told her, “a small dog in a sweater.”

“That's my dog!” she told me.

“Bingo,” I thought. So many women have small dogs in sweaters here, I wasn't going out very far on a limb with this one.

I gave her an informative reading, with her dog included.

She was as pleased as a bull in a barn.

Before I started on my fourth reading, something caught me off guard. The first woman forgot her reading and butted back in line for a redo.

Thankfully, I mostly remembered her initial reading, so she didn't trip me up. Once I finished with the redo, I admonished her not to forget again as repeated readings could negatively affect universal karma.

Then I gave the fourth woman her reading.

She was as happy as a lark.

I might not be worthy of Dionne Warwick's Psychic Friends Network, but I ended the night 4 for 4, which is nothing to sneeze at.

When I had first encountered the women, they were heading to the bars. With their palm readings finished, they were ready to resume their quest.

“You're cool,” they told me. “Come out with us!”

I thanked them for the invitation, but declined. As I told them, a grass skirt doesn't have a place for a wallet.

This wasn't a problem for them, though, and they quickly offered to buy my drinks if I would join them.

This sweetened the pot tremendously, but still I took a pass. I had two remaining concerns. The first, and less important of the two, was that I was freezing cold by now. Presumably, we would have been sitting inside at the bar, so I would have been able to warm up. The second problem, however, was my costume. When people had seen me walking down the street, they started acting batty. I didn't want to try my luck in a bar. I've been the center of attention on many occasions, but when you become a sideshow, it's not fun anymore.

The ladies realized that there was no convincing me to stay, but I did walk with them until we reached the bar. Funny how things work, but when I was moseying down the road flanked by four blonds, hardly anyone bothered to hoot and laugh at me.

We parted ways at the bar, and I walked the thirty minutes to my house. Along the way I was again hilarious to legions of drunk people.

I hardly noticed, though, as I was too busy second-guessing my decision not to join the ladies at the bar.

Worst decision ever...


Steve Bennett said...

I would have thought your Moresby Superman antics would have prepared you better for a Halloween walk through Oslo???

Matt Christie said...

Worst decision ever? Nah, you'd have definitely been cougar assualted. Which would have been ironic after going incident free in Port Moresby.
And think yourself lucky you didn't get frost bite on your tenders...