Saturday, December 12, 2009

Norway: Sometimes It's the Little Things...

A few weeks after I arrived to Oslo, I received a notice that I had a package waiting at the post office. I took the notice to the post office that I pass every day on the way to work. This, however, was not the post office where my package was located. The postal clerk told me which post office I needed to go to, but the name of the post office meant nothing to me. So, he tried to describe the location based on streets and then on landmarks, and I still had no clue. Eventually, he just told me which street to start down, and then after asking for help from a dozen people along the way, I found the place.

Triumphantly, I entered the post office. It was lunch hour, and the place was deserted except for the three clerks who sat poised behind their counters.

I approached the first counter, and after the clerk and I synchronized on English, the clerk was like, “We didn't call your number yet.”

This was true because I hadn't taken a number, but I was thinking, “Are you kidding me?” The place was empty after all.

The clerk did not appear to be joking.

I walked back to the door and took a number, and it immediately popped up on the screen over the service counters.

“Ninety-four,” the clerk announced.

As I returned to the counter for service, all three clerks were laughing. Apparently, the joke was on me.


One night at the bar, I made some new friends. During the course of the conversation, one guy was like, “I saw this blog the other day...” and then he went on to describe my blog. His review was favorable, so I was happy to admit that it was mine.

I know that strangers read my blog, but this was the first time I ever had a random person tell me about my own blog. I thought this was pretty cool.


One day over lunch break I walked home from work. My street is divided with a single lane running south, one running north, and a median in between. As such, it is not possible to overtake slow vehicles.

When I arrived, there were about 20 cars stacked up in the northbound lane, and the whole parade was barely creeping along. Naturally, I looked toward the front of the line to see what was holding up traffic. It was none other than the trash truck.

The truck was operated by a single man, and the system of collection looked very inefficient. In my hometown in the US, trash collection is also done by a single person. We are required to bring our trash cans to the road, and when the truck comes, the operator grabs and empties the cans using a controller at his seat and a robotic arm on the side of the truck.

The system in Norway was less high tech. The trash collector stopped at each house, ran inside the gate, dragged the trash cans to the street, hooked them on the back of the truck, and then pushed a button to dump them. Then he would run the empties back to the house.

On most streets, the pressure wouldn't have been so great because cars could just go around the truck. On my street, however, this was not possible. While there was nary a honk from the cars behind the truck, the trash collector did his best to finish quickly. He was literally running as he collected the trash cans. Watching him reminded me of Super Mario running with super speed in the old-school Nintendo classics.


One night, I went to an international happy hour at a pub. I met a lot of interesting people, and the conversations were lively and ridiculous.

At one point, a group of us were talking, and a British guy said something about 80s music.

I said something in response, and he was like, “What would you know about it? You probably weren't even old enough to remember the 80s.”

I assured him that I was around in the 80s, and that I definitely grew up with 80s music.

I didn't mention my age specifically, but before I even had the chance, the Brit interrupted. “Wait, wait,” he told us, “let me guess. I'm really good at this; I have a gift.”

It's always taboo to guess a woman's age, so he guessed the birth years of all the men at the table.

He started with me. “Nineteen eighty-six,” he declared.

Then he continued around the table with the Kiwi (1980) and the Dane (1968).

Once he finished, we revealed our actual birth years. The Kiwi was born in 1979, so the Brit was close. The Dane was born in 1970. The Brit, while close again, apologized for rating the Dane 2 years older than he was.

When I told him that I was born in 1977, he was taken aback. “You've been living in a good climate, mate!” he exclaimed.

I can't remember the last time someone turned back the clock 9 years for me. This guy's gift for divining ages could use a little tune-up!


One fine Saturday morning, I decided to go second-hand shopping. The Salvation Army is active in Norway, and there are clothing collection bins around Oslo (and throughout the rest of the country).

About 60% of the clothing the Salvation Army collects in Norway is sold overseas. About 20% is discarded, turned into rags, or used to make emergency blankets for the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations. The final 20% of the clothing is sold in Norway in Fretex stores. There are 5 locations in Oslo.

I went to the flagship Fretex store, and it was unlike any second-hand store I had ever seen. The clothing on offer was very nice – in terms of style, quality, funkiness – but the prices were nothing akin to those at a Stateside Goodwill store, for example. Collared shirts were averaging around $30; leather shoes were like $60.

As I later learned, the flagship Fretex has the best of the best that the Salvation Army collects, so it is more boutique-y and the prices are higher. I've since visited another Fretex, which did have cheaper prices, as well as a few other second-hand shops not affiliated with the Salvation Army.

There is one thing about all these shops that cracks me up: They all have a fur coat section. I realize that this makes sense because fur is fairly popular in Norway, but the notion of a second-hand charity shop selling full-length mink coats continues to amuse me.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Norway: The Cheapest Protein in Town

As a city on the water, I assumed that Oslo would have a proper fish market. From what I've seen so far, I assumed wrong. There are some grocery stores and specialty shops with respectable fish and seafood selections, but there is no specific market where fishermen can sell their catch.

While there is no fish market, however, the opportunity still exists to buy fish directly from fishermen. At the wharf in the well-to-do neighborhood of Aker Brygge, nestled among the pleasure boats, ferries, and tour boats, are two boats that sell fresh fish.

Aker Brygge is an expensive area of town, so when I first approached the fishing boats, I expected the prices to be sky high. Once again, I assumed wrong. Even in the Land of High Prices, there are still some deals to be found.

Of the two fishing boats that are normally at the wharf, one is manned by a man and one by a woman. The first day I went I talked to both fishmongers, and I decided to buy from the woman, who has now become my regular fish supplier. (A lady fishmonger is correctly called a fishwife, although I think fishmongress also has a nice ring to it.)

On that first day, the fishwife had four items for sale: haddock, bait fish (fingerlings), shrimp, and cod heads. I was immediately interested in the bait fish, but I chatted with the fishwife about the other products first. As I suspected, she was selling the cod heads for the cheeks or else to be used in soups.

When we got to the bait fish, I asked her how people were preparing them.

“You've got two choices,” she told me. “The Thai people grind them up in a food processor and make fish cakes, and the Moroccans fry them and eat them whole.”

I thought this was a strange answer. We were having our conversation on a Norwegian fishing boat, yet her answer did not mention any use for these fish in Norway. I wasn't sure if this was an oversight or if she in fact only sold these fish to the immigrant community.

It didn't really matter, though, because I already intended to fry mine. What the fishwife was dubbing the “Moroccan method” is common all over the Mediterranean, and I've had fingerlings (either grilled or fried) in Italy, Israel, and Greece, as well as Morocco.

The bait fish were selling for a very respectable 30 kroner per kilogram (about $2.45 per pound), so I got a kilo to try. The other items, while higher priced, were also reasonable. For example, whole haddock was selling for 40 kroner per kg ($3.25 per lb).

The fishing boats sell from 7:00 AM until around 3:00 PM, and when I was shopping it was close to 2:45. As I was leaving, the fishwife told me that I should come closer to the opening hour and I would be rewarded with a much bigger selection. While this sounded like a good idea, I have yet to get there very much before closing time.

With my fish in hand, I headed home to prepare them. I was going to eat them whole as I mentioned, but I still had to clean them. I don't mind cleaning fish, and it's a good thing because cleaning my kilo was a bit of a time commitment. It took me an hour and 10 minutes to gut and gill the lot - 128 fish in total. There's an episode of the Simpsons where the family finds itself working in a fish processing plant in Japan. As Bart is gutting an endless stream of fish, he repeats to himself, “Knife goes in, guts come out.” I found myself saying the same thing. Luckily the radio provided a nice playlist for my gutapalooza.

Of course, once the tedious work was finished, the cooking and eating took no time at all. And there were plenty of fish left over for later.