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.


JohnD said...

What an absolutely marvelous 'blog' - great reading!

Come give me some advice aon how I can improve my 'blog', I am so envious !


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