glimpsed:  melbourne time
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akademic werdsakademic werds
written and published in Tinderbox 1.2.3
an ostryalean in gnaway
though i have returned to australia i intend to continue the occasional series about the experience of being an australian in norway.
to wit. beer, or as the locals would put it, øl. everything is expensive in norway. period. so get used to it. but alcohol is even more expensive. and when it comes to wine and spirits, well that's when you begin to understand what it means to live in a protestant nation that has a state religion, liberal democrat scandinavians or not. but i'll leave wine for another day.
to wit. beer. you buy beer at the supermarket. you can get coldies from the fridge (though they're often not what an australian would think of as a coldie) or you can buy cans/bottles off the shelf. there are very strict hours (like everywhere else in the world) as to when the supermarket is allowed to sell beer, so the beer section is traditionally surrounded by some sort of curtain which will be unfurled when beer selling time is over. a bit like the way that some supermarkets in australia might have a bottle shop 'next door' which of course has different hours to the supermarket.
the range of beers is medium, expect a few local brands, perhaps the odd german beer, a british or scottish brew, and a couple of danish beers, but not that many more. if you want a greater range then the wine monopoly (vinmonopolet) has a broader range. and don't think you're going to buy a slab. remember i said beer is expensive? i've no idea how much a slab costs in australia but a stubby of english stout will cost somewhere around AUD8.00 while even the local stuff will come out at around AUD5.00 for 330ml (or 33cl in the local units). so a 6 pack of say, tuborg will be somewhere around AUD40.00
now when you go to a pub the rules remain the same. beer is expensive (in a semi drunk moment of generosity i once shouted a round for friends in bergen, i think i bought 5 beers, the cost was around NOK250, which would have been somewhere between AUD50 and AUD60.00). so the rules are very simple
[Fri 8 Nov 2002]
crossing roads, at pedestrian crossings, in my experience is something worthy of at least a phd for some budding ethnographer. take, for instance, the experience of someone from melbourne (australia, not florida), in bergen, norway. that's me.
in melbourne as a pedestrian approaches a pedestrian crossing you can pretty reasonably expect traffic to slow and to anticipate that you're crossing, and it is the exception that you would be about to cross and you'd have to wait for a car, bus, truck, whatever to get through before you could actually start crossing (and if you did you would feel entitled to complain and gesticulate to said driver). it is, if you like, as if the 'safe' zone around the crossing extends back towards the footpath some indeterminate but socially recognised distance.
so as a driver in melbourne if there are people approaching a crossing (and so within or about to enter this indeterminate but to me perfectly obvious zone) you would slow and be ready to stop if in fact they were wanting to cross. of course this is sometimes ambiguous, as for instance if you were standing talking in this zone (you basically shouldn't and probably wouldn't in melbourne), and though of course you should always make sure traffic is stopping for you it seems pretty straightforward that approaching the crossing, and the crossing itself, is protected territory.
in bergen this is a bit different. there doesn't seem to be a zone prior to the crossing which is sort of part of the crossing, and so as a pedestrian you have no authority in relation to the traffic (ie it must stop for you) until it is very obvious that you are wanting to cross, and this usually requires you to be standing more or less with a toe on the white line. now 9 times out of 10 you can just walk and it is fine, but there is a zone of indetermination here which is the reverse of melbourne's. as far as i can work out it goes something like this. if you are driving and you are approaching a crossing and there are pedestrians approaching, and if you calculate that you'll probably both reach the crossing at the same time if you continue at the same speed, then you do.
the effect of this for the melbourne australian is that as you more or less step into your zone of indetermination which is of course where you start to have authority over the cars, a car goes shooting past at apparently normal speed and clearly with no intention of stopping. this also applies to crossings where there may be a traffic island in the middle, so you can be walking across, and as you enter the traffic island you may as well be on the footpath and the same rules apply. if the driver thinks they will get to your side of the crossing before you're actually physically there (even though you're already on the crossing at the traffic island and clearly walking) they will continue.
now this is not a game of chicken. if you're on the crossing it is yours and everybody and everything will slow for you. but just as drivers calculate if they have to stop by a rule of collision rather than intention to cross, they also calculate this while you're crossing. in other words if you are on a crossing and, well, crossing, and a driver is approaching, they also calculate how much they need to slow down without actually having to stop so that you often have the experience of just stepping off the crossing to have a car zoom past immediately behind you. this can be rather daunting, as for instance the icy morning when i (being a foreigner to iced paths) gingerly picked my way across a crossing with ice on it, and this rather large truck was approaching. now it was obvious to me that he wasn't slowing to stop, rather he was slowing according to the rule of collision so that the driver was assuming i would continue at my current speed and this would mean that if he slowed that much, then when he got to the crossing i'd be out of the way. from my point of view all i thought was "it is ice, if i slip i am going under that truck". i think the difference is simply that in bergen they slow for you, in melbourne they stop. of course other parts of australia do this completely differently.
i think this is why children are taught to hold their arms out in a sort of horizontal salute at crossings to tell drivers they intend to cross. i imagine it is also to make sure the drivers see the kids, and it is a good idea, but the difference i guess is that in melbourne the driver is expected to always assume that you're going to cross, and it is up to the driver to make sure they can stop if that is in fact what is going to happen (which is probably why in bergen you will see people standing and talking by a crossing in that area that in melbourne is the zone of indetermination where you have the authority to stop the traffic).
this probably also relates to what you do in roundabouts as a driver in bergen, but that's another story.
[Tue 24 Sep 2002]
norway has an awesomely impressive notion of social equality. this is evident in all sorts of ways, but the basic point is that norwegians really don't think that anyone is any better than anyone else. it is not australia's tall poppy syndrome, it is more like they don't even see the tall poppies! for instance the impression i have (by way of example) is that it would be very difficult in norway to have a school for gifted kids simply because this would be to acknowledge that some are better than others.
this equality is expressed in the very low rate of difference between the highest and lowest salaries in norway, and just in the way people dress. the manager of a new airline was happy to appear in an extended tv news story, at work, in casual trousers and an open shirt, not because he's richard branson but because he's an honest norwegian businessman.
the equality is also sort of evident in the housing, at least in bergen, as there really aren't any what you would think of as ostentatious displays of wealth in houses, on the outside anyway. there are some grand homes, yes, and location means a lot, but you need local knowledge to read wealth amongst all the little wooden houses.
but, during may 17th the secret hierarchy is displayed. you need local knowledge expertise here, but it goes something like this.
national costume in norway varies depending on which region you are from, so immediately someone knows just which valley, fjord, mountain or backwoods place (since like all cultures, everywhere else from your place is of course backwards or odd) you and your kin come from. but also the authentic national costume, particularly for women, is i gather hand made and very expensive. so, as you're standing there with your friends, those who know how to read the national dress have a conversation along the lines of "hardangerfjord, nice lace, but the dress is factory made". and, on may 17th, this is like serious serious dissing. once you own one of these it is quite appropriate to wear it at most formal events - weddings, funerals and the like, even graduation i believe.
then the other day on a boat trip to lygra i saw where, at least for this part of norway, there really is a display of wealth that no norwegian seems to shy away from (for instance i was told that if you turn up in an expensive car then people are suspicious of you), it is boating. on this sunny day on a historical fjord steamer up through the lower part of the fjords there were just dozens of boats out (and if you had a boat, who wouldn't? it really is beautiful), small boats, middle sized boats, and big boats. and i mean big boats. boats that in melbourne would live in very expensive mariners and would cost, well, if you could afford boats like that then you'd live be living in toorak (melbourne's most expensive suburb) or brighton. and in australia we'd secretely think you were just a showoff (but probably want to know what it was like).
i think this is why on weekends in the harbour in bergen you will find a lot of these same boats and people happily having brunch, lunch, dinner, on their boat in full public view. the first time i saw this i was very surprised, since my experience had always been how much you didn't display wealth or financial success here. but the parade of big boating is awesome and while you will not see many flashy sports cars, rolls, bentleys, or really big mercs, there are dozens of flashy fast boats or just big luxury motor cruisers in the harbour or on the fjord.
maybe it is norway's nautical history (the boast is that norwegians are born with ski's on, but i think a rudder is a pretty damn close second round here) and the bit of viking that just doesn't go away.
[Sat 21 Sep 2002]
as i was considering today's entry in my ethnographic study of being an australian in norway i realised that, of course, these carefully articulated field notes would also be of value for the norwegian intending to travel to australia...
today's note is about may 17th. quite a specific one that. may 17th is the norwegian national day (i'm unfamiliar with the history so am unsure if this is the day the state was inaugurated or a document signed) and it is a public holiday and a day of some significance.
every village, town, city will be festooned in flags, there are parades, marching bands, and then probably a carnival in some nearby public park. the parade is lead through the civic streets by the town burghers, and for the one may 17th i've seen they are dressed more formally than the members enclosure at flemington on melbourne cup day. morning suits, impossibly tall top hats, enormous red white and blue ribbons pinned to their chest reaching almost to the ground. (it was explained to me, half tongue in cheek, that the longer the ribbon the more important you were, or more accurately thought you were.)
after the burghers comes just a collection of, well, schools, veterans groups, graduating high school students, university departments, police, fire, marching bands and any other cultural, sporting and/or civic group that wants to be there.
now, the etiquette. you are (and i mean really are) expected to dress properly for the parade, even if you're just watching. if you have national costume, and happen to have it with you, then it is very appreciated if you wear this. i don't mean norwegian i mean from your own country. so at the parade i watched there was a young man over the road in his norwegian national dress, and his girlfriend resplendent in a glorious silk kimono, bamboo sandals, and silk fan because she was, of course, japanese. it did look impressive.
now as an anglo saxon middle class australian the nearest national costume really are those sad clichés of ozkultcha - perhaps thongs, shorts, and a mambo t shirt (preferably with the farting dog on the back), but this really will not do. i was told, so as not to offend, that i didn't have to wear a suit, but i did need to dress more or less like i was going to an expensive restaurant, what some owners of teen age children would probably think of as smart casual. no open shoes. no shorts. no t-shirts (though a t-shirt with a suit jacket would be fine).
so if you're back packing and the best you've got are grotty levi's, that refashionable miller shirt, and the nikes, sit in a pub and watch out the window. or if you really want to stand in the crowd, so as not to bring shame on your nation sound british.
there will be hundreds of flags, and norwegians are very proud and serious about their flag, so please don't do anything silly with a flag, it really would offend.
now, we don't really have anything like this in australia. australia day (january 25th) is heading this way but in my younger days the parade on this day was heading into obscurity and irrelevance. the revival in nationalism that has happened over the last few years has seen the australia parade in melbourne certainly become much more, well, nationalist - as a child we never had little australian flags on sticks to wave, but it just isn't or doesn't have the cultural importance of may 17. like in australia you simply wouldn't made sure your 5 year old had their best clothes on to go and watch the parade, if you actually did that rather than enjoy the public holiday with a trip to the beach or a b-b-que, though it is probably significant that january 25th is slap bang in australia's summer holidays, and like norwegians we take our holidays very seriously.
[Sat 21 Sep 2002]
todays note for the australian traveller is an obscure bit of bathroom etiquette. if you stay at someone's home, or in some of the cheaper hotels or pensiones, then you'll probably notice in the bathroom a broom like object that has a rubber wiper on the end, like you would use to clean windows with.
this is the floor water sweeper upperra (that's an official title i believe) and it is to wipe all the water down the drain after your shower. you need to do this because otherwise a) people will get wet feet when they enter the bathroom, and b) the bathroom probably won't dry.
i'm not sure why the showers don't have sills like in australia, and the couple of people i asked about it have shrugged and said that's the way showers are (much like australian's would shrug and say that's they way showers are if asked about their showers), but in my continual ethnographic quest i suspect it is because a) this is the room in a small house where you might hang your wet rain jacket, gloves, and over pants to dry, and b) where you might take off said wet things. so it would be very useful to be able to slosh all the water from all the floor down the drain, and a shower sill would be a very bad idea indeed.
so, if you're a house guest, have a shower, and notice no shower sill and a broom like rubber wiper thing, sweep the water away. the appropriate application of force is advised, and a squeaking sort of scraping squeal evidence that you're doing it more or less properly.
[Fri 20 Sep 2002]
todays cultural lesson for the australian visiting norway is a very simple one. it is to do with numerical conventions. in australia a thousand dollars (or to keep it simple, a thousand kroner) would be NOK1,000. not in norway, it would be NOK1.000 or to take it to the usual two decimal places, NOK1.000,00
now that . and that , are minor, and you quickly get used to them, but when you go and get money out of the hole in the wall and get the receipt the first couple of times (well, actually call me slow but i still need to concentrate reading it) you tend to think you have much more money than you do, or that kroner are more like yen in their relation to the pacific peso, i mean aussie dollar. it is also handy to know just in case you ever have to key in numbers, the , is for the decimal place . . .
[Thu 19 Sep 2002]
there are two sorts of qeues, that i've seen so far, in western norway. both of these are unusual for the naive australian visitor.
in australia queues are generally orderly and there is quite a strict etiquette. if anyone is standing in line, whether it is at a bus stop for the bus that hasn't arrived yet, or even at something as difficult to negotiate as a tram or train stop (where there is no guarantee that where you're standing is where the door will be), there are clearly observed social rules about turn taking.
so in norway (and hell, probably all of the social democratic north as far as i know) it is a bit of shock that this seems to be not really the case. it sometimes is, sort of, but generally no one appears that put out if someone queue jumps. it isn't that elbow sharpened free for all that you might find in parts of asia, but it is first in best dressed and if you can wangle or wriggle in front of someone then that's ok.
now this could be because in fact norwegians have very strict etiquette about rules in other places. pretty much any institution which requires orderly queues, for instance buying bus, train, plane tickets, or waiting in line at the pharmacy, bank, post office or wine monopoly (now that's a phrase to strike horror into an australian's heart, more on that another day) will have a ticket machine where you are always expected to get your ticket and wait until your number is called. oh, and these places will always have a largish electronic display above the counters which will list what number they are up to.
so, be prepared, and keep an eye out for the machine. they're always about the size of a carton of cigarettes, usually white, and will have a green and red button. not sure what the red one does, but the green one will spit out a slip of paper with a number on it which is yours.
but wait, there's more. a clever trick of the trade, obvious once you've seen it done of course, is that it is quite ok to check out what number they're up to (the number on the display above the counters) and to click that green button to see what number you'd be in line. if the wait appears to be too long don't take the number, leave it sitting there in the machine for the next person. taking it i guess only contributes to the general wait since your number will be announced and they will wait a short while for your non appearance. so you just use the green button to check the next number and if it is too big, you leave it there. (my experience in australia is that we'd always take the number that the machine spitteth.)
and if for some reason you miss your number, then all bets are off. if it is busy you're probably better off just getting another number. if it isn't then your monolingual english will give you the necessary licence and permissions for the breaches of the moral code you're about to commit (nothing ventured...)
[Tue 17 Sep 2002]
if you are an australian (or any) traveller in norway and you're invited to someone's home then make sure you take off your shoes. depending on the home it will either be outside the front door (some apartments), or immediately inside the front door. you take your shoes off because they're often wet, or muddy, or snowy, whatever, but you tend to walk around your home in socks or house slippers as a matter of course, guests included.
[Mon 16 Sep 2002]
melbourne in bergen distance (2)
in western norway there are a lot of fjords. this means if you ask anyone how far somewhere is they will always answer you in hours. "how far is stavanger?" "three hours". for an australian this would usually translate into anywhere from 220 to 300kms, more or less. but this is not what it means. it actually means that between bergen and stavanger there are numerous fjords where you must wait for the ferry to be able to cross and so it takes around three hours to do the trip. it might only be 100km (i still don't know yet), but it will usually take about 3 hours because of the fjord crossings.
and why the crossings? well the fjords here are anywhere from 120 to 220 kms long, and up to a kilometre deep, so to drive round a little one is about 240kms (and that would assume a pretty straight road, which it most definitely is not). i imagine this is not the case in east norway where they don't have real fjords, regardless of what the locals might tell you.
and the trip to stavanger? if i find out i'll let you know. it's three hours by express boat (high speed catamaran) and seems three hours by car.
[Sun 15 Sep 2002]
melbourne in bergen distance
i've decided to try and keep a list of the minor cultural differences i find as a white middle class anglo saxon male from melbourne, australia, in bergen, norway. things every traveller ought to know? unlikely.
measurement. this is complex and will cover at least two entries. the first is volume and length. in melbourne of course we are decimal. we have millilitres and litres. so 600 ml is more or less what an english pint used to be (milk used to come in pint bottles and so for some of us remains a benchmark for how much a litre might be, of course coca cola become the better bench mark with its litre bottles). but here they use decilitres too. which is simple (it is metric after all), but just, well odd.
but note, and this is important, where declitres are used for liquid (so i buy a 5 decilitre container of chocolate milk at lunch time, they would look at you oddly if you asked for a 500ml container, though half a litre would get you by) they are not used for length, though available, so the 30cm stays 30 cm, not 3 decimetres. though if you were an australian carpenter it would, of course, be 300ml and centimetres would never enter into the scheme of things.
finally, the tricky one. if a norwegian mentions miles to you they don't mean australian miles (aka 1600 metres), they mean the norwegian mile, which as everyone knows is in fact 10 kilometres. not sure why it isn't a decikilometre, decakilometre, or whatever. i (only once) nearly got caught by this when someone told me that the distance to x was 10 miles (i was thinking about cycling), so thinking it might only be 16 or so km i was considering the trip only to have someone explain what was meant was norwegian miles, so in fact it was more like 100 km!
[Sun 15 Sep 2002]
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