Many moons ago, when I first moved to Norway and telephone calls were much too expensive for my budget, I was forced to write letters. Sit down, put pen to paper and write. That however, was not the hardest part. It was the waiting. It could take weeks, sometimes months to receive a letter in return. I felt far away, isolated, living in a garden of exile.
Facebook, FaceTime, Skype and Messenger are what now connect me (and everyone else) with the outside world. They enable us to feel close to people far away, which in turn makes the world seem smaller.
After living twenty-seven years in Norway, my husband and I recently bought a condo in my home state of New Jersey. The plan is to use it as a vacation home. Fly back and forth several times a year. Most of my family and a lot of my friends live there. Plus three Grandchildren! The condo is located at the Jersey Shore, about 25 minutes from the beach and two hours from NYC. Just perfect! Happy! Happy! Me.
But… Nothing is ever easy!
We just got back from our first mini-vacation to our new place and this is how it went…
We had a one hour drive to the airport (early in the morning). Fifty minute flight to Oslo. One hour wait before boarding. The flight across the Atlantic took approximately seven hours. We landed at 1:30pm in Newark NJ. Not bad.
I have a US passport, my husband has a Norwegian one. He has always been able to follow me through the US Citizens only line, at the Customs and Border Protection counter. Not anymore. Instead, we could either split up or both go through the Non US Citizens line. Knowing I’d have to wait for him anyway, I went with him.
The Non US Citizens line was long and slow. It took crawling at a snails pace, forever, to see why. Out of fifteen counters there were only four open. People were yelling to the officers guarding the line that they were missing their connecting flights. Babies and small children crying deliriously after long flights and their parents, tired and stressed trying to manage them. Elderly people pleading for assistance. I also noticed a pregnant woman looking drained and pale, inching her way through the line. We stood there like animals waiting to get in out of the cold. Welcome to America!
In the end, it took two hours for us to get through. I planned on saying something to the officer at the counter about the long wait, but after seeing how grumpy and unfriendly he was, I chickened out. It took another couple of hours to get through the airport and car rental agency. Of course we got stuck in traffic, so what should have been a one hour drive, took two. That’s like sixteen hours from door to door.
We stayed for one fun-filled week before heading back.
Our flight left the gate on time at 7:00pm. We sat on the runway for quite a while before returning to the gate, to fix an electrical problem. A short time later, with the problem fixed, something happened that I have never in all my years of travel seen before. Some of the passengers wanted off the plane! I don’t know if they were spooked because of the electrical problem or what… But they got off and then we had to wait for their luggage to be removed. We finally took off just after 10:00pm. It was a smooth eight hour flight.
Needless to say we missed our connecting fight and had to wait seven hours in Frankfort, Germany for the next flight home! In the end it took twenty-six hours to get home, which is more than double the time it should take.
Arriving safely is what really matters… And we’re going back in August 🙂
When I moved to Norway with my three young children back in 1989 our lives took a drastic turn.
There were few expats and no international school in our area. If we ever expected to fit in, we had no choice but to learn a new language. There were no more Sunday dinners at grandma’s house, because she now lived thousands of miles away. We soon found ourselves saying goodbye to things we never imagined living without..
There would be no more picnics or fireworks on the Forth of July. No more Valentine’s Day-mailbox in the children’s classroom. No wearing green on St. Patricks Day and no turkey on Thanksgiving. Of course I could always make a turkey dinner on the last Thursday of November but with the kids in school, my husband at work and no parade on TV, it wasn’t the same.
There were no more presents on Christmas Day, because the packages were all given out and opened on Christmas Eve. No more Easter Bunny. It was now the Easter Chicken leaving Easter candy for the children in large paper-mache eggs, and then everyone goes skiing for the day. Mother’s Day was now in March and Father’s day in November.
My children took it all in stride, until they found out there was NO Halloween!
“Fear not,” I explained. “Instead of Halloween there is a tradition here called Lossi. On December 12th all the children dress in costume, go door to door singing Christmas songs and receive treats from their neighbors.”
By the time December 12th rolled around it was dark and freezing in Norway. This meant covering up their costumes with layers of sweaters and jackets, and carrying flashlights. I can still remember my kids that first Lossi, all excited and carrying plastic pumpkins they’d brought over from America to collect their loot in. They didn’t even let their disappointment show when they came home to find their pumpkins stuffed with nothing but tangerines.
That was over twenty years ago. There’s still no Halloween in our town, but they have started to sell real pumpkins and more people are giving out candy instead of tangerines for Lossi now. I guess thats progress.
Halloween is unfortunately not the only thing approaching my home-state of New Jersey this year. Prayers go out to all my friends and family as they brace themselves for the wrath of Hurricane Sandy.
Although I’m American and live in Norway, I don’t feel much like an expat. I’m married to a local and we live in a small town which is a long way from the nearest expat hub. My children have gone to Norwegian schools and most of my friends are Norwegian. I had my first real taste of expat life while living the Netherlands from 2007 to 2010 and I liked it.
After returning to Norway I decided to join the PWC (Petroleum Womens Club) in Stavanger. Its something I’ve always wanted to do, but never could because it was too far away. It didn’t seem like a good idea to drive fifty miles through the mountains to hang out in Stavanger while my children were in school here, but things are different now. I only have one left at school and he’s seventeen.
The PWC has an assortment of fun activities for its members. The three activities that tempted me most were scrapbooking, hiking and book club but due to the fifty mile drive, I could only choose one. I chose book club (surprise).
Today was book club day. All the members take turns hosting and since I don’t yet know where everyone lives, my husband and I swapped cars because his has a GPS. I got up early to walk the dogs, get one son to school and the other off to work before leaving. Book club starts at eleven, so I needed to be on the road by 9:30.
As usual I was running late and the GPS wouldn’t take the address. I ran back to the house and googled the directions.
I was no more than twenty miles down the road when a tractor pulled out in front of me, which is a common occurrence here. And you’re pretty much screwed when this happens because the narrow winding roads make it almost impossible to pass.
Another ten miles and I was seriously regretting that third cup of tea I drank before leaving, but there’s no place to stop in the mountains.
Stressing over the time and finally rid of the tractor I started speeding along the last twenty miles. Thats when I realized that I forgot to put my make-up on this morning! (****)
By the time I arrived my shoulders were up to my ears, my face bare, my bladder full and I was five minutes early!
Was it worth it?
A group of women eating lunch, drinking tea and talking about books (in English)… You bet it was!
With all the traveling I’ve been doing this summer, my blog is starting to resemble a travel blog. To mix things up, I thought I’d try writing a book review. I just finished reading a good book, so here goes…
If you’ve ever lived or simply dream of living in a foreign country, then Kathleen Gamble’s book Expat Alien: My Global Adventure, is for you. I was first introduced to Kathy and her well told stories of travel and adventure through her blog, also known as the Expat Alien. Kathy and I are two American girls who were both born in the fifties, but while I grew up on the steady shores of our homeland, she grew up wandering the world.
Her parents and two brothers started their great expat adventure in 1952, when they first moved to Burma, where Kathy was later born. Throughout most of the years the family lived abroad her father worked with the Ford Foundation, in Third World Agriculture.
The story moves along at a fast and exciting pace as we follow the family to Mexico, Nigeria and Columbia. They travel across Europe and Kathy attends boarding school in Switzerland. If it’s excitement your looking for, there’s also a plane crash, a military coup and an earthquake.
Having barely spent anytime at all in America before starting college there, Kathy has just as much trouble relating to her peers as they do to her. Feeling different and isolated she spirals into a case of severe reverse culture shock.
Later she marries a Russian American and when he takes a job in Moscow, she follows. Here we get an inside look at what its like to live, work and raise a family in Moscow. Nine years later they are forced out under unfortunate circumstances and return to the States to start again. After losing everything, Kathy is forced into making tough decisions for both herself and her son.
Kathy’s story gives superb insight as to what its like growing up globally and as exciting as that is, there were times I felt sad for her. I found this book to be an honest and riveting account of her journey.
Expat Alien is available in paperback on Amazon.com and in Kindle format.