Monday, August 22, 2011

Fomenting Rebellion

Fomenting Rebellion: Or how I started an uprising at the passport office and almost got thrown out of Norway on the day I received my residence permit

Timeline of events:

Monday, Aug 15:
I arrive at the Police Station early. Take a number from the queue machine. It’s called, and I go to the passport booth to be told that the special student day is Friday. Please come back in a week.

Friday, Aug 19:
8:30     My friends and I arrive at the police station half an hour before it opens. First ones there! We wonder why the queue machine isn’t working
9:00     We start getting antsy.
9:10     The waiting rooms are chockfull of angry students. The Iranians and Africans have crowded at the front (they may have more experience with bureaucracy than the rest of us), but won’t push past the office door.
9:20     I decide this is ridiculous, and requires a healthy amount of American obnoxiousness. I push through the crowd and through the door until I find the passport office. A woman sits behind the glass.

Dialogue between myself and Idiot Lady (IL for short):
Me: Excuse me, ma’am, but I was wondering when the office will open? We were told it  
would open at nine.
IL: It’s open now.
Me: Oh. You don’t think you could have shared that with the hordes of students in your                  waiting room?
IL: What?
Me: Nobody announced it.
IL: Oh.
Me: And the ticket machine that issues queue numbers?
IL: That’s only for normal days. This is a student day.
Me: Ah. But, since there are so many people shoving and pushing outside, don’t you                      think you can start the ticket machine today?
IL: No, that’s just for normal days. This is a student day.
Me: So you have a special day actually designed for the discomfort of students?
IL: (blinks) Well, they’ll just have to wait in line and be disciplined
African student who sticks his head in: Can you ask her what to do if we have to leave                      because we have class at 10?
Me: Some of the students have class at 10. What should they do?
IL: But you’re here already. I can do your passport now. It will be done before 10.
Me: Yes, but the rest of the angry students don’t speak an English as excellently adapted              for arguing with idiot ladies as me (no, I didn’t really say that). What should they do?
IL: They should come back Monday.
Me:  Thank you. Excuse me one moment.
I walked out into the hallway, which magically quiets as I appear.
Bergen Public Library. Went there after the
Police Station to regroup.
 “You have to wait in line, the ticket machine doesn’t work today. And there’s only one booth open. If you have class soon, just come back on Monday. So, I think you should all come into the Passport office now. And make a lot of noise.”
9:40: I walk out of the office with my residence permit and an arrangement to teach two  Iranian women English. They were very impressed by mine.

Over the weekend, I went to a concert in Bergen center with a friend. It showcased a bunch of local Norwegian bands, all of whom sang English songs in excellent American accents. How disappointing. Hoping for some real Norwegian music soon.

Have been practically living at Gamlehausen, the king’s palace, the past few days. People keep walking down to the gardens there, and I can never say no to a pretty stroll. Different reactions: The French all sniff, “call that a castle?” The Danish inform me that the reason that it’s so new is because there haven’t been kings in Norway for that long; it was ruled by Denmark until recently. The Spanish don’t even look at it, they just head down to the lake to sunbathe.

Even the manhole covers in Bergen are quaint
I don’t at all believe the stereotype about shy Norwegians anymore. Nicolai, my clean-cut Norwegian next-door-neighbor, keeps knocking on my door; but then again, perhaps he has heard the stereotype about friendly Americans. Though he does retreat an adorable two paces after he knocks, and waits for me several meters down the hall as though I’m going to lunge out and eat him.

I was on the bybanen (light rail) today, and heard a family speaking Hebrew. Turns out they were on vacation from Haifa. Bet they were just as surprised to hear someone addressing them in Hebrew as I was to overhear it!

More planning meetings for the American literature seminars. Norwegian higher education is run very differently from the States. More on that later. 


  1. Hi, Hannah,
    You are indeed a woman after my heart, a modern Deborah leading the oppressed students to victory over bureaucracy.
    I just love it, and I'm proud as if you were my own daughter.

    It takes brains, strengths and courage to besiege Norwegians with a desk in front of them. Public offices of all kinds are filled to the brim with ILs and IMs

    It's mainly because Norway is governed by this unofficial law, called the Jante Law. Author Axel Sandemose has written about this law in a Danish town called Jante. It is used to intimidate people and keep them down in fear. I so hope you get to study some Norwegian literature too during your stay. We are a small nation packed with marvellous authors. It's a shame they aren't known all over the world. Most of them are writing about general public issues.

    By the way; The Danes are partly right; Gamlehaugen is but a Royal residence. Our King has his own residences in the major towns of Norway.
    The Royal Castle is situated in our capital, Oslo.
    Gamlehaugen has a great and honourable history. It was built by Prime Minister Christian Michelsen, the one that finally negotiated Norway free from SWEDEN in 1905. The kingdom of Norway is however older than the Danish. Norway was united to one kingdom in the year 872 by king Harald the Fairhaired. He is probably buried in the town where I live, just in our neighbourhood actually. I'll show you his memorial when you find time to visit us in Haugesund. Then, from about 1400 till 1814 we shared first queen then kings with Denmark. (Long, ugly story, ask the Danes how we finally got rid of them.Ha!)

    I leave you a link to the Norwegian Royal House You can look up and read if you like.

    Go on as you have started, girl from land of the brave and home of the free.

  2. Don' lose faith in European bureaucracy: once in a while you will find an extremely nice and competent person who will be a great help!
    I am looking forward to reading about Norwegian higher education and the American literature seminars. What are you supposed to teach these Norwegian youngsters?

  3. Yay for American pushiness and obnoxiousness!

  4. haha, Michele, knew you'd be a fan! you taught me well... thanks for the cheers, Elise and Ilana!