Friday, September 16, 2011


Norwegian flags at the harbor near Bergenhus

My high schoolers finished writing the poems they’d started on the theme of carpe diem, and read them to the class, while standing on the teacher’s desk (they’d just watched Dead Poets Society, how could I not?). Only one kid hit his head on the light. Only one kid dropped the f-bomb in his poem. Overall, a successful educational endeavor. Especially for A, who hadn’t been in class when we started the poems because she’d been helping with the current elections. She’s the girl who lost two close friends in Utøya, and when I explained to her what the students were doing, she started to write her own poem. And wrote, and wrote… I couldn’t stop her. She crafted stanza after stanza about the difficulty of escape, and the importance of looking forward. The furiousness of her writing was interrupted only by periodic questions about whether something made sense, or wanting to show me what she had so far. I let her keep pumping out the poetry; why not use writing as therapy? I think the intensity of being part of this girl’s healing may be the highlight of my teaching here in Norway.
Graffiti at the bybanen station at Fantoft

All of the students were given laptops by the school, which they’re meant to use in class as well as at home. I find this ridiculous. Anita may not notice the facebook tabs hidden on the screen when she walks around, but I’m too young not to be clued into their clever evasive tactics. These kids are in high school: many of them are not yet old enough to embrace learning on their own. They still need external discipline. Also, facebook is my generation’s addictive drug. Allowing them to use it in school just exacerbates the problem. This is probably the gist of the campaign I’m about to begin to get the rector’s permission to block access to facebook on the school network. Any suggestions on additional points I should make?

A group of my adult students discussed 9/11 conspiracy theories on Thursday. They talked about the metal girders not being hot enough to burn, or bend that much, and how strange it was that the buildings went straight down, and that planes can’t knock down buildings… listening to them clogged my mind. What were they suggesting? That Bush killed all those people because he wanted to invade Iraq? That martians really orchestrated the whole thing? As much confusion as there may be about events and reactions afterward, so many people were killed on that day—how can you react in any way but sorrow? To be fair, I’ve been surprised by the sympathy of most Norwegians’ to the 9/11 anniversary. Many of them remember exactly where they were when they heard, and how visceral their reactions were. I hadn’t realized it resounded across the world to that extent.

We did a unit on baseball in my adult class. At one point, the students turned to me for clarity about the rules of the game. I had no clue. Bad American!

The fish market
As I was walking around explaining points in the baseball story, one of my students lured me into an argument about the superiority of rationality. Having just finished Coetzee’s Lives of the Animals, I was reluctant to grant too much credibility to my student’s insistence that everything comes down to rationality. The idea that of course rationality determines that rationality is paramount, it’s acting in its own interests, tickled my postmodern-sensitive brain that cannot help but politicize everything, and gave me just enough pause to argue with this guy.

I’m beginning to rephrase simple statements into Norwegian. My vocabulary and comfort with the syntax is growing in leaps and bounds, but I still can’t speak it. It’s the pronunciation. Anita started laughing when I asked, “hvordan går du?” –how do you walk? Instead of “hvordan går det?” –how’s it going? And I can’t even hear the difference between the numbers 7 and 20; both sound like “shoe” to my American ear. 27 sounds like “shoeshoe.” My Slovenian neighbor in the class tried to explain that one is more of a “ch” sound, but I simply cannot hear it, and wonder if I’m doomed to forever make mathematical mistakes.

Chilling at Fantoft: there are lots of nationalities in that room!
Learning Norwegian names for other language mostly involves adding “esk” onto the end: Engelsk, Dansk, Hebresk. The colonization of language involved in renaming countries in one’s own tongue still bothers me in Norwegian as much as it did in Hebrew or English: why don’t we call each country what they call themselves? United States of America, Norge, and Eretz Yisrael. Then we’d also become accustomed to some of the sounds in foreign languages, and hearing Mandarin for the first time wouldn’t be such a shock. Just a thought.

I bought lefse for the first time, and man, is it disgusting. The blandest thing I’ve ever tasted. It’s a Norwegian flatbread made from potatoes, and meant to be eaten with something tasty rolled up inside of it. Of course, I bought a package on the run and munched it while walking, which doesn’t do it full justice, so I’m going to try it again with butter and cinnamon handy. On the scale of Norwegian foods, it falls waaaay below fresh salmon and brunøst. Hmm. I think that may be it for Norwegian cuisine. Because no way am I trying lutefisk: not even the Norwegians like it.  


  1. Hi, I got the link to your blog from Leora. You have a interesting blog and sure a interesting year in Norway this year:-)


  2. Hehe, you don't know the rules to baseball?! It's ok, I probably don't know them either... you might want to brush up on your football before there might be a unit on it...
    What other fun units have you had on your classes?
    Miss you!

  3. Hi Tania, glad you like it!
    Michele-- can't wait to see you! And no worries-- they all think football is soccer, anyways.