Thursday, September 8, 2011

Smartsocks and Sighs

I LOVE my rain boots. I haven’t taken them off in three days.

I LOVE my thick woolen Smartsocks. I haven’t taken them off in three weeks. I’m going to thrill my dad by asking him to buy me more (he gets a weird joy out of sock purchases).

I LOVE the Norwegian custom of taking off one’s shoes when you enter a house. Combine thick socks with the hard floors that every Norwegian has, and every single day is like Risky Business.

Bergen in the rain: view from Fløyen
Have you ever tried to explain American slang to people who call the restroom, the “toilet”? I wrote a list of the words for “bathroom” on the board today, in order of politeness:

Ladies’ or Gents’ room
The Facilities (facetious)
A pit stop
The can

I have a fun job.

While working my high schoolers through some poems, we navigated the multiple reasons a person can sigh (because, you know, no doubt I’ll be telling this with a sigh ages and ages hence… but why?). I made each kid act out their suggestions, and the room was in stitches as each gave lovelorn sighs, or regretful sighs, or disappointed sighs… the classroom boomed with twenty high schoolers all ballooning out the world’s teenage grief through angsty lungs. I also gave them my mnemonic for iambic meter, which runs, “I tried-- to tell --the tea--cher to -- shut up.” They intoned it enthusiastically, clapping their hands at all the right parts. Then they started writing their own poems, on themes we’d seen in the poems we studied. Some are quite ambitious, and I’m hoping to get them to share next class.

 Masculinity Studies and Hemingway at their finest...
I’ve met more of the literature grad students. They’re a fun, chummy group that seem to spend most of their time chatting on the couches outside the graduate reading room, instead of at their desks researching. They’re all very deer-in-the-headlights about their theses. One’s doing something on hiphop, another analyzing linguistics in Dawkins’ Selfish Gene, a third looking at differences between Eastern and Western literature in the States in the 19th century.  Of course, the guy I spoke to most in depth-ly (not a word, but the permissiveness of Norwegians towards any neologism I feel like creating has me completely heady and flexing the English language in any direction I can make it go in. In fact, I’ll probably return to the States speaking some variant of English that is so far removed from the original, nobody will be able to understand me except my sisters, who don’t require actual verbal communication to know what I’m thinking) is writing a thesis on masculinity and Hemingway, which figures because while writing my honors thesis, I got stuck for a peer review with the guy writing on masculinity and Hemingway (you guys are both writing on Americans, right? And, you know, gender is the same no matter your perspective—basically noticing that it’s there means that you belong in the same peer review group), which makes me wonder if I’ll ever escape, or if guys looking to emulate drunken misogynists will follow me for the rest of my life (sorry for the dizzying use of parentheses in this sentence, won’t happen again, I promise).

All of the American literature profs went out for dinner. We talked about American politics, department politics, and wine. At one point, one of the profs looked up at the ceiling, and mused, “I really like these lamps… even if they’re phallic.” The apology for appreciating phallic interior design made me choke on my food. Let’s be honest, when you’re an English prof, everything is phallic. She’d have to throw her Gerard-Manley-Hopkins-labeled man-pen away, or preferably jam it into V.S. Naipaul’s face, to rid herself of all phallic surroundings. Bitter? No, not much—I don’t really care if Naipaul thinks women can’t write, because let’s face it, neither can he. But it really bit to read Hopkins’ opinion of female authorship, and assumption of the pen as a male instrument. Made me want to head to where the green swell is in the havens dumb and shout “asshole” to the stormless skies.

Of course, I need to keep track of the fact that while I’m teaching English and disseminating the glories of the language of Whitman and Woolf to young minds, I’m also learning Norwegian. My first trip to the library, I eyed the Ibsen section longingly. Since then I’ve set more realistic goals, like being able to understand the graffiti in the English Department bathroom by December.

My first Norwegian class was both easy and daunting. The words are so easy to remember. At least half of them are cognates. But their pronunciation is an entirely different matter. An entire classroom of foreigners saying “ooooh” and “iyuu” and “ø” sounds towards the teacher, our lips pursed in ridiculous emulation of hers, is hard to take seriously. Still, I’m hoping to be able to eavesdrop on unwitting Norwegian colleagues by the middle of January. You’ll know when I’ve become fluent; I’ll blog a bit in Norwegian for fun.


  1. You forgot the head and the lavitory

  2. sigh, so true. but isn't lavatory British?