Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Boy that Talked on the Bybanen

The other day, I got on the bybanen on my way back from the city and sat down without checking out the person sitting across from me. I was settling my bags (10 kroner shirts from Fretex, heck yeah!) when a soft voice said, “hei.” My head shot up. Strangers never, but never, speak on the bybanen. Across from me sat a little boy, regarding me gravely. “Hi,” I answered, and smiled out the window. He had one of those faces that already look grownup and filled with heavy care, only unmarked yet by any truly serious worry. We sat that way for a bit, until a large grizzled gentleman sat down next to him.

“Hei.” I stared determinedly out the window and waited. After a pause, the man responded. “Hei.” I couldn’t help it, I turned and smiled at the grownup. Grinned, really. He smiled back. This boy had broken through bybanen etiquette, and now we were allowed to smile at each other. After rolling through the bystation, the kid asked him, “hva heter du?” “Steven.” Really, I thought? That’s not very Norwegian. “Hva heter du?” the man continued. The boy answered, and another pause ensued. Then, “hvor gammel du?” I couldn’t understand the man’s response, but the boy’s proud “jeg er åtte” warmed the cockles of my heart (this was right before he asked "hva er du?" Ah, the myriad funny responses that one could come up to that one with for an eight-year-old). Periodically, the kid looked down at the floor, then back up at the man and ran through more of the rudimentaries of introduction. I spent the whole ride grinning out the window as the chubby boy pumped his neighbor for information and showed him pictures of his family on his phone.

Well, I finally planned my presentation for the Fulbright seminar. Friday afternoon, I started cooking for shabbat and sat down to make my powerpoint. There’s such a wealth of joy in looking back over what I’ve done and trying to figure out how I’m going to explain it. Anyhow, I got so into it that the buzzer going off scared the bejeezus out of me without my properly awakening to the fact that it meant the food was ready, and only twenty minutes later, with the smell of burnt wafting through the apartment, did I realize that my rice was now smoking cinders. I’m thinking of taking a picture of it and adding it to the slide show.

Lene let me know that there's going to be a Fulbright ETA in Bergen next year. I happened to know they are cutting it down to two in Norway (from three this year) because of budgetary constraints, and since this is the first year they've ever had one in Bergen, I figured my position was the goner. But nope! I'm so glad, both for Bergen and the lucky ETA who gets this spot next year. It's a dream job. 

I gave a guest lecture on the American election yesterday at Katten. The kids were pretty smart, and asked really great questions, like, “if the Republican party is in favor of small government, why do they want to regulate things like marriage and abortion?” Hmm. Good question. They all lined up on the side of high taxes and high government spending, beating up on America’s military, and pro-choice. A few were in favor of a moon colony, as well (we discussed all the really salient issues). One said that government of course means a contract in which people work, and the government takes care of them, so what’s up with America, and I explained how a minimalist government that simply allows people to go about their business is an alternative model, one especially appealing if you don’t trust your government as much as you trust market pressures.

I had a fun time showing some of the utter ridiculousness of this election (the Cain Train stuck on foreign policy “uhh, Libya… Libya…”), but I also allowed myself to get patriotic and defend the American mindset. You see, these kids never meet conservatives, and don’t understand the idea of small government, or fear of big government, or policy motivated to protect religious faith, and so I tried to give them some concept of an America that means something, an America that Americans would die to defend. It wasn't about giving biographies of the candidates so much as talking about the American dream and independence and of course football. 

Afterwards the kids burst into spontaneous applause for so long that I got awkward and turned around to fiddle with my computer. There’s something heady about the sound of clapping; I think I might understand why some of those slightly humanoid politicians stand up in front of a crowd again and again.

Aaaand… off to Oslo and then Lillehammer for Fulbrighter weekend! 

Valentine’s Day in Bergen: raindrops on roses

Still facing a butter shortage: the top sign says "we have butter"

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