Jeg ne speak pas norsk

In a previous post I listed some goals for my tenure in Norway. Two of them involve language: I want to learn a little Norwegian and I want to brush up on my French. The former has proven more challenging than the latter.

First of all, when I’m in a foreign country–any foreign country it seems because this was the case when I visited Panama two years ago–my brain immediately switches to French. Like, we’re not speaking English, SO WE’RE SPEAKING FRENCH, RIGHT?! No, brain, that’s not how it works. In the case of Panama, the language (close to Spanish) shares a latin root with French. Having French on the back burner kind of helped. Not so much with Norwegian.

I’ve been using Duolingo to practice both languages. (Can somebody explain the importance of the “streak”? Is it just bragging rights?) For the French, it’s not bad. It’s review and its helping me remember some of the vocabulary that’s gone by the wayside. But I know French basics and I know the grammar rules (more or less). French already has some buoyancy in my brain. However, learning a brand new language to which I’ve had no introduction? Whole other ballgame.

For Norwegian, Duolingo has kind of sucked. It’s like when you watch a movie and somebody is using tapes to learn a language and they keep saying stupid sentences like, “the boy drinks milk” and “the meat is red.” NOT HELPFUL. And you start there–right in the middle of some weird conversation that you’d never have. There’s no introduction to the alphabet, the pronunciation, the syntax, or basic words. It’s very counter-intuitive for learning a new language. But I’m still using it because I don’t have a better (free) resource at the moment. (I’m open to suggestions!)

I made learning a little Norwegian a goal because I feel like a jerk not knowing even the basics. I want to fit it as much as possible, and I don’t want people here thinking that I’m speaking English in arrogance, or that I have no respect for their culture and their language.

When I go through the grocery checkout, for instance, my only goal is to not reveal myself as a foreigner by speaking English. I’ve learned that the word for “bag” is “pousa” though that’s not how to spell it and the Google translator isn’t helping me rn. The word for “receipt” is “kvittering” and thank you is “takk.” With this little bit, I can sometimes get through a checkout without saying anything in English. And sometimes I’m foiled.

I’ve been asked a few times if I’m a member of some place. No idea what they’re saying to me there…so I have to sheepishly say “sorry…” and then they switch to English. I’m also sometimes engaged in friendly conversation, like the woman who explained that she needed to tape my blue berries shut so they didn’t spring open and spill everywhere. Very sweet. But again, foiled. Today, however, was the cutest foiling of all, and I’ll end this post with that little anecdote.

I stopped into the Kiwi after the gym to grab some popcorn and bacon, because that’s my life I guess. I also found these adorable candy Easter eggs that I’ll blog about later. So I head to the checkout with my very practical haul of groceries:


The guy at the checkout is a gentle giant. He reminded me of my friend Rae’s husband–burly and sweet. I’ve got my three vocab words in mind–ready for an English-free checkout. Then he holds up my bacon and asks me a question. GAH. Foiled. I smile and say “sorry” in my sheepish way. He’s momentarily taken aback. Surprised that I wasn’t Norwegian! (Let’s celebrate the small victories, shall we?) So he switches to English and asks if I needed eggs to go with my bacon. (I wonder if he thought that I thought I was getting real eggs and not candy eggs but he was too polite to make the assumption to my face…) In any case, I have plenty of eggs at home, so I say so with a laugh. He says, “Oh, good. The other day, I bought bacon and I forgot the eggs and it was just terrible having one and not the other.” I said, “of course! You have to have both.” And we had a nice laugh about it, and I didn’t feel so bad for speaking English.

So, I’ll press on with the Duolingo and keep sorting through the strange mis-mash of English, French, and Norwegian that’s swirling around my brain. Here’s to learning new languages and fumbling through the daily.



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