Trust is a funny thing, isn’t it? As children, we all start out with heaps of it, possibly so that we don’t think our mother is trying to poison us with strained pears, or that our father really IS going to leave us on the side of the road because he has had it up to here with the backseat bickering. If we are lucky enough to have had a stable family life, we generally grew up believing that it’s others that harm us. As we get older, the proof presents itself in the form of friends who mock us behind our back, colleagues who are nasty to our face, and lovers who make betrayal an art form. On top of this you add the odd experience of theft or other criminal activity, and bingo, we become fairly convinced that anyone outside our nearest and dearest is waiting for their chance to pounce.
With that being said, Canadians have the reputation of being relatively trusting. We haven’t had a fight with the guys next door to us in two hundred years and up until 10 years ago, they didn’t even need a passport to get into our country. On the other side of the spectrum, my partner is Scottish, and they don’t trust anyone. This surely comes from years of clan infighting and outfighting and and beating up (and being beaten up by) the guys next door to THEM. Suffice it to say they are probably a bit suspicious of their own grandmother at this point. After all, who knows what she’s been up to.
The Norwegians, though, seem to have a ton of this trust thing. This characteristic was evident from day one, when on arriving from the UK with 4 massive bags and a mountain of paperwork, I steeled myself for passport control and an interrogation of Soviet Cold War proportions. Of course, this never happened. I even put off getting a Stavanger library card for months because I didn’t have any documents to prove my name and Norwegian address. How would I ever be believed? In Canada they would probably want to finger print you and have you sign some sort of document giving up all rights to ever read again if you didn’t provide this proof within 7-10 working days. When I mentioned this to a Norwegian colleague she just shrugged. “You just need to tell them your name and e-mail,” she said. In my world, it’s been a long time since simply telling someone something was enough. Even to get a library card.
But the ultimate example of Norwegian trust came just a few weeks later. One cool December Sunday afternoon, Scottish partner and I decided to go for a walk and as we neared one of the few restaurants open on the Sabbath, I heard a baby crying. Scouring the horizon for the owner of this precious cargo, I realized there were no parental units to be found. My next thought was to scan for a sound system, maybe I had chanced upon Norway’s version of a hidden camera show, probably called “Fool the Foreigner”? Still nothing.
Staring into the floor to ceiling windows of the restaurant I saw a table of family members enjoying a meal, chatting and laughing in the warmth of a Sunday at leisure. Glancing to my right, outside of the restaurant, I discovered the source of the cries. Stationed up against the outside windows I saw a pram. With one slightly unhappy baby inside.
At first I thought this must have been an oversight. What kind of mid-afternoon drinking binge had this mother been on to forget to bring her child in from the cold? Norwegians had always seemed so sensible to me, maybe I should report this to the proper authorities? Surely they would help get her off the schnapps and back to being a model of maternal propriety. Tsk tsk.
Luckily, I did nothing of the sort. As it turns out, this would not be the last time I would see a child in a pram outdoors while the parents sat inside. Apparently, Norwegians believe that the cold, fresh air is beneficial to children, so they aim to get as much of that into them as possible. Naturally (and who can blame them when it’s February) they are not about to stand out there with them. Now I am not a mother, but I am pretty sure leaving your child on the street while you are inside having coffee is displaying just about as much trust as I can imagine. I can’t even leave my bike outside without a monstrous lock and a trained attack dog there to guard it.
Will I ever reach the Norwegian level of trust and openness? I am not sure. I may be too far gone. In a country where anyone can access your personal information-salary, job title, maybe even what you ate for dinner last night-I struggle with putting my full name on my mailbox. I am what my experiences have made me, so I will start with baby steps.Heck, If Norwegian mothers can trust us with their children, then maybe I can return that trust, in my own way.
So here it goes. Today I will put my full name on the mailbox. I promise. Trust me.