Since I arrived in Stavanger 13 months ago, I have noticed that there are certain stereotypes of Norwegians that I seem to hear again and again from the expat community. Some of them I have found to have merit, while others don't gel with my experience at all. One of the most persistent of these is that frankly, Norwegians are cold and stoic individuals not interested in making new friends or participating in small talk. Moreover , as a culture that values everyone doing their part, they are not super keen to offer help unless you specifically ask for it. Although I have never noticed this to be true, I am starting to wonder whether those who believe this have yet to step through the hallowed halls of their local fitness establishment.
In the year that I have been a gym member here, I have seen the usual motley crew of gym go-ers . The “stinky wear the same clothes every day” guy. " I love my body let’s look at it in the mirror together” man. Even “my gym kit is inspired by Borat’s man-kini” dude. (That last visual took me an especially long time to erase from my memory). But overall, most of my fellow exercisers are uber-fit, shiny, respectful people, with very clean shoes. Not to mention friendly. Yes, you heard me right.
Case in point: A few weeks ago I ran wildly into the women’s changing rooms with training shoes in hand. I had 15 minutes to spare before my class started, and I had had a particularly difficult day at work. I didn’t want to be there, I wanted a large glass of merlot and a bag of Jelly-Bellies, with lots of the lemon meringue ones.
As I finished changing, I realized I hadn’t looked at myself in the mirror all day, and had a sudden panic that I had a large leaf of spinach from that day’s lunch plastered to one of my front teeth. I thought I would take a minute to check myself out in the mirror to ensure I wasn’t going to humiliate myself in a room full of ladies with perfect pony-tails and pristine neon shoes.
I did a quick once over in front of the sinks and headed for the door. As I did, a woman putting on her trainers called out to me.
“Unnskyld!” she said, and then something incomprehensible to me and my pathetic Norwegian.
“ I am sorry, my Norwegian is terrible,” I answered back feebly.
“ Your trousers are on inside out,” she answered back in flawless English and then gave me sisterly smile.
“It’s been a long day,” I sighed as I noted the massive tag hanging out the back side of my pants. She simply smiled and went back to brushing her gleaming pony-tail.
While this wasn’t the first time I have tried to push the gym’s dress and decency codes to the limit, this WAS the first time anyone was good enough to save me from the embarrassment.
About 10 years ago, while working up a sweat in a beginner’s Pilates class, I whipped off my shirt so that I could continue working out in the jogging top I normally wore underneath. 20 minutes later I did a full sit up and realized to my utter horror that this was the one day I had worn my Victoria’s Secret lacey black bra underneath my shirt. No one had said a thing as I had calmly done almost half an hour of ab work in my lingerie.
And I thought people were staring at me for my super ripped abs.
Sometimes, the words between strangers don’t need to be overly familiar or instantly buddy-buddy. To some cultures, that just doesn’t seem genuine. But they can communicate an ability to look outside ones self, and above all, a willingness to help.
So I too will keep it simple and straightforward. Thank you, kind, shiny pony-tailed Norwegian lady, for coming to my rescue. I know I didn’t ask for your help, but you sure knew when I needed it. It’s good to know that although Norwegians may not burst a blood vessel trying to be your best friend the moment they meet you, they are there when it counts.