As every expat knows, it’s never easy to go home again, no matter how much we miss mummy, daddy and the family hamster. I actually start feeling nervous when the first of my co-workers asks me, “Hey… you excited to get back to Toronto?” I smile and nod, but quite frankly the answer is usually a resounding no, as from the second I walk through the doors at arrivals I am already thinking of my excruciatingly painful departure. I spend most of my week at home imagining mean-looking, burly British Airways flight attendants dragging me back onto the plane as I cling in vain to my mother’s waist. Call me a killjoy, but I find it impossible to relax during those visits.And my anxiety only gets worse once the questions start.
Back on my home turf, everyone is curious about Stavanger. Understandably, friends and family want to understand what my life is like here in Norway, and from the minute I step off the plane I am anticipating what form these questions might take. They range from the mundane and easy to answer, (“How was your flight?”) to the vaguely political, (“ How about that oil price?”) But above all, the most challenging question is perhaps the most obvious.
“So how’s Norway?”
While in Toronto a few weeks ago, this question came from a rather unusual source. I had stopped off at my favourite government -controlled liquor store (see, Norway, you aren’t the only ones who are stuck with politicians in charge of your booze) and had entreated the help of 20 -something hipster dude behind the counter. I needed to find a decent bottle of Canadian white wine, and he looked like he might just know the difference between a riesling and a pinot gris. When I told him what I was looking for and that I wanted to take it back with me to Norway, the inevitable question arose.
My first instinct when faced with having to summarize an entire nation and cultural experience in 2 sentences is to talk about the weather.
“Um…right now I guess it’s rainy?”
Hipster dude frowned. Realising this was an unsatisfactory and wholly inadequate answer, he tried something more specific.
“I have always wanted to go to Scandinavia. I’ve heard it’s really nice over there, with the fjords and all… and they are kinda like us, you know, with free health care and stuff?”
He was indeed making it sound “really nice over there”. And when he looked at me with those big wide, hopeful eyes-I just couldn’t bear the idea of crushing his Nordic dream with stories of 35% taxes, 30 dollar bottles of wine, and wearing sandals only one and a half days a year. Being a natural complainer, I somehow felt this was not the time or place to let loose with my relatively minor expat grievances.
“It’s beautiful,” I responded. “The fjords are stunning-completely magical. I feel really lucky to get a chance to live there.”
As he nodded and handed over the much desired bottle- I could see he was smiling ever so gently. 10 points for me as Norway’s new travel and tourism ambassador to Canada. And while I didn’t exactly present an in-depth analysis of life in the Norwegian capital city of oil-I did manage to keep a little bit of the myth and magic of my adoptive home alive-in just 3 sentences.
And my new job was apparently just beginning. After a blissful 10 days in Toronto, I returned to Stavanger-horribly jet-lagged but happy to see Scottish partner . Strolling into the office upon my return to work on Monday morning, my colleagues looked up from their desks in greeting and smiled.I instantly knew what was coming.
“Welcome back,” they said. “So how was Canada?”