I can’t help but return to Istanbul with some observations about
similarities and differences between the Norway and Turkey. Bear with me.
First off, it was an absolute joy to fit in. Scandinavian by heritage, my
pale, pasty, long-limbed countenance didn’t attract undue attention (as it
always does in brown-eyed, dark-haired Turkey ). It was a joy to have people
address me in Norwegian–that is, when they did address me, which was seldom.
There’s another difference—demeanor. I continue to find the Turks a warm and
welcoming people. Whenever I ask for help, they more than comply, whereas
Norwegians are minimalists at best. Garrison Keillor depicts them correctly as
stoic, reserved, and understated. Just after I arrived in Trondheim, I asked a
woman for information about the exchange rate. Her answer was an abrupt “No.”
No apology, no explanation, just the clear message that she couldn’t or
wouldn’t help me. On the other hand, if a Turk didn’t know the answer to my
question, he or she would ask everyone at hand until they found someone who
could help. Different. As my friend Tony said, “Not weird or wrong, just
different.” It’s a good attitude to have about other cultures.
I’ll never forget the Norwegian man who stood silently at the top of a ski
hill as I scrambled and slid my way up it in some aberration of a herringbone.
I pulled over to let him by at one point, but he would have none of it. In
spite of my embarrassed smile and apologies when I finally reached the top of
the hill, he just gave me a withering look and skied off. At least I thought
it was withering–maybe it was just a nonintrusive stare.
I have to admit, the Norwegians I met in social settings were quite different.
We met a man outside the ski hut who waxed prophetic about his broken wrist,
the ski trails and his folk dancing group. At a subsequent evening potluck, a
few people even engaged me in conversation about my impressions of Trondheim.
My theory is that Norwegians are saving their energy for the outdoors; I’ve
never seen a people so enthused about nature. It’s exhilarating. I marveled at
how they lounged in the snow on the mountain, taking the elements as they
came. I loved seeing people ski along the snowy sidewalks during a snowstorm
and bike the city streets in snow, sun, or rain.
My friend Anne told me that Norwegian preschools are of two types: one where children spend half the day outdoors, and the other where they spend the entire day outdoors. Can you imagine? Anne’s school (Trondheim International School) has a muddy hillside
playground (currently off limits until some grass grows) where there’s a huge
rope swing. Children clamber to the top of the hill and sail out on the swing.
As you can well expect, they come back into school muddy. They’re hosed off,
change into their indoor shoes and clothes, and head to class. It’s amazing.
(They have double sets of both indoor and outdoor clothes, a total of four
outfits.)There’s no overprotectiveness when it comes to their natural world, either.
Tree climbing and fast sledding are an accepted part of playground activity. I
guess they don’t have a lot of law suits.
ANNE ANDERSEN AND ME IN HER SCHOOL’S LIBRARY
At our elementary in Turkey, the children are kept in whenever there’s a sign
of inclement weather. The elementary has a commons hallway where children
play if there’s a drop of rain, cold air, or–heaven forbid–MUD! I think it
may relate to their intrinsic fear of drafts and cold air. In their defense,
though, on any beautiful evening or weekend the Turks take to the fields.
Every tree, no matter how skimpy, harbors a family picnic, complete with
blanket, picnic basket, and mangal (Bar-B-Q ). The Turks love the outdoors
when it’s at its best. The Norwegians love it no matter what it brings.
The last thing I want to mention is clutter. I was truly impressed at the
cleanliness of Trondheim. Most buildings are two stories high with slatted siding
and paned windows. Stores are only different in that they post a small sign
indicating the business inside. There are some stores (though few) that have
display windows and neon signs, but the general rule is order. In Trondheim,
at least, buildings are painted in muted shades of red, blue, green, and
yellow. It’s lovely.
Turkey is quite different. If there’s an overriding architecture, it’s
concrete (perhaps because of earthquakes). I’ve been told that Turks have a
love affair with concrete. Storefronts compete for space along every sidewalk,
often with ten or more in a block. Outdoor displays spill merchandise onto the
Of course, that’s also the charm of Istanbul. Constant chatter and
banter is also part of the Turkish shopping experience, as well as a proffered
cup of tea. You wouldn’t find THAT in Norway.
So is Norway prettier? Nope. Friendlier? Not a chance. Cleaner? Obviously.
Norway and Turkey are both wonderful countries—considerably dIfferent but each
stunning in its own way.