My Norwegian Life; Part 1

I remove my headphones as I walk into the coffee shop, unhurried.  I had only been listening to music for the full two minutes it took to walk from my apartment to the coffee shop on the corner.  But if even for several moments, silence isn’t my thing.

“Morning Magnus!” It was 7:00 am and the shop had just opened so there was no use for How-was-your-day? small talk since both of ours were just beginning.  Instead, he responds as he’s walking over to the espresso machine, “Double shot cappuccino for here?” he half-heartedly asks.  At this stage it’s more of a rhetorical question; I hate being so predictable with my coffee now.  I would consider ordering from the filter menu, but there would be endless cups of filtered coffee (really good filter coffee) waiting for me at work later that day.

I glance outside as I prepare to get my travel credit card out - which always felt like a game of Russian Roulette of whether or not those small, green taunting letters across the screen would flicker “Approved” or “Denied.” But I let out a sigh of cheerfulness that morning because outside, the sun was dancing and creating streaks of gold ribbons across the dark oak countertops.  I noted this to Magnus who agreed how nice it was for the sun to be up when he opened the shop that morning.  He agreed with an enthusiasm that only transferred between other Norwegians; a controlled and calm excitement.  During the months of January and February, we both had spent our mornings in the dark.  I’d leave for work and it was dark and when I’d return home, it was dark.  Seasonal depression had never been more real. 

I set my cappuccino on my little table in the corner and let out a sigh. Back home in Charlotte, I was a cortado kind of girl.  And even before Charlotte, back in my hometown in Southern California, I was also a cortado girl.  While I told myself it was a great way to start better understanding and tasting espressos, I knew I’d always enjoy a little perfectly steamed milk with my espresso - however un-coffee connoisseur that may be of me.  And besides, there was something inexplicably charming about drinking from a Gibraltar glass. 

But when I first got to Oslo and ordered my first cortado, I was entertained and then slightly disappointed.  They pulled a shot of espresso into a small flute-like shot glass and then asked you to tell them when to stop pouring the milk.  I’ve only experienced this among semi-nice and nice Italian restaurants with waiters standing over your shoulder grating parmesan cheese (and the silent gratefulness when they give it an extra twist or two even after you said “When”).  So, as the barista began pouring the milk I thought oh, wow - a custom cortado. I slightly hesitated on which command to use - When? Stop? Tusen Takk? All Norwegians spoke perfect English, so I delayed using any of my two freshly memorized Norwegian phrases.(Tusen takk, which meant ‘many thanks,’ for thank you, and Kan yei po en cop kaffe? Can I have a cup of coffee? I would later learn that the Norwegian language isn’t polite at all and that you can ditch the ‘tusen’ in ‘tusen takk’ and there weren’t your-welcome’s but rather, ‘there you go’s’)

I landed on, “Oh, that’s good!” as the milk filled three-quarters of the small glass. The elegant-ness in the cortado I knew disappeared as the milk was simply dumped into the flute glass. I would go on ordering cortados for a few more days, but decided it just wasn’t the same.  

And so here I am, a full two months later, turned-cappuccino girl with the entire coffee staff knowing me as the American who loves to talk (unshocking) and somehow landed here working for a coffee company that they all are very aware of.

I’ve decided then that the length of time it takes for the bulk of a coffee staff to know your order, is the amount of time to begin feeling a routine, a little but of familiarness within a place - even its over four thousand miles away from home.  Thanks, Google.

An hour had passed at the shop and I begin to quickly pack my things.  I felt relatively caught up with news; Trump was whining, the environment is still screwed, and someone got engaged overnight.  In a hurried march, I waved goodbye to the baristas and parted them with a Norwegian farewell (that I have no idea how to spell, but it sounds like “ho-de-bra!”).  As I was opening the door the bus was pulling up and now my march turns into a prance as I brush past other folks swathed in scarves and coats and backpacks and I hop into the bus just before the doors slam closed.  I quickly grab onto anything to hold on to as the bus jolted forward, although I could have been held up by the sheer amount of commuters on the bus that morning.  I’m always the shortest one among these Scandinavian folks.

It’s hard to imagine that my first week was spent simply navigating which bus to cautiously step onto.  There were several times where I would realize in a panic it was indeed the wrong bus and I’d race to the doors.  Sometimes I made it. Others I didn’t.  And I’d stand awkwardly as I felt locals stare at me.  “Well, I didn’t need that stop anyway,” was the essence I tried to emulate until I escaped at the next stop.  Few times I’d walk up to the nicest looking person at a bus stop and ask them for directions.  All Norwegians will tell you that they tend to be cold.  I didn’t understand this as every person I asked for directions was kind and helpful to me.  But I would later learn they just mean in general Norwegians can be cold or wrapped up in their own world.  They are polite enough but wouldn’t go the extra mile to forge a new friendship with a stranger, or spend too much time socializing after work, especially in the wintertime.  When I first heard this I’d think back to when I used to work for AT&T Headquarters in downtown Dallas and it seemed like every other weekday there was a proposed happy hour of sorts - even if no one ended up going, it was still always an option, to not go straight home.  Here, they valued their space and to be isolated - much like the winter cabins they all owned in the mountains - just a 20-minute's distance away.

But this morning, I was able to walk with headphones plugged in and even graduated to the level of being able to walk and read with a book in hand as I’d jump off one bus and connect onto another. I was going through my commute mindlessly.  Those frazzled mornings were behind me, for the most part.  There were small moments where I’d feel accomplished about this simple day-to-day task and then I’d feel silly about it.

As I approach the building’s doors I already begin un-layering my down jacket.  I now know by the time I get buzzed in, walk three flights up and enter the office door I would have worked up a little sweat.  So now, the experienced, more Oslo-refined Erica walks into the office with the oversized down jacket (a remnant of old American Erica) in hand ready to throw onto the coat hanger at the entrance.  The hallway that leads up to the office door is filled with photography of coffee farms in far off, much warmer countries.  I secretly smile to myself every single time I walk by the large photos.  These are now a part of what I do.

But inside the office, there is one photo that's different from most coffee origin photos you see and it strikes me every time.  It’s a photo of a mad shaman, or medicine man, in Kenya.  His arm is raised with a corn husk in hand, and he is dressed in a stained, weathered gray business suit and his eyes are wide.  He was casting a spell on one of the coffee buyers when the photo was snapped.  It causes me to pause because, upfront, the photo is ridiculous and makes most officer visitors chuckle.  But on the other hand, there is something so captivating about the stark difference between two worlds colliding; a gray business suit in the foreground and vivid green farmland in the background.  There was a time when the suit was freshly pressed, hanging in some business store with a price tag attached.  And now it's made its way to grassy lands and coffee washing stations - a whole other world.  

But it’s these photos that pull at my heartstrings and remind me, in between client emails and strategizing how to market coffees in such, and such country, what this is all about. And then I wonder, at least once a day, how the hell did I end up here?

To be continued....