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Meeting the Neighbors — Part 2

15 April 2011

To read Part 1 of this story click here.

We moved into our new house in September – our first real house, with a driveway and garage and a garden in both the front and the back. And with neighbors who also had their own driveways and garages and mailboxes. What an adventure! Yet it seems we have a penchant for moving at the time of year when Norwegians begin their hibernation cycles, and I wondered just how I would meet these new neighbors without the help of common walkways and mailboxes and a parking lot to pull up next to them in. How and where would I see these neighbors? I gave much thought to this prior to moving in and finally decided that the situation required me to reach deep into the reserves of my American Midwestern approachable-ness.

One sunny autumn Saturday as I stood at our kitchen window I spotted our next-door neighbor outside in his garden. He was watching his two yipping puppies run in circles. 50s? Heavily tattooed on both forearms. Most important visible characteristic at this point and time: he was standing outside doing nothing and not able to easily escape. The perfect opportunity. I took my four-year-old daughter in hand and pretended we needed something from the garage. I called over the shrubs with enthusiasm: “Hei!”

Although I, typically, missed his name, he seemed very friendly and chatted on and on, seemingly unfazed by my accented and clumsy Norwegian. They had lived in this house for two years now … they had two daughters, ages 9 and 11 … they were widening their driveway … the dogs were puppies and liked children …

“Do you know the other neighbors?” I asked, hoping to get a head start on names, or at least characteristics.  But in fact he did not know any of the other neighbors. Except one.

He grinned, pointing to the house across the street atop a rocky hill.  “Those people up there? Great parties in the summer.” He closed his eyes and grinned, reliving his night in the inner sanctum of partydom. I had a momentary vision of him with a beer in each hand, standing shirtless at the edge of the stone patio, singing out to the moon, and decided a change of subject was in order to bring Party Man back to the present. I transitioned with an attempt at a knowing chuckle and then asked:

“Do you happen know what days they come to collect the trash and recycling?”

I had stunned him. Party Man laughed and shook his head. “Nah. Kristine does all that. I’ll send her over when she comes home.”

He turned to go back inside (note to self: trash = conversation ender), but then stopped and said, “Your kids ever wanna play with the dogs, just send ’em over.”

“Thank you,” I replied.  I knew I wouldn’t take him up on that, but it was a friendly offer and I felt the neighbor-meeting mission had been successful.

His wife never came over, and it only took me about five days of running out to the street each morning to see if anyone had bins at the end of the drive to work out that trash pick-up was on Tuesday. Here I should point out that I’m a do-it-yourself-er. For reasons that make no sense to anyone else I would rather spend five days figuring it out on my own than take two minutes to ring the neighbor’s bell. I had tried to find out on the web, but the site had not been created for newcomers. I clicked the tab that said: “Your trash removal” and was taken to a new page that said: “Give your pick-up day for garbage. You will then receive an overview of pickup days for every day.” (I live in a country where people just know things without needing to ask. )

It took quite a bit longer for me to figure out that the recycling truck only comes on the third Monday of each month. Still, I was pleased by the results of this detective work, skills in silent watching that I had been honing for the past five years.

A few months later, well into the cold and rainy fall weather, I finally saw Party Man’s wife, Kristine.  She was outside smoking and, given that she had to stay there at least to the end of the cigarette, I went out to say hello. Between drags and emphatic blows of smoke to the side, she told me the dogs had to go. They didn’t have time to walk the poor things. She stared out into the trees and took another drag. Someone was going to come on Wednesday to pick them up. Early. She wasn’t going to tell her two daughters. They would just be too sad about it and cry and cry.

“Oh,” was all I could say to this bad idea. I am starting to think that figuring out things by means other than, say, simply talking to one another, is a Norwegian pastime.

But in only two conversations, I had learned quite a lot about our new neighbors – even a name I could remember: Kristine. And the dogs were Charlie and Robby, but, as I said, they moved on. And throughout the long winter I did not see Kristine and Party Man again, nor did I meet anyone else on our street. I can’t say what happened to the daughters. In seven months I have never seen them coming or going from the house. Maybe someone came to pick them up, too.

And then, something happened that would have been very strange had I just moved to Norway and not fully understood the significance of the appearance of the sun god: the sun came out on a warm day at the end of March and I met five – yes five – new neighbors all in the space of one Saturday afternoon! And I even learned their names. One stopped by to introduce himself (Thomas), one came to look at my pruning of the bushes around the fence and give garden advice (Beate), one to say she remembered the family who lived in our house when she was a teenager – karaoke in the basement! (Ingvild). No one asked for autographs, but I felt like a movie star anyway.

And that was not all! When I drove over to our old neighborhood that same evening to pick up my son who had been playing at a friend’s house, several people actually came out to talk to me. How are we doing? How is the new house? Do we like the new neighborhood? Caught up in the gaiety of the moment I even invited one family to a “grillfest” at our new house (safely adding a vague “sometime this summer”).

On the drive home I mused over the day. Undoubtedly a good part of it was due to the sun. But in going back to our old neighborhood I realized that I do know people in Norway. Always feeling like a stranger before, I had now returned as a familiar face.

Now I know who to ask for advice on starting a rock garden, I know of someone who can give me the name of a good electrician, and I think I have even found some kids who might want to play soccer with my son. What else does it take for me to see Norway as my home?

. . . To read “Meeting the Neighbors – Part 3,” click here.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Judy Schwartz permalink
    15 April 2011 13:10

    Great Part 2, Jena. Can we expect a Part 3? Or maybe you will move on to some other bit of Norway-ism. You are just so funny!! I can’t wait to read what comes next.

    BTW, how are Eva and Christopher? Do they like the new house? Hope they have some playmates in the new neighborhood. Do they go to the same schools or different ones now?

    Did you hear that Daryn and Molly were blessed with Elsie Caroline on March 23? She’s a cutie (well I know, I have the typical Granny-bias). We are going up to the fort on May 12. Elsie will be baptised on May 15.

    Keep up the great writing. I love reading it all…… Judy


  1. Meeting the Neighbors: Part 3 « up-rooted
  2. Meeting the Neighbors – Part 1 « up-rooted

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