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The Interview – Part 1

24 May 2011

I’m proud to say that I have managed to get a few jobs in Norway, but I’ve only ever experienced one interview. Which is a shame, really, because I’m pretty sure I learned enough from it to excel at the next one. Or at least not to fail so miserably.

In my worst daydreams I revisit the memory of that interview: six dark-suited naval commanders sitting unsmiling across the table from me, hands folded carefully in their laps. Like six unmoving, identically placed mannequins, completely un-amused by my American upbeat-ness and flirty smiles. Completely unimpressed by my cheerleader eagerness to convince them that I am perfect for the job of teaching English to students at the Royal Norwegian Naval Academy, or Sjøkrigsskolen (which translates literally as “Sea War School.”)

When desperate for a job, any job can seem like a perfect fit – or at least it is easy enough to make yourself believe that you are a perfect fit for this permanent, worry-free guarantee of a monthly salary. Would I like to spend six months on a ship each year with no contact to the outside world? Why, yes! Would I be passionate about teaching naval novels like Red Storm Rising, Seawolf, Master and Commander, and Nimitz Class? Absolutely!

The interview I played out in my head was full of positive spins on credentials, each underlined by no less than three exclamation marks. I can do this!!! So I sent off my application.

Enough months later for me to have completely forgotten that I ever applied for the job, I received a phone call. The Norwegian spoken to me did not fit any of the usual phrase patterns I associate with telemarketers, nor was the voice familiar. It seemed safest to say, “Nei, takk” and hang up. A few seconds later the phone rang again. As persistence signalled some level of importance, I picked it up again.

It was like listening to an extended monologue by Charlie Brown’s teacher – Wa wa wa wa wa wa – but with some “skj” sounds thrown in.

“Nei takk,” I tried again, still absolutely unable to discern even the general theme of the conversation.

And then I heard a very long pause, followed, in careful and distinct English, by: “YOU. SENT. US. AN. APP. LI. CA. TION.”

Ok. This was looking bad. “I’m so sorry, but who did you say you were?”

“Sjøkrigsskolen. The Royal Norwegian –”

Was it possible to escape this conversation with any sense of decency? “Yes! Yes of course! I am SO very sorry. I am terrible at Norwegian on the phone.”

“Yes. We would like to interview you.”

“Oh wonderful! Thank you so very much!” I know I overdid the enthusiasm, but since it was no longer possible to convince him of my intelligence, I had to at least try to prove I was nice.

Then, maybe just to test me, he said four or five more sentences in Norwegian ended by: “Vi ses, da.” We’ll see you, then.

I thank the graces of God that Commander Roald Fredriksen sent an email confirming that I was to arrive at 10 a.m. on June 1st for the “intervju / forlesning.”

I can only blame what occurred next on my ridiculous excitement over a scheduled interview at the Norwegian Naval Academy. Or on my stubborn refusal to ask people for clarification when I have not understood. I am so stubborn, in fact, that I generally convince myself that I indeed have understood (which is how we managed to have an army-sized portion of the oxtail special arrive at our table in Madrid … but that is another story. Suffice it to say that I thought the waiter was asking if Aidan enjoyed his beer. “Sí! Muchas gracias!”)

“Intervju” I understood, but “forlesning” was nowhere to be found in any of my three Norwegian dictionaries. Only after the interview would I learn that the commander had misspelled the word in his email, but for the time being I quickly concluded that it must refer to something like “Interview / Discussion” or “Interview / Questioning” or, really, anything. But whatever, I would figure it out when I got there. Easiest to learn by doing.

On June 1st I was both relaxed and excited – if nothing else I would be able to tell everyone I had been to an interview at the Royal Norwegian Naval Academy! I found a pretty pale pink skirt, matching pink shoes with tiny bows, and grabbed a floral handbag. I looked well-put-together but not overly dressed. Casual and approachable. (I was hoping to look more “Teaches Tom Clancy” than “Researches narrative infinity in the fiction of Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, John Barth and Salman Rushdie.”)

After several iron gates and passport checks, I was led to the interview room where I was handed a white card the size of a menu. Dazzled by the ceremony and the typeset blue letters listing my itinerary for the day, I suddenly realized I had misjudged the seriousness of the interview process. It was to be an all-day affair, not a twenty minute interview as I had imagined. A film about the Norwegian navy, lunch, tea breaks, and, at 2 p.m., my “Lecture.” My lecture?

My stomach sank to my knees, which were too shaky to catch it. I lowered myself into a chair, unsure of how to look up into the faces of those six uniforms and say, “I’m afraid there has been a misunderstanding.” They had already begun playing the film on the side wall. I sat in sheer terror, my throat dry, my hands cold as ice, and my mind not taking in a single second of the history of the navy in Norway.

No matter how I spun it in my mind –  “Oh dear, this seems to be a good example of a cross-cultural misunderstanding!” (which I would follow with tinkling, self-ingratiating laughter), or “I really plan to learn more Norwegian!” – I had a heavy suspicion that the captains and commanders across the table from me with their perfectly aligned ribbons, insignias and badges, were just not going to find this funny.

… To read the conclusion of this story click here.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. 24 May 2011 16:32

    Oh. My. God.
    You plan on keeping me in suspense til next week????

  2. jenaconti permalink
    25 May 2011 14:03

    Sorry, Emily. As I joked on my FB page to someone who commented the same – these things take time to process, psychologically, you know!

  3. Cecilie permalink
    31 May 2011 19:35

    Jeg er veldig klar for å lese fortsettelsen. Klar for å le av din misforståelse, og glemme mine værste intervjuøyeblikk. Fortell mer!

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