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Being Not-Norwegian

13 March 2012

This is a reworking of the post “Sick” I wrote about a year ago. As early spring colds are making their way through the schools to a home near you, I thought it appropriate. Read on — I promise the whole thing isn’t about the weather!


In Bergen, a large port city on the western coast of Norway, October is one of the most miserable months of the year, second only to September, and just a slight improvement on the average November. It’s not unusual for three feet of rain to come down in these three months of autumn. In October I usually find myself thinking about Noah and his ark and how a merciful God sent only forty straight days of rain. A few years ago it rained every day for 85 days. I think even the dove had given up by that point.

“Sånn er det i Bergen,” your neighbor might say if you share your frustration while waiting for the bus, blue jeans already soaked through at the thigh. That’s how it is in Bergen. The wind races across the sea, only to slap you in the face as you ditch the twisted remains of your umbrella in the nearest trash can. You’re supposed to shrug it off. After all, it’s just “typisk Bergen vær.” Typical Bergen weather.

With not the best of luck, my family and I arrived in Bergen at the beginning of September and by late October I was sicker than I could ever remember being. Given the extreme damp, this came as no surprise. What bewildered me was the complete nonchalance of my immune system as it stared these new European germs in the face and then shrunk away to hide under the duvet and wait for spring.

I had been in bed for over a week, too sick to care about anything other than where I had last dropped the box of tissues. Ear pain, chest pain, back pain, muscle pain, fever, chills, dry heaves, green phlegm, blood-filled snot – all of this I blamed on typisk Bergen.

In our dark little bedroom I propped myself up against the wall and with head and laptop tilted to take some of the pressure off my sinuses, I consulted every google-searchable guru on possible symptoms and their complications. Convinced that the only symptoms I wasn’t experiencing were rash and overactive bladder, I weighed the likelihood of certain death against the more certain three-hour wait at the walk-in clinic, and headed out with the rationale that I might at least procure a prescription to knock me out for the next week or so.

Through a slit in the clinic’s sliding glass window I explained my long list of symptoms with a suitably weak voice underlined by several phlegm-filled coughs.

“Uff! That does sound bad,” that nurse said, and sent me straight back for a blood test. Her confirmation of the seriousness of my condition came as a relief. It was good that I came. I would get help.

Two long hours later the doctor informed me that he had a diagnosis. Looking me straight in the eye, and pausing two seconds for dramatic effect, he delivered the results with grave firmness:


“What do you mean by ‘influensa’?” I asked meekly, wondering if this word could possibly mean something different in Norway.

“A normal seasonal flu.”

His words deflated me. I was in utter disbelief. A normal seasonal flu?!

Sensing my despair, he assured me that he would give me something to help me feel better. A few keyboard clicks later he pulled a piece of paper from the printer and handed it to me.

I looked down in childlike expectation of a treat. On the paper was the name of an over-the-counter cough medicine. My party favor for having waited two hours to see him.

On my way out a grandmotherly nurse patted my arm and offered what I can only assume she meant as professional medical advice: “You are so sick because you are not Norwegian.”

Yes, I thought, I will just have to try harder.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. kutubuku permalink
    13 March 2012 13:22

    Because you weren’t left out sleeping in the cold when you were still a baby, unlike Norwegian kids 😀

  2. 13 March 2012 13:30

    Or maybe because you didn’t get a flu shot, because NORWEGIANS DON’T BELIEVE IN THEM!!!
    A-hem. . . excuse me. . . that’s just my little soap box.

  3. 13 March 2012 14:26

    I feel bad about laughing at your misery. After a couple of semesters of microbiology a few years back, I am convinced that every child should eat a handful of dirt every month to build a strong immune system. I am sure, however, that Norwegian dirt is different from American dirt. Schools here are germ factories that spreads their “joy” through the entire community.

    • 14 March 2012 06:33

      Laugh away, Jon. Laugh away. 🙂 I’m sure Norwegian dirt is very rich in mold, which could certainly cure illnesses (like penicillin, you know.)

  4. 13 March 2012 20:31

    And also because you weren’t taking your fish oil.

    • 14 March 2012 06:32

      Do you know what you just made me realize?! We haven’t been sick this whole winter — knock on wood! — and we’ve started taking the chewable gummy fish oil vitamins! Have you seen those? They’re the only ones I can stomach because they don’t make me taste fish all day long. I wonder if they really are magic! 🙂

  5. Mindy permalink
    14 March 2012 16:02

    I love your blog and have been stalking it since we decided to move here.

    Your post is true to life – we have only lived here 2 months and our whole family (6 members) have had everything from colds, stomach flu, pneumonia, sinus infection and influenza. It looks like we are finally all getting better just in time for the allergy season!

    Not sure if it has anything to do with it but I am always amazed at the very low standards of public bathrooms here – dirty, overflowing garbages and no soap. I have traveled to Haiti a few times and BFE USA and I would gladly use anyone of those bathrooms before I would use one here!

    • 16 March 2012 19:55

      Welcome to Norway! And I’m sorry to hear you have been sick. Uff, as they say. But if it’s any consolation, you are in the process of building up an immune system of steel! 🙂

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