Norwegian Exposure

          My Adventures With the Norwegian Language

Mike Whitehead

Norwegian Society of Texas Althing Secretary and Viking Chapter Secretary

My first contact with Norwegian people, language and culture was back in the winter of 1981. I had moved from Olathe, Kansas to Dallas, Texas in August of that year. Later that same year, I was introduced to a small group of foreign students, Norwegian nationals, who were planning to stay in the U.S. for about two years. During those two years, I was happy to become acquainted with those friendly and intelligent people. Driven by a desire to get to know and enjoy them on their own terms, I bought a small paperback book titled ‘Teach Yourself Norwegian’. I applied myself to the lessons in that book diligently (“obsessively” would be a more accurate adverb here!) and sought out the company of my new Norwegian friends daily, insisting that they help me acquire their language—which must have taxed their patience to the max, bless their hearts! Within about three months, I was able to converse with them comfortably, to read articles in several issues of some Norwegian publication they supplied for me, and to write a simple journal as a practice assignment that one of the ladies gave me.

It is important to clarify, at this point, that I do not consider language as an end in itself, as a mere academic, intellectual exercise. The reason I was so eager to learn Norwegian was because I strongly desired to know and enjoy my new Norwegian friends in a more ample dimension than would have been possible had I expected them to meet me on my own linguistic terms. Language is the most important tool we humans have for connecting with one another on a substantive, meaningful, comprehensive level. Many anthropologists and sociologists would say that the strongest barrier against entering a society is its language; they would also say, conversely, that the best way to enter a society, to get your foot in the door, is to learn its language.

So, how is my Norwegian these day? Frankly, not so good! During the past 39 years, it has degenerated shamefully. However, I am not dismayed over that loss, thanks to the Norwegian Society of Texas which makes it possible for me to meet and enjoy many people of Norwegian cultural heritage—and many Norwegian nationals—with or without a good command of the language.

Nevertheless, I still do what I can to avoid losing my Norwegian altogether. I encourage our readers to take advantage of the tools that we NST members have at our disposal for improving our Norwegian, as I do. For example, try conversing with any native speakers who may attend your chapter’s functions. Read a Bible in Norwegian. Find a web site in Norwegian and read it at your own pace. Subscribe to a publication such as “The Norwegian American” which always runs a few brief and interesting articles in Norwegian on the second page, and features some humorous comic strips, both in modern Norwegian and older dialects. You can also find articles in that publication that explain Norwegian vocabulary and syntax to the interested learner and even include interlinear translations to help the beginner.

The only way to acquire, hone and preserve a language is to use it. The only way to maintain your zeal for it is to use it to connect with people who interest you and who are interested in you.

Til alle mine norske venner, ha det bra!

09-19-2020 Treated myself this year.

By the time I hit 16 years of age I had already been through 5 cars, 2 motorcycles and one tractor that had been modified with a Ford V-8 Flathead engine. Scroll forward to (MANY years) to January of 2005 when I was finally able to afford my very first brand new car, a Hyndai Accent. At the time all I wanted (and this is exaclty what I told the salesman) was a couple of doors, some glass and an engine and I'd be good to go. And that was exactly what I ended up with. It was all I needed at the time as I just didn't want to have to ride a motorcycle to and from work every day.

Now scroll ahead to September of 2020. The poor Accent was starting fall appart at the seams and just wasn't worth the amount of money it was going to cost for the repaires it was in need of. Our close friend "Nurse Mike" had been a fan of Kia for quite a long time and had been through a couple Sportage models as well as a few Soul's when they first came out and has kept up on them ever since. He also knew the dealership quite well and had actually participated in some "think tank" for the Soul. So I asked him if he'd come along with us to look at what they had in stock for the Rio which I really liked. After much discussion, poking and prodding at it, I ended up with a "does ALL this STUFF!" 2020 Kia Rio S Hatchback. I decided that due to my age, I may as well be comfortable and after having driven it for the past month I'm now totally spoiled rotten!!

 

Mama's alarming event

Last night mama told me that she had a bad spell yesterday afternoon while talking on the phone to a friend. Her cognitive clarity suddenly became miserably confused to the point where she could not express herself verbally. This scared her badly. "I may have had a small stroke," she said. She experienced no loss or impairment of motor function, only the extreme, alarming, sudden mental confusion.

While I was in the kitchen making toast for my breakfast this morning, she handed me this note:

"Michael: An MD came here to set up this program for visiting nurses/therapists. Do you know how to contact him? Maybe he can draw blood, or send someone who can?!?"

In reality, a case worker met with her to set up her current home health care program, not an MD.

I called Veronica, her current case worker at New Hope (the home care company), and asked her to arrange for a nurse or nurse practitioner to visit mama ASAP. "She interprets the experience as a stroke," I told her. "She is scared and wants to talk to a medical professional."

One of the nurses on staff was listening on speaker phone. She chimed in and expressed her agreement that a nurse practitioner would be a good choice. They promised to pull one of their people off his/her normal route to visit mama right away--if not today, then tomorrow.

 

Shall we Balkanize America?

Shall We Balkanize America, or Unify Her?

 

Dear readers. Allow me to recount two seemingly-unrelated experiences that clearly reflect two antithetical attitudes towards America’s linguistic unity as demonstrated by two residents of my home town, Irving, TX.

Let’s start with the attitude of a Mexican national who resides in Irving.

At Home Depot one evening, a man approached me and asked for advice on which brand of caulk to buy. I told him that I was not a store employee but that I could give him my own personal advice, if he was interested. Yes, he was interested.

I immediately noticed his heavy Spanish accent. He was struggling to speak to me in English and was having great difficulty understanding my responses. Being a fluent Spanish speaker, I continued discussing the merits of certain brands of caulk over others, in Spanish. He immediately warmed up to me when he saw that the language hurdle had suddenly and unexpectedly been removed. We continued conversing pleasantly in Spanish for several minutes. His wife joined the conversation, too.

He complimented my Spanish repeatedly and effusively. My response, translated into English: “And you, my friend? How about your English?”

He smiled and made the typical excuse that he can’t afford to take English classes and doesn’t have time. I told

him, “You are surrounded with English; there is no excuse. You owe it to America to learn it. This is a matter of respect for the country that is offering you a chance at a better life than you have found in your home land.”

He smiled, again, and heartily agreed, as did his wife.

As we parted ways, I said, with a smile, “¡Unase con América!” which means, “Join America.” His response: “Yes! That’s a great idea!” understanding that I was speaking linguistically, not politically. He even reached out and took hold of my elbow, smiled enormously, nodded his head vigorously, and repeated, “Yes! That’s a great idea!” (in Spanish, of course.)

He gets it!

Now, let’s take a look at a very different attitude.

Here in Irving, TX, a lovable, grandmotherly lady is running to replace our current mayor Rick Stopfer. Her name is Olivia Abreu. In response to my questions to her about why we should vote for her, how her values differ from Mayor Stopfer’s, and how she is more qualified to be mayor than he, this is the most salient qualification she proffered.

Good morning…

Mr. Stopfer has no background, to my knowledge, of having lived extensively in another country, trying to fit in a different society and a foreign language. As Irving is growing more diverse, I can better serve the city by being multilingual and knowledgeable about world cultures.

My oh my! Doesn’t that sound pretty! I grant it does, but only cosmetically, only superficially.

Read more: Shall we Balkanize America?