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Visiting Norway, Part Two -- 09/27 thru 09/29

Wednesday, Sept. 27th

I got a little more sleep than the previous night... I didn't wake up until around three-thirty in the morning... wide awake. Okay, more reading until it gets to be around six o'clock. That's when the phone will ring with my wakeup call and I can go running. It's raining this morning, but not a heavy rain, just a light mist. It's not as cold as I had feared either... perhaps around forty. I had expected that overnight lows would touch freezing; they had during the days prior to my journey but so far this week the weather was staying milder, about the same as the temperatures back home.

I presented almost all of the material today except for some of the security-related lectures. I am feeling relaxed and more confident about the course. Perhaps I had watched too many Bergman films, but I could imagine a classroom filled with stern, scowling, cold-eyed Scandinavians... I had felt like the eight-year-old who has just ascended the throne of the Eastern Roman Empire in Destiny's Shield (the third novel in the Belisarius series by David Drake and Eric Flint that I was reading on the flight to Oslo)...he is about to receive the Persian ambassador and he keeps whimpering "He's going to be mean to me!" So I had felt relief to find a room filled with friendly people who were eager to learn and who, perhaps, had been feeling some concern about the demands that might be made upon them by these visiting Americans.

After class on Wednesday almost everyone in the class met us at a Chinese restaurant in Oslo for dinner. I had always heard about the very strick enforcement of drinking and driving laws in the Scandanavian countries. During this trip I got to see the behavioral results of this: people do not drink and drive here. When we went out to dinner on Monday night with Hamid, he had a soft drink with dinner because he was driving. On Wednesday night, those who were not driving had a beer or glass of wine with their meal, those who were driving abstained completely. I do not drink and drive and I have always felt that driving under the influence was treated much to leniently in the states, but I would not feel any concern about having a beer with dinner and then driving. Everyone I met in Norway followed a very strict standard -- not even one drink for those who were driving.

Thursday, Sept. 28th

Another night with only three or four hours of sleep... and another two mile run in the morning. I am really enjoying my morning run. It feels very good and I would run further -- maybe four or five miles -- but I am very aware of how tired I am and I need to keep my energy for the classroom.

The first three mornings we had no trouble getting a taxi... there were always two or three waiting... but this morning we glanced out the window from our breakfast table (on the second floor) and saw a number of people lined up in the plaza below. At first we thought they might be waiting for a bus but then realized that they were lined up at the taxi stop. Apparently there were a lot of people who had been attending some meeting (not the internet security conference, that had ended on Tuesday) and were checking out and heading for the airport. By the time we got outside the line had grown even longer and we had to wait twenty minutes or more for a taxi.

Class is continuing to go well. As I mentioned earlier, many people in the class are young, freshly out of school and lack real experience, but they are quite sharp. Most of them do not have as strong a background as the more experienced professionals we usually instruct and so they are having more problems with the exercises than average. Also, they seem fairly shy about speaking up to ask questions... we need to remember to ask them specific questions to determine if they are learning... and often, when we do ask, we find that we need to review some of the material to clarify points. We are working them much harder than usual practice in Europe. They were accustomed to classes from 9 to 4... we start at 9 and run until about 6 (with a 45 minute lunch)... but expect them to stay later or come in earlier if they find they can't complete the exercises in the alotted time. When they are not taking class, they work a 37 hour week... seven and a half hours Monday thru Thursday and just seven hours on Friday. And, as in other European countries, they get much more vacation time than Americans. Most European new-hires get as much (or more) vacation time as an American who has been with the same company for twenty years... and once they've been with a company for a reasonable amount of time they have five or six weeks of vacation time. (In conversations with Europeans over the past few years I find that they think of Americans as being highly stressed workaholics... they may be right.)

The National Gallery is open until eight on Thursday nights (which seems to be a shopping night in Oslo and shops that normally close at six stay open later). I love to visit art museums and had been looking forward to visiting the National Gallery... I was not disappointed... in fact, it is a wonderful museum, filled with many beautiful paintings by artists I had never seen before. They had a representative sampling of works by the usual noted European painters, especially some nice Impressionist paintings. However, they also have a large collection of Norwegian artists, so many of whom were completely new to me. (If I ever return to Oslo, another visit to the Nasjonal Galleriet will be high on my list of activities.)

We wandered through some shopping districts, visited the same Indian restaurant where we had eaten on Tuesday. (I again had onion bhaji but this time selected lamb boti masalla as my main course... along with nan bread and a bottle of Kingfisher beer... and, as on Tuesday, mango sherbert for dessert.)

Friday, Sept. 29th

Friday morning... another night short on sleep... I had managed to sleep until four a.m. but that's still not enough... ran two and a half miles... and was careful to note during breakfast that there was a good supply taxis outside. And yet, when we got outside we found no cabs in sight and several people waiting for one... but it only took five or ten minutes more for it to be our turn for a taxi.

Hamid and I split the final day's lectures... he began, then I took over and then turned it back to him. We skipped an exercise (feeling that by this point they were too exhausted to get much good out of it) and managed to wrap the course up before three o'clock.

I don't know if students realize how avidly instructors read the class evaluations. Unlike college courses, there is no final exam for the students; instead, the students evaluate the instructor(s) and the course material. I got better evaluations than I did the last time so I am improving. (Still, I'm not that pleased, however, because in the courses I usually teach I have become accustomed to receiving very high marks... in fact, I usually get concerned if I have more than a handful of check marks under Agree rather than Strongly Agree... I am happiest when every student checks Strongly Agree right down the line for every question.) But I can see a definite improvement trend and I think that with a little more experience at this I can bring my results in this course into line with my usual results. One problem here was that some felt that I talked more rapidly than Hamid and thus they had greater difficulty understanding me. Mea culpa... I did speak too rapidly, kept telling myself to slow down, English is their second language, but apparently I still talked too fast for them.

Our last night in Oslo... (or so we thought)... we wandered along the waterfront, found an interesting restaurant with a steamship theme... I had an excellent creamy fish soup for a starter and a tasty Asian-influenced main dish of rice with stir-fried chicken and vegetables in a ginger sauce... and Ringness lager (a Norwegian beer). We also spent some time in Oslo City, a large shopping center near our hotel. It was interesting to note how little difference there is in shopping centers around the world. Toy stores, fashion stores, shoe stores... half the advertising signs are in English... most of the brands are familiar... you can buy pizza by the slice and wash it down with a Coke.

And so my week in Norway seemed to be drawing to a close... It had been a busy and interesting week... I'd gotten to meet Yngve and Erin, two people whom I'd only known over the Internet... I had never been in any of the Scandinavian countries before so it had been a week of new experiences... Oslo seemed to be a very laid-back and low-stress kind of city, pleasant human-scaled surroundings, a city with a great love of art, especially of sculpture... Viegeland Park is not the only place in Oslo to see sculpture... in fact, sometimes it seems as if it is difficult to avoid public sculpture... bronze statues seem to be everywhere... some serious classical works, some more abstract modern works, and yet others with an off-beat sense of whimsy... (I've taken some pictures of various public statues; I hope they come out so I can post them online.)

When I arrived I thought that autumn might be a little bit more advanced here compared with Rhode Island, a touch more color in the trees... as the days passed Hamid and I became convinced that we could almost see the changes from day to day... as we rode on a curving highway along the coastline it seemed as if there were progressively more colors to behold each morning... I'm not sure what kinds of trees we were passing but the new colors tended to be mostly shades of yellow with just an occasional touch of red as compared with the strong scarlets and crimsons that are mixed in with our yellows in New England. Still, even at the end of the week there was far more green to be seen than not, and yet I still had the feeling that the season was more advanced. This might be partly due to sun angle... the sun, even at noon, is lower in the sky than it is at home at this time of year.

To be concluded...

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