Entry 8 / Norway and England

Amusing Cultural Reflections

It is early Saturday morning now and I am up alone waiting on someone (anyone) to make a pot of coffee. I can’t even find the milk. I can’t find the milk but I can promise that in Norway it will be stored in the right place. It will be put in the same place every time. But, this is the way it is. You learn to accommodate the schedules and cultures of the hosting families or, in this case, institution.

In Norway, folks rise EARLY (with the exception, so it appears, on Saturday morning ) and go to bed at a reasonable hour while in Italy, only at the very last-minute possible, people get up or go to bed. As Italian’s like to say, “Ahh, we work to live and other people live to work.”

In Norway people obey laws (every law) whereas in Italy laws are subject to personal discretion. As an example, one of my friends ran a red light so, surprised I asked him if he doesn’t he stop when the light is red? He explained it to me this way. “No! Why should I stop? You can see, there is no one coming. It is not reasonable. Italian’s are the best drivers in the world (they all absolutely believe this to be a fact and the only cultural trait that all regions agree to be universally true) and you know why? They are practical. They do what makes sense at the moment.”

Norwegian’s are the exact opposite. I doubt if you could find two people groups within this geographical proxemity that could have such different views on how the world should work.

As a humorous example, my son, Matt was newly married to Noemi and at the end of a mission trip to France they took a short,”How-do- ya- do?” trip to Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. Looking for their B&B while driving through the customary mad, pandemonium of Napoli, Matt saw two policemen standing at the corner in the median.

The day had been hot and long. He seemed to have driven in circles. He dodged cars going twice the speed limit, double parked, coming out of blind alleys with horns blaring and even (when it seemed like a short cut around others) driving on the sidewalks. It was like driving a “Dodge-Car” at the county fair. He decided to take a chance that one of them spoke English. He came to a quick but inconvenient stop, grabbed his map and leaving Noemi to manage while he frantically ran to the cops with the open map of Napoli in his hand.” Excuse me, do either of you speak English?” One of the policemen looked away from his conversation and, in a Napolitano sort of way, gave a smirky smile and replied in the affirmative. ‘Well, great! I am lost I need to get to such and such a place. Where am I?” The cop looked him up and down, raised his eyebrow, glanced for a quick second up into Matt’s face, rubbed his chin, shook his head and exasperatedly made the “tsk, tsk, tsk” sound. Recognizing his displeasure but not knowing what it could possibly be, Matt asked, “”What? What is wrong?” The policeman, twisting his foot from side to side, stomped out his cigarette and then while seriously staring at Matt’s bare feet made this remarkable statement, “In Italy, all drivers must wear shoes!”

After barely escaping death by automobile on a dozen occasions within two hours Matt wanted to ask the simple question that immediately popped into his mind, “Ehrrrr, is that the only law Italian’s must obey while driving their cars?” discretion was and always is the better part of valor.

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