Expat in the City

For an expat (and perhaps many native Brits too), living in the conurbation that is London can sometimes be a solitary thing. Even when navigating through the buzzing streets, narrowly avoiding colliding with camera equipped sightseers who have suddenly stopped to capture another great memory to show the “people back home” or to consult their maps, finding yourself in the company of thousands of strangers can spark the sense of loneliness.

I’ve had this happen to me many times, not because I don’t like the city or have no friends, but simply because a part of me has realised that I cannot “pop back home for the weekend” (that would take me 3-4 hours in air time alone, not including travelling to and from the airports and waiting for my connecting flight) or that I have no history in this country prior to 2003. And, whether I like it or not, the longer I don’t use my native language on a regular basis, the words will continue to fade. One by one, being boxed up and stored at the back of my memory, getting more and more difficult to find when I need to, slowly removing a part that makes me “me” – my USP if you like.

Luckily some of the above can easily be addressed.

My sense of loneliness will perhaps continue to appear from time to time, but will also quickly pass as I have a great network of really good friends in the city. People I wouldn’t want to be without, people who I consider my London family.

I also have a place I can call home in the city (even if rented!) and I’m excited about the history I will create in the years to come, so the history + going home for the weekend are not really an issue when I think about it.

When it comes to the slow disappearance of my mother tongue… Well that I can fix by starting to write and read more (and not just newspaper e-articles) in Norwegian. So if you from time to time see some weird scribblings at the bottom of my blog posts, fear not. I have not fallen asleep at my mac whilst writing. It will be a translation of the English text. Perhaps you’ll even learn some Norwegian 😉

So yes, among all the problems and joys life brings, being an expat can sometimes add a few more to the mix. But then, this is the life I have chosen, and I am still happy I did!


Bilingual me

Ever wondered what it’s like being bilingual? To know two (or more) languages so well that both are the same to you, and you sometimes forget that you are thinking in one and talking in another.

My tiny friend Little M’s latest post about being a bilingual tot got me thinking. I was not a bilingual baby myself, growing up in a rural Northern Norwegian town with a Norwegian speaking family, with little Norwegian friends. But I do remember the holidays in Sweden and watching DJ the Cat on Sky, clearly showing an interest in languages from an early age. This early taste of what lay outside the borders of my childhood bubble, is probably what eventually made me decide to move to Italy to live for a year after completing school, escaping my country in which I would mostly only get to speak a language which, quite frankly, in the bigger scheme of things is more or less useless. There is about 5million people living in my native country, add those in the Scandi parts of Europe that understand us, but perhaps don’t really speak it, and those in the wider world that have chosen to learn Norwegian. That would take the grand total to no more than 6 million, wouldn’t you agree? That’s less than the people who live in London!

On the pro list though comes the fact that by default almost I understand and speak both Swedish and Danish, and if I really make an effort sometimes am able to understand Icelandic and even Dutch (mostly in written form, and am by no means claiming to speak it!). Then add the German I studied at school, and the Italian I learned during my time in Perugia, and it’s starting to become quite complicated or fun – depending on the way you see it. To top it off, I consider English as my second mother tongue. I do make a very convincing Brit if I can say so myself.

So whilst I was never a bilingual toddler, I am very much a bilingual adult. And it is fun to be able to communicate in another language, to use additional letters when writing (æ, ø, å), and to try to teach your friends phrases and words. It can also be a bit frustrating, especially when you’re trying to explain something (could be a saying or a joke or anything really) that doesn’t really translate and is difficult to put into words for an ‘outsider’, a non-native Norwegian. Then again, the same happens to me from time to time. Sometimes, there is something about being a native Brit that me as the expat just don’t get. These are the times, according to my boyfriend, that you can tell that I didn’t grow up over here. For instance, the other week whilst watching The Prisoner on dvd, I asked what those bicycles with one small and one large wheel are called. “A penny-farthing” my boyfriend informed me with a big grin on his face.  I had of course heard this name before, but couldn’t for the life of me remember it at that point.

To all my fellow bi-, tri- and multi-linguals out there. What’s your experiences?

And for anyone who might wonder. I honestly don’t know which language I think in.