This January, I went to Tromsø to present at the Norwegian Graduate Student Conference in Linguistics and Philology, which was being held at the University ofe Tromsø from 22 to 23 January. Needless to say, I had a lot of fun. I spent two extra days in Norway, learning a lot about the city of Tromsø and (of course) the Norwegian language.
I arrived on the twentieth, quite late in the evening. This was a bit nerve wracking, since I had no map of the city and it was completely dark. Hence, I was forced to approach some people to ask for directions. Originally, I had fantacised about speaking nothing else but Norwegian, but the nerves had me start in English. The next day, however, I did manage to practice with natives. I went sightseeing early, as I wanted to see everything there was to see and I only had two days. Somehow I got lost while trying to find my way to the city centre, so I decided to ask someone for directions in Norwegian. By doing so, I had two revelations. Firstly, the Tromsø dialect is extremely hard to understand. People tend to speak extremely fast. Secondly, my Dutch accent was quite heavy. So while I addressed people in Norwegian, they replied in English. If I had to draw something positive from this experience, I would say that at least people understood wat I was saying. They probably just switched to English because they thought that would be easier for me. Eventually, I got quite far. I spent the day booking a whale safari, walking through the city centre, crossing the bridge to the mainland (I regard this as an actual part of the sightseeing, considering it was quite a long walk and the fjord was beautiful, and going on a cable car. I had the time of my life! Northern Norway is extremely could in winter, but it is hard to oversee the beauty of the landscape even with your teeth chattering. I was quite impressed by the Northern Lights too, even though I had to wait for hours to see it!
The conference started the next day. My presentation would not be until day two, so I just had lots of fun listening to interesting talks and meeting people from various countries. The conference language was English, but in between sessions and afterwards during free time and the conference dinner I did try to speak as much Norwegian as possible. Although my utterances were relatively simple and the conversations quite short, I was proud of myself, as other participants did not switch back to English during those conversations.
I learned a lot about Norway during that first day. We had dinner in a Sami house, saw the Northern Lights, and walked all the way back to our hotel from the university campus, thus seeing a lot of the landscape.
I gave my presentation the next day and got some very positive feedback. There is not much to tell that is relevant for this blog, however, so I will just jump to the next day, when I went on a whale safari. Tromsø is quite famous for its whale population, especially in winter. You may see killer whales, fin whales, or humpback whales. I was on a boat with people from various countries, which was quite interesting. I met people from Chile, Denmark, and England and we had a lot of fun talking about our experiences in Tromsø. We saw lots of humpback whales!
Sadly, I had to leave for home the next day, but the adventure was not over yet. I had to transfer to a different plane at Stockholm airport, so I got the opportunity to hear Swedish as well. Fun fact: even though I am learning Norwegian, the Stockholm dialect of Swedish is much more easy to understand than the Tromsø dialect of Norwegian. I even fooled some people into thinking I was Swedish. I specifically remember one of those situations: a guard at the airport addressed me in Swedish and, as I could understand him, I simply followed his directions. Later, while calling home (in Dutch), he overheard me and the surprised look on his face when he realised I wasn’t Swedish at all was priceless!
So… I had a lot of fun in Norway (and Sweden) and I would like to go back if I get the chance. The cold is definitely worth it! If that time comes, I will be curious to see whether people will react differently to me (as a foreigner) speaking Norwegian.