Sunday, May 29, 2011

What I will miss from Norway: #1

Having been to Brazil for a week and back I can clearly see that life will be different once we move there. And this has brought a sense of early nostalgia about Norway already. Despite difficulties making friends and getting used to the cold, this is a great place to live. In terms of quality of life, I am yet to find a comparable country. But what will I miss the most?

Public transport! Oslo has an informal "20 minute rule" saying that you can get from anywhere to anywhere else in at most 20 minutes. Trains, trams, subways, buses and even public bicycles make this possible. You buy a monthly pass and it allows you to use any of these as much as you like. Of course there are some far away neighborhoods that bend this rule, but overall it is true. And not only is the public transport available, but it actually works well! Norwegians seem to like to complain about it, but, to be honest, where else in the world can you complain that your train was 4 minutes late? In Brazil you don't even have a certain time for buses... you just go to the stop and wait until yours comes by... sometimes in 5 and others in 45 minutes. And here in Oslo delays regarding urban transport are counted in single digits, with public outcries when something goes beyond that. In line with this is the fact that there were only 2 disruptions in service in the entire time I was here, and one of them was diverting urban trains to pick up tourists from the 2011 Nordic World Ski Championship.

Definitely something to miss in  Brasil...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Brazil: third impressions

After a while of being back you start to realize that things you did not like before you left are still the same... Like status: what people do for status here is impressive. First of all people dress up. All the time. No baggy sweatpants and flipflops on the street. No t-shirts (except for guys, but paired up nicely) and an amazing amount of heels of all sizes, and the thinner the better... As a friend once said in commenting about women's shoes in different countries: "the worst the sidewalk the higher and thinner the heels women use".

And together with status come brands. Everyone seems concerned about brand clothing, shoes, purses, makeup, anything you can imagine. They are not local brands either: CK, DG, Gucci, etc which are flaunted around and make their way into conversations in which I have very little to contribute. Due to import taxes these things are even more expensive than abroad, so you can only imagine what these prices are. Even brands that are not that highly ranked abroad (think GAP, Levi's, Lee) are also high fashion brands here with prices MUCH higher than in the USA (for example you can easily pay USD150 for a pair of Levi jeans here). Considering that the income per capita in Brazil is around 10k per year (adjusted for purchasing power) you can see that people here spend a lot more on looks than in many other places.

A side effect of the search for status and the craze about brands is the belief that anything that is imported is better. While much of the developed world is going about trying to promote local in Brazil we are still looking for something made elsewhere. Even department stores have special tags saying "imported" in glittering capital letters. Why is it that we think so lowly of ourselves? Why can't we promote local and reap benefits from such? Why are we so concerned about our external image? Good questions...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Brazil: second impressions

Being back in your home country reminds you of so many things that you missed and sometimes didn't even realize you missed. Like the amazing taste of fruit in Brazil. After living abroad (especially in developed and colder countries) you definitely learn to appreciate the great flavors of their natural deliciousness. This morning I had papaya... bright orange, super sweet, melting in my mouth. And for dessert after lunch I had a crisp and chilled watermelon... ah, bliss! Fruit here come in unrivaled sweetness and freshness ( A. likes to compare them to fruit in India, which are the best according to him).

Fruit here are not as perfect visually as fruits and veggies in the US or Europe: blemishes, dark spots and uneven colors are the norm. Take a look at how different oranges look here versus Europe/US:

 And it is interesting that even though in Portuguese the name for the orange fruit is also the same as the color orange, oranges are not orange here. Then we have a ton of native fruit that don't grow anywhere else... the fruit that people usually just have in their backyard or are sold in small quantities in local markets in season only. Amazing as well! And they will always have a distinct taste of childhood and climbing trees that come along with them.

Ah... mangoes, pineapples, lichees, pitanga, jabuticaba, uvaia, guava, sapota, etc, etc, etc: here I come!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Brazil: first impression

After a long flight (4 hours from Oslo to London and then an additional 10 to Rio de Janeiro) I finally arrived in Brazil this morning at 6am. As we taxied to the terminal the stewardess announced the usual welcome and the weather: 18oC (65oF) and clear skies. The temperature sounded great for that wee pre-sunrise hour but this was a quick and fleeting thought. Soon the sun was rising, turning the skies pink as I walked through immigration. Then I had to get my bag, go through customs and recheck it. By now the sun was up and lighting the airport hall with rays reaching far into the building. Without thinking I was immediately draws to the sun and its warmth and decided to go outside. And as I was approaching the external doors I felt myself stiffen and didn't quite grasp it until I got outside. The outside temperature was the same as inside!! And I realized what Oslo has done to me: I was bracing for the cold crisp air to whip my face as soon as I walked through the door. And what a relief to be in a place where the fear of outside doors is unnecessary!!

Sunrise in Rio... not the view I had from the airport, but almost :P

And then when my final connection left Rio towards Brasília I was sitting by the window and could see the main city postcards, just like I did every so often when I lived here a year ago... right around when I started this blog. I like it when life goes round a full circle like this... you keep moving on but also realize that everything is intertwined somehow.

Welcome to Brazil!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Brazil on our mind

Life is crazy...
I suddenly got an email yesterday asking if I could attend a meeting in Brazil next week. I answered nicely saying that the main constraint was my current location... a bit far, in Norway. I thought this would be the end of that. Not so... I soon got a reply asking if I'd come to the meeting if they paid my ticket! And I said "of course" (even though I tried not to seem overly enthusiastic), I mean, who wouldn't want to spend a week in Brazil with all expenses paid for?? I know, I know it is for work... but still... By the end of the day I had exchanged several emails and at 1:30am bought the ticket!!! The craziest detail?? I'm traveling tomorrow! Being a budget traveler I always wondered who in the world buys such expensive last minute tickets... guess I know now.

On a related topic, A. got his permanent visa for Brazil yesterday as well! This is the culmination of the whole certifying the American marriage certificate - getting a Brazilian marriage certificate - applying for the visa process and waits in between. But the final stage, waiting for the approval of the VIPER (interesting name for a permanent visa, isn't it?) was actually much faster than expected. We were told it takes 2-3 months to get it approved in Oslo (against 1-2 years if you apply in Brazil) and therefore A. applied for a tourist visa, just in case. He was supposed to pick up the tourist visa yesterday and they emailed him that the VIPER was approved (in little over 3 weeks!!) and that he could get that one instead of the tourist visa in the same day itself. This is a major celebration point for us since now we are set for our move... and A. has authorization to work, study or do anything else!

A. is going on a Brazil trek with his MBA next week. Which means both of us will be in Brazil... but unfortunately not in the same cities... he will be in São Paulo and I will be in Brasília (that is, 800 miles or 1300 km apart). Oh well... at least we both get to go!!!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

May 17th

May 17th is Norway's National Day. What does that mean? First of all, it is a holiday, but not just that, it is one of the most (if not the most) important holiday for Norwegians.

In the morning there are parades of children and bands who walk up to the palace for a royal blessing: the king, queen and prince wave to the crowd from their balcony.

Never saw so many people in the streets in Oslo!

The royal palace and the crowds watching the bands make their way up the hill.

See the royal family waving from the balcony?

But the main attraction during the parade was to see all different type of bunad, the traditional Norwegian dress. Each part of the country has its own, and even every village has a different patterns. Until a while back you were only allowed to wear the bunad from where you come from (instead of picking your favorite or the most beautiful one). Until today they are only made in Norway, and therefore are super expensive. A nice bunad can easily be sold for 10 thousand euros (USD14 thousand!). Usually each person has 1 and it is used only on special occasions (such as May17th and weddings). The interesting consequence is that apparently Norwegian women wear the same clothes size throughout their lives! Just to fit into the bunad...

Some simple bunads.

More embroidered bunads.

Men dress up too!

An interesting looking family in bunads.

Even kids dress up!

And now some details of what makes them special:
Detail of the embroidery.

Some have fancy hats too!

And some other headdresses!

Each has a matching purse...

That is attached to the belt.

And look at the shoes: they look like witch's shoes!

Of course, there are exceptions as well:
Which make for very interesting contrast.

And after the parades, what else is there?
In Grønland (the immigrant neighborhood) there was an amusement park and a international food fair!

And in my new neighborhood people were sitting out, watching live bands and barbecuing.

Indeed a very nice day to spend in Norway!

You can read more about it here.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Parties and mingling

As you read from the previous post, this weekend was packed with parties. And on my list such huge parties, with tons of unknown people don't rank very high. Having to shout and straining ears to have a conversation usually is enough to put off any energy I have to meet new people (not that I have that much... usually talking to strangers in such parties requires a huge effort for me). So if you don't know many people and don't feel like meeting new people what are the alternative options? Smoking, drinking, and eating, it seems. Well, I don't smoke and drinking to oblivion is also not something I do often. Eating, well, it is good, but I usually try not to do it the whole night. And as the people around you get drunker, the less interesting they generally become and the slower time seems to pass.  I'm aware I sound quite boring here, but if I'm with a group of friends, or a smaller party it works much better.

And how is A. in such a situation? As a true extrovert (seems like we are in a similar situation Cyn) he enjoys the crowd. He easily picks up conversations with anyone, entertains half a dozen at a time and in between has some drinks and smokes. Plus, in the parties this weekend, he had all his colleagues around, many of whom are now doing internships and had not seen each other in a few weeks. And A. is a night owl, who seems to have endless energy in the wee hours of the morning. So for A. these parties were great.

How to reconcile these divergent views on partying? In the first two parties (that were on campus) I just went home earlier than A. Although I would have loved to go home with him, he was obviously having too much fun, plus he had volunteered for the post-party cleanup team, which meant he was about the last to leave. The last party was in Paris though, a 45 minute bus ride from home. And we were tired. So initially A. was keen on leaving early... that is, until the party started picking up speed. But at the end he was very nice to leave with me at 1am. He wasn't happy about it and made it clear, but it was definitely nice to go back together to spend some extra hours awake in the morning before I left for Oslo. I am glad all this partying is over... I'm tired of seeming like the needy wife that wants attention.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sports weekend

I spent the last 5 days in Paris, visiting A. However, this weekend was different from the rest as his school organized a sports competition among the some of the best MBA schools in Europe. What does that mean? It means that they did not have classes on Thursday and Friday, had lots of work, parties, and aching muscles. For me it meant basically the same thing.  A. asked me to replace him at bartending on Thursday afternoon since he needed to be at another place for some other work at the same time. Then Thursday evening we went to the first party...

Handball: very popular in many countries and virtually unknown in others...

Friday I played in their handball team (while A. went to cricket). They were in desperate need of a player and since I used to play in college I volunteered. The rules stated that there needed to be a woman on the field at all times... when I heard that I was less thrilled... having seen male handball games I know it can be tough!!! But I went anyway, hoping to survive. It was very nice to get the whole "competition feeling" again: butterflies in your stomach, concentration, the feeling that you can achieve anything (even though reality is a bit harsher). And the team was very good... we had some players that used to play semi-professionally  and they carried us with them. 3 games later (20 to 5; 20 to 8; 15 to 1) we were champions!! Not bad... Friday I still had work to do and also did some bartending. Later at night (after a quick nap) A. and I went to the party again.

And then Saturday came and as I woke up I felt all the muscles that had not been used in a while... everything hurt! We slept in a bit until someone called asking for help to deliver lunches and out we went. Then we watched soccer, touch-rugby and some other sports and finally went home hoping for a nap. But by the time we can organized the apartment a bit it was time to head out again: final party!  I admit that I was ready to leave shortly after we arrived... tiredness + aches + little dinner + too many people were just not what I was looking for.

Today is Sunday and I'm heading back to Oslo, to try to catch up on work while still planning to enjoy the national holiday on Tuesday... 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

On sports

Exchange with A. on the difference between cricket and golf:

A: I don't get golf. You hit the ball and run after it.

Me: Isn't cricket like that too?

A: No. In cricket you hit the ball and someone ELSE runs after it...

Thursday, May 5, 2011


To save some money (since everything, including hostels, is expensive here) I decided to accept a friend's invite to crash at her place while A. and my brother visit Stockholm for 2 days. Since she lives in the same town as the university I work at it seems like a good idea, since I get to sleep in later and have a 5 min bike ride to work. So yesterday I brought my stuff over and went to bed, glad to have a real bed and a lot of space too (I am sleeping on the third floor, which is an open space).

And then, at 3am one of her daughters starts crying... and the second soon follows... and then the parents run around trying to calm them down... They both have chicken pox! And wake up scratching and crying... And crying... and crying... And there is no division between the 2nd floor (where the family sleeps) and the 3rd. Overall not a good night, woke up more tired than the day before... good, natural birth control.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Selfdestruction mode: on

Spring is here, Norway is finally defreezing and I am overwhelmed... this leads to lot's of good and bad things that don't really combine such as ice-cream and colds, beautiful sunny days and work, flowers and allergies... Wait! Allergies? I never had them! Why am I suffering like this now??

To be completely honest the first time I had allergy to polen was last year: had just defended my PhD in January and shortly after began to sneeze like crazy. Having never had allergies before and having lived in the same city for 4 years it took me a while to self diagnose myself and accept it at a fact. Relief came when I flew to Brazil mid March. And I thought relief would be perpetual.

Except that this year, my trips to Paris began to be a combination of runny nose, itchy eyes, and sneezing from mid March. Since I only spent weekends, 2 days were manageable and I got better as soon as I got to Oslo (which was still frozen). Easter trip was painful... lot's and lot's of polen during the trip until I got antihistamine eyedrops. These helped enormously and made life much better. Italy was great though... as it was almost Summer my allergy all but disappeared, only to come back when we went back up to France. And now it is Spring in Oslo... and there are birch trees everywhere (seems like those are the worst). And I should go to the doctor... but I am not a medicine person (always treated everything by homeopathy and never took an aspirin in my life...) and I'm pretty sure this has to do with low resistance and there should be a better way around it than drugging myself. Plus A. and my brother are here, which definitely takes over all the extra time I have. Plus we are living at a hostel, meaning little space, no privacy and additional stress... Plus I think I got a cold, which confounds the symptoms of the allergy: am I coughing due to cold or trees?

So yesterday was much cooler (back down to 5oC/40oF) and my allergies were very tame. I thought I was getting over it but suddenly I woke up with hives today... not good, not good. Oh well.... I think I need some rest, having my own apartment, and a fast forward of the season... is it too much to ask for?