2014 will be a great year for travelling, apparently

Happy New Year! I’m writing this from Norway, where I’ve been for nearly two weeks without my laptop. Frankly, it’s been lovely not trying to keep up with all the blogs, forums, Twitter feeds and catch-up TV that has somehow become a major part of my life over the last few years. Considering how successfully I gave up using Facebook last year, I am thinking about seriously cutting back on the amount I use forums and just generally waste time online this year. It’s not exactly a resolution but more of a continuation of something that’s sort of happened on its own lately.

Anyway, enough of the introspection and onto what you have all been waiting to hear about with bated breath and sparkling eye: the great Norwegian New Year tradition of running around the outside of the house wearing jewellery made of glowsticks and carrying suitcases, in order to ensure lots of safe and exciting travelling for the coming year. OK, let’s be honest here: it’s not a great Norwegian tradition. I haven’t heard of it being done anywhere else, actually. I think it’s just this family. And it works! Of the five people who actually live here and aren’t just occasional holiday interlopers (i.e. the ones who are not me), two are studying abroad and one is planning to. Between the three of us perpetual students, we travelled over four thousand miles to be here for Christmas (mostly because Kris flew in from Glasgow via Seattle).

There were also Christmas traditions which were a little more common to the rest of the country. Naturally we spent most of the Christmas period eating, usually with at least half a dozen members of the extended family. I generally tucked myself into an innocuous corner at these gatherings; as the English-speaking vegan visitor I was welcomed in a warm but possibly slightly bemused manner. I’ve been amazed and gratified by how much effort everyone has made to accomodate my awkward dietary requirements, particularly in a country where the national Christmas dish is decomposed fish. Everyone seems to speak excellent English too; my Norwegian is limited to a very basic written comprehension, some educated guesswork when listening to people speak and a miniscule spoken vocabulary which I apparently speak with a Danish accent, so I am equal parts grateful and embarassed when people talk to me in my own language.

On Christmas Eve, which is the main day for celebrating here, we skipped in a ring round the Christmas tree and sang Norwegian carols. I recognised one of them from the church service earlier that day and managed to join in with the aid of the service sheet, which had the words on. Then we ate, with dessert not being the British norm of fruit-cake based stodge but a sort of rice pudding mixed with whipped cream (for me and Jens, who became vegan out of solidarity for the duration of my stay and has, I suspect, caught it permanently, the cream was made from coconut milk – delicious!) which was itself the leftovers from a traditional meal on the 23rd before we put up thhe tree (chopped down and hauled home from the family cabin). We were all served a bowl of rice pudding, one of which contained a single almond. The person who got the almond won a marzipan pig and was monarch for the evening. It reminded me of the French galette for Epiphany – odd how ideas pop up around the world.

Probably my favourite example of the way things move and adapt is the fact that it is a beloved and apparently universal custom in Norway to sit down on the evening of the 23rd, after the rice pudding, and watch Dinner for One, a 1920s British comedy sketch filmed in Germany in the 60s, and still watched there on New Year’s Eve every Year. I had only seen in by chance in the UK because my stepdad likes old comedy and has Swiss family, so I was pretty much flummoxed to find it is so incredibly popular. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth a watch and I believe is available on YouTube.

In two days, providing the suitcase-running has done the trick, I’ll be heading back home for a few days’ preparation before my Physiology exam on Tuesday, followed by three weeks of lectures. Then I have two reading weeks which will be something of a moveable feast since I’m visiting all my parents and Cambridge during that time, and possibly having visitors myself. Once that’s done, I will start my first proper placement in the hospital, working full time hours and whatever shift pattern my mentor works. I’m a bit concerned about my ability to cope with thirteen hour shifts and night shifts, but now seems like the time to test it!

This will probably be the last time I spend Christmas abroad for a few years. Next year and third year I will be on placement at this time of year and even if I don’t have to work the actual days, I won’t have two weeks to take off to another country. In any case I have found myself missing the trappings of a British Christmas; the mince pies, the carol singing, the bumper Radio Times full of things I want to watch but always manage to miss, the midnight church service and the quaint tackiness of crackers. They aren’t better than Norwegian traditions, but they are familiar. And as my mum said over Skype earlier today, now that I’ve coped with a Christmas surrounded by family members I don’t really know and who speak a foreign language, I can probably cope with my own extended family!

2013 was eventful without being particularly dramatic. It ran basically to plan, and my biggest wish for my own life in the coming months is that they continue to be eventful but undramatic. My appetite for the unexpected was rather exhausted by 2011, to be honest.

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