Monday, May 18, 2015

The grand (supermarket) tour

Hello from sunny-ish Norway! My husband and I decided to visit not-just-Belgium, and are making use of the fact that we'd already crossed the Atlantic to see a part of Europe neither of us yet had. We arrived in Bergen on the Norwegian national holiday, which was a bit of a concern because it just sounded like everything would be closed, but it turned out to be the best possible time, given that the entire town (aside from us and a few other tourists) was in traditional dress. A woman we met in our hotel lobby, a fellow guest who'd come for the big event, explained to us that everyone gets one of these outfits at confirmation (a Christian bar/bat mitzvah, I'm led to believe), and you wear the one from your mother's hometown. (What, I wonder, is the traditional dress of Brooklyn?) Men, meanwhile, were in these amazing felt (?) vests, shorts (?), knitted socks, everything incredibly involved. Outfits included special shoes. Everyone was waving a flag. Even the dogs had patriotic ribbons. According to the woman in the hotel, who is the ultimate authority as far as I'm concerned on all that was going on, Norwegians are nationalistic but not militaristic - a relief when all these young boys marched down the street bearing what looked like, but presumably weren't, arms.

Predictable observations: The fjords are beautiful - more so, even, than I would have guessed. The people are very, very blond - a man working at the tourist-oriented fish market asked us where we were from, guessing France, then, when we didn't respond, Italy and Spain - the obvious white-people-with-dark-hair assumptions in Europe, maybe, who knows. And everything is really, really, really expensive. A casual cafe sandwich or salad will be something like $25, anything in a restaurant-restaurant maybe $40, so what you have to do (unless you're paid in this currency, I suppose) is to shop at a supermarket... which is also expensive, so the thing to really do is purchase half the contents of a Belgian supermarket (packaged waffles, waffle cookies, chocolate, bread, and, less successfully, sliced cold cuts) for the price of one Norwegian cafe snack and just eat that for your entire trip.

Unpredictable, for me, was that Norway and Flanders aren't interchangeable. I'd just sort of assumed, being a provincial American, that Germanic-language-speaking Europe was all basically the same culture. It's hard to articulate exactly how these places are different, but it does seem they are. See also: New Jersey is not Texas. People do not march through my husband's hometown in Belgian traditional dress. There was once a thing where everyone in the main square was dressed as a circa-Liberation US soldiers, but that's something else entirely.

Belgium, meanwhile, did not have fjords, but did have family I hadn't seen in ages, as well as (as hinted at above) amazing food, coffee, and beer, the last of which they were (of course) giving out samples of at the supermarket. It was a new (?) beer called Waterloo, and the display included a life-size Napoleon cardboard cut-out with a space where you could put your face and pose for a photo which (of course) I did.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Glad you are enjoying Norway. It is a beautiful country though I have not yet been to Bergen, but I hear it is very scenic and rains more than other parts of the country. Bunad is the term for the traditional clothes and they are really interesting. Women also get a special silver pin at some point. Food prices are high, but it is a wonderful place to be. JM