Oslo first struck me as more like Scotland than Sweden, most of all the craggy, weather-beaten faces and the wandering derelicts. I mean Inverness and Aberdeen, not Edinburgh. How could such a wealthy and well-organized country have such an ugly capital city? Only the surrounding waters and greenery were pretty. And why were so many people so poorly dressed? Then we went to Bergen — a "Hansa-Stadt" — which felt like familiar emotional territory. People were stylish and the faces were happier and everything seemed more intellectual. The visual synthesis of land, water, industry, and homes was first-rate, and yes sardine factories in the right setting are stunning. Usually I end up liking the uglier city more. Which city is the real Norway, or must I now see Trondheim? How can this country be the best place in the world to hear jazz? It is the young who listen, not the old; the players are sincere and convincing, imagine a blond guy named Thor Gustavsen riffing around a flattened third. We went almost every night, taking one break to hear Varese’s Ameriques, by the Oslo Symphony Orchestra. Yana loved it. The fjords bored me. They are as good as scenery comes, but they felt like a repetition of southern Chile and New Zealand. I admired the homes which had outlets only to the water. I wished I had brought an iPod full of heavy metal for that boat trip.
I asked for Voss water on several occasions, but no one had it. Not even in the train station in Voss. Some Norwegian servers had never heard of it.
I kept on toying with the theory that the country moved quickly from folk paganism to postwar secularism, with only a short Christian interlude in between.
We were never willing to spend on splendid food and the less than splendid food never came cheap. In Bergen I had one of the best fish and chips servings of my life, I told the happy cook he was a genius, equaled only by the fish and chips geniuses of New Zealand. I like to eat fish and chips at least once in every country I visit. Somehow that was my favorite moment of my travels. He gave us a free piece of fish and chips.
Does it make sense to wonder in which countries people are "the most normal" or "the least normal"? I’m fine with the exercise being about the wonderer, not the subjects. On the Continent the French seem the most normal to me. In the North the Swedes seem the most normal.
The joke ends with the exchange: "A: Does it always rain here in Bergen? B: I don’t know, I’m only fourteen years old."