Thursday, August 08, 2002

Cultural differences are normally experienced when we go abroad - at least here in homogenous, social democratic egality-focused Volda, Norway. But this summer, the cultural differences have come home to us.

My daughter sings in a choir, and this summer they have a greek dancing/singing group visiting. All the families of the youths in the choir have two or three greek visitors to look after, house and feed. The housing part is simple - we have lots of space and it's fun to have guests. The feeding part is a lot more complicated. Norway isn't exactly famous for exiting and good food, but there are a few things you can get here which definitely deserves attention. Smoked salmon, for instance, a delicacy all over the world - and quite common and easily available as well as very good here. Of the less well known things there's fenalår: Cured mutton thigh, with a pronounced taste as rich as any of the famous hams of southern Europe. In the summer, potatoes in Norway are extremely good - new potatoes is a must, and you have them with sour cream for most meals. Because of the low temperature and blonde nights, all Norwegian vegetables and fruit get a flavour that can't be copied elsewhere. Of course, the growing season is short and risky, but what's made is extremely good.

All things considered it was with quite a bit of pride and pleasure I started out with common Norwegian meals for the two 20 year old girls living with us. The problem was however soon detected. They didn't dare taste the food. The salmon and the ham was carefully avoided. The cheeses, chosen to suit sophisticated continental palates were ignored. Not a leaf of salad or a slice of vegetables reached their plates. And when it came to the meat, they tasted that with great suspicion. Although the venison and chanterelles passed the test - the great hit was a spagetti bolognese which basically came out of a jar - the McDonalds of pasta sauces, as foreign to a Norwegian meal as the hamburger in a bun. They survive on bread with rasberry jam, and in desperation I started baking cakes. No Norwegian housewife can endure having her cakes rejected, that is the final test of your skill in the kitchen: to be able to make a light, tasty, elegantly presented and irresistable cake. Finally, I found something they could endure. So the girls here have, for 9 days now, been living on bread, lefse and cakes - chocolate cake, apple cake, cream cake, a progression of cakes which they never sit down to eat. They eat on the run: grab a packed meal and then spurn any healthy looking food we might have packed for them, and clean out the cakes.

At least they get enough calories. But as a score for Norwegian cuisine - I am not entirely certain that I feel comfortable with it. Still, thankfully I am not the one who need to worry about the greek relationship to time. That has been an educational experience for the nice, reliable and always-on-time members of the choir. The relative meaning of "five minutes" has taught our very proper girl the frustration of cultural differences - before she has even gotten out of her own home in the morning.

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