Sunday, November 13, 2011

Gratinert aubergine

This is a post directed to Norwegian friends and family, a favourite recipe that people ask for frequently. Here we go:


1 aubergine i skiver.
noe olivenolje (et par skjeer)
2 hvitløksfedd, hakket
ett lite glass hvitvin
en boks hermetiske tomater, hakket
en stor bunt basilikum
2 ts tomatpuré. Hvis du finner puré av soltørkede tomater er dette best. Kjøp et glass til meg også.
150 g ost - mosarella eller en annen norsk, mild ost som smelter fint.
salt og frisk kvernet pepper.

Damp auberginene til de er myke. Varm litt olje i en steikepanne og fres hvitløken ved middels varme. Skru opp varmen, tilsett vinen og kok litt inn. Skru ned varmen igjen og tilsett gomater, basilikum og tomatpuré, kok under lokk til sausen er tykk. Smak til med salt og pepper og hell sausen i en ildfast form (eler vent litt og legg det i lag). Legg aubergineskivene på toppen, pensle dem med litt olje, topp med osten. Bak i ca 30 minutt til osten er gyllen.

And if you wonder what recipe that is, I suspect it's the Italian Melanzane parmigiana.

Public, private, personal, off the record, common

In February there was a flare-up in several debates in Norway, as a professor posted to facebook that she was reading the world's worst exam paper ever. No names, not subject, no quotes, just her opinion, a pretty frustrated response.

Somebody on her "friend" list screenshotted this, and mailed it to a journalist. The journalist then wrote an article about how teachers harass students through facebook. To make the article more provocative, the journalist asked some student politicians, who immediately responded angrily, and the headmaster of the University, who said something about no policy for social media use, and how this was unheard of. The article was also published in

After a flare up of the debate around this, both online and in media such as the Norwegian Broadcasting, Jill Walker wrote a "kronikk", an opinion article to (the paper in question). She pretty much covers the case in her response, but the entire event makes something very obvious. We need to think in more modes than public and private.

Humans, particularly those of us working as journalists, like dualism. We want it to be warm or cold, dangerous or safe, on or off. A world of ones and zeroes is almost a perfect expression for this human desire for certainty and control that comes with the black/white idea of the world. If you're not with me, you're against me.

Despite this desire for duality, we are pretty good at handling shades of grey in social interaction. We are aware that there are some best friends, then there are some friendly people we know, then there are some people we know who are pretty much not that important to us, but we'll talk to them about casual stuff at the bus or over coffee if we are at the same table, and then there's people we know but dislike to varying degree, and then there are people we just don't know. With all of these people we interact in subtle, complex manners. We deal easily with this because they are all individuals to us, and we interact with them in settings we easily can position in a complex grid.

Then along comes the internet, and we can interact with all of them at the same time, if we want. At first, people didn't get this. Flame wars grew hurtful, stalkers got too much personal information, and lovers discovered their true love was a fantasy. This has of course, not passed, but people know how to deal, they understand what is going on, and some times even manage to protect themselves from the problems with different social spaces crashing into each other.

And so, we have the problem with the professor on facebook.

If the journalist had met the professor, asked how the exams papers were, and the professor said "I am reading the worst one ever right now," the journalist would never have printed it. Face it: "professor reads worst paper ever" isn't news.

If the professor had said it, face to face, to everybody from the headmaster of the University to the student who actually wrote it, or even if she was on television and got asked "what are you doing these days?" and she responded "I am reading the worst exam paper ever, right now." it wouldn't be news.

The news rests in the ambivalence of private/public.

In order to get that information, a friend of the professor had to take a screenshot and give it to the journalist. It's like a camera shot of a fashionable wedding where the press is not wanted, it's like peeking past the curtains to see what happens in an other person's party, it's a way to reveal to the public what happens in the private club. The fact that it is possible to exclude some people from seeing that post makes it interesting. It's the constructed duality of public private that makes news. The only news value is the tittilation of the forbidden.

The following discussion is then, really, all about the fact that written communication now has almost spoken qualities. In this discussion participants ignore the many other modes information can be in, because it appears to be printed.. Informal, off the record, personal, casual, all of these shifts between communication modes are totally ignored. And this happens because the written nature of the post turns it into a fact. It is so easy to make some screenshots. However, so is making sound files, and to take a screenshot of a facebook update is like taking a recording device into the lunch-room of the University, catching snippets of conversation, mailing the juicy ones to a journalist.

So, the question now is, in which direction will communication develop? Will it become more obvious that written communication can embody modes other than public or private, or will this binary understanding of communication become so common that we have to look out for recorders, and only be candid and honest when we share a shower with the person we're talking to?

Personally, I hope a wider understanding of different modes of communication. I don't want to have to check all cellphones at the door before I have coffee with friends.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Life in Copenhagen part 7: health and understanding

It's been a while since I wrote, and it's because I have been sick. Being sick in a new place and particularly a new country is scary.

The first signs arrived almost a year ago, when I was all alone in Denmark. Over the months I had some rather unsettling experiences. I noticed a lump where there shouldn't be one (spoiler: no, not cancer and nothing life-threatening), but I carefully ignored it for months. I really didn't want to know. But then I got an infection, fever and pain, and I had to go see a doctor. I ended up on antibiotics, stranded in my one-room apartment for almost two weeks. Part of the time I had fever fantasies, and some of the few experiences I had with contact to the world around me were truly surreal. Such as when the Norwegian culture-minister called, and I wasn't sure if it was a joke, a fever-fantasy, or reality. I asked her to call back after the antibiotics had time to work. She did.

Anyway: what I really want to write about here, is the part of Denmark that Norwegians think exist, but which tends to be absent, or just not seen, when we start living here.

You see, compared to Norwegian, Danish (the language) sounds gentle and warm. Danes appear to be touchy-feely and friendly, seen from the distance Norwegians tend to keep people at. Then we move to Denmark and figure out that no, it's not that simple. As a Norwegian living here, not just shopping in the large stores on Strøget or drinking in Nyhavn, we get ridiculed, cut off, excluded and ignored; due to the language difference. I felt like Denmark really didn't want me, yet another annoying non-dane here to make their lives more complicated. No matter that I am exactly the kind of person the Danish State wants: highly educated specialist in a field Denmark has prioritized for years - Denmark felt as cold as the record winter around me, except from a few friends and colleagues.

So, here I was, alone, feverish and lost, in this realm of Scandinavian distance and cold manners. That's when I suddenly started seeing the Danes as I had believed they would be. It started with the doctor: When she realised that it wasn't just a regular infection, she raced to the phone to find a specialist to see me right away! And she did, all the while doing her best to comfort me without saying anything either way. The specialist was busy, but warm, friendly and just as easygoing and nice as I used to think Danes would be. At the lab for the tests, while insanely busy, people were gentle, polite and smiling. And when I came to see my wonderful hairdresser after this rather shattering day, he looked me over once, and started spoiling me above and beyond what I could have asked for.

Best of all, through all of this, I was suddenly understood! For some reason, me being sick trumphed all language problems. And it continued. When I went to get food in one of the really fashionable take-aways in this area, the normally snotty staff took one look at me and became nice and understanding. When I was well again, this treatment disappeared. Then I went to the hospital for surgery, and suddenly it was right back again! Professional, busy and quick, yes, but also friendly, warm, polite and smiling.

It was a really weird experience. I don't know if it's possible to generalise from this, but I drew some personal conclusions.

1: Danes are as nice as we think, when we (the strangers) become an individual to them.
2: Pain and illness is a strong way of revealing our common humanity, both through empathy and through strength; it also allows others to make your life a little better, and people everywhere like to do a good thing for others.
3: The rest of the time, Danes are as busy and impatient as everybody else. Coming to Copenhagen was like moving to Oslo as a very green student from the west-coast, only worse. Soft wovels and polite phrases do not make people nicer, even if they sound like butter, cream and smiles.

All in all, it was a good experience. I know now that Danes can, when they need to, make that vital effort to connect, and so my own efforts at communication aren't necessary wasted either. Also, the Danish health system may be in crisis due to the state of the world economy, but I hardly think I would have been treated better if I had stayed in between the fjords in Norway. It's the general state of health-care systems to not have enough money, and I was in the somewhat strained, but still firm grasp of a Scandinavian welfare state. It feels familiar. It feels a little like... home?