Electric Cars. Reindeer Meat. Unknown family from an unknown culture and a great, unknown country of which I only knew fairytales and forgotten family histories. Most importantly, Lynda Christiansen.
Born around WW2, Lynda has lived a most incredible life. She moved to Zimbabwe for 17 years, growing up there and gaining a deep understanding of corrupt governments and deep-rooted classism. So rarely have I met someone so authentic to their core, elegant in the least glamorous way possible, and as accepting of a 22-year-old American she doesn’t know. I won’t go on and on about her lest she think this is some eulogy attempt, but it’s a privilege to have met her and to be related to her.
Oslo is a complex, pretty little city. For a culture with such infamous and ancient history, Oslo is young. The country, Norway, is young.
I came to Norway for the first three days of my spring break as some lame attempt to reconnect to roots I basically didn’t have. I wanted to meet the family I’d never met and see the place where they came from – where I came from, to a certain degree. Not only was I able to accomplish my goals, spending the most time with Lynda driving around Oslo, looking at the different aspects of the city, and seeing my third cousin, who brought me to yummy food halls and historical museums, but I was also able to see who I was through my family.
The state-side Christiansens (that is my mother’s maiden name) are not as close as some. We are a patchwork of ages, jobs, and locations that leaves us looking more like Frankenstein’s monster than a well-stitched quilt. As it turns out, that is the Norwegian in us. We are always willing to help each other but lack closeness and warmth. Correction: we’re close, but we’re a cold sort of close. A familiar ice, if you will.
But how can we be close, given our culture? Norway’s culture has been around for a long time, but it’s a new country – it is as disjointed as we are, with Victorian architecture next to modern behemoths of design, built for efficiency, not just beauty.
We, the Christiansens, are just as connected as any family, but we show it in a way I’d never thought to appreciate before. We show it by coming to dinner even when it is inconvenient, by powering through hangovers, by dropping everything to host an energetic 22-year-old from America, and by caring for each other in a way that is not palpable but is felt.
So what did I learn? I learned that there are things about me I had never considered that could have some sort of meaning. I learned that my family is stronger than it thinks it is because it puts up no fuss about doing things that are so inconvenient for them that anyone else would turn it down without batting an eyelash. That the coldness I have been accused of having is perhaps something I inherited from a culture I am only minimally a part of and not a character flaw.
I’m so grateful for being allowed to stay there, for the things my family did for me while I occupied Lynda’s attic for three days. I am grateful that I can joke about icy Norwegian culture knowing full well that the Christiansens were as warm as a Florida sun to me. I am grateful that, even though they don’t have my red hair or blue eyes, they looked at me and saw family.