At Oslo’s main station, I set about getting a SIM card for my iPad. AT&T wants $30 for a laughably-small 120mb of data, and that shit just ain’t gonna fly. While the salesman installs my SIM card, I notice an e-waste recycle box with glass sides so you can see everything stuffed inside. Lots of already-have-too-many-of-them micro- and mini-USB wall plugs. Even a couple shattered iPhones. But down at the bottom was a euro-style USB wall adapter, something I might need, so I’m thinking of the mantra we learned in the 90s, “Reduce, reuse…” I stuff my hand inside, telling the salesman I’m doing it for Mother Earth.
Barely squeezing through the small opening on the top of the box, I guide my hand as I watch through the clear plastic walls like an arcade grabber machine. Like the game, it’s rigged against me, with the prize sliding further down into the pile every time I snap at it. I make one last thrust and finally get a grip on it, but when I try to draw my arm out, the lid of the box comes with me. I’m stuck in it like Pooh Bear in the often under-appreciated honey pot, but refuse to let go of my prize. The salesman sees my predicament and says, “Oh! You need an adapter?” Then walks over to a closet, unlocks it, pulls out a factory sealed USB adapter and hands it to me.
“Really?” I ask, still wearing the box top on my right hand.
FREE USB CHARGER!
Armed with my pocket-internet, I step out into Oslo. My first realization is that low and behold, winter just south of the Arctic Circle is cold(!) so I dart into the nearest shopping mall to stay warm.
As I window shop my way through the mall, a woman running a beauty kiosk asks me what kind of exfoliant I use (Kiehl’s, obviously). She takes my left hand and begins to scrub it down with some kind of crushed horse-lick being repackaged and sold for $50 an ounce. “This salt scrub is all natural and from the Dead Sea with essential oils of blah blah blah.” Whatever lady. Salt is salt is salt. All I know is…
FREE HAND MASSAGE!
She then puts some cream on my face and some special under-eye goop and uses pretend-knowledge to tell me I’ve got fat under my eyes. She tells me that it wouldn’t be a problem anymore if I’d just buy $200 of kitchen salt mixed with olive oil. I decline and worry she feels used and emotionally vulnerable. (Don’t lead women on, fellas. It’s rude!)
I set out into the cold and climb a long, snow-covered hill to the front of the royal palace where I have my picture taken by Norwegian college students and am interviewed about my opinion of whether Norwegian cops should carry guns. (Come on. This is Norway.) Then it’s back down the snow-covered hill as I think about how my only pair of shoes are paper-thin velvet slippers. Cold feet are acceptable, though, considering you can’t wear winter boots with tuxedo pants. It’s just not something that is done.
At an outdoor market I look at the prices for handmade leather gloves and artisanal candy when suddenly a man walks up to me with a single cup of coffee on a platter. He says something in Norwegian, I accept the coffee, and he turns and walks away, like, “I’m out.” Not, “If you enjoy this, buy more.” Just… Nothing. I stand there, waiting for a catch, but he’s gone, and nobody else seems involved, so I shrug and think,
After I warm my hands on the cup and drink it down I step into a sports store, thinking I might be able to find some cheap long-johns to make up for the heat-drain from my toes. While wandering around, I approach a curious pair of shoes at the same time as a pretty woman about my age. We start talking about the interesting design: burgundy Chuck Taylors but with a furry lining. “Ugg Chucks!” I say. We make 60 seconds of small talk before I tell her she should buy them and continue my search for long undies. I find them and take a pair to the dressing room. They fit so I decide to wear them out. (Not free. I pay for them.)
I pass by the young woman again. Now she’s trying them on, and, after some consideration, I tell her they look good. I think about how I’ve got no plans, and she, browsing for shoes at 1pm on a Wednesday, probably doesn’t either. I suggest we get some coffee. She accepts.
She takes me to this hidden coffee shop down an alley and up a flight of stairs. Real cool place. After ordering, I step off to use the restroom, and when I return, she’s paid for my chai latte and says, “I invite you.”
MORE FREE COFFEE! (Well, tea, but still.)
Turns out she’s not Norwegian, she’s German. She came here to follow her boyfriend, but there aren’t many jobs available for her PhD in microbiology.
After an hour we step out and I thank her for the coffee. She tells me all the places I should go. The National Opera House, the waterfront, the fortress on the hill. I ask her what her plan is. She says she should keep working on job applications or head home. She says her boyfriend is a very jealous person. I put on wide eyes and look over my left shoulder, suspiciously, then my right, then I lean in and say, “I’m not gonna tell him.” She thinks for a moment and decides that, you know what? She can show me around. She’ll just tell him she went for coffee.
And then we’re off! She takes me to see all the sights and sounds of downtown Oslo.
We hike up to the fortress on the hill. We walk through the snow. She teaches me that in German, the way we say “snowflake,” they say “snow-flower.” It’s pronounced “Shnuffenblumen” or something like that.
She takes me to the waterfront where I stand on a large piece of ice that had floated ashore. I declare it the Sovereign Dictatorship of Benistan. She takes me picture. I lose my balance an fall off, deposed and humiliated.
She takes me to the National Opera House where I play an unattended piano until the world’s nicest security guard comes over with a conciliatory smile and politely asks if I would cease. When I compliment his friendly demeanor, he shrugs and says with his perfect Norwegian accent, “No reason to be an asshole about it.”
As the sun is going down, the German woman and I march for a mile through the cold and she gives me a tour of the trendy post-gentrification part of Oslo with the Eplehuset (Apple Store) and corresponding astronomical rents. I tell her I’m hungry and she reaches into her bag gives me a banana!
We walk back to the market where I was initially given coffee in the morning. Now the market glows in the dark with lamps and Christmas lights. It’s getting colder, still. I need more layers.
As we explore the different kiosks, two women schilling some special auto windshield glass offer us thin little caps from their collection of branded kitsch.
The next booth over is promoting Columbia Sportswear. When I tell them that Columbia Sportswear is from my hometown, they get excited and invite us in for a costumed photo shoot. I put on a Columbia jacket and a Viking helmet. She grabs a wig. We touch for the first time.
FREE SILLY PHOTO BOOTH SESSION!
The next kiosk over is taking a survey on which flavor of sausage their company should promote.
I return to raid their platter of sausage 4 times over the next 15 minutes.
Now the German woman has to go. Time to go and tell her boyfriend about all the coffee she drank alone. We exchange information and a hug. Maybe we’ll get together tomorrow? Maybe in New York? I contact my friend Adam and arrange to finally meet after 13 years of not finishing a fight.
The last time I saw Adams was at a U.S. Embassy in West Africa and he was trying to smash my head in with a yellow number 1 billiards ball. For the sake of the story, I’m disappointed he doesn’t punch me when he sees me. Instead, we go to his neighborhood bar and he proceeds to tell the bartender of our adventures. About Sock Man chasing him around the U.S. Embassy, naked, a sword in one hand and a 9″ dildo carved out of ivory in the other. About the standoff on the roof against a 3rd grade class of child soldiers (*cough* BeastsofNoNationisatruestory *cough*). He told the story about the drunk, naked Marine stealing a kid’s bike in front of the embassy and crashing it into a rebel checkpoint. The drunk, naked Marine was held hostage by the rebels until someone from the embassy paid his ransom. (WE MISS YOU JASON!) And wouldn’t you know it, at the end of the night, after dinner and drinks, Adams, (courtesy of all that Norway money he’s making), picks up the check.
On the way home, Adams tells me that society and dating is way different over here. He says that if you accidentally get a girl pregnant, they don’t necessarily want you around. Or child support, for that matter. I take him at his word, because this is in keeping with everything I’ve learned about Norway over the last 12 hours.
What a country!