At Norwegian Customs

When it’s my turn at the customs booth the uniformed official in the booth asks why I’m visiting Norway. “The Saint-Olaf trail,” I say. Then, when her face registers nothing, I add: “I’m going to walk on the St-Olaf way from Dovre to Trondheim.” I’m careful to pronounce the “h” in Trondheim as a “y”, the way I’ve heard it done. “So you’ll be coming back to Oslo?” she asks. She’s not looking at me, making a point of it, flipping through the pages, checking where I’ve been on this passport. “No, flying out from Trondheim.” I get to say that “y” twice, a secret pleasure. “When do you leave the country?” This still looking at my passport as if it contains some secret unknown to me but that she has to discover.
She’s about my age, I realize, or only very slightly older, in her mid 50s, maybe. I think I see in her face the same kind of lines I know from my childhood among the Scandinavian settlers in the Canadian west where I grew up. But maybe that’s the romantic part of me, stretching to make some connection in this land whose people and language seems so foreign to me, even though half my genes come from this soil. “In 13 days” I answer. I wonder if there’s a problem. Then, because my default is always to try to make contact, even when I shouldn’t, I add: “I hope, at least. Depends on how it goes on the Way.” She reaches for her stamp without any indication that she’s even heard what I’ve said. Then, as she pushes the official imprint of Norway down onto the paper, she looks up and, almost unbelievably, smiles, a big broad smile. “So you’re a pilgrim?” she asks. Despite my attempts to introduce just that subject, I’m caught off guard. “I guess so,” I answer awkwardly. “Enjoy your time in Norway. Have a good trip.” She hands me back the passport, the words “Canada” on the top, facing me. Then when she looks up at me, I hesitate in place, wondering if there’s more of this conversation to come, until I realize she’s actually looking through me to the person behind me. “Next,” she calls out.

4 thoughts on “At Norwegian Customs

  1. Caught in a job of complacency … makes you, the customer, typically invisible. (I REALLY hate when surgeons do that!) But a great smile means she may even remember you at the end of the day.

  2. Liked this very much, for the insight it brought about what you were thinking and what you were feeling. Disagree though, with kkc’s dismissive comment about the border guard (agent?) being complacent. Sounds to me as though she was human enough, given the constraints of her job. Easy to slag off on civil servants! Complacency comes in many forms, one of them being attributing vile intentions to other people, especially those in occupations perceived as inferior. (Regardless of according to what scale of virtue.)

    That said, I do see what you were getting at. In fact, I think the encounter turned out to be just the thing to prime the pump for a person set on a pilgrimage: mixed. The point of pilgrimage (yours, too, I presume) is not to know all the answers in advance. Including not knowing even the questions. It’s all exploration, at least as far as I know.

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