Cultural differences are interesting to get to know, and appear in the strangest of forms, – often on subjects where one has not even considered the possibility of their existence. It is usually mostly entertaining, somewhat educational, and – I will not lie – at times slightly annoying. Anyhow, it’s worth writing about, and I hereby declare that the following observations are based on the Spanish and Norwegian individuals of my own life, and might be totally wrong for the rest of the countries’ population, but I tend to think they can be applied to the greater majority. Prior to further reading; brace yourself for stereotypes, generalizations and (although I hate to admit it) exaggerations.

Watching TV while having dinner

Norway: The taboo among dinner customs; mostly considered the practice of dysfunctional families that don’t care for actual communication. Apathetic faces staring blankly at some kind of useless sit-com or TV-shop woman selling a vacuum cleaner, while not noticing that grandma died in her chair an hour ago. In reality, most people dine in front of the TV from time to time, but they DO NOT tell anyone, due to the shame and social exclusion following such a reputation.

Spain: The TV is on most of the time, also whilst consuming one of the many meals during a day in the life of the average Spaniard. Another family member might be watching a youtube video and a third one checking out a song on Spotify. No one turns down the volume, and no one stops the five conversations that are going on across the room at the same time. Watching TV while eating in Spain is not anti-social, and does not mean that you don’t enjoy conversing with your family members. Spaniards are world champions on multitasking and seem to think that no activity excludes another.

Sleeping with the window open

Norway: Ah, fresh breeze from the window, all year round. Thick duvets all the way up to the chin, winter temperatures in the room, slippers ready by the chunky carpet on the floor. No headaches, no old air (as we like to put it), cold nose but a really, really warm body. And the comforting sound of rain or wind slowly lulling you to sleep.

Spain: For PUTA’s sake do not open the window, are you LOCO? Turn on the heat, make sure the vents are closed, the fan is off and that #noairwhatsoever is let in. If there is a tiny breeze from like, your cat sighing, we will get sick. We will get a cold, sniffy noses, sore throats and probably swine flu, aids and rabies. And we will not be subtle about it. We will complain and we will let you know every five seconds that YOU ARE TO BLAME.

Bringing kids into bars

Norway: The first sign of real child abuse. Call teachers, neighbors, the police, social services and the pope. This child is being molested by every single person inside the family, and it is plausible to conclude with both violence and general psychological torture, all to be blamed on the occasional beer within the presence of ~a child~. All future offsprings will be automatically aborted by the prime minister herself.

Spain: A bar is a social place, where there may or may not be a drunk fellow. Anyhow, your kids will not really notice, nor be frightened by them, considering that present parents won’t treat mentioned drunk people as something shameful nor dangerous. Most people however will have a couple of cañas and some tapas, while having their kids run around just like in the average Starbucks. Parents don’t drink enough to get affected by it, and kids are usually having fun with other kids, while their folks earn a well-deserved break from everyday life. All are happy.

Doing stuff

Norway: Let whoever doing something, do it in peace and quiet. Leave the person undisturbed until the task is finished, unless there is something really obvious you can do to help. When in doubt, just ask, but prepare to have your offer to help rejected.

Spain: Your husband, your mother-in-law, her father’s third cousin’s long lost nephew and his dog are coming with you to do whichever task you have before you. They will tell you how to do it, maybe try to do it for you, or discuss the best way to execute the task. Sometimes while staring at you and standing way too close for you to do what you need to do properly.

The concept of NOW

Norway: Being ready to leave NOW means that you’re standing fully dressed by the door with the keys in your hand. NOW describes the moment of something happening instantly, mostly within seconds, with the exception of the real-time (HAHA) signs belonging to the public transport system. Those were probably made by Spanish workers and auctioned away with Norway as the only bidder.

Spain: NOW is relative. NOW can mean right away or within some hours. You can be waking up from your siesta, naked in bed, looking like an earthquake, and telling your hubby you are ready to go NOW, meaning that you will be ready an hour later. Ironically the public transport system is actually reliable, but after the one-minute limit has passed, the real-time sign goes to zero minutes. Otherwise, no one would know when the transport is actually coming, obviously.

Aesthetics

Norway: A scratch on your car must be fixed immediately. Any respectable citizen will renew the kitchen every tenth year or so. Clothes with tiny holes or stains are simply unusable (Trust me, I worked in retail for eight years).

Spain: In Madrid, people actually calculate distances by slightly bumping into the cars in front and behind when parallel parking. Cars get scratches, and nobody cares as long as they still run. Regarding appearances, it is easy to assume that the good people of Spain can be compared with their stylish fellow southern Europeans in France and Italy, but nothing could be further from the truth. Most Spaniards are naturally attractive and charming, but they are also totally chill and casual, and everything but snobbish.

Rules

Norway: Rules are made to be followed! Five hundred grams overweight when you check-in your luggage at the airport means that you pay, – not for four hundred and ninety-nine, not for five hundred and one, – but for five. hundred. grams. Norwegians like equality, and therefore rarely make exceptions from the rules. They also rarely question the rules, if said rules are made by higher forces (meaning the government, not Jesus C.™)

Spain: If you enter a bar that says restrooms are only for paying customers, you might very likely still get to use it if you ask nicely. Also, getting minor services on let’s say, your car, doesn’t necessarily have to cost you a single Eurocent. If the car repairman doesn’t feel like he has really made an effort to solve your problem, he might just say hasta luego baby and leave, while you, having the role of the confused foreigner, are left with your credit card ready, not knowing whether to feel relieved or uncomfortable. No wonder the country has had some economical issues when they insist on working for free. Spaniards are the mere opposite of square, and their relaxed attitude has them bending the rules all the time, especially if the rules imply more work. Which is also why the airport employees won’t even charge you for five kilos overweight.

How the day works

Norway: It is almost socially frowned upon to have a job that does not take place between the hours of eight and four. At five people have dinner, and most of these workers go to bed before eleven, after having put their kids to bed at eight.

Spain: People generally work later, not to mention have dinner no earlier than ten. Before that, they have what they call lunch, which is basically the first dinner of the day. The lucky and/or traditional ones also sleep the famous siesta after dinner number one, and people (including children) go to bed way after the majority of Norwegians are already asleep. It’s like the whole day has been moved three hours ahead, like the primal Spaniards overslept and their descendants never managed to catch up.

Greeting

Norwegian: No one is introducing me. Maybe I just say hola. If I’m in a good mood I’ll wave from afar.
Spaniard: No one is introducing me. Better take matters into my own hands.
Norwegian: Oh-oh, Spanish stranger approaching. What does he/she want?
Spaniard: Why is this person reversing like a car?
Norwegian: Fine, I’ll do a handshake.
Spaniard: Handshake? What are we, politicians? (Damn politicians de mierda) Come here, amigo!
Norwegian: Why is his/her face approaching mine? What are you – ? What? No. No! NOOOOO
Spaniard: That was a good kiss! Now let’s do the other side.
Norwegian: Now what? I thought that was it!
Spaniard: Good thing I didn’t let go of that hand. Better pull. Ngh –
Norwegian: You gotta be kidding me!
Spaniard: There! My work is done.
Norwegian: This trauma will forever haunt my soul.

(Play this inner dialogue in very fast motion to know exactly what happens when a Norwegian and a Spaniard meet for the first time)

Conclusion

Norway Pros:
• Being on time, and actually knowing when people arrive.
• Being left alone when you need to.
• Getting to sleep without sweating through your sheets.
• Routines and rules.

Norway Cons:
• Hysterical and slightly judgemental attitude towards people doing things differently.
• Being left along when you actually do need help.
• Living in a society that basically discriminates everyone who is not an early bird.

Spain Pros:
• Being a part of a very inclusive society, without even trying.
• Not stressing about anything, – no pasa nada! (nothing will happen!) is a very comfortable life motto.
• Having the opportunity to live life as a night owl.
• A life dominated by variation and adaptiveness.

Spain Cons:
• No one is ever on time. On the bright side, that means you don’t have to either.
• Not being given much space when you need it.
• Having your car scratched more frequently.

I guess the pros and cons mostly depend on how one is wired, but I tried to be as objective as possible. That said, I know where I belong.

Some months back I made a friend. I was out on one of my well-known karaoke sprees, harassing the good people of Oslo with my singing when I started talking to a girl. She was sitting outside having a cigarette with a bit of a creep next to her, so I sat down beside her pretending to be her friend so the guy would leave. It worked.

It was way past one, and (I’m not gonna lie to you) our current states were exactly what they sound like. Anyway, we started talking and we got along great. We laughed our butts off and exchanged numbers to meet again.

So we did. It was autumn and still quite warm, and we had some ciders in the royal park. Still having a really great time, and as I like to meet new people, especially those with stories different from my own, I was rather intrigued by this person. I was looking forward to introducing her to my other friends, and I thought I was seeing the beginning of a new and long-lasting friendship.

It soon became obvious to me that she was a troubled person. I don’t feel like I should give any details, but you name it, she had lived it, or claimed to have. I did not let myself be frightened away though; I found her openness brave and admirable and thought (and still think!) people with such experiences should follow her example.

We met again, this time with some other friends of mine. She had forgotten her card at home and I bought her some drinks. She assured me she would transfer me the money the next morning, but I told her not to be bothered, – I was in a good mood and I honestly didn’t mind treating her to a few glasses. We had a great time as always until she ran out of cigarettes. She asked cautiously if I would mind coming with her to the nearby kiosk to get a new package. No problem, of course, but being the lazy asshole I am, I gave her my card. She resisted at first and told me she couldn’t do that, but I have never really guarded my valuables around my friends, so I insisted. Take the card, here’s the code, get your smokes and come back, no biggie.

It was already quite late and our states were starting to look just like I was previously describing (someone call the AA?), but as usual I’m quite clear-minded although my body might seem even clumsier than normally. I can still clearly reflect on what I’m doing, and had I been completely sober I would have acted no differently.

Time passes. Half an hour, one hour. One and a half. I have already phoned her several times, mostly because I’m worried something has happened to her. I go out and look for her. Nothing.

The bar closes, we give up and find a taxi. My husband suggests that I check my bank account. I hesitate but give in just to be sure. It turns out to be the biggest punch in the face I’ve ever got. Six thousand NOK (about six hundred euros) are gone, taken out in an ATM. Not at once, but two thousand three times. My jaw drops to the floor. My heart breaks. I’m not even angry, just devastated.

A few days go by, I talk to her ex-boyfriend and he tells me it’s not the first time. I even call her father, he says he has given up on her years ago. At last, I manage to get hold of her and she apologizes and says she will give it back. More days pass by, weeks even. I text her again but there is no reply. She doesn’t pick up the phone.

I tell her she can pay me back month by month. I don’t even want to punish her, I just want my money back, being a student with a student’s economy. My teaching job pays one third of what I need and I’m down almost a whole salary because of the theft. I wait. My sadness turns to embarrassment and shame. That finally turns to anger.

I start seeing a version of myself that I don’t like, so I decide to forget about it for a while. It helps, and when I wake myself up again, it’s like I’m a wiser person. I send her one last message to tell her I will report her to the police the next day, and that’s exactly what I do. A few weeks later I receive a letter; because of lack of resources, there is nothing they can do, even though I have her full name and address. She has a record, but it doesn’t make any difference.

So I decide to let it go. Money is just a number. I sum up my life and find that in the long run, it means nothing. I will survive without that six thousand, I’m lucky enough to own a place to live, to have healthy and warm relationships with my family, husband and many friends. I’m happy and I have a pretty great life. I cannot get it back, so I’m moving on.

Time to contemplate whether I should take this as a lesson. I already knew about my naïvety, but it actually hasn’t hurt me until now. I have always trusted my friends and I tend to leave my stuff unattended even in public places. No one has ever stolen anything from me, even abroad, in significantly less safe countries than my own.

My only lesson will be (duh) not to give my card and code to people I have only known for a few months. I hereby promise myself I will never do that again. But I refuse to become a cynical and suspicious minded person, looking for the worst in people. I even refuse to be embarrassed about what happened; it happened because I am trusting. Because I believe that people are good and wish me well. And having lived twenty-nine years before being burnt only shows that statistics are on my side.

It is she who should be embarrassed and sad, for herself and her choices. I was stolen from, but I know that it was done by a ruined human being, and I’m not even angry anymore. Maybe a part of me wanted to save her, but that’s not the worst instinct one can have when seeing someone in trouble. I can even be proud of that, the result being as it may.

I will be fifty-eight next time someone manipulates me. I can live with that.