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Highlights From a Summer in Eurabia

Adventurers that we are, we decided this year that during fellesferie — the three weeks in July during which, by Norwegian government decree, virtually everybody in the country goes on vacation at the same time – we would travel not to Gran Canaria or the Caribbean or the Greek islands but, instead, to the next sizable town over from ours, where we spent one night at a budget hostel.

So it was that last weekend we could be found sitting outside at a bar in Kongsberg, famous (at least in Norway) for its silver mines and for being the location of the Norwegian mint, and, more recently, as the city that produces such impressive cutting-edge defense technology as the new Joint Strike Missile.

One thing we noticed while wandering around Kongsberg was that there seemed to be a lot fewer women in hijab (or worse) than in our own somewhat smaller burg twenty miles away. I wondered if the government, which owns 50.001 percent of the Kongsberg defense conglomerate, had deliberately chosen not to settle too many Muslims in the city because of its sensitivity as a hub of classified military intelligence. Just a guess.

In the evening – it was a Friday – we went to a bar and sat outside sipping our beers at a sidewalk table. We had only been there for a matter of moments when the woman at the next table, who was alone, began speaking to us. This is common in Norway. Most Norwegians won't meet your eyes when you walk past them on the street, and if you smile at them they'll assume you're crazy or dangerous or both; but after they've had a beer or two on a weekend evening, they'll think nothing of sitting down at your table with you and telling you their life stories.

This woman, who must've been around fifty or so, was eager to do precisely that. Until a couple of years ago, she told us, she'd worked as an instructor in a government school, teaching Norwegian to adult immigrants, mostly from the Muslim world. She complimented me on my Norwegian but said that most Americans are terrible at learning Norwegian – Afghans and Iraqis, she insisted, put them in the shade.

I decided not to argue with her. True, most Americans, however long they've been in Norway, still don't get the pronunciation right, especially the “r” sound. But back in the Dark Ages, when I took my own Norwegian course in Oslo, in a class made up exclusively of people from Western countries, our teacher told us that we were the class that every faculty member in the school coveted, because we were, relatively speaking, a breeze to teach: the other several dozen classrooms in the building were packed with students from Africa and south Asia, who would take a lot longer time to learn Norwegian than we would.