Now, most of us can at least get by in Europe with the shattered remnants of our school languages, fortified as they often are with occasional holidays in that region. The Scandinavian collection of languages is an entirely different matter. Since we’ve spent a good deal of the past month in Denmark, Norway and Sweden you might think that we’ve managed to pick up at least a few words, and in my case you’d be right on the money. I can deploy the local equivalents of ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘thank you’ with some aplomb, I like to think. That’s about as far as it goes though.
Kate, on the other hand, has been applying herself assiduously to an interactive, web-based language tutor with the aim of out-doing me in Norwegian. You won’t be surprised to hear that she has accomplished this feat magnificently. However… you’ll probably agree that opening a conversation with a sales assistant in a supermarket with the immortal phrase, “I have an unusual dog” might in itself be seen as unusual. Be that as it may, this is one of the sentences that the language tutor programme has seen fit to equip her with and so that is what she deploys, to sometimes startling effect. A bit of gesture-based exchange then follows, money or a credit card is wielded and we finally leave with whatever we had gone to the shop to buy securely stuffed into a day sack. I was curious to find out what other interesting Norwegian phrases the internet had inflicted on my wife. Expecting more outrageous weirdness, I asked her that very question, and I wasn’t disappointed by her response. “The ant is drinking milk” she proudly announced, in what to me sounded like fluent Nog, albeit with a touch of a Nordland accent – hardly surprising since that was where we had been travelling for the past few days. She went on, sounding ever more like those coded radio announcements that the BBC used to pass messages to the French Resistance in WW2, “The men have cabins”. All very well for the men, I thought, but what about the women? Presumably they just have to shuffle around outside in the snow until their men emerge, warm and full of bonhomie from their cabins to return to the family home. Hmmm, that sounded altogether too much like the Army life we had relatively recently left. I decided to move on without comment, merely pausing to congratulate her on her mastery of some of the more arcane corners of our host nation’s tongue. (And after all that, of course, every single Scandinavian person we’ve met has been able to speak at least some English, rendering our efforts null and void. But maybe our efforts to start out in Norwegian have helped to overcome the potential language barrier.)
And since we’re talking about moving on, I’d better update you on where we have more literally moved on to – we’re currently in Lapland. You’ll recall that we had a well-deserved weekend off at the beach. Monday saw us moving via Svolvær (I should say here that I’m intensely pleased with my newfound ability to use appropriately Nordic looking vowels here) to another beach based campsite near Myre. Dull and rainy the afternoon we turned up, the place was a revelation the next morning and it was a real wrench to have to leave it.
The route we decided on from there took us to Narvik, a peculiar place with a slightly distressed feel about it. Then, because the main road appeared to follow a well-trodden path via Trømso (there, I did it again) we opted to go eastwards via Lapland. The region we’d be crossing was described as one of the last remaining wildernesses in the world – how could we resist? And that was how we ended up here:
Until next time, then – and rest assured that meanwhile I shall be scouring the forest floor for any milk-drinking ants, purely so that I can make the appropriate declamation to any passing locals.