Stuck in a national time warp anyone?

I have never questioned the need for technical evolution, say from writing search and replace batch files in DOS to modern translation memories, but for those of us who left our home countries many years ago, what about our own cultural and linguistic evolution?

Many moons ago I was travelling in California with a friend. One afternoon at Huntington Beach near Los Angeles we spotted a banner with a Norwegian flag and “Sons of Norway” hanging off a fence around a small house. Being Norwegian, we were intrigued and went over to speak to the people in the garden.

They were delighted to speak Norwegian with us. The only problem was that we could barely understand what they were saying, and they were struggling to understand us. They were speaking in an archaic Norwegian dialect that would have been a treasure trove for historical linguists, a dialect I don’t think has been spoken in Norway for at least a hundred years. They told us proudly and enthusiastically that they had lots of Norwegian food, like “lefse”(soft flatbread) and “sodd” (mutton soup). This is food that went out of fashion as a daily staple with my great grandparents.

We thought this was hilarious and struggled to keep a straight face and fell over laughing as soon as we were out of earshot.

I am no better though. When I first moved to London to be with my British husband, I brought with me all the Norwegian traditions, especially around Christmas. In my family we would have a veritable fat feast of pork rib roast with crackling and all the trimmings like sauerkraut, veal sausages, pork meatballs and lingonberry jam on Christmas Eve, and fish on Christmas Day. The only problem was that the traditional British Christmas Day meal is a massive turkey, which you spend the rest of the holidays struggling to reinvent.

After more years of this double whammy meat feast than I care to admit, a compromise evolved gradually: fish on Christmas Eve and a really fat bird like goose or duck on Christmas Day. With sauerkraut and lingonberry.

Little by little I started to find it odd that visitors from Norway arrived with cans of fish balls because they – sweetly – assumed that I must miss them terribly. I in turn would show off how much I had evolved and adapted by treating them to the British national dish of a hot curry.

Many other people have been in similar situations as they move abroad, marry foreigners and adopt a new language, and as much as we don’t write batch files in DOS anymore, we too must have changed quite a lot. But my children still say “Mamma, you are SO Norwegian sometimes” and now and again when I speak Norwegian with my friends and family in Norway, they point out “that’s a word I haven’t heard for a while”. Then they fall over laughing, and I have no idea why.

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