Beginning to learn a new language

As I’m learning more Norwegian I start to notice some strange things. If I try to remember how to say something in Spanish, for example, it comes up half Norwegian and half Spanish. I complained to a friend of mine that my brain felt like mush while out shopping. “That feeling is your brain trying to make sense of a world in a different language,” he explained to me.

He asked me about what other things I’ve noticed that are different, and I listed off a few. Alcohol sale is much more heavily regulated and taxed, for example. You can buy beer and cider at the local supermarket, but only at certain times of day. Anything stronger is sold at the Vinmonopolet, the government-run liquor store.

Then, I tried to come up with another example, and I forgot the American English word for the smelly liquid stuff you put in your car to make it go. The Norwegian word, stolen from the Germans, is “bensin,” and my friend is a chemist, so I knew he would figure it out if I just said “bensin.” Here, they sell bensin for around 16-19 kroner per liter, which works out to about $8-9 per gallon.

I’ve picked up a surprising amount of Norwegian from Spotify ads, though it’s not very helpful. One ad for starts off with the phrase, “Når du bestille den reisen, tenker du, hva can egentlig gå galt?”, which means “When you order that trip, do you think, what can really go wrong?” Then there’s something about a zombie apocalypse and hotel buffet. All the ads for Spotify Premium end with “Trykk på banneret for å finne ut mer” or something like that. I’m trying to expose my ear to the language more. I can read and write simple messages now, but understanding spoken Norwegian is a completely different skill that must be practiced as well.

The language is starting to creep into my life in unexpected ways. I’m typing this on an American keyboard and find myself pressing the wrong keystrokes for all the punctuation marks now. I had my first dream with a Norwegian word in it: “næringsinnhold”, which means “nutritional information” and is listed on the back of every food product in a black and white box just like in the US. The rest of the dream was me holding up random boxes of crackers and announcing to the entire grocery store that I understood the word “næringsinnhold”.

I’ve even had one of those awkward conversations where I just randomly use the wrong phrase. I was paying for my things at the grocery store and the cashier asked if I wanted a receipt. “Kvittering?” I usually respond with “Ja, takk” so I can look over the receipt and learn the names of things and how much they cost. For some reason, this time I responded with “Vær så god,” which literally translates to “Be so good”, but is usually what someone says to you after handing you something you have paid for, so it’s sort of like “here you are” in the US, though it can also be used as “you’re welcome”. Now that cashier only speaks to me in English.

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