When I was seventeen, I went to Sweden for a year. On the plane ride home, it follows that I was then eighteen years old.
I had been an exchange student with the Rotary Club. When I became an exchange student, they gave me a big box of business cards. They had my name on them and my address in the US. And my picture. It was a nice picture of me. I recall being quite happy with it. Black and white. When my parents moved and didn’t tell me where, I fretted for a while and then found them, via my Grandma Ruth. Then I changed all of my cards to the new, correct address during one super boring afternoon, whilst lounging about in simple wooden furniture and eating Wasa crackers with butter and cheese somewhere in Sweden.
On the plane ride home, when I was eighteen and hadn’t slept for three days and as disoriented as a person could be, there were these two guys on the flight from Newark to San Francisco who were speaking Norwegian. Norwegian and Swedish are mutually intelligible. I kind of figured this might be the last time I would hear any Scandinaviska for a long time, so I chatted them up a bit, and then I gave them one of the five hundred Rotary Club Exchange Student cards I had left, the ones that I had updated while lounging in the ultra modern wooden furniture and eating Wasa crackers with butter and cheese. Somewhere in Sweden. And then I got home to Santa Rosa and forgot all about the two Norwegian guys on the plane from Newark.
Maybe five days later, I was sitting around the house at my dad’s, still feeling a bit disoriented. The doorbell rang. I went to the door, opened it, and there were the two Norwegian guys, standing on my dad’s front porch.
“How did you find me?” I asked them, somewhat confused.
They procured a map of the Bay Area. And my card.
Jesus. Norwegians are very literal, aren’t they? I mean, I think I may have said, “come and check out the wine country,” on the plane.
What could I do? I invited them in.
From that moment on, there would be a family story about, “That time Shanah went to Sweden and brought home those two Norwegian guys,” or worse, “That time Shanah picked up those two Norwegian guys on the plane.” I hope you can see how this is completely unfair. They followed me home, after all.
So, there I was, standing in the bright sunlight of California, two Norwegian guys on the front porch. I walked into the house, followed by two Norwegian computer programmers who were in the Silicon valley learning some new programming language. It was their day off. As mutual computer programmers, they started talking to my dad in a language that the rest of us didn’t understand: computer code. Meanwhile, my sister Lori was calling my sister Kathy to come over quick because Shanah brought home two Norwegian guys she picked up on the airplane from Sweden!
Those poor Normen had no idea what they were in for.
Kathy showed up, and it was determined that Lori, Kathy, and I should give the Normen a tour of Western Sonoma County. The five of us piled into a small rental car and off we went!
It took me a while to realize what was going on here. Lori and Kathy were single and in their twenties, and the Normen were single and in their twenties. I was eighteen. I hadn’t really thought of them as amorous prospects, in general. They were just Norwegians. My sisters, on the other hand, turned up the charm to eleven knots and determined to show the Normen the time of their lives. This is actually a bit difficult, if you are just showing someone Guerneville, but they managed to pull it off quite splendidly. Squished into the back seat of that tiny car, I began to feel a bit used; as if I had been merely bait, while my dear sisters went in for the kill.
As much as my sisters were toying with them, the Normen seemed to also be playing some sort of predetermined yet incomprehensible mating game. They were excited to play upon the mystique of their whole Norwegianness. At one point, there was some issue over operating a new camera to take our picture, and Lori suggested reading the owner’s manual. Norman #1 looked at her very seriously and said,
“Norwegians do not read directions.”
Aha. That explains a lot, thought I.
Okay, not really. I was trying to keep up with this whole charade. I had no idea what was going on here. As I said before, I was just bait.
The Normen had real names, of course, but I can’t remember them now. I think my dad actually kept in touch with one of them for a while. I remember his name was very unpronounceably Norwegian.
I guess they were cute, in some sort of Norwegian computer programmer way. At the end of the day, they went back to Palo Alto or wherever they were staying, and nothing really came of it all. It became the family story, “remember that time Shanah picked up those two Norwegian guys on the plane?”