Monday, December 21, 2015

The Aspie Traveler Norway: A Journey's End, Thoughts From 32,000 Feet

It’s coming to an end and I’m reminded of this each time I turn my head and look out the window at see the Atlantic beneath me. I was a bit emotional after my previous two trips, Amsterdam because I traveled alone for the first time and Tokyo because I simply survived and navigated the metro jungle, but as I look out on the horizon I’m fighting back tears because this trip was different; this trip I felt a connection and felt a great sense of normality in Norway.

            Everything I had been told and read about Norwegians had been wrong. I had previously learned that they were unwelcoming and almost aloof but I didn’t experience that at all. The conversations I had with the waitresses covered this topic and they said Norway has had to adapt in the past five years and the citizens are much more welcoming and much more global than of decades passed. While that may be so what brought upon this sense of normality? I don’t use the word “normal” when talking about myself all that often so why was this trip different? Is it simply because I’m better at traveling, or that I can operate under the alias of simply being an American far away from home? I won’t deny that each of those sentences contains a bit of truth but I had two multi-hour long conversations on this trip. One was about Asperger’s but the other had nothing to do with the subject and was open ended. Per my previous beliefs this would be impossible so how did this happen?

            I go back to what I had previously be told about Norwegians as there is still a hint of shyness, but I too am shy. Interactions will happen but not in the same way they do in America. This may go to the fact that there is that bit of alias factor in simply being an American far away from home, but no, I believe there’s more to this and I believe it to be in the language.

            When it comes to the Norwegian language I know nothing. I don’t know a single word and, but I only encountered one Norwegian that didn’t speak English so there was never an impossible communication gap experienced. However, since English isn’t their primary language the words spoken are direct and to the point. There isn’t fluff, or duel meanings, what is spoken is spoken and it’s easy to understand where one stands on the social scoreboard side of things whereas in America passive aggressiveness, sarcasm, non-literal phrases, abstract metaphors (I’m guilty of those) and knowing all those around may or not use any of the previous things listed at any point in time creates a high level of social anxiety. Now, granted, maybe this exists in the English use or Norwegians, but I didn’t encounter that so I can’t register that.

            Secondly, a repeating writing theme of this trip has been, not having things expected of me because of the language barrier. Yes, most Norwegians speak English but when they realize that you don’t speak the language it’s as if their expectations of you drop just a bit. This was much more obvious and sudden in Tokyo as I don’t look like I’m from there but I could pass for Norwegian with being blond and many times there was a look of surprise when I told a person that, “I’m not from here.” Now here’s the thing I ponder; since I knew expectations were lower did that lower my anxiety of social situations and if anxiety is lower does this increase the ability and possibility for growth because I’m not overwhelmed by fear?

            To use a main concept in my presentation and second book I also go to my “cement theory” in that early intervention is important. Now what does this have to do with The Aspie Traveler? Cement Theory and Film Theory (whatever happens first always has to happen) go together and being completely removed from everything I know and also having a lesser amount of social anxiety has, it would seem, increase my ability for growth. It’s hard for one to measure growth, it really is because it’s often in such minute ways that one doesn’t notice, but I don’t think there’s any arguing just from the words I’ve used on this trip such as, “normal” and, “wanting to be a part of the world” that I haven’t used before gives credence to the fact that there is something to this. When I am completely removed from my routine I am capable of growth.

            Another thing I’ve learned is my ability to adapt. Adapting and Asperger’s aren’t two words used commonly but it’s one thing to adapt to changes within one’s environment and it’s another thing to adapt when everything has changed and it’s come to a point that I enjoy this complete change with these trips and that’s one of the sad things when I leave because I will never get to experience the first time again. I can return to Oslo, and I very much intend on doing so, but I won’t have that same sense of awe leaving the plane for the first time, wondering the process to get to the hotel, and the senses of sight and smell that are triggered when entering a new city for the first time. Yes, I can go back, but I’ve got this imprint now in the wet cement and I’ll have routines that developed from my first.

            While on the topic of adapting this is one thing I had to do on this trip. Oslo is an expensive city and if you read blogs that state, “most travelers wait until their 60’s to travel there” there’s a reason for it. I travel on a slim budget and if not for the help I got from a gofundme project I doubt this trip would’ve happened but furthermore once on the ground Oslo is, as I said, expensive. A Coke, with the exchange rates, $4! I’m thankful I brought protein bars so I could minimize my meals. It was vitally important to have a hotel that had a free breakfast because if one ate a lot and had a few protein bars to tide over for lunch and a pizza for dinner the day could be as cheap as $20. If one ate traditional meals and breakfast was charged it’d be easy to hit triple figures in a day. Yes, Oslo is that expensive if one isn’t careful.

            I still can’t believe this trip is over. I’ve never wanted a trip to continue more than this one. If there’s one slight silver lining it’s that the fourth trip of this series is less than a month and at the airport I exchanged my Norwegian Crowns for Euros which will be the currency of where I’m going next. However, that location isn’t in Europe but I am excited for that trip, but still the trip to Norway, technically, has several hours left as I’m still in the air.

            You might ask me what my biggest takeaway from this trip is and it is without a doubt to travel! I implore you to! I know it’s expensive, but if you’re deciding between a new television or travel take the option to go somewhere new. Or even travel within your own country, but travel someplace unknown. I know, for myself, I never knew I had the strength I actually do. Now I’m not saying go to the extreme as I have in traveling with minimal research knowing no one and not going with a group. For most this would be bordering on the lines of reckless, but this is what I needed when I did my Amsterdam trip and I now know I’m capable of these trips. It’s been within these trips that I’ve grown and with each trip I grew more in the last and in this one I felt a connection with the city, the people, and the country. I have the utmost respect for those that live in such harsh conditions as those that live in some parts of Norway do.

            When the plane lands and I’m back home it will finally sink in. Of course, though, home is indeed home. The fears, the anxieties that I experience on a daily basis will be there, but so too are the experiences I had in Norway. I ventured further north than most ever will, I handled a potentially catastrophic event with a scary level of tact and poise. Whereas with Amsterdam I went to prove that I could simply make it I now have a firm conviction I am capable of things I never dreamed. The normality of the tenth night at the restaurant will be with me forever and if you would’ve told me I’d be able to talk to two people in a casual manner that way a year ago I’d have scoffed at you and I would’ve said, “Never!” but it happened.

            There will be two more trips in this series and the next one will see a little bit more independence as the plan is now to rent a car. Will this add to the experience? What will I encounter? Will I once again be able to adjust to a place I know nothing about? I’m going to miss Norway and I hope to go there as a true tourist next time, but I’m excited at what lies ahead. There’s something to this relocation theory and if I continue this growth through these trips there’s no telling where the future will go for me, but wherever it is I’m excited!


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