A young male Norwegian researcher surveyed the small audience for a seminar on the friluftsliv – the Norwegian tradition of being outdoors. Apart from myself and 7 Norwegians there was a Kiwi, German and a Swedish guy. So he effortlessly changed languages and conducted the seminar in English – all the more impressive because he was not actually word perfect.
In the old days – last week in fact – I always asked if people spoke English first instead of launching presumptuously into my own Mother Tongue. Now I have to understand, it's not my language – or the language of several hundred million Brits, Americans and former colonies, English is the world language.
It's use is not a measure of how far arrogant Brits are prepared to insist on remaining within their own comfort zone. For all the Norwegians I've met – at check-outs, tram-stops, Professorial events and cinema queues – it's a measure of their own empowerment. Understanding and speaking English is more than just an educational issue. The language is the key to connection with a wider world.
As a native speaker, I may have an undeserved head-start in knowing English but I no longer have sole possession.
I sat marvelling at this reality – and the presumption this young Norwegian had made – that all his fellow countrymen, and the Swede could understand English easily too. He didn't have check – that spoke volumes. Minutes later in a mixture of German, English and Norwegian – but mostly English – we were earnestly discussing the difference between "knowledge" and "cognisance" (yip that's academic debate for you).
So what's left to me?
The main evidence of my Britishness – or Scottishness – is not speaking English because here almost everyone does. It isn't necessarily my accent of English – because everyone has an accent too.
No, all I'm left with as a badge of my origins is the habit of bumping into everyone on pavements because I walk (like we drive) on the left hand side.
It has come to this! Meanwhile a fuzzy iphone pic of the classic Norwegian cupboard here at work containing 25 individual, open packets of crispbread. No wonder these guys are lean, mean fighting machines. But why don't they club together and buy 1 big packet??