American Independence Day 2016

Note the breadline of guests waiting to enter the U.S. Embassy's July 4th picnic. After check-in and the usual security protocol, guests received pins sporting American and Norwegian flags (see our lapels up top.)
Note the breadline of guests waiting to enter the U.S. Embassy’s July 4th picnic. After check-in and the usual security protocol, guests received pins sporting American and Norwegian flags (see our lapels up top.)

July 4, 2016.  As usual, the U.S. Embassy held its annual Independence Day picnic a few weeks early, on June 22 (presumably because the entire population of Norway heads to their summer cabins for the month of July).  Unusually, this year proved to be a total crush.  The line to get into the party stretched the entire length of the block.  You’d have thought everyone was waiting to meet Obama himself.  But no, just the new American Ambassador, who’d taken office a few months ago.

As part of any ambassadorial inauguration, the candidate must present his credentials to the head of state. Here, King Harald V formally accepts the accreditation of Samuel Heins as U.S. Ambassador to Norway. Photo by Scanpix.
As part of any ambassadorial inauguration, the candidate must present his credentials to the head of state. Here, King Harald V formally accepts the accreditation of Samuel Heins as U.S. Ambassador to Norway. By the way, as a boy, King Harald (then heir apparent) and his mom and sisters lived in the White House with FDR and Eleanor, who sheltered them for five years during WWII.  Photo by Scanpix.

Samuel D. Heins hails from Minnesota, the state hosting the largest number of Norwegian-Americans.  (Fun fact:  almost five million U.S. citizens claim to have Norwegian ancestry — that’s roughly equivalent to Norway’s total headcount.)  The Senate confirmed Heins’s appointment last February, and King Harald accepted his credentials in a formal ceremony this past March.  Everyone heaved a sigh of relief.

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Among other gaffs, George Tsunis mistakenly called Norway’s prime minister a “president,” apparently under the impression that the country is a republic, not a constitutional monarchy. Oops.

Why is Heins’s confirmation such a big deal?  Because the post of American Ambassador to Norway has been vacant for more than two years, after the last appointee (George Tsunis) embarrassed himself and the U.S. during the Senate hearings by publicly demonstrating his woeful ignorance of the country he was about to serve.  Insulting one of our staunchest European allies isn’t smart — especially when we share key security, environmental, and economic interests and responsibilities (check ’em out here).  

Ambassador Heins and his wife attempt to introduce themselves in Norwegian during a cute video posted on the embassy website. Kudos to them for at least trying the language -- those vowel sounds aren't easy!  (Click on the pic to view the video.)
Ambassador Heins and his wife attempt to introduce themselves in Norwegian during a cute video posted on the embassy website. Kudos to them for at least trying — those vowel sounds aren’t easy!  (Click on the pic to view the video.)

Fortunately Heins — an attorney and human rights activist — seems to be considerably more qualified and knowledgeable than the previous candidate.  Too bad he’ll be in office for only a few months.  (When a new U.S. president is elected, he or she generally replaces all current ambassadors with his or her own appointees.)  But in the meantime, the Norwegian and American-expat communities in Oslo have rolled out the welcome mat for the new Ambassador and his wife, Stacey Mills.

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In her speech, the Ambassador’s wife tearfully thanked the Norwegian people for their outpouring of support after the Orlando nightclub massacre, which had occurred ten days prior to the picnic.

The couple’s first Independence Day picnic, an event that’s always hosted at the official Ambassadorial Residence, started with the usual:  a chance to climb into an iconic American auto; a video highlighting true Americana landscapes; and a menu of hot dogs, hamburgers, and McDonald’s fries, of course.  Then came the two countries’ national anthems, sung by a bunad-clad Norwegian group and the Traces Gospel Choir.  The requisite speech-making followed and included rousing “sure-glad-to-be-here” messages from both Ambassador Heins and his wife.  Check out the video here, and click on the gallery below for more visuals.  By the way, if you want full details on the event itself, the Ambassador’s Residence, and our work on the new American Embassy, take a look at last year’s post:  American Independence Day 2015.

Then came the moment everyone had been waiting for (well, at least I’d been waiting for it) — the introduction of the special guest speaker, Garrison Keillor.  My personal feeling is that he was a brilliant choice, and not just because I’m a big fan of The Prairie Home Companion on NPR.  If you’ve heard the show, you know it’s broadcast from St. Paul, Minnesota, and often pokes gentle fun at the state’s small town neighbors, specifically bachelor Norwegian and Swedish farmers.  But besides this connection, Ambassador Heins and Garrison Keillor went to the University of Minnesota together and were both editors of its undergraduate literary magazine.  So the pairing of the two at the party totally makes sense.

Keillor's Mark Twain quote, "God created war so the Americans would learn geography" got a big laugh, as our warmongering, lack of global awareness, and inability to identify other countries on a map is a huge joke across Europe.
Keillor’s Mark Twain quote, “God created war so the Americans would learn geography” got a big laugh, as U.S. warmongering, most American’s lack of global awareness, and our inability to identify other countries on a map is a huge joke across Europe.

Anyway, Keillor came to the podium, made a few pithy comments, and then took the mic and began to wander through the crowd.  That’s when the trouble began.  Apparently the rear speakers cut off and on repeatedly, so that folks in the back got a garbled version of his speech.  Being at the front of the crowd,  I could hear him easily and thought he was awesome, with his typical folksy stories and quotations from other famous Americans (check out his Mark Twain humor here.)  And as usual, he randomly broke into song, leading the crowd in several American classics, like “This Land was Made for You and Me” and “God Bless America.” (Check out the sing-along here.)

But of course, to someone who isn’t familiar with Keillor’s schtick, hasn’t listened to the show, and could only intermittently hear what he was saying, the poor man’s musings sounded more like ramblings.  Most of the Norwegians — as well as those of our staff who were either “young ‘uns fresh off the binky,” or too Republican to listen to NPR (National Pinko Radio, as they call it) — were completely mystified.  It seems they thought he was someone’s addled grandpa, who accidentally got hold of the mic.

Looks like a few of the girls from our team might've spent a bit too much time at the picnic's bar. 😉
Looks like a few of the girls from our team might’ve spent a bit too much time at the picnic’s bar. 😉

Oh well.  At least everyone got a hot lunch, a chance to rub elbows with the new ambassador, and a bright sunny day free of torrential downpours like those that have plagued the picnic in previous years.  Afterwards, we extended the event by inviting our team back to our apartment for wine, cheese, and charcuterie.  The opportunity to take a day off and simply celebrate is becoming more and more rare as our project grinds to its inevitable close.  I doubt we’ll experience another Independence Day picnic in Norway, but you never know….

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The requisite condiments for your dog include sweet brown mustard and crispy onion bits, kinda like crumbled Funyuns. Please excuse the unusually pornographic shot — totally unintentional, but rather appropriate when paired with Vigeland’s Park, our picnic site. (See photo below.)

And speaking of picnics, on the actual day of July 4th itself, we decided to have our own private celebration after work.  So on the way home, Matthew and I stopped by the grocery store to pick up the essentials:  pølse (hotdogs) lompe (a thin potato flatbread similar to a tortilla in appearance), beer, potato salad, and coleslaw.  These tasty tidbits, most of which are familiar American fare, are standard Norwegian picnic foods.  And believe it or not, Norway vies with Germany as Europe’s largest consumer of sausages — and ranks sixth worldwide in colon cancer cases to prove it.

Matthew tends the dogs roasting on the engang grill. Its only drawback is that the wax paper used to help fuel the flames imparts an odd taste to the food.
Matthew tends the dogs roasting on the engang grill. Its only drawback is that the wax paper used to help fuel the flames imparts an odd taste to the food. But hey, why worry about one more carcinogenic element in a meal full of possibilities?

But the critical element for any true Norwegian picnic is an engang (one-time) grill to roast up those juicy little carcinogenic links.   It consists of a grate top and a small metal tray that comes pre-filled with charcoal covered by a piece of wax paper that acts like lighter fluid.  Toss in a match, and presto, you’ve got all you need for cooking up your basic summertime fare.  The best part is that when you’re done, there’s no nasty grill clean up; just pitch the whole thing into park-side recycling containers designed especially for disposing of engangs.  Ingenious.

Matthew has nicknamed the Vigeland sculpture garden "Penis Park," for many obvious reasons, including the giant phallic symbol at its center.
Matthew has nicknamed the Vigeland sculpture garden “Penis Park,” for many obvious reasons, including the giant phallic symbol at its center.

Shopping done, Matthew and I packed up our loot and headed for Vigeland’s Sculpture Park, our neighborhood’s “big back yard.”  Nothing says Happy Independence Day quite like spreading out your picnic blanket on a lovely green lawn and getting a good, buttocks-level gander at 212 statues featuring naked people enjoying the outdoors in their altogether.   (If you want more details on the park, check out one of my earliest posts, “My Frogner Neighborhood.”)  

Surprisingly, we even founds space for our long shadows in the often crowded park. The low-hanging sun doesn't disappear until around 11:00 p.m. this time of year.
Surprisingly, we even founds space for our long shadows in the often crowded park. The low-hanging sun doesn’t disappear until around 11:00 p.m. this time of year.

We found an unclaimed spot, which in and of itself is an achievement.  Throughout the summer (and often in the winter) the park is paved with picnicking Norwegians, who love to eat outdoors, but like to save money whenever possible.  This means that rather than paying for a pricey al fresco restaurant, they’ll plop themselves down on every available piece of land and haul out the hot dogs.

We watched as a group of Norwegian guys tried to teach their Indian buddies how to kick a football. Believe it or not, American football is quite popular in Norway (remember Knute Rockne, the famous Norwegian immigrant who coached for Notre Dame?) There's even a Norwegian American Football Federation (NAFF).
We watched as a group of Norwegian guys tried to teach their Indian buddies how to kick a football. Surprisingly, American football is quite popular in Norway. (Remember Knute Rockne, the famous Norwegian immigrant who coached for Notre Dame?) There’s even a Norwegian American Football Federation (NAFF).

The Norwegian park scene looks basically the same as an American one.  You’ll see the usual:  runners weaving suicidally through pedestrian-clogged pathways; kids squabbling during frisbee and soccer matches; folks blasting tunes from their boomboxes (yes, these old-school portables are back in vogue again); people parading their pedigreed pooches; and parents pushing strollers large enough to compete with Hummers.  But on this day, we spied something extra special:  a capoeira class.

Capoeira is often considered an immersion experience, or as Matthew dubs it, a "How to be Brazilian" class. Brazil is one of the most popular travel destinations for Norwegians, and many folks own second homes there.
Capoeira is often considered an immersion experience, or as Matthew dubs it, a “How to be Brazilian” class. Brazil is one of the most popular travel destinations for Norwegians, and many folks own second homes there.

If you haven’t heard of it, capoeira is a Brazilian martial art.  But in this particular instance, it seemed to involve a lot of odd, primate-ish behavior, such as awkwardly collapsed cartwheels and capering about on all fours like an orangutan pursuing lunch.  White Kung Fu outfits legitimized the efforts of these obvious newbies, along with lots of traditional yelling.  Even better, the entire demonstration began and ended with a jam session on traditional Amazonian instruments.  Too bad Caipirinha cocktails weren’t included in the cultural offerings; I might have joined the group.

A little brie, crackers, and Ringnes beer, and you've got yourself a meal -- and a lure for the OCD Can Lady.
A little brie, crackers, and Ringnes beer, and you’ve got yourself a meal — and a lure for the OCD Can Lady.

Eventually we decided it was time to head home.  Not only had it become quite nippy, but we’d managed to start a small grass fire with our grill.  Plus, we’d gotten tired of defending our beer from the “OCD Can Lady,” who perpetually roams the park and tries to wrest your drink from your hand even as you’re sipping it.  (Yes, I support recycling, but geez, lemme just finish the dregs, why don’t cha?)  And on that note, Skål (Cheers) to you all, and a wish for a warm summer — which I know you’re having back home in Chicago and Kentucky, you lucky bastards!

 

 

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