When you move to another country there is a lot to learn; rules, regulations and school systems just being a few. This column was actually a college assignment when I lived in Katy, Texas. It’s about my Norwegian friends trying to adjust, written with humor and a little twist. No offence to my American readers!
When I was a child, we watched movies with tough cowboys and thugs. They fought over cattle, money and oil resources. Really rough guys! Lawless Texas, the home of the hard-hitting men! “Totally Texas”, we said and thought we were harsh. Today, the “Wild West” is not like that. Not at all!
It’s been about 40 years since then, and suddenly I find myself living exactly here, in the middle of the dry, brown plains of Texas. There are very few tough guys to spot, but many angry letters to be found in your mail box.
Keeping the postmen busy
If we try to plant in the front yard, we get letters. According to the regulations we’re only allowed to have two trees – one on each side of the walkway up to the front door. We’re allowed to plant some bushes and flowers close to the house wall, but the rest of the front yard must be grass. Only grass. Monica, who lives across the street, has ended up in court because she would rather have flowers than lawn. Now she’s in danger of losing her house.
My friend Kate has received eight angry letters because she has the wrong type of flower bush in front of her trash can. Everything is regulated by laws. We get letters for trampolines, sunbathing in front of the house or the wrong type of curtains in the windows. They apparently think that the Norwegians are just as barbaric now as in the Viking Age!
The people in the Homeowners Association take their task seriously and patrol the streets every week. If they see something that’s slightly “inappropriate”, you’ll get a letter. They take pictures of the violation too. We got four angry letters because we had a small boat on a trailer in the driveway. It was backed all the way up to the garage door behind our house, so you could not spot it from the street without driving the wrong way in the roundabout at the end of our street. Now our boat is docked in far friendlier waters, in Florida.
And on the topic of boats; Anna from Oslo received letters because their boat was slightly tilted at the dock, bobbing in the small currents of the artificially colored, man made blue lake.
My husband’s colleague Erik is not very fond of gardening, but thought he did a pretty good job with his lawn. Apparently he did not. He got a letter saying that the grass was two inches too long according to the regulations. He scratched his head and thought. Aha! There must be a neighbor who complained to the Homeowners Association. The following Sunday, when his next door neighbor worshiped together with his private congregation in the living room, Erik fired up the lawnmower and cut the grass. No more letters…!
Golfers out to get you
U.S. Mail obviously does good business on Norwegians living here, because Janne has also received a letter. She lives @ hole # 18 on Willow Fork Golf Course. She got a two-page complaint, because some golfers had seen the corner piece of a towel on a drying rack behind her house. Christina, who lives at Falcon Point Golf Course, has not received any letters. However, the whole family gets angry gazes from golfers parking their carts outside their garden gate. They do not dare to have any more Sunday breakfasts on their deck. They have also bought water guns to “shoot” their two beagles into silence if they bark, so the golfers will not jump and miss the hole. Poor Molly and Fido.
You also get letters if you forget to notify the school if your child is sick one day. The letter will not be sent from the school, but the police. Norwegians can just forget about going home for confirmations or funerals outside the school holidays. There’s no sense in trying to apply for a leave either, because if you do, you will not get a letter, you will be taken to court! The Norwegian family who tried was sentenced to fines and community service. In addition, their daughter lost the right to go to college in the U.S. They have now moved back home!
So why are they so afraid in The home of the free, the land of the brave, as it’s so beautifully written in their National Anthem? My guess is the facade! If it looks nice, nothing else matters. It feels like being in the movie The Truman Show with Jim Carrey. You live in a bubble where everything looks nice, while you’re being watched and guarded. I don’t even dare to think what might be found behind all the manicured lawns and nicely arranged curtains.
After the coldest winter in decades, probably a gust from the Bush era, I’m leaning lazily back in my illegally placed chair on the front porch dreaming about Norway, without one single thought about the next letter!
By Heidi Nesttun-Sunde, July 2013