The night of the Sukkertoppen Hike, we decided to hang out a bit in the hotel lounge overlooking the bay before heading to bed. I ended up having a nice long chat with the front desk attendant, who seemed happy to have someone keep her company for a bit during her graveyard shift. She was originally from Romania, and shared with me her story about her accidental move to Ålesund. While visiting a relative for what was supposed to be a 3 week vacation, she ended up being offered a summer job at the hotel and thought it sounded like a fun thing to do just for a few months. At the end of August, the company offered her a year-long contract. When she saw the salary she would be receiving compared to what she might get back home for the same work, she simply couldn’t refuse it.
Four years later, Ålesund is her home, but she wants to leave. Yes, the money is better than ever (several promotions and raises later), but she misses her friends and family and the laid back lifestyle she had in Romania. People in Norway are perfectly nice, she said, but not terribly warm. In all that time, she hadn’t made a really good friend, and she found that had to shut herself down a bit to avoid feeling disappointed all the time. I certainly didn’t visit long enough to draw any real conclusions, but I got the sense that the culture there wasn’t as accepting or liberal as I had enjoyed so much in Denmark. Of course, it’s beautiful and incredibly wealthy in Norway, but in the end can you be happy someplace without good friends and family nearby, or that unmistakable sense of being home?
Talking to this woman was a highlight of this whole trip for me. She was open, honest and down to earth. I’m so grateful for these moments when someone shares their insights with me, and can only hope she got half as much out of our conversation as I did.