Michael Kleiner comes home to Norway
Writer returns with the third generation to be reunited with friends
The Norwegian American
This is the first installment of a series of articles by The Norwegian American Sports and Business Editor Michael Kleiner, chronicling his summer vacation to Norway in the summer of 2019, 22 years after his last visit and half-century since he lived in Oslo for a year with his family. Kleiner chronicles his stay with meticulous detail, offering insight into the Norwegian way of life from a uniquely Norwegian-American perspective. During his time away, much had changed—and much had stayed the same.
Part 1: Back on Norwegian soil
“… [In 2005 or 2006], I was sitting at the table with Matthew and Jack, [then 6 or 7 years old] wearing one of my Norway T-shirts. Matthew said, ‘I like your shirt.’ I said, ‘Remember when I talked about the reindeer sled ride? Norway is the place I had the ride. Someday we’ll go there.’
Jack, not wanting to be left out, said, ‘Me, too!’
‘Yes, you, too. We’ll all go,’ I said.
A promise, like my father before me.”
Last paragraph of Michael’s book Beyond the Cold: An American’s Warm Portrait of Norway
It took my father 21 years to fulfill his promise to take the family he had yet to have to Norway. He had been stationed in Norway with the U.S. Army in 1946, helping to rebuild the communication systems following World War II. In 1948, he briefly attended the University of Oslo but returned to America to get married. Twenty-one years later as a professor of sociology and social psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia, he received a sabbatical, and the family went to Oslo in 1969.
At the time of his death at 92 in 2017, he was still working on books about his work with Norwegian colleagues. So, too, though there is no official Norwegian blood circulating in me, my bonds to this country, people, and culture have continued to grow, especially after returning in 1986 and in subsequent visits.
It took me 22 years since my honeymoon—and 14 years since that dining room table conversation—to bring the third generation, now 19 years old, to this country they’ve heard about their whole lives, when we visited from June 27 to July 9 last year. This was a year to do it—50 years since I had first been there. Things change in 22 years and 50 years—besides everybody getting older—but I would be reuniting with friends of my generation and colleagues of Dad’s who have now become friends, whom I’ve known for 50 years.
How would this go for Matthew and Jack? I shared the itinerary with links to Oslo for them to find places they would want to see. And then there was the Kleiner Norwegian family tree to know whom they would be meeting. Don’t know how much they read. Many people were out of town.
“I was excited. Seeing a new country is always an exciting idea for me,” said Jack following the trip.
“I didn’t know what to expect since I had never seen it for myself,” said Matthew.
Friday, June 28, 2019: Welcome home to Norway
The first major change was that we were landing at Gardermoen, which in a way was symbolic. It used to be the military airport, and Dad was stationed there. When I returned to Norway for the first time in 1986, we flew into Gardermoen on a -10° F January morning. We disembarked outside, and our nostrils immediately froze. We arrived too early for transportation to the city, and SAS paid for a taxi. On other trips, we arrived at the then main airport, Fornebu, which was only about 15 minutes from town.
Gardemoen 2019 was large, with bright lights, full of stores and places to eat. Matthew was starving, and we stopped at the first kiosk where he got a sandwich in a baguette. Not a smørbrød (open-faced sandwich) in sight. Nor a Philadelphia hoagie.
We walked a while to get to baggage claim. At the belt, there was a screen with rotating ads. Some were in English, but I was pleased I was able to understand the Norwegian ones. Most other directional signs were in NorEnglish, Norwegian and English.
After retrieving our luggage, we followed the signs out, passed an “Anything to Declare” window, since we didn’t have anything to declare. No customs, so we didn’t get our passport stamped. Out into the swath of waiting people, many holding signs. I’m not sure how we found Stian—I wouldn’t have recognized him—but he found us. His father, Eivind, had gone to a dentist appointment. Stian soon realized that had been a good idea. We managed to get three of our suitcases in the cargo of the Volkswagen sedan. Jack sat in the front seat with his, and Lisa, Matthew, and I held our carry-ons in the back.
“It’s a good thing my father isn’t here, I don’t know how we all would have gotten in,” said Stian. A Dalgard was picking us up. In the past, Eivind or his father would pick me up.
On the way, we learned Stian had begun studying computer engineering at the major technology university in Norway, NTNU (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) in Trondheim. He and Matthew, who is studying computer science at Drexel University, had a little something in common.
When Lisa and I were here for our honeymoon, Stian was 14 months old, and his sister, Andrea, was 4 with pretty blond hair, who presented us with a wedding gift. When they visited us in 2012, Andrea was 19 and Stian, 16. Andrea had dyed her hair black. Stian was now 23, Andrea, 26. Lisa asked if Andrea’s hair was still dark. Stian said it wasn’t. She had decided to study medicine but was trying to catch up with her studies for the exam.
After around 30 minutes, we arrived at a housing development where Eivind and Angela lived in the mountains around Oslo. Stian parked in the underground garage, hooked a charger to the front of the electric car. Norway has the highest number of electric cars per capita in the world, though they’ve run into a shortage of electric charging stations. We carried the luggage upstairs.
When Angela got home, she would tell us the accommodation plans. Eivind had yet to return from the tannlege. Stian showed us where we could take naps. I opted for the living room couch.
Eivind and his younger brother Olav’s father, Odd Steffen, was a close colleague of my father. We met them in 1969-70, and then the Dalgard family lived in Philadelphia for a year in 1972-73. On most trips back, I stayed with Odd Steffen and Ragnhild, because they had the room. Odd died in 2011, Dad in 2017, and our mothers a couple of months apart in 2018. It would be strange not seeing Odd and Ragnhild, but the sons inherited the hosting as we would stay with Olav the tail end of the trip. The four parents would be thrilled we were continuing the friendship.
Eivind got home. We had the greetings. Eivind said they wanted to take us to a pizza restaurant overlooking the city. We went to the restaurant at Grefsenkollen to make a reservation.
Back home, Angela had arrived. Andrea arrived and gave us hugs. We had to make two runs to get all of us to Grefsenkollen. Indeed, the views were beautiful, coming close to Frognerseteren. We had a table underneath covering in shade, but with a view. Eivind and I got a start on the menu, which did not have English, so I worked on translating it with Eivind. There were eight pizzas, and Eivind initially wanted to get them all, so we could all taste. Matthew went for margarita pizza; Jack for summer salad with red onion, dried tomato, marinated squash, arugula, radish, and feta cheese; Eivind got ham and mozzarella; Angela, a stronger ham, cherry tomatoes, parmesan, and arugula; Stian, I believe, ordered the strong elk salami, mozzarella, and jalapeños; and Andrea, reindeer and lingonberries in a white sauce. I think Lisa and I went with sharing. The reindeer was chopped up finely. It was quite tasty. Jack had decided to try different food, and liked the reindeer pizza, too.
“The reindeer pizza was very good,” said Jack. “I was surprised at how much I liked it. I didn’t know what it would taste like. When I tasted it, it tasted kind of like beef but better. I think the texture was very similar.”
I was back in Norway. Conversation, laughter abounded. They asked Matthew and Jack about their studies and interests.
Why not have pizza in Norway with the Dalgards? When we lived in Norway in 1969-70, there was no pizza. My brother—who had also died in the interim—and I introduced Eivind and Olav to pizza when they lived in Philadelphia. Now, pizza is all over Norway. We took leftovers back. It was around 8:30 p.m. when we left, but you wouldn’t know it. Bright and sunny, it felt more like 5:30 or earlier.
Fifty years ago, after our first full day in Oslo—which included us children going to school less than 24 hours after arriving—we went in search of a place to eat. We learned middag was between 4 and 5 p.m., and even restaurants closed early. We eventually found a cafeteria and then walked around a quiet city. Restaurants don’t close that early now or on my previous return trips.
Back at the house, Eivind and I watched the U.S.-France quarterfinal game in the Women’s Soccer World Cup.
To be continued:
This article originally appeared in the January 24, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.