– Where are they all going?
Don, my Singaporean journalist friend was sitting by the restaurant window watching people leaving the city. Briefcases and handbags, shorts, skirts and summer suits. They all raced past the restaurant window with quick, happy steps. It was only three o`clock on a Friday, but the weekend was already well underway. Cheerful Norwegians were heading for their weekend paradise at their cabins outside Tromsø. They had not a second to loose. Don shook his head. In Norway you could apparently leave the office halfway through a Singaporean office day.
The five days in Norway had been full of surprises for my guest from Asia. As part of a journalist group he had seen junior employees aged 20 speak to their CEO’s as if they were old friends (They might very well be). They had experienced how the hotel’s staff overruled regulations and allowed breakfast serving an hour longer just to make the guests happy. My guests had also witnessed our fishing boat captain dive into the Barents Sea for a quick swim while the boat was kept idling. All probably quite unthinkable in more hierarchical Asian cultures.
Earlier on the Friday we had stopped our bus in a small fishing village. At the local cafe I met three old friends of mine. To my guest’s amazement all these three ladies wore tights. As a trained observer Don had previously noted that “every” Norwegian lady seemed to wear stretch tights either before training, during training, after training or even when they were considering to go training… I had not noticed it, but realized that he was right. Norwegian women must have a thing for lycra!
Anyway, the three lycra ladies all happens to work in the marketing department of the city’s local newspaper.
– Why are they not at work, asked Don?
– They are, I answered, finding it a bit strange that Don did not see the papers spread out on the table.
– They have just ended a short hike to the mountain and now they have a strategy meeting, I explained patiently.
– But what will their boss say when they tell that they will not come to the office?
– Have a nice trip, I suggested.
Don, who is used to editors who talks in capital letter and breaths flames at their employees, shook his head again. He lit up as he passed on his follow-up question:
– But afterwards they head back to office, right?
– No. Then it’s time for the weekend break, I said.
– But what will the boss say?
– Have a nice weekend, I replied.
Don was mildly shocked by the Norwegian flexibility. To him the work-life balance seemed to be 50 % work and 50 % play. In Singapore it’s said that the work/life balance is 90% work and 10 % balance.
I tried to explain that Norwegians are considered to be hardworking people. Even if an employee can finish work at 4.30 most of my colleagues and friends works evenings from home. My explanations were like pop music for a retiree’s ears – not received well. In a moment of panic I stammered out that many even have internet at their weekend cabin. It had no effect. That my best quick translation for cabin was “country house” hardly helped create an image of the little red house in the forest where hard-working Norwegians recharge their batteries .
During our Salmon trip to Norway Don and I had talked a lot about salmon, but probably more about living in this strange land of the north. When the journey was over and I was about to leave the group at the airport Don could probably see that I was in a hurry. He smiled as he thanked me for the trip and said: – Now you must hurry off. I guess you are off to the cabin?
Don was spot on. The family car had been packed since the previous evening. The clock was already “a quarter past cabin time” and I had no time to loose. The family was waiting in our car, ready for the week’s highlight – a weekend at the cabin. I’m not entirely sure, but I think my wife wore lycra tights.
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