Chapter 98: COVID Chronicles

By Karen

Day 115

Independence Day’s a Dud & Amazon Solves 28-Year-Old Norwegian Puzzle

I didn’t go to my parents’ cookout. I don’t know if they still had one, or if I ruined it. My sister was invited, so my guess is they did get together for lunch. Probably a quick one — on holidays Sis and her boyfriend usually have other obligations — so they weren’t together for too long. That will be their justification that it was all fine and I’m a bitch.

Meanwhile, on American Independence Day, I’m all Norwegian, or norsk, as they say. I’ve stuck with Duolingo. Initially, I was whipping through lessons so fast that I temporarily achieved Duolingo’s highest status, Diamond League.

But I had covered too much and I stopped retaining most of it, so I went back to Lesson 1. That’s when I discovered each lesson has four levels with lots of repetition and drilling, which was exactly what I needed. I also found grammar explanations and vocabulary lists. So, now I’m building a better foundation. However, Duolingo still makes you question your comprehension with nonsense like…

Nei, gitaren min gråter ikke.
(No, my guitar is not weeping.)


Den fulle fyren kastet en hamburger på meg!
(That drunk guy threw a hamburger at me!)


Katten er tre bananer lang.
(The cat is three bananas long.)

Who measures cats in bananas?

Speaking of cats, to help me remember min norsk, we’ve named that bird Roc carries around Fuglen (loosely pronounced Foolin’). It means “the bird.”

Speaking of Fuglen, he may be plotting something. This morning I found this shady gathering (mouse, Fuglen, Rowdy Rat, and Tony’s balding blue sparkle ball, which had migrated from the bedroom) on the kitchen rug…

But back to norsk. When I took up Norwegian in 1992 while dating a Norwegian, I asked him to bring me a book from home by any American author so I might buy the English edition and have the translation while I practiced reading.

He brought me Garrison Keillor’s En Rolig Uke I Lake Wobegon (A Quiet Week in Lake Wobegon), originally published in 1987, with Norwegian translation in 1988.

Here’s where it gets weird. Remember, 1992 was pre-Amazon, or really pre-online shopping anywhere. I never found that book in any store, even by comparing the first page of text, whose gist I got, with every Keillor book I came across. Since the Norwegian edition was too advanced for me, it has sat on my shelf all these years.

The other day, I pulled it out and was gobsmacked to find that I had somehow missed clearly written at the top of the copyright page: Originalens tittel: Leaving Home.

Amazon had THAT book…

Keillor wrote a much shorter foreword for the norsk edition, and some of the stories have titles as stretched as the book’s itself, but it does look like a valid translation.

So my next project is to read a whole Norwegian book. Didn’t former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg once say that’s why he learned Norwegian?

They say when you really absorb a language you stop translating it in your head. I hope that’s where I am by the time I get to Slutten (The End).

26 Responses to Chapter 98: COVID Chronicles

  1. Anita says:

    Karen, you are inspiring me to pick my French back up. I hit a wall with it years ago. I should have hung in and broke through it, but life got in the way. I have Duolingo for French, Italian and Spanish. Yes, I’m a dreamer.

    When we were in Italy last year I ordered food in Italian and the waiter thought I was from Norway. He said I spoke Italian with a Norweigan accent. Maybe I should take that as a hint and try it.

    When Obama was asked what Superpower he wished he had, he answered the ability to speak every language so he could communicate with people. That is exactly what would be mine too. I want a chip implanted in my brain that would be like Google Translate.

    Instead now we have a president that doesn’t read and can’t even speak English. How lucky did we get?

  2. catsworking says:

    Anita, remember the good old days of innocence when we thought George W. Bush was a moron because they said he never read books? Now we’ve got a guy who reads NOTHING. He sounds like a third-grader when he reads speeches, with less comprehension.

    I took 6 years of French in high school and college, and have studied it off and on ever since. I got around Paris OK the one day I was there. But it was day Diana died and I think the French were too beaten by that to be uppity.

    I find Norwegian much easier than French. The word order is often the same as English. Many of the words are the same. And it seems much more consistent.

    Take, for example, the word cat. In Norwegian it’s katt.

    A cat = en katt
    The cat = katten
    Cats = katter
    The cats = kattene

    Most nouns form that way. (Well, they do have gender. Some take et instead of en.)

    If my high school and college years hadn’t been so fucked up by my family moving three times so I never had coherence in my classes, I might have gone more into languages. I’ve always been interested, and I’ve got a whole section of bookshelf devoted to languages I’ve run into with my travels or just wanted to learn. I always try to learn at least a few basics before visiting anywhere. I found Dutch pronunciation virtually impossible.

  3. Mary Hunter says:


    So great that you’re learning Norwegian. I took many years of French and German (majoring in German) and my college roommate told me I spoke German in my sleep!! (she guessed it was German since she knew French and I wasn’t speaking French!) So I guess I got pretty good. But three months living in Germany, my German improved tenfold compared to all those years in school. Hopefully when all this pandamania is over you can travel over there and use your Norwegian with the natives!

    Also, I don’t blame you one bit about not going to your parents’ for the holiday. My god, what the hell is wrong with people? Glad you stayed home and didn’t contract covid for the sake of an effing hot dog!! Stay safe and thanks for continuing to regale us with cat antics and more!

    Oh, and by the way, an interesting blog site is Michael Ruhlman’s. You might remember him from Tony’s shows. Every Friday he shares a new cocktail and how to make it, and he pairs it with reading from a novel or poetry. Cheers!

  4. Randi says:

    Karen, I am often surprised how titles of books are changed when translated to another language, but in many cases the new title is OK. However, it is difficult to find the book!

    As you know, Norwegian is quite similar to Danish. In your example, we would say:
    Nej, min guitar græder ikke
    Nei, gitaren min gråter ikke.

    (No, my guitar is not weeping.)

    The difficult part for foreigners is, that you never know when to put “en” or “et” in front of a word. My husband never quite learned it, but it is not very logical, is it! In Danish it is: en stol, but et bord, and en dyne, but et tæppe, and en bog, but et billede. Another thing that you may find difficult is the extra letters we have… æ, ø and å. They are written ae, oe, and aa on an English keyboard.
    It is amazing that I learned another language, since my teacher used the Danish names for grammer, not the latin.
    I find Spanish fairly easy, except for words starting with “J” and words with a “D” in the middle, like Madrid. Also some grammar… there are two past tenses: the imperfect and the indefinite. That can be confusing.
    There are words in English I don’t always know how to use, “assume” and “presume” – perhaps you can enlighten me?

  5. catsworking says:

    Mary, oh, wow, Ruhlman. I haven’t thought about him in a long time. And now that you mention it, there was an actor who was watching Bourdain’s shows and writing these long rambling love-hate blog posts about them. Now I can’t remember who that was.

    You must have REALLY learned German to speak it in your sleep. That’s what you have to do, start thinking in the new language without translating it.

    Since I’m always talking to the cats, I sometimes try to do it in Norwegian. That helps me realize the words I don’t know yet. I do hope that somebody I can get over there and speak to Norwegians, but I think almost all of them speak very good English.

    My boyfriend spoke good English, but he was self-conscious about it. He said he felt his English got a lot better from hanging around with me and being forced to speak it all the time, although as I was studying Norwegian I’d sometimes blurt Norwegian words into the conversation.

    He worked on a ship with other Norwegian officers, and I think they spoke Norwegian among themselves. But the rule was that everybody had to speak English on the walkie-talkies.

  6. catsworking says:

    Randi, I do sometimes get the en and et wrong, but the biggest mistake I make is with the order of pronouns, whether they go before or after. I’m getting better with that as I get used to how things sound.

    I didn’t know there was an English keyboard translation for the special letters. That’s good to know. Thanks!

    Now assume/presume. I haven’t looked up the official definitions, but this is how I would use them. Assume is a harmless guess. (I assume you like a big breakfast). It’s an off-the-cuff statement, could be right or wrong, no harm intended.

    Presume is an opinion you form, and this presumption could be construed as a little snobby. (I presume from that fancy car you drive that you are wealthy and want everyone to know it.) Another form of the word is to be presumptuous, which is to form unfounded opinions, and it’s not used as a compliment.

    Does that help? This is the first time I’ve ever thought of those words together.

  7. Anita says:

    Karen, when I went back to French classes before my first trip there in May 2001 our teacher (who was American but lived in France for years) told us we were so lucky to have English as First Language. It’s the most difficult in the world to learn.

    I just had to look up how to use worst/worse in a sentence on Twitter. There is also accept/except, their/there, and you being an English grammar expert know many more. Spell check has made us all dumber.

    But, you have inspired me to start my French again. I was thinking of Italy for our 25th anniversary in 2022, but since I am better at French then Italian, looks like a return trip to France. My husband’s mother’s family is from the Pau area of France and he has relatives in the wine business. I think it’s time to visit them.

  8. Randi says:

    Thanks for the help on assume/presume – I thought it was like you say, so I usually use assume, since I’m not a snob. 😉

    Apparently, “en” is “ei” in Norwegian, but “et” is the same in Danish. I looked up “pronoun” that is called “stedord” in Danish. I really have to remember all these latin words for grammar! And yes, in some languages they go before, and in some they go after.

    I have a Macbook that has an American keyboard, it was confusing to begin with, but I wrote certain “signs” on the keys, so I could find the right key. On some (most, I guess) you can add the keyboard language you want to use, and change in between them. It’s usually up in the right corner… at least on a Mac.

    Anita, how can you do this!? “but since I am better at French then Italian, looks like a return trip to France.” You wrote “then” instead of “than.” I’ve seen many Americans do it, and I wonder why. And like you say, many mix up “accept/except, their/there”, I simply don’t understand it, they have completely different meanings. (please don’t get offended) 😉

  9. Anita says:

    Randi, you are correct. It is “than”. No offense taken. It made me laugh. Just typing too fast and my fingers were ahead of my brain.

    It’s also before noon where I live and the fireworks around us last night in our neighborhood went on well past midnight. Let’s hope these people used up their whole supply because I need sleep tonight.

    At least I don’t use “your” for you’re” which is so prevalent now. That is my big pet peeve.

  10. Randi says:

    Anita, I hope they used the fireworks, I know exactly how it is not to be able to sleep because of that. My cat was terrified. 😦 Actually, I though of various ways to avoid them throwing fireworks in front of windows, like getting “stink bombs” that they would step in, but I never did. But one time I was so mad I threw eggs.
    Oh yes, I often see people use “your” for you’re” – I don’t don’t get it.
    I just watched a bit of Trump’s 4th of July celebration… I think he is determined to destroy America before he is losing the election. He knows he won’t last much longer, anyway – and he doesn’t give a shit about his family, or anyone!

  11. catsworking says:

    Anita, a visit to France sounds like just the thing!

    I never thought of it that way, but English must be a minefield for anyone trying to learn it. EVERYTHING is an exception. I find Norwegian, so far, pretty consistent. And a lot of words are the same. And the word order is usually more straightforward than in French.

    Since my work involves a lot of proofreading, the usage issues you pointed out are exactly the type of thing I’m always looking for. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone confused by worse/worst, though. If something is the worst, it couldn’t get any more bad. If it’s only worse, it could get worse until it’s the worst it can be.

  12. Randi says:

    Ugh, this time I made some mistakes. Wish it was possible to edit. 😉

  13. catsworking says:

    Randi, I’ve never tried to change the keyboard language. I have a Windows computer. It may be possible, but Windows makes nothing too easy.

    I do have one trick for typing the letter o with the slash through it, though. (The slash won’t show up in WordPress, so you have to picture it).

    For lowercase o, press CTRL + / then o. For capital O, press CTRL +/ then SHIFT + O. (I don’t know if any words begin with capital O slashed.)

    I find the en and et in Norwegian simply a matter of memorizing which they should be. The ei is confusing to me, but I think it may be interchangeable with en??

  14. Anita says:

    Karen, given that with worst/worse, I guess Trump is the Worst President in the History of the United States.

    I just thought what will help me remember that. Worst is the most worse it can ever be! And let’s hope this is true with Trump too.

    Randi, it’s weird because the font is so different when replying because of the HTML code I assume, I don’t see my mistakes until it’s in the comment section. Edit capabilities would help.

  15. catsworking says:

    Randi, good catch on Anita’s than/then slip. I didn’t even notice it myself. Some proofreader I am!

    One of my pet peeves is when people mix up to/too/two.

    What I’ve seen is that texting and social media have eroded English a lot. I used to teach classes on this stuff at the University of Richmond, and I had younger students (20s) say that they didn’t the reason for spelling, punctuation or capitalization because people would just “figure out” what they mean.

    It’s just taking shortcuts, laziness and maybe not knowing what’s right. I’d hate to an English teacher these days. It must be a losing battle.

    I always say it’s going to take a war to start over some ignorant tweet or text and people to get killed before this pendulum swings back and people start using language carefully again.

  16. Randi says:

    Karen, it’s good you found a way to use the “ø” – as you said, it probably won’t show up here.
    You are so right… texting and social media have eroded English a lot. Pure laziness. Even journalists who write for highly regarded newspapers, can’t spell! When the young kids who can’t spell, apply for jobs, their applications will go right in the bin. Let us hope they are better at math. Another pet peeve of mine, is when people write run-on sentences. OK, we can all understand it, but it takes the focus from the article.
    Ha, ha, I sound like a grumpy old woman! I guess I am… some days. 😉

  17. catsworking says:

    When the older people have all retired, and the next generation who doesn’t know grammar and spelling is running things, they will hire each other and not know the difference. Eventually, they’ll get themselves into such a tangle of misunderstanding they will HAVE to go back to paying attention to language, and then they’ll claim they INVENTED it.

    I said many years ago when all this shortcutting started that we’ll probably come full circle and people will be communicating with nothing but pictures, like they used to draw on cave walls. It will get THAT dumbed down. At the time, it seemed like a joke.

    And then icons came along…

  18. Randi says:

    Karen, you nailed it… dumbed down indeed! I can imagine all the misunderstandings there will be and everyone being confused. Everyone can use a smartphone, but can they set up a database, or make a macro, or even use the most common computer programmes to the full extent? I doubt it.

  19. Randi says:

    And why is supposed to be cool typing with one finger, when you can use all ten!
    Anyway, I will soon get an iPhone, but I will use it only for travel, or if I expect an important call – the rest is done better on a desktop.

  20. Anita says:

    Randy, I do love my iPhone and have friends and family that only use text. Ugh. But I also love my desktop.

    We had a fire in our area about a month ago and we weren’t evacuated but my first thought was to grab the desktop, monitor, keyboard and mouse if we were.

    I finally upgraded to Windows 10 on this machine but still running Outlook 2007. I use categories extensively in my Inbox and at least a few years ago the web based Outlook did not have that capability.

    Maybe that has changed but I will go down kicking before I give it up.

  21. Randi says:

    I too have friends who only knows how to text on a phone. They didn’t get a computer.. or smartphone until this century. I WILL say that a smartphone is handy for emergencies, though.
    I had to use Microsoft at work, but I have never really used Outlook much, so I don’t now that too well. Still, there’s a few MS programmes that are very good… Word and Excel.
    Many of newer versions, I don’t like, though. It goes for Mac, too. So I completely understand you! 🙂

  22. catsworking says:

    Randi, I have an iPhone, but I can’t use it outside the country because my service, Consumer Cellular is U.S. only. I think I was able to make calls from the U.S. Virgin Islands. In fact, CC tells you to keep the phone turned OFF in foreign countries or it will start downloading updates on its own and you’ll get hit with mega roaming charges. I would like to have an international plan and hope CC offers one at some point because it is hard to travel without a phone these days.

    Anita, I love my desktop computer more than all the others combined (I guess the iPad Mini comes in second). I have an ergonomic keyboard I love. If anything ever happened, I would definitely try to save the big computer, although I don’t know how I’d get the all the pieces out of here. The tower is bigger than a breadbox.

  23. catsworking says:

    Randi, I use Word 2010 every day. Microsoft is discontinuing support for it in October, so I bought Word 2019 and made the mistake of downloading it, so now both version are on my computer and they fight (like cats). Now I have to go through extra steps to open 2010, and if I’m not diligent about it, 2019 will take over and try to make me use it. But so far I hate it. They changed things they didn’t need to touch, and I don’t like the whole feel of it, so I’m putting it off as long as I can.

    Excel to me is a necessary evil. I use it a little, but it seems so limited. I used to work with people who knew ONLY Excel. They would type entire documents in the A1 cell just to stay in Excel. Stupid.

    I’m trying to learn OneNote. I’ve got a 50+ page document of links to articles about Bourdain that I would like to organize better, and putting them in a virtual “notebook” with sections and pages seems like the way to go. Plus, it’s all stored in the cloud, so I could get to them from my laptop. That would be handy.

  24. Anita says:

    Karen, I am on Word 2007, but I don’t use it too much anymore. I did in my work life. But I do love Excel. I have tons of spreadsheets for financial things and budgets. I’m a closet accountant but in my work as a Project Manager I had to use it a lot.

    I did an Excel spreadsheet last year for our Italy trip and cruise. It was complicated with all the different hotels and trains and flights and cruise excursions. I kept it to one page and hung it up at every hotel and on the ship so we knew what day it was, where we were tomorrow and what we were doing. Otherwise we really would have been lost.

  25. Randi says:

    The reason I want an iPhone is, that when I travel I can use that instead of printing out my boarding pass, and when I arrive in the airport, I can send a text. Also, if I go by train to visit someone outside of Copenhagen, I can call or text the person who is going to pick me up at the station, in case I caught a later train (I don’t have a car).
    I don’t think I’ve used Word since the 2003 version, at least not at home, but at the library, they have the 2010.
    Karen, what a pain it must be to migrate from 2010 to 1019, but you have to get used to it. 😉 It is exactly what you say, they change things that are working perfectly fine, just to do something new, but in the newer versions you don’t have as much control over anything. So annoying! And you have to upgrade every so often, so they can earn more money. I don’t know OneNote, but I had a quick look at a video online. It could be handy for you to use that on the Bourdain articles. Good luck with that! 🙂
    Anita, for the things you describe, it may be better to use a database. There’s the good old MS Access, but I really liked FileMaker Pro. That’s both for Windows and Mac.

  26. catsworking says:

    Randi and Anita, I find that Word tables are far easier to use than Excel, and you get the same effect: a grid. I use tables for anything that has text because editing text in Excel is frightful. You can even do simple math in them.

    I used to be really good with FileMaker Pro on a Mac at a job I had years ago. I created a client database and we ran all sorts of reports from it. I was self-taught. I found Access harder to learn.

    If I could use my iPhone for travel, I certainly would for all the reasons you say, Randi. But I don’t want to come home to a $1,000 roaming charge so I have to turn it off and keep it off. As it is, I turn my phone off every night, but some app on it transmits somewhere faithfully twice a day and uses up about 20% of my allotted data every month. It’s infuriating. I’ve called Consumer Cellular but they couldn’t tell who it is. I also get MANY texts sent and received on my bill that I never did.

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