When the McDonald's cashier chastised me for not speaking fluent Spanish, I was not lovin' it.

But she was right; I should be fluent. The U.S. borders Mexico, over half a million rock the Espanol in Colorado, my goddaughters live in Costa Rica -- it's reasonable to expect proficiency beyond asking for beer and bathrooms and insisting my Spanish "necesita un medico."

But the exchange between the cashier and I took place in Oslo, Norway, and yes, that was weird.

So Spanish hasn't felt essential; I've been wishing for fluency in Norsk. Dinners, grocery shopping and navigating the train station aren't fun when you can only translate about every 20th word.

Like the dog in the Gary Larson cartoon that only understands her name, what I hear is, "Blah, blah, eight, blah, blah, blah, no, blah, blah, water." It's frustrating, but nobody's ostracizing me. They aren't speaking a foreign language; they're just talking.

Before I left Boulder, I snagged the least scary Norwegian language book I could find. It's oversized, filled with hand-drawn pictures and stickers for the house. I'm 3 all over again, trumpeting to the world that I know my colors, can count all the way to 10 and almost know the whole alphabet.

I can't pronounce their "Y" and still roll my "R" all wrong, but the three extra letters aren't bad, especially the crossed-out "O," pronounced, "Uh" as in, "Uh, I don't know what any of you are saying."

It's easy to feel cut-off and lonely when everywhere you turn, words tumbling out at you mean nothing.


I know the word for "sale" but I have no idea what's 30% off -- could be pants, could be extension cords, could be tea.

Sometimes it's not so bad that I see the word "familiesenter" and think, "Hey, this Norsk stuff is cake, baby!" And then something like "aarsgaardsraeia" will roll up and I want to hit my head on something like Don Music from Sesame Street and wail, "I'll never get it! Never, never, never!"

On a particularly icky day, I thought a trip to McDonald's might curb the homesickness. I know it's a poor substitute; what I really wanted was to cruise the canyon to Ned for bloodies and huevos rancheros at the Sundance Café. But that's not an option, and since I've been feeling like a sad kid, I figured I'd get a Happy Meal.

But when I sauntered over to the counter, stared blankly as the lady spoke to me and then finally announced, as I do many times on a daily basis, "I'm sorry, I don't speak Norsk," she asked where I was from. And when I told her Colorado, she tried speaking to me in Spanish and you know what happened from there.

I sat in the sticky seat, fuming with embarrassment, munching cold fries and trying to figure out if I should brush up on mi Espanol or meg Norsk. Either way, I need to find a place with ice in the Coke or I really will necesito un medico.

Boulder expatriate Jeanine Fritz's weekly musings on life in Norway appear in the Colorado Daily every Friday.