My journey to Stavanger began 14 years ago. How, you say, is that possible? To make a long story short, this crazy Canuck decided to leave her small Prairie town for the adventures of a high school exchange to Denmark. At the age of 18, she packed her bags and headed over to live with a Danish family for an entire year. She was placed with a family of 5: Gurli (mom), Arne (dad), and three, yes three boys - Anders (18), Thorsten (16) and Flemming (13). Considering I have only one younger sister, this was quite a change to say the least. I had always wanted a brother but as my mom said ‘Beware of what you wish for'! So, I ended up with 3 ‘big' little brothers as they are all well over 6 feet tall.
Fast forward to 2006 and an invitation from Thorsten and his long-time Norwegian girlfriend, Elin, to attend their wedding in her home town of Stavanger. How could I say no? So, I packed my bags ready to explore a new country and to participate in a joyous wedding celebration.
After a ridiculously long 26-hour day and a tour through Heathrow during the height of security restrictions, I arrived for my first visit to Norway. Thorsten picked me up at the airport and we went directly home. It was then that I met Elin for the first time. Elin and Thorsten were very gracious in welcoming me to their home and allowing me to stay with them during this hectic time. There was, however, one more family member I had yet to meet: 15-month old Fredrik, their little boy. Fredrik made his appearance (or should I say I made my appearance) when I got up after a couple hours of rest. What a little cutie he is! At this point my brain was suffering the effects of jetlag, dehydration thanks to the restrictions on liquids on board flights, and the shift to speaking Danish full-time. Mix in a little Norwegian and I was just primed for confusion. Luckily we were visited by Elin's friend Elisabeth and her Turkish husband Mert who met while studying in Australia. Yes! I could speak English and not feel guilty about it! We were too tired to think about making anything for supper so we ordered in pizza. Don't even ask how much it cost - it was ridiculous! After a few pieces of pizza and a couple glasses of red wine we turned in early as we knew things were going to get crazy the next day: the remainder of our family was arriving from Denmark.
On Thursday morning, Anders and his wife (Mette), along with their daughter Karoline, and Mette's brother Tim and sister Anne arrived from Copenhagen. And just as with Elin, this was the very first time I met Mette and my little niece Karoline! So much happened since I last visited Denmark in 2003! In the afternoon, Elin and I drove to the greenhouse to pick up the roses for her bouquet and the decorations. She had chosen beautiful medium-sized white roses with greenery. Not long after we returned, my host parents Arne and Gurli along with my little brother Flemming arrived. Their car was packed to the roof with not an inch to spare bringing all sorts of supplies including several cases of wine with them. This was just the last of the wine to arrive from Denmark as the family had been stocking up for quite a few months taking advantage of the lower alcohol taxes in Denmark. Of course we had to take advantage of all that wine sitting around. It was just begging us to sample it. And we had a good excuse - this was the first time since 1993 that I and the entire family had been together. As you can see from the photo of Mette, Elin and me we all enjoyed the wine. After a few glasses all 12 of us headed to bed under the same roof! Yes, you read that right. It was a very, very full and noisy house. By this time my brain was suffering the full effects of switching over to Danish. My brain was tired and I just wanted some peace and quiet, a precious commodity in this house.
My host mom got to work on the flower arrangements and bouquets on Friday. My host mother made arrangements for the church, the reception hall, the bridal car and, of course, the bridal bouquet. My very talented host mother made a beautiful bouquet of white roses, greenery, baby's breath and pearls. She also slipped in a little surprise placing 29 roses in the bouquet, one for each of Elin's 29 years. Following fine Danish tradition, my host mother also prepared greenery and flowers to hang around the door frame of Elin and Thorsten's front door. Such a wreath signals to all in the neighbourhood that this house is home to a great celebration! On a couple's 12 and ½ year anniversary, half of the door frame will be covered with such a wreath with the full wreath appearing again for their 25th anniversary. On each of these days, the couple's neighbours gather outside the front door in the morning to wish the couple a happy anniversary.
I had yet to buy a wedding gift so Elin, Flemming, Tim and I drove downtown to do a little shopping. I picked up a lovely wedding gift on their wish list and Elin picked up a few last minute items. Anders and Thorsten had set off to hunt down crab legs for an extra treat that evening. Later that afternoon, Elin, her parents, and my host parents busied themselves decorating at the reception hall. By this time my brain was functioning in the slow lane as it was attempting to pump out coherent Danish and I needed a nap. When I got up from my much needed break, Marthe and Holger, neighbours and good friends of my host parents had arrived. Marthe definitely remembered me - most families don't take in Canadian girls for a year so I was the local celebrity. I had only met her once so I was at a bit of a loss as to who she was before I saw her again. That evening, my host mother's sister Lissy and her husband Kjeld arrived. I had not seen them in 13 years and it was such a joy to see them again!
Other family members from both sides of the family had arrived by then requiring yet more alcohol. In Scandinavia it never stops! To go along with the ample supply of alcohol we had a buffet of smørrebrød, Danish open-faced sandwiches and those elusive crab legs my brothers hunted after that afternoon. By then my brain was refreshed and I was able to ramble on in Danish again. I then hit a big setback when I sat down beside Holger. See, Holger speaks Sønderjysk dialect. I don't. My host mother made sure of that forbidding all dialect in our house while I lived in Denmark. Needless to say, supper was a little uncomfortable. Once the guests cleared out of the house, you guessed it, more wine. I had a flashback to the first two weeks I lived with my host family - specially prepared evening snacks and some type of alcohol every night. I had never slept so well in my entire life! We ended the evening putting the final touches to the flower arrangements, ironing our dresses and shirts for the big day, and making a pile of things we needed the next day. Elin and Thorsten escaped the craziness staying over at a hotel the night before the big day.