I’d never seen so many Aryans in my life, they were ubiquitous. My eyes darted from left to right scanning the different shades of blonde; yellow, platinum, sun-kissed, dyed, natural. As I came out of arrivals in Oslo airport I smoothed down my unruly dark hair consciously feeling like an outsider. Laden with a completely inappropriate sized suitcase for my 5 day stay, I took a spot by the currency exchange and nervously waited for my friend to collect me. It had been 12 years;12 years since I last saw her and 12 years in which we had barely spoken, but that did not stop me from booking my flight to see her as soon as I found out she was getting married. She’s what I call ‘a friend for life’, you know, a friend you can go years without seeing and it will always be the same. And it was. I spied her between the crowds and as I rushed to hug her, an overwhelming feeling came over me; equal levels of joy and shame, the joy for being reunited, and the shame for realising only then just how much I had missed her. After my emotional outpour she introduced me to her younger brother, sister, and fiancé as I tried to contain my welling tears.

Within minutes we were in the car, my overloaded suitcase wedged in the boot of her Mercedes. Speeding along the motorway back to her house, I was chatting animatedly about my flight and how excited I was about the weekend ahead, when two ambulances tailgated the car forcing her to speed up and move into the fast lane. We were so busy yapping away that we didn’t realise we were now being tailgated by another car. Undercover police. Then came the sirens and the flashing lights indicating her to pull over at the next exit. Great. I hadn’t even been in the country half an hour and I was (indirectly) involved in a controversy with the police. The policeman, looking like a cheap version of Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator, sprung up at her window and told her in a monotone fashion to step out the car to which she complied. He then told her in so many words he ‘couldn’t be bothered to stand up’ and she had to get in his car for a chat. Of course this was being translated to me from Norwegian into English by her younger sister; I didn’t have a clue what was going on, this was certainly not standard police protocol. As a UK driver, never have I been pulled over and been asked to get into an officers car. Shady. I guess they do things differently in Norway. Fretting, I peered through the back window of our car worried that’d he’d drive off and abduct her. Meanwhile her sister, finding the whole situation comical, whipped out her camera and started taking pictures. After a few minutes my friend stepped out of the police car with an exasperated expression and hopped back into the car.

“Fml. A 6500 krone speeding fine.” She said blankly. The others gasped, but without any currency conversion chart, 6500 NK meant nothing to me.

“How much is that?  I said.

“£650 give or take.”

“What?! £650, that’s ridiculous!” I screeched in shock.

After I was given a brief explanation of how strict the highway code was in Norway, I began to realise a £650 fine was a bargain. The maximum fine is equivalent to £750, but it doesn’t stop there. The police are completely entitled to ban you on the spot for life if you drive marginally over the speed limit. If you get 8 points on your license you are banned for life too. As a UK driver I found this entirely autocratic and over the top, but my friend, although pissed off, shrugged. We drove off again, my friend making sure to keep to the speed limit, and I looked aimlessly out the window taking in my new surroundings. Green and mountainous, the outskirts of Oslo were beautifully serene. The motorway we were driving along had little traffic considering it was approaching rush-hour; cars were sparse and the lanes were free-flowing. I had a mental image of the M25 in London, with its speed cameras and roadwork’s dotted at every other mile, jammed with traffic. There was no comparison and I welcomed the fact.

The remainder of the first day was spent unpacking my bags, greeting her family, and doing a spot of sightseeing. Oslo itself is a very ‘neat’ city. By neat I mean that everything is orderly and runs like clockwork; the roads, the buses, the trains, the ferries. It was hotter than I imagined for a city that was so far north and situated by the sea. It’s also wallet shatteringly expensive. (In 2009 Oslo was voted the most expensive city in the world.) As we walked around, I couldn’t help but notice how quiet it was. In contrast to London there were hardly any people, but after asking what Oslo’s population was (circa 1.4 million) I understood why.

The next day we got ready for the start of her ‘hen weekend’. Events had been planned well in advance, and invitations had been sent out months ago so we all new what to expect, but my (engaged) friend didn’t have a clue. Her sister and I had spent all morning teasing her about what was in store for her. We even had to pack her bag so she wouldn’t catch on to what we had planned. We met all the other girls downtown and we went in convoy to the studio.

When we turned up outside she still didn’t have a clue what was going on, it was comical.

She said, “Oooh, do I get a male stripper?”

We all smirked and I muttered to myself, “No love- you’re the stripper.”

And it wasn’t long until she found out. We walked into the studio and when her jaw dropped we laughed. Pole dancing. The whole scenario was a farce; 12 girls on a pole, gyrating their hips to some cheesy seductive euro-tech music. None of us really had a clue what we were doing, but one by one each of us worked the pole while the others got snap happy. Surprisingly some of us caught the hang of it pretty quickly. When it was my turn I stepped up to the pole and followed the instructors’ directions. “Wow! Have you done this before?” she exclaimed. Everyone laughed but me. I flushed red and slid off the pole quicker than you could say “no.” I didn’t know whether to take her comment as a compliment or an insult.

When our studio session was up, we changed clothes and headed off to the next ‘event’; taking ferry ride to a beach just out of town for champagne and a barbeque. In theory it was a fabulous idea, but considering none of us really new how to kindle a fire or start up a make shift grill it was a bit tricky. We were in the middle of nowhere on a secluded beach with nothing but cold sausages and no bottle opener. We needed a man, but alas there was no man to be seen. After what seemed like eternity some of the girls had managed to get the grill going. Not me though. I was busy cracking open and necking the champagne, cider and whatever other alcohol was on offer. I can’t start a fire to save my life and I wasn’t going to play with fire and get burned. Safer to stick to the drink.

After the food, drink and gossip it was time to go home and rest up in preparation for the following day. As we made our way home it suddenly dawned on me how light it was; broad daylight at 9pm. I assumed that it would get darker a little later than London because of the latitude, but when we reached home at 10pm it was still broad daylight. At midnight it was still light. At 1am it was still light. At 2am (we were still up gossiping) it was dusk and I turned to my friend and asked her if it ever gets dark during summer. 

“Nope. This is the darkest it gets.” 

I couldn’t believe it. Well, I mean geographically it makes sense but I couldn’t get my head round it, it was a strange novelty. She shut the blinds and I eventually managed to get to sleep, feeling like I was taking an afternoon nap.

The next morning was chaos. Clothes flying everywhere, make-up sprawled over the floor, hairspray pervading the air, her sister in the shower, her older brother booking the limo. The whole house was in disarray and I loved it; I was excitable. When my friend was ready and emerged from her room, I wished I’d applied waterproof mascara. I have never seen her look so beautiful and I was brimming with pride, happiness and tears. We had no time to dwell, not even for a group photo; the limo was outside waiting to take us all to her friends house for the bridal shower, her big day. We packed into the limo, her fiancé and younger brother included (with her older brother following behind) and headed off.

Her friend’s house had been completely transformed into a bride’s dream. A marquee was filled with candles, flowers, balloons, food, cake and presents. All of us except my friend and her fiancé made our way upstairs and waited for them to walk in last, capitalizing on a perfect photo opportunity. And it was. She stepped in, with her fiancé alongside and pure shock was engraved on her face. She smiled and seemed overwhelmed as everyone began clicking their cameras. I on the other hand wasn’t taking any photos just yet. My attention was elsewhere, I wasn’t even looking at her. I was looking at her fiancé who in turn, was looking at her with complete adoration and love. It was the sweetest thing. I may sound cheesy but I really don’t care- I cannot begin to explain how proud I felt. I tried not to show it- instead I clapped, smiled, wiped a tear off my cheek and clicked my camera, failing drastically to capture the emotionally charged atmosphere. After a few minutes and a goodbye hug, her two brothers and fiancé left, and the bridal party officially began. I can’t go into details- that would be telling, but in a nutshell the afternoon involved lots of food, cake, sex toys and bridal embarrassment.

The afternoon passed by in a flash, maybe because I got carried away making daiquiri’s and mojito’s in the kitchen with my friends sister, sampling each batch just to make sure the alcohol ratio was OK. *ahem.* A little tipsy, we made our way home ready for part 3. Clubbing. I was seriously running out of steam; I hadn’t slept properly in three days due to the lack of darkness. After a quick shower and a change of clothes we were ready to go again. My friend’s older brother had agreed to drive us and her fiancé came along too. His car was nothing like I’d seen before- imported from America with added gadgets from Germany this car was a nightclub in itself. It wasn’t even a car- more like a pimp van, complete with sub-woofers, tinted windows, simulator suspension and an automatic ramp which came down like a spaceship to hop in and out. The ramp was for her older brother to get in and out (he uses a wheelchair- not that his disability stops him from anything- the guy is a legend; one of the funniest people I’ve ever met.) Reaching the centre of town, I noticed there were barely any cars on the road. It was midnight on a Saturday night and it was like a ghost town. If this had been Piccadilly Circus we would be in gridlock. At this moment my thoughts were interrupted by a thunderous sound. I was sitting in the front seat and nearly jumped out of my skin, my ‘fro bouncing up on the roof of the car. 

Her older brother chuckled, looked at me, turned up the volume even more and shouted “You hot Rihanna!” over the lyrics“Oh na na na come on! I like it like it, come on!” 

From this moment on my new nickname was coined, Rihanna, although in my opinion I look nothing like her. Maybe it was just the hair.

We parked up close by and made our way to the outdoor club, situated in a small park. My friend’s older brother wheeled his way to the front of a ridiculously long queue and quickly made friends with the bouncer. Skipping the queue we walked in and the waiters quickly sorted a table for us under a heated canopy complete with a bottle of champagne. The whole scenario seemed surreal, sitting in the middle of a park, in a club, in daylight at 1am. I was the only one who seemed phased though; probably because I was the only foreigner in there. Every one else but myself and a select few had straight blonde hair, but with my ‘fro I was more distinguishable. The Norwegian men seemed to love it, spontaneously coming up to touch and shake it about. 

One man even came up to me and asked eagerly in broken English “How do you get the volume?”

I laughed at the language barrier.

After some banter, a lot a champagne and flagrant ridicule of the Norwegian dancing on display (the worst dancing I’ve ever seen) I headed to the public toilets in the park…and ended up in the men’s toilets. I was desperate and couldn’t wait in the queue for the ladies. I gingerly edged my way into the room, the smell of male piss rising and attacking my nostrils. It was the most repugnant smell but I clamped my nose and ran to the nearest cubicle before someone told me to get out. Squatting over the toilet mid pee, a man speaking Norwegian rapped on the door heavily. It put me of my swing but I finished swiftly, opened the door and put my arms up as if I’d been caught red handed. The man looked brutal, but his facial expression quickly softened into a smile when he saw how scared I was and he gave me a sleazy wink.

I screeched “English, English, English!” scurried to wash my hands and ran out the door faster than a G6.

Shortly after finding my friends, we decided to head home as it was getting light(er) and we had a busy day ahead of us. The route back to her brother’s car was treacherous, we had parked the car down a road I can only describe as ‘crack alley’. I call it this with obvious (and good) reason. People were shooting up left, right and centre on the curb and in the middle of the road. Honestly it was alarming. I would call myself streetwise but this was on a next level. I’ve never actually seen someone burn crack or shoot heroin so openly and in broad daylight with police a stones throw away, but disturbingly, on this particular road it was the norm.

 The penultimate day went by in a flash and on my final day my friend, her sister and her fiancé dropped me at the bus station for me to take the bus to the airport. It would have been an emotional ending if it weren’t for me nearly missing the bus. We arrived in good time and I loaded my suitcase onto the bus which remained stationery and was due to leave at 20 past the hour. I had five minutes to say my goodbyes and as I launched into an emotional speech about how much I loved her and her family and how much I would miss her, the bus doors suddenly shut and the bus drove off. With my suitcase inside. Game over. I was running for my life, banging on the side of the bus like a crazed paparazzi. After a short sprint, the bus abruptly came to a halt and the conductor opened the doors letting me inside. I gave one last wave as I half laughed, half panted and off I went, the sights of Oslo fading behind.