Saturday, September 19, 2009

On living in a small, small world

The other day I was in the archive, a lady I had not seen there before sat down on the table next to me. Now, there are a lot of people I have not seen before in the archives – most people are there for a limited time only, and it’s only the odd cases (like yours truly) that spend weeks and weeks there. There was nothing in particular I noticed about this one. After a while, though, she looked at me, and then asked: “Are you Norwegian?”

Apparently, she had seen the name tag on my archive box, and since my name sounds very Norwegian (except when pronounced by an American, or for that matter, a Japanese), she put two and two together. Taken aback with the surprising question I did not have much time to react or reflect over why she would ask this – I merely confirmed and looked at her quizzically.

Jeg også!”

How weird is that?

Of the [insert large number*] researchers that at any time is in the College Park branch of the National Archives, the two Norwegians (there might be more of us, but I haven’t met any yet) somehow managed to end up next to one another.

After talking a while (man, do those Norwegian words roll strangely across my tongue after almost two months in the English-speaking world!), we realized that not only do we belong to the same university, we both come from the same institute.** We know a lot of the same people, we spend most of our time (at home) in the same building and most likely I have passed her in the cafeteria many times. Only I did not know who she was.

Now, of course, since we both were in a foreign country, we became united. It felt as though we were connected somehow. Had I been introduced to her in that building or in that cafeteria at home, I would not have had a lot to talk to her about. Now, we had something in common.

Isn’t it strange how sometimes this big, big world we live in becomes tiny? It makes me wonder whether it really is so that you can in one way or another expect to have a connection to every other human being in just six degrees. I wonder how I am connected to Kevin Bacon…

* I don’t know how many researchers there are at any given time in the archives. I don’t even know how many there are per year. I tried to google it, and the unhelpful answer came up that the National Archives in total served 280 000 researchers yearly, but as this estimate includes all the 40-something facilities scattered across the USA, it doesn’t say much. However, the College Park branch where I waste my time, is one of the BIG ones, so this probably tackles a large chunk of the close to 300 000 time-wasters.

** To emphasize how unlikely this is, let me give you a few more numbers. There are about 4.8 million people living in Norway right now. Of these almost 600 000 live in Oslo. There are about 30 000 students at the University of Oslo. About 8000 of these are in the Humanities department. Google is once again failing me in pinpointing the exact number of students in the institute of History, Archeology and Conservation, but let me assure you, it cannot be more than at the very most 1000. Out of these, two happened to be sitting next to one another approximately 6000 kilometers (or almost 4000 miles) away from where they normally should have been sitting next to one another.


Rayna M. Iyer said...

It is a small, small world, Mari. A very small world.

M.J. Nicholls said...

I know for a fact Norwegians can sniff each other out at twenty paces.

Then again, I don't know how many paces you were between this woman.

Norway is neat.

Cruella Collett said...

Natasha - And yet the term "small world" doesn't seem to fit entirely when I know the comment is coming all the way from India.

M.J. - I feel compelled to ask how you know that (I thought it was a secret not to be revealed outside Scandinavia). Maybe it has to do with the fact that you know that Norway is neat, something you most likely will have learned by visiting (presumably not during the winter), and thus might have discovered the secret in Scandinavia after all?

Watery Tart said...

Did I tell you that when I was in France a very long time ago, I was asked (more than once) if I was a Swede? Apparently that Scandinavian sniffing trick extends to decendants...

It is fun though, to find the world small from time to time.

M.J. Nicholls said...

Yes indeed. I have ventured Scandy-wards. They smell lovely over there.

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