Friday, December 4, 2009

On public speaking

I have a long career behind me when it comes to public speaking. I begun at the age of three when I started kindergarten (or whatever the equivalent of the Norwegian barnehage is – kindergarten doesn’t seem like an entirely accurate translation even though the literal translation from what I assume is the original German is accurate. Neither does daycare or for that matter preschool – barnehage is a more generic term that covers all of the above, or so it seems to me). We had recently had a large family party (my sister’s confirmation, to be exact), where there were a number of speeches. Doubtlessly influenced by this, I decided to hold a speech on my first day in the barnehage. I stood on top of a large rock and expressed to the world what great fortune it was for me that I was able to attend the barnehage, and how nice it was to be able to play with other kids in the wonderful institutions the barnehage was.

After this, I took a break and did not appear in public again until I was eight – when I was asked to hold the traditional May 17th speech (Norway’s Constitutional Day) in my hometown. Fortunately I did not yet know what nervous meant, since I then probably would have felt slightly discouraged by the knowledge that there would be some 3000 people listening to my speech. I think I was more worried that I wouldn’t be able to catch up with my friends in the children’s parade after the speech (but I did).

Though I have spoken on a few occasions after this as well, most of them were more of a more personal or at least less official kind (my sister’s wedding and a welcome dinner the first time I was in Japan are among the ones of the top of my head), and generally they had a smaller audience (I’m not expecting to top 3000 again, fortunately). However, this weekend I was challenged to dust of my old public speaker badge and perform again.

This Wednesday we had the traditional “candidate’s party” at the history department on the university. It’s a formal occasion, with fancy clothes, a fancy dinner and several traditional speeches. I was supposed to hold the “takk for maten”-speech. I’m aware that a clarification is in order for the non-Norwegian speakers of us – er… you. “Takk for maten” = (literally) “thanks for the food”. It’s a phrase that every Norwegian that has not been raised by trolls is supposed to say automatically after each meal – because it’s polite (I might add that Norwegian by no means is the only language with such a phrase – for instance in Japan most people say gochisosama-deshita at the end of any meal).

In formal parties, it is common to express “takk for maten” in a designated speech. Unless otherwise specified, the task usually falls upon the man who is sitting next to the hostess at the table. For practical reasons, however, it is common to assign the task prior to the party, so that the lucky person can prepare the speech.

The celebration of the candidates is a BIG deal, so I was actually pretty nervous this time around (much more so than on the previously mentioned two occasions), even though the “takk for maten”-speech is the easiest of the four traditional ones held at the candidate’s party. This speech is supposed to express praise and gratitude to the cooking, the waiters, and the dinner-part of the party in general. Also, it is supposed to be funny. Finally, since it’s the last speech of an often lengthy dinner, the “takk for maten”-speech is supposed to be very short. I only had about three minutes to incorporate all the necessary elements.

The actual speech went quite well, and I received very nice comments afterwards (someone even told me I could pursue a career as a professional speaker in formal parties, should my thesis fail. Not sure if that was a compliment to the speech or a hint about my thesis, though…).

Also, the rest of the party was a great success (as always). It’s so nice to have this occasion where we all put on our best clothes, and get together to celebrate this semester’s candidates. Students (both current and former) and professors are all set on making this a great event for those present – and it always is. The traditions are somewhat formal and (thus) silly (especially the polonaise, which none of us can actually dance, but always have to anyway), but we all enjoy them, and I can assure you that there are no restraints on the party-factor even if there are formalities to follow! (Also, the amount on enjoyment on Wednesday explains my absence from blogging and the world in general yesterday, in case you were wondering…)


Mason Canyon said...

Sounds like a great party. Only wish you could have somehow included a recording of your speech here for your blogging friends to hear.

It's interesting to learn how things are done in other countries.

Have a great weekend.

Paul "FooDaddy" Brand said...

It's nice to know that somewhere, in some culture, exists a time when, at some point in an otherwise formal gathering, it's acceptable to make a quick funny speech.

That's it. I'm becoming Norwegian.

Cruella Collett said...

Mason - that would have been interesting, but I doubt you'd be able to understand much of it anyway, since it was in Norwegian ;) Frankly, I doubt anyone outside that party, even if they did speak Norwegian, would be able to understand the points, as it was very insidey!

Paul - yay! Another one bites the... I mean, welcome to the cult!

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