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Skuggevik discovers Skuggevik

COURTESY PHOTO In Norway, Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik took this photo of the midnight sun setting.
In Norway, Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik took this photo of the midnight sun setting.

If your name is Skuggevik,  you’ve spent most of your life teaching others how to pronounce and spell it.

But in one small place in a Scandinavian country you have no problems. The baffling handle for most Americans is like the theme song for “Cheers” — everyone knows your name in Skuggevik, Norway.

Shelter Island School Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik discovered this on a recent trip with his American cousin, Art Skuggevik, on a visit to the old homeland.

Art is third generation Norwegian with the first generation name bearer known as Odz Skuggevik.

Mr. Skuggevik said he found that amusing: “You changed Odz, but left Skuggevik?”

What the two Americans also found was a close-knit family ready to embrace the Amercan Skuggeviks and share a life quite different from what they know here. One thing was immediately clear: The American and Norwegian wings of the family found their physical likenesses startlingly similar.

It was Mr. Skuggevik’s great-grandfather, Martin, who first settled in America. The oldest of  10 children, he was to have inherited the village of Skuggevik. “No thanks,” is what Mr. Skuggevik said his great-grandfather told his siblings. They got the little village and he boarded a ship for America to become a boat builder, settling first in Brooklyn before moving to Huntington.

“I’m a full-blooded American and I love my heritage and fully believe in democracy,” Mr. Skuggevik said, as he recounted some of the differences he found in the two cultures.

“It was weird to see how their system works,” he said.

Start with paychecks, where the government takes 75 percent of what Norwegians earn, but no one seems to live in poverty, he said. That’s because the  government provides benefits to its citizens that Americans don’t have. College and  health  care are free and a lot of social services are extended to Norwegians that Americans lack, he said.

In many studies, Norway ranks ahead of the U.S. in the quality of health care, even though the U.S. has the most expensive system in the world. The Scandinavian country also, in many studies, has a better primary and secondary educational system than the U.S.

Students there start learning English in the 1st grade. In the 7th grade they choose between French and German, so by the time they graduate from high school, young Norwegians speak at least two foreign languages.

It’s not about the money
Mr. Skuggevik found it interesting that the Norwegians have done away with coins, with  prices rolled down to the krone, the Norwegian monetary unit. And every restaurant and retail establishment, even street vendors, carry handheld devices to swipe credit cards.

If the pace of life on the East End of Long Island is slower than New York City, the pace in Norway is slower than Shelter Island, Mr. Skuggevik said. Everyone takes a minimum four-week vacation — all during the same six-week period. Some take the first four weeks and others the last four weeks. What that means is businesses — including top restaurants where visitors might want to eat — are closed.

“They don’t care about the money,” Mr. Skuggevik said about the tourist dollars businesses miss during their vacation periods. They care more about the time they have with family members, he added.

And about those restaurants — you don’t tip in Norway, Mr. Skuggevik said, and it’s a plus that waiters and waitresses receive fair wages that don’t depend on the largess of customers.

What’s for dinner?
What’s on the plate takes some getting used to. “I ate the most bizarre food. Whale meat, reindeer and cod tongue,” Mr. Skuggevik said.

None of them tasted  remotely like chicken, but “it was actually good,” he said, especially recommending the cod tongue.

On the road
He and cousin Art drove from the west coast to the east coast and found overwhelming beauty, with mountains and waterfalls everywhere.

Driving through the lush western part of Norway, and then into a cold, icy area in the middle of the country, before heading again into greener, fertile land in the east, was a strange and delightful transition, he said.

The land of the midnight sun is aptly named. Twenty-two hours of daylight played havoc with Mr. Skuggevik’s sleeping patterns. It also prohibited him from viewing the Northern  Lights, best viewed in the winter, which he promises he’ll see when he returns on a future trip.

The country is spotlessly clean and has very little crime. Mr. Skuggevik speculated that may be because the law comes down hard on first offenders, who aren’t inclined to become repeaters or to go on to more serious offenses.

If you have a drink, get behind the wheel and are stopped, you’ll lose your license for four years — no blood alcohol tests — nothing. Speeders are also dealt with harshly with revocation of their licenses, he said.

Norway, which borders on Russia, has generally managed a comfortable relationship with its neighbor. But in recent years, Mr. Skuggevik said there is “a little fear there now,” because of Russian military excursions into other countries.

What are the odds?
A perfectly magical trip became even more other worldly when, after spending time with relatives, he drove down the coast to Oslo to the airport for the flight home. In the waiting room there he was startled to hear someone say behind him, “Mr. Skuggevik?”

He turned around to find one of his students, Kal Lewis, looking quizzically at him. Kal was in Norway on vacation with his family.

“It was unreal,” Mr. Skuggevik said.

He was speaking about the chance encounter with Kal thousands of miles from Shelter Island, but also the whole adventure he’d had in the land of his ancestors.