In Norway, no regular stores are open on Sundays. Restaurants, movie theaters, gas stations and snack bars are, but not regular stores, like clothing stores, grocery stores or hardware stores. Except in December.
In December, stores are open on Sundays, for five hours. It used be just one Sunday this month, then it became two. This year it's three shopping Sundays till Christmas. And for the first time, I have gone shopping on a Sunday in Norway.
I knew what I wanted, so I made a bee-line for downtown Bergen's Galleriet, a city block of old and varied office buildings (my company used to have offices in those buildings), joined by a glass roof over the courtyard. As reincarnated shopping malls go, I rather like this one. Even the unconventionally colored Christmas decor was OK. There's a black and a white angel under the purple stars.
Shopping on a Sunday is not all that much different from shopping on other days except that there are fewer people than on a Saturday. Which was nice. Some stores had longer lines than others. As I walked past the toy store, I could see it was quite crowded, making me grateful I have no one wanting those sorts of toys.
I managed to find what I wanted and 90 minutes later, and had time for a glass of juice before my bus home. The most exciting part about my shopping experience, was whether or not my new debit card would work.
Debit cards have been in existence in Scandinavia far longer than in the US. They are standard issue, really, because nobody uses checks. It started with a bank identity card to use with the checks, then the card morphed into an ATM card, and then into a debit card, and sometime in the early 90's, Norwegians stopped using checks. Unlike in the US, Norwegian checks are not fancy, personalized or any such thing. You got them made up on the spot at the bank, only 25 at a time. The only thing personal stamped on them was owner's bank account number.
Europeans don't need checks to pay bills, either, thanks to the rather clever and extremely convenient giro. All bills are printed on a standardized giro, on which you write your bank account number and sign your name. We have gone from paying in person at the teller's, to mailing for machine handling at the giro clearing house, to electronic billing and online banking (now aided in Norway by identifying and often ridiculously long customer ID numbers). Still, if one wants a print-out of the bill or the cleared giro, it still has the characteristic yellow background used for decades.
But nowadays people use debit cards for everything, and people no longer walk around with large or even regular amounts of cash on them. So I wondered how my Christmas shopping would work out when my debit card decided to stop working. Last Monday, two store terminals told me my card was unrecognized. After a mild panic, and chatting with my online bank's customer service (my bank is truly cyberspace only), I ordered a new card online that evening and made sure to carry my credit card with me. My debit card arrived in the mail Friday. I validated it online yesterday and today held my breath as I swiped it through the first store terminal. Didn't go through. "Do you have a chip?" the clerk asked me and pointed to a different slot to stick my card in. Ah, yes, the smart chip.
Not only does my new card have the bank's new logo, it has one of those smart chips, and so my Sunday shopping was also a learning experience, an opportunity to get used to a new shopping habit: The insert vs. the swipe.
I enjoy efficient shopping, like today's. Finding what I wanted virtually immediately, and not being jostled by too large a crowd. I joke about missing the female gene for shopping, because I shop only when I must, not as therapy. So I have to be in the right mood to go shopping. I was today, and the day responded.
I stood under that uniquely pale blue only a winter sky can have, waiting for the bus, and when I emerged from the shopping mall barely two hours later, the first thing I saw were two red lights and one white against the darkening sky: The radio masts of the mountain between my suburb and downtown, and Venus, glowing bright.