How do you say "hello" in Norwegian?
That is something I am going to have to ask John Kerry the next time he flies into Boston and holds a press conference, which may be never.
The matter has been on my mind ever since I read that long takeout in The Boston Sunday Globe about how frequently Kerry, our secretary of state, has taken to the air to travel the world seeking peace in our time.
It took my breath away to read on the U.S. State Department's website that in the short time the former veteran Massachusetts U.S. senator has been secretary of state -- he was sworn in Feb. 1, 2013 -- he has flown 286,819 miles aboard the roomy Boeing 757 he has at his disposal.
Since the circumference of the Earth is about 25,000 miles, that means Kerry has flown around the world the equivalent of a dozen times in a single year. Even Hillary Clinton, Kerry's predecessor, could not top that.
That is even more flying miles that Barack Obama has accumulated. And, as everyone knows, Obama loves flying around on Air Force One, so much so that it would take the Jaws of Life to extract him from the plane. Ditto Kerry.
Kerry, who is now on another trip to Israel to help restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks for the 200th time, has been to Tel Aviv so often (10 times) that greeters at the airport, rolling out the frayed red carpet, have been overheard to mutter, "It's him again.
Kerry, in visiting 38 countries, has spent a cumulative 622 hours living on his airplane. That comes to almost 26 days, which is almost as much time as Kerry spent in Vietnam during the war when he became a war hero -- before he became an anti-war hero.
Speaking of Vietnam, Kerry made a quick visit to the country last month, including a side trip to the Mekong River Delta, where he once patrolled with his U.S. Navy swift boat during the war.
But this time, he did not dodge any incoming fire, but stressed the need to protect the ecosystem and the environment, which is threatened by climate change and river pollution, principally from China, which has taken our place as the bully in the neighborhood.
"Vietnam is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world when it comes to climate change," Kerry said, although he did not mention the tons of Agent Orange the U.S. dumped on the place during the war, which may have had something to do with changing the climate of the country.
Agent Orange was the chemical defoliant that, mixed with jet fuel, was sprayed from American planes over the country to defoliate forests, farms and rural lands, and deprive the enemy Viet Cong of cover. It not only defoliated much of the country, but unfortunately killed a lot of innocent people, led to birth defects and ruined the lives of many returning American servicemen. But that's another story.
What, you may ask, has all of this got to do with saying "hello" in Norwegian?
Well, in that Globe epic, it was pointed out that Kerry, who is fluent in French, is also comfortable addressing dignitaries and reporters in Spanish, Italian, German -- and Norwegian.
Norwegian? Who knew? Outside of Norway, who speaks Norwegian? And if you do, who do you talk with?
I went over the list of all the countries Kerry has visited, but there was no mention of Norway. The closest he came was a May visit to Kiruna, Sweden, the country's northernmost city, which is next door to Norway.
Kerry was not in Sweden to pick up the Nobel Peace Prize -- at least not yet -- but to attend a meeting of The Arctic Council, which is a forum focused on addressing the challenges of -- you guessed it -- climate change.
Not only did the foreign ministers of seven other Arctic states attend the forum, but representatives of the indigenous people of the Arctic were there as well. These were the Laplanders, who came down from Lapland, where the sun shines at midnight in May, and where they speak Norwegian. Kerry doubtless tried out his Norwegian on them.
I decided that if John Kerry could take the time from his busy life to learn Norwegian, the least I could do was not bother him with silly questions about how to say "hello" in Norwegian. So I looked it up.
The next time I bump into Kerry in Mongolia, Moldova, Madagascar or Medford, I am going to surprise him by saying "Hallo." It's Norwegian for -- well, you know.
Peter Lucas' political column appears Tuesday and Friday. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.