Jan 27, 2007

About writing about Norway

Over at Tim's there are links to other American bloggers living in Norway or other places in Europe. One blogger Tim just linked to, a Norwegian, lets his American wife guestblog sometimes, to let readers see her new home country through her eyes.

After reading some of her posts, I realized why I don't write (much) about Norway as an American expatriate. What strikes an American (or any foreigner) as exotic about Norway, is already under my skin since I spent part of my childhood here. I therefore don't necessarily stop to think if something charming in Norway is charming by virtue of being in Norway. Am I charmed by Norwegian countryside because I am an American, or because I can appreciate beautiful countryside, wherever I am? I'm thinking it's the latter. Certain western Norway countryside does have sentimental value for me because I grew up with it. I also feel sentimental every time I see pictures from the desert of southern California because I lived there, too, at one time and I love the desert.

I grew up with rosemaling (literally, rose painting) because Grandma, the artist, enjoyed it and painted a number of plates and other items while I was living with her. One special project that I watched from start to finish was the traditional Norwegian storage chest (actually, a bridal chest) she gave me for my 11th birthday. The chest itself was hand-made by a nephew of my Grandpa's. I appreciate the decorative style of painting because it is pretty and because Grandma used it. I don't look at it and go, "They don't have that in America!" Well, they don't have pumpkin pie in Norway, which I associate with my mother because she taught me how to make a good one - complete with a prettily edged crust. I guess what I'm trying to say is that what may be foreign and exotic to you (either country), is familiar and family to me.

So I write from the same position my brain is in. My brain speaks, thinks, writes both English and Norwegian fluently. My brain, however, doesn't realize it's two different languages; my brain thinks it just have twice the words to use (which sometimes trips me up). Likewise, my life is a blend of California and Bergen, and that blend is part of what makes me Keera. My interest in Norway (and the US) is therefore more a reaction to what other people say about it.

But I don't ever claim one country is better than the other. I have too much experience with both to make such a silly claim. Like having two friends who are very different from each other, each country offers gifts (and challenges) the other country doesn't, and direct comparison isn't fair or even possible. That would be like arguing which eye color - blue or brown - is prettier. You may think that there are some situations so similar that it is fair to compare and to explore the differences, but I'm having trouble finding a good example right now. Even discussing US politics is not necessarily fruitful, as some aspects of US politics simply do not exist in Norwegian politics, so the average Norwegian will usually be baffled or get something wrong. (For example, the rights of the individual states versus federal law; Norway is not a union and so does not have those issues.) I'm sure the average American is baffled at some things Norwegian and may get them wrong, too. (Like assuming that because nudity is allowed in Scandinavian films, everybody here is promiscuous, when, in actuality, Norwegians/Scandinavians simply do not equate nudity with sex.) Other matters that might on the surface seem totally unrelated, nevertheless are related, by virtue of the US and Norway both being western industrialized nations, and by having similar constitutions and Judeo-Christian backgrounds. I see trends here and in the US (poorer math skills in today's students, increasing poverty, decreasing union membership, for instance) and realize these are not unique to each nation, but probably indicative of changes affecting all western industrialized nations.

So when something does get my attention, it's usually because it does illustrate some extreme difference in attitude, culture, history, etc. between Norway and the US. For example, corporeal punishment of children is banned in several countries in Europe, including Norway (which didn't get an all-encompassing law until 1987, I've just learned, though earlier laws banned physical punishment in school (1936) and in institutional homes (1953); and as a kid I was told that it was forbidden in Norway). There's a law in the works in California to ban spanking (simply put) and it's being discussed over at Paula's. The majority of her commenters think such a law is unnecessary and invasive, so I chimed in and basically said, "Is not!" I have the luxury of knowing two different ways to do something (like run a country) and know enough about both cultures to understand the reactions that come, so I don't believe for one minute that American parents are incompetent or evil; I do, however, understand that they are used to things being a certain way, and I was spanked as a kid, myself. When the law was initially passed in Norway, there were those here who wondered how the heck you could raise a kid without spanking it. Nowadays, Norwegians wonder why you would ever find it necessary to spank your kid.

Having spent over 25 years as an adult in Norway, and having learned a bit of Norwegian history in school as a child, I can just as easily compare Norway to itself, rather than to the US. I came back to the country just as it was finally breaking free of its World War II rations and a nationwide "sharecropper's attitude" ("husmannsånd" - i.e. "I'm not good enough to be my own master"). So here I am, a durned furriner in Norway, the land of trolls, skis and brown cheese (yummy!), and with stuff like this as part of my daily life: A small section in the local grocery store with uniquely American products, and my rose-painted chest made in the traditional Norwegian way by family members.

9 comments:

alice said...

Well, that was fascinating and I'm still digesting it.

Robbi said...

Hei Keera,

I just love your blogs. You write beautifully. I was "made" in Norway, but born in California. I grew up more Norwegian than American. My mother has long since returned to Norway, along with my siblings. I am at Lake Tahoe, CA now.

My friend and I were at dinner the other night, and she brought up Garrison Keillor. She is married to a guy who is third generation American with Swedish background, and she says Garrison Keillor's books describe her husband perfectly, even down to his being prudish about nudity.

Frankly, I don't care for Garrison Keillor or Sons of Norway. I can't relate to them. It seems that their version of Norway is the way Norway used to be in the 1800s.

What do you think of Garrison Keillor? Have you seen the movie "Prairie Home Companion"? What do Norwegians generally think of Garrison Keillor, Sons of Norway, and Americans with a Norwegian background? (I know my family in Norway doesn't care for Keillor or SoN.)

I can not tell you how many times someone from Minnesota or North Dakota has come up to my family or friends visiting from Norway, speak a very mangled version of Norwegian (?) to us, and when we can not understand them, they get mad and say to my family or friends (all of whom have spent their entire lives in Norway) that they are not "real" Norwegians!!! One Midwesterner even called my friend from Sandnes "fake Norwegian" to her face!

These people from the Midwest don't seem to want to consider that Norwegian has evolved over the years, especially with the language reforms, and their own Midwest version of Norwegian has also evolved away from Norwegian.

It used to drive my (ex)samboer crazy as he is from Norway. When Midwesterners asked where he was from (they were unable to recognize his accent?!), he'd say "Norway", then they would tell him they are Norwegian too. He didn't like that, especially since they had never been to Norway and were three or four generations removed from Norway. So now when he's asked where he's from he says he was born in Norway, instead of saying he's Norwegian.

I do think that the Midwesterners mean well, and they are proud of their Norwegian background, and I admire them for that. What bothers me is that some of them insult my family and friends visiting from Norway.

Some (not all) Midwesterners refuse to even consider that modern-day Norway is not quite what they envision. They are shocked by things like being samboer. My best friend in Oslo was disowned by the American distant cousins in her family (in North Dakota since the 1880s) for being samboer.

Sorry for making this so long.

Ha det bra,

Robbi

Keera Ann Fox said...

Hi, Robbi!

I'm so happy you like my blogs. I couldn't access your Blogger profile, so my curiosity about you is not yet satisfied. :-)

I've decided to answer/comment your comments in a new post on my blog.

Mark said...

That is really nice!

Robbi said...

Hi Keera,

I sent you an email via your blog, so hopefully you'll receive it.

I look forward to reading your new post.

Ha det.

Keera Ann Fox said...

Alice, let me know what you think!

Robbi, e-mailed you right back (and new post is up)

Thanks, Mark!

RennyBA said...

First of all; thanks for plugging me!
I do agree: one country is not better than the other and I do agree with your analysis.
Btw: you really have an interesting blog too - keep up the good work:-)

Keera Ann Fox said...

I'm glad you enjoy my blog, Renny!

I finally got around to befriending you on Flickr, too. (Now, to get more photos on Flickr.)

bathmate said...

That’s looks so nice your posting.
Everything looks good in your posting.
That will be necessary for all. Thanks for your posting.
Bathmate