Thomas Freitag


Taking time to think

I took a pause in my engagement in, to observe, to reflect, to more carefully formulate my thoughts into words. And I've read quite a bit.

Publisert: 15. sep 2011

Since my first involvement in just after the Oslo/Utoya attrocities, I felt the need to pull back a bit, to take some time to analyze and understand the implications of these incidents on the Norwegian soul-- and to evaluate how my own words either contribute to or hinder Norway's path to healing.  Feelings were understandably very raw at first.  The situation deserved and deserves an element of tender respect which a blogg may fail to convey: there are certain inherent weaknesses to social communication such as this.  Words elicite power in ways one may not initially foresee; thoughts can easily be misconstrued.  So I took a pause in my engagement in, to observe, to reflect, to more carefully formulate my thoughts into words.  

And I've read quite a bit.  I've found a whole gammut of academic books analyzing Norwegian culture and society:  Marianne Gullestad's Det Norske sett med nye oyne (I apologize that the pc I'm working on is missing the special Norwegian letters) and Nina Witoszek's more recent work The Origins of the "Regime of Goodness": Remapping the Cultural History of Norway, among others.  I even dusted off my intro to social psychology text book for some foundational research on intergroup differentiation and ingroup bias and the like and how it may be applied to Norway.  But much of this wonderful research seems so impersonal and removed from my own day-to-day experiences of living in this great, little land. 

Take, for example, my first experiences on the streetcars in Oslo many years ago:  I never, ever could have foreseen the moment when an elderly woman became insulted at the well-meaning gesture of offering my seat to her.  Or the rainy night a young mother with two small, screaming kids and shopping bags galore sneared at me when I offered her my seat-- though she took it in the end.  I learned very quickly that Norwegians are a proud bunch who do not want to appear weak in any way: they want to stand on their own two feet, except when hell or high water come, then this wonderful dynamic of the 'dugnad' spirit comes forth and everyone pitches in to help in time of need.  Even lost gloves and hats are placed on fences to make it easier for those who have lost them to find them.  

I also learned that some of the smallest things in Norwegian culture will be defended to the death, like when I lovingly and painstakingly made my then-fiancee pannekaker in time for her to come home from work, and have everything fall apart when I served strawberry jam with them with nerr a jar of blueberry jam in the house. And I learned, rather abruptly, that one does not greet someone one does not know, as when passing casually on the sidewalk, because it causes the one greeted much angst as he or she quickly processes where on earth he or she must have met the greeter some time in his or her distant or recent past.  

There are many facets of Norwegian life one observes.  Like how Norwegians hybernate and turn into themselves when the sun seeps away and the cold dark winter nights settle on the soul and candles are lit and blankets are strewn across the sofas where everything is just so fantastically 'koselig' inside the home, to reappear again with the sun and warmth of spring-- with the perennial neighbor disputes over a tree that casts a shadow over an insignificant portion of the garden.  Or how there is no happier Norwegian than one who is skiing alone on the vidda, to become the most sour of Norwegians when another passes him or her on the same vidda.  Or how it seems that Norwegians really weren't created for life in the city, where they appear cold and cranky and selfish (I can't count the number of times I've been nearly bolled over by a Norwegian at the local store as they cut in front of me to grab a carton of milk) but how Norwegians simply soften and flourish up at the hytta or on the boat, singing ballads well into the night over good wine or beer or both. You can't find quality observations like these in the sociological tomes written on Norwegian culture.   

Observing the political and social landscape of Norway, however, isn't as easy.  Within the immigration debate, for example, there are at least five distinct issues which are chronically mashed up and confused and muddled together, making any kind of serious query into these issues very difficult indeed:  one, the seeming paradox between the 'public' and 'private' responses to immigration observed in Norwegian society; two, the reasons why persons from other countries land on Norway's shores or train stations, and whether or not anything could or should be done about it; three, the quality of life and opportunities immigrants have in Norway; four, the impact immigration has on Norwegian culture and society; and five, the pace of immigration and to what degree the government has prepared the nation for the societal shifts immigration has brought on its people.  There are of course various other facets of complexity that enter into the picture; each of these issues can and should be evaluated and addressed in there own right-- and how they may influence each other. The breadth and depth of these topics go beyond the limitations of a simple blogg, though they may be touched on in subsequent bloggs.  But any slight mention of immigration issues on will brand me as some sort of flaming Frp'er, and we all know what happened to them during the recent election. 

In the mean time, I will continue my quiet observations, just as we all continue in the healing process from the wounds of the summer. Take the process of a conversation with a Norwegian, for instance:  if said Norwegian mentions any topic in a positive light, the appropriate response is to make a comment with some degree of negativity.  This rule also holds in its reciprocal form:  each and every negative comment must in turn be counteracted with an ensuing comment with a positive slant, a kind of rolly-polly yin-yang canter-- otherwise the entire conversation completely stops up.  It goes something like this:  "Didn't Ragnhild serve the most delicious tapas the other night!" "Yes, but the caterer must have cost her a fortune!" "But I heard she got a good deal for ordering so much." "Yes, but did you see how much food was simply wasted after the party?  It could have fed the nation of Burkina Faso for a month!" --and on the conversation goes ad finitum.  But if "Didn't Ragnhild serve the most delicious tapas the other night!" is followed by "Yes, they were the most delicious tapas I've ever tasted," -- the conversation, in line with the Norwegian Conversation Rule, will peter out immediately and will leave Ragnhild's friends looking at their watches to avoid eye contact with each other. Try it for fun and mess up the system and see for yourself how fast a conversation simply dribbles away to nothing. One last observation: how much better service I receive in stores and banks when I put on a polite American smile and express myself in my most friendly and perfect American English-- one of my own, private little survival techniques living as a foreigner in this great, little land called Norway.  

Kommentar #1

Dan Lyngmyr

210 innlegg  1187 kommentarer


Publisert over 10 år siden

Takk for ett flott knippe observasjoner,du får nok fortsatt ta oss på godt og vondt:)


Kommentar #2

Lars Randby

159 innlegg  5721 kommentarer

En vanskelig øvelse

Publisert over 10 år siden

Det er ikke lett å sette seg ned å tenke over seg selv og egen atferd. De små observasjonene man som utenforstående gjør, men som de som blir observert ikke en gang reflekterer over. Heldige er de som har sine ben i flere kulturer for de har mulighet til å skrote det de ikke liker og hegne om det de mener er bra. Vi som er monokulturelle ser ikke like godt nyansene mellom det som er bra og det vi like godt kan vrake.

På den annen side er det neppe mulig å forstå fullt ut en monokultur enten man selv er monokulturell eller om man kommer inn som observatør med egnen monokultur i sin ryggsekk.

For den monokulturelle har ikke noe sammenligningsgrunnlag og observatøren vil ikke kunne lesse av sin kultur fra ryggsekken og glemme denne. Mulig dette er litt av grunnen til at man ikke så lett klarer å skrive bøker om kulturer som klarer å få med seg disse usynlige elementene som ligger der innlært men ikke bevisst utøvet. Man tyr da til de store linjer og det kan fremstå som uperonlig og ikke så lite akademisk.

Vil en observatør klare å fange opp det usynlige bedre? Man vil nok stusse over noe av det usynlige men like fullt er det observatørens sammenligning med sin kjente kultur som analyserer og tolker. Det blir jo ikke helt objektivt det heller.

Så det er nok ikke alltid lett å sette seg ned og gi seg tid til å tenke, men dine refleksjoner Thomas F. er like fullt godt skrevet og har mange elementer av hvordan monokulturelle nordmenn kan fremstå, på godt og vondt helt avhengig av hvordan man analyserer det og hva man sammenligner det med :-)

Kommentar #3

Thomas Freitag

3 innlegg  5 kommentarer

Thanks, Dan and Lars...

Publisert over 10 år siden
Dan Lyngmyr. Gå til den siterte teksten.

Takk for ett flott knippe observasjoner,du får nok fortsatt ta oss på godt og vondt:)

My wife certainly has to take me 'paa godt og vondt', also!

I appreciate what you wrote, Lars.  Even though I haven't lived in the United States for many, many years, and really don't see myself as being very American in many of my viewpoints and attitudes (I think that a national health care system is the way to go, for example), I still carry around my own backpack of attitudes and filtered lenses.  The clashes and discussions that my wife and I have often come from us wearing different backpacks. We actually found it easier when we lived in a third culture together (in Asia).  

I think that, deep down, I truly wish I could be totally accepted as Thomas who calls Norway 'home'.  I never will be a Norwegian, and I know that I will always be seen as the funny little American man who lives down the street or who goes to our church.  But I hope that someday I will be able to participate in the 17. mai parade without one of my Norwegian friends asking me what they should say to me, since they can't say "gratulerer med dagen" to me.  They don't realize how much I see Norway as my home, as my country.

I've lived more years outside of my homeland than inside; I am an observer of American culture and events as much as I am of Norwegian culture and events.  An outsider has the priviledge of seeing things from a new or unexpected vantage point, which, as you wrote, Lars, can be advantageous.  What an outsider gains in vantage point, loses in a sense of true connectedness with a culture.  I am pretty much okay with that, since my multicultural mix allows me to more readily see that my citizenship lies not in Norway nor in America, but in heaven, in God's kingdom.  And I think that is the vantage point all of us who call Jesus our master that allows us to see all cultures, all national and world events, with the proper perspective.  

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