I took my daughter over to a playdate in a neigbouring municipality yesterday. As this was the first visit I stayed the whole time and talked to the parents, or trying to. Those three girls together were just like my wife and her sister Jay, they were loud and never stopped talking. How is it possible to continue talking while inhaling air? 😉
After running out of things to say, and coffee, it suddenly got very silent among the grown ups, so it was time to leave. This was one of those situations where I didn’t feel like talking, but I forced myself to do some because I didn’t want to embarrass my daughter.
To be honest, the other father did most of the talking, and I added some comments in between. We talked a little about the benefits of leaving the country, being exposed to other cultures. The company he worked for had given him the opportunity to work in the USA and Qatar, but he wasn’t impressed with the latter. That was, according to him, a very elitist society, and it was not pleasant if you were not a part of the few.
He may have a point when he said that Norwegians have a tendency to make social blunders, and that we need to get out for that reason. He was reprimanded while working in the USA because he was being much too direct in his communication. Many of us also make racist comments without knowing it. I remember a Norwegian athlete that won the 800 m race in the Atlanta Olympics. When a Norwegian TV channel interviewed him immediately after the race and asked him to describe the race, he referred to the Africans running behind him as darkies. Although this word in Norwegian may be less derogatory than in English, it still isn’t positive and at the very least shows a lack of respect. Someone called him a racist for that, and that had the whole country defend the athlete. After a long career where he had traveled a lot (not only for the competitions because the best Norwegian athletes train in the USA and South Africa during the winter), he should have known better.
We have this debate frequently in Norway. Many feel that if they don’t see a term as racist, they have the right to use it. If you get offended they get annoyed. “You are being too sensitive!” There is no racism here!” At the same time many seem to think it’s alright when we get cases like the one I read about recently. An immigrant had offered $ 10 000 above the asking price for a house, but the owner sold at a lower price because this man didn’t fit into the milieu. Perhaps that was a little strange if you are not going to live there yourself?
I had an old landlord when we lived in Telemark county. He had the right attitude about this. This was in a mountain area where there were only a handful of immigrants. He asked my wife what was the polite term in the USA. When she told him he could use the words black, African American or African, that’s what he started doing. I was sad when we had to leave this small community, and that was mostly because of this honourable man.
Many Norwegians have a tendency to leave the country to spend some time with Norwegians, like one of the Spanish islands (many go to Mallorca and Lanzarote). One of the companies selling these package tours made the mistake many years ago of having authors write what was supposed to be very tempting descriptions of these places. One of them described it as hell, and maybe that’s what it is. Could you imagine worse? You pay a lot of money to experience something new and exciting, and everybody speaks and acts Norwegian.
My experience in the USA could have been better, though. I didn’t get to work there, and although I tried getting a job, I wonder how successful I would have been. People didn’t understand me, and I didn’t understand them, and coming from a semi-socialist country I suspect I would have to get used to a much tougher competition and society. I was intimidated enough as it was, and when I find safe Norway challenging I’m not sure how work in the USA would have been like. I wanted to make it work, and I know many Norwegians have been successful in the USA, but I seem to be a bit short on confidence.
I’m not exactly setting a good example, but I have learned some from my wife. My daughter is Norwegian and American. It would be nice if she got the opportunity to try a little of both worlds, but that’s not realistic right now. I’m hoping it will later.
When I used the word blunder earlier I wanted to write something like this: Norwegians tend to step into the salad. From that point I actually wanted to leave this topic and write about idioms. That’s the advantage of writing. I can edit and write a new post later. I think I will write about idioms soon.