We are different

Papa is coffee. I am caramel. Mamma is vanilla sauce.
Elias, 8 years

I have just read the book Sjokolade, karamell og vaniljesaus (chocolate, caramel and vanilla sauce/custard) by the Norwegian author Hilde Eskild. The quote by the  boy who was the result of the love between Somali Faisal Aligas and Norwegian Liv Toril was also chosen as the title of this book. It’s interesting that children look at skin colour as something fascinating and compare it to something they are familiar with, often food. Some people argue that children only see one colour, that they are colour blind. I think that interpretation is too simplistic because children have no problems seeing that we are different. They have not yet learned to judge and discriminate, however. The author of this book on the other hand doesn’t seem to be willing to admit that we are different.

This book alternates between episodes Faisal remembers from his upbringing in Mogadishu and his experiences in Norway. I enjoyed parts of the book, but unfortunately it never becomes more than recounts of some anecdotes. These anecdotes make the book very entertaining, and they give the reader insight into how Somalia was before and after the war, but it doesn’t provide any useful information regarding integration in Norway. The title gave me some expectations at least. I thought the book would address race and cultural differences. I think that would be natural for a book with this title, but that’s not what this book is about at all. I think most people would agree that it would be unrealistic to expect one way traffic. No one should have it their way constantly. It’s natural with a give and take-mentality. I’m curious about how that works in a Norwegian-African or Christian/atheist-Muslim relationship, but this book is not educating Norwegians on that topic.

Hilde Eskild works as an author and storyteller, which was too obvious in this book. The very last page lists six other books she has co-written, and five of them are retellings of popular stories. Telling stories is her main objective. That makes this book quite entertaining, but not as educational as it could have been.

book cover coffe, caramel and vanilla sauce
Coffee, caramel and vanilla sauce is certainly a readable book, but I think the book also disappoints in its failure to address some key issued in our society.

Hilde Eskild is Faisal’s sister in law and they have worked together on this book. I am not sure which one has been in charge and decided where the focus should be, but it seems like they have decided to write the type of message most Norwegians want to hear. The book doesn’t go far enough in explaining how Faisal and his white Norwegian wife manage the impossible. He is a Muslim and the book doesn’t say what, if any, religion Liv Toril indentified with before she met him. That doesn’t really matter because when you are raised in a country so steeped in a Christian tradition as Norway is, your thinking doesn’t differ that much from that of a Christian. Islam and Christianity are incompatible; they can’t co-exist. The only option for peace is for them to ignore each other. This book gives a very positive description of the love between a Norwegian woman and an African Muslim, but without getting into any problematic areas. It’s striking how absent Islam is in this book. It’s absence is so strong that I wondered if Faisal was a atheist, but the author also made it clear that Islam was very important to him.

I have crossed the distance between cultures myself, and married an African-American woman. I like the positive decription of Faisal and this love story, but I wonder if we are getting the whole story because I know that a marriage across cultures is not unproblematic. The difference between Arkansas and Norway is bigger than many people think, and I don’t think love alone is enough to make the distance from Mogadishu to Kristiansand in Norway much shorter either.

I believe we need to recognize that we are different and that it is difficult for different cultures to interact. Many Norwegians think that xenophobia has everything to with a lack of knowledge, and that the remedy is to educate ourselves. We believe this because this statement is repeated so many times. Well, we are not completely without experience. We knew the Samis pretty well when we tried to kill their language and cultures because we questioned their loyalty to Norway. We knew the Gypsies equally well when we sterilized, lobotomized and removed their children from the parents. We saw anyone with a travelling lifestyle as a threat, and treated them accordingly. Today surveys from the Directorate of Integration and Diversity show that Norwegians have bizarre contradictions bordering the morbid. We are happy about living in a multicultural society, while we also have a stable, negative attitude to immigration. It’s almost like the country has a borderline personality disorder.

We are perhaps the last introverts, the people that are most accustomed to being alone, and the people with the least amount of experience with other cultures. I believe we’ll get it right eventually, but I am quite sure that it will not happen without a lot of effort from both sides. This isn’t just up to Norwegians, though. They need to be challenged


One thought on “We are different

  1. John,

    This isn’t just up to Norwegians, though. They need to be challenged.

    Well, I think you are doing a fantastic job challenging them! 🙂

    But you know what the Bible says about a prophet not being honored in his own country don’t you?

    Maybe someday you and Eva can write your own story, but include the “tough stuff.”

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