I truly believe that many, hopefully most, Norwegians do their utmost to welcome foreigners of all colours and creeds and from all countries when they come here.
The extra welcoming of Ukrainians is perhaps felt as a provocation by some, and I have personally realised how much our treatment of refugees is connected to our own politics and very often, to politicians’ personal or political sympathies towards specific groups of people in other countries. The attitude and behaviour of some politicians right now makes this very visible.
But Norwegian culture has not been a ruler’s culture, not since viking times, and those times are too far away to be a normal or relevant source of political attitudes. Thank God for that… We have had our rulers, you can also say, Denmark and Sweden, but they both left the country with no war, no military intervention of any kind, and no one has seriously hard feelings against them. We are friends, and the only unkind words are jokes that are typical for any neighbouring countries or people, belonging in the entertainment department.
I have some Scottish friends, and to one of them I once expressed my bad conscience or feeling about the fact that actually Norse vikings did violent things to her country, even if it was long ago. She replied with a laugh that Norwegians were in fact kind of popular in Scotland, and that “if you hadn’t done it, someone else would have”.
Nice way to see it.
The times were like that…
But we have in some ways been the little brother in Scandinavia, this is at least a feeling. I certainly don’t want our country to become unpleasantly great or in any way thread on others, I sincerely want the tolerant part of our culture to guide our attitudes towards others. But a little more sense of ourselves could perhaps be ok. It is not necessary to push anyone away for this to happen.
Consider also that we were in many ways alone, a sparsely populated country and with often a meagre interest from abroad, left to our own business, which you could say we attended to.
This has left us, I believe, as a people, in some ways in difficulties both in fighting for ourselves when necessary, and in some trouble sometimes when it comes to meeting with other cultures. Especially after the war this must have been a very strong part of us, the occupation of Nazi Germany left us, I think, culturally flat in many ways.
Today this is changing, the world is here, but the big world is in some ways pretty unstable, problems make people both flee and move for reasons connected with political or cultural persecution and climate problems, just to mention two reasons for international migration.
I sometimes feel that people arrive here with a lot of luggage, not least politically, which is actually not always relevant in a Norwegian setting. It is not true that Norwegian government has been traditionally corrupt, and even if politics of course is trouble everywhere sometimes, the conflicts have not been worse here than in other countries, perhaps less so. The Labour party ruled for many years after the war, and there has been a consensus that even I sometimes found deafening, even if I sympathize with much of what was done during the 70s when it comes to gender problems, for instance, and of course the equalling out of economic differences which happened at least to a pretty large extent, which you could say was the biggest political theme after the war.
But today Norway is in many ways a different country culturally speaking, different from hm…the rest of the world?
I sound naive, maybe I am, but I am generally used to, I think we are…that talking to each other to solve problems is possible and also accepted, even across cultural and political borders or conflicts.
The problems of women, as they were described during women’s lib, differ greatly here – between generations, not least, and between subcultures in society, but still the situation of women…it really seems that it cannot be compared to the US, to South America absolutely not, with Asia I must really guess, but so many places seem to have come shorter in many ways both when it comes to formal rights and prevalent attitudes in society. The situation when it comes to personal freedom, however, for everyone, has been a real problem here, I believe social pressure is as high as you can imagine almost anywhere. Oslo used to be a refuge for “different” people of all kinds, creating for instance an art scene with usually an abundance of interesting experiments in many genres. It didn’t happen all here, of course, other places too, perhaps all Norwegian “cities” functioned a little like this. I don’t know, really.
Even if there are still issues here connected to women’s situation in society, the development when it comes to personal economy, especially after divorce, and in other connections, has in some ways secured women’s rights to an extent that men’s situation ought to be considered in the same way as women’s was. I am certainly not arguing in favour of removing any of the rights for women, but it is not always necessary or right to deprive one group of people of rights to help another group out into the light.
In business life women seem to have remained in an old, rather fixed position of partly subservience and admiration towards men, judging from some of the voices coming out of it, but I hardly know the inside of it at all today, so I can’t really tell. My father worked in shipping when I grew up, but he left his job for becoming a writer at around 50, and this was in the middle of the “radical” times in my part of Norway, and I can’t really tell what is going on in similar workplaces now.
Political reality has been, I think, in some ways worse elsewhere, one of our main problems have perhaps been indifference and a certain ignorance, both politically and between people on a certain level. This has been a problem, not only towards foreigners, even if this is also the case, it is a feature of the culture itself. Between Norwegians there has been a mix of common attitudes on the surface, which has not always been negative, even if the understanding have also covered up conflicts, but there was sometimes a real feeling of solidarity on one level, and selfishness on other levels. “Mind your own business” must partly have been a reaction to a society with extreme social control if you go back decades or centuries, partly it is in a way a selfish scheme, but of course you also need to be selfish, the question is just to what extent. Balance…
In many ways you were left to yourself in Norwegian society, the fate of not being welcomed to town is also not reserved for foreigners, it can happen to us too. The positive side of loneliness used to be creative freedom in many jobs for competent or active minds, especially if you also took care of common matters in your work.
Regional cultures have always been strong, and cooperation between them not always easy. I hope for my part that all our cultures, because there are actually in some ways many, can be turned into a resource even more, in the future. I don’t see it as a problem to be patriotic on behalf of the place you live, as long as it is not exaggerated and certainly not turned into violence, if anyone should think of that. We are not used to anything like that, conflicts in politics, at least, are mainly played out in newspapers and in private conversations, and through the work of numerous organisations on many levels, private or public.
Of course much has happened backstage, but newspapers were many. Today it is a problem that fewer owners than before have taken over many smaller papers.
I actually believe that class differences, even if they of course existed here too, were less crass than in many other countries. Things like geographical isolation and the slow and not really dramatic development towards democracy during the 19th century, made us in the end, or maybe from the start, fairly sure that we could actually fix things ourselves, that democracy could actually work, and rules of democracy were at least up to recent times for a great part respected. Abuse of power existed, of course, as in any country, but mostly backstage, so to speak, meaning that if such abuse were made visible in the press, people behind it could get into trouble and discussions would routinely begin. No system functions 100%, but in many ways we had a democracy and we had from the 60s onwards a welfare state which also functioned at least fairly well.
There is of course, I guess always, larger secrets in a society, structures of power that are hidden behind official truths, etc. But even here there was done research during the 80s, I believe, and probably later, and it is at least fair to say that if you were interested in politics you were not totally ignorant of such things. Fairness existed, of course not everywhere, but if you knew your rights, you had a fair chance of getting whatever your reasonable claim could be, at least on some levels and in many connections.
As I said, informal patterns of power and conflict existed also here, the fight between districts and towns, of course between centre and perifery, sometimes harsh private quarrels between neighbours over the use of land etc, in society the power of the industry or the money, the power of central politics. Some normal issues in society, you could say.
Some really large matters were more or less resolved, the biggest being the economic liberation of the working class as far as one could say it happened – and the establishment of a social security net during the 60s and onwards, and some were not, some environmental issues ended as lost cases, for instance the building of the Alta dam, which of course had a huge impact of the nature in the canyon up there. Still, this conflict gave the Sami people a voice and a new consciousness, and the establishment of their parliament was partly a consequence of this conflict.
Still, and even more the last years, Norway has not been a society totally locked in all ways, the possibility of change was there even if there were conflicts and even if you might have to fight for your cause. Today the emergence of populism and other developments have turned quite a few things upside down, and left society open to change perhaps too much. A few decades ago, and say 50 years back, change moved slowly, both because economic reality was something very different from today, and for cultural and political reasons.
All this is talk about the times up to modern populism hit us like it hit I guess everybody else, from there the story will have to be partly retold.
We used to mind our own business in many ways, and “modern” attitudes here tend to demand us to follow rules that are often far too strict to be the backbone of a democratic society. Some rules have racist motivation and functions racist directly or through the way they are managed, other things have come as a result of an un-educated attitude to systems in general.
The attitude towards problems has always been practical, and also I believe often improvisatonal, too much sometimes, but also a part of our thinking that has worked pretty well in many connections. In some ways slow, especially in the forming of larger political lines, in others quick, quicker than competitors, for instance, in business.
Simplifying everything is also a general feature of thinking, sometimes beyond the point of stupidity, but also often a clarifying feature, a habit that helps to see problems clearly, as long as you are able to fill in with other types of knowledge, empirical etc.
Be, as a foreigner on the way in or already inside – a source of impact, but take care not to crush us with your own problems – they may exist here, too, but maybe not always in the same ways and as serious as in the country you or your family came from.
Just think about it.
Norwegian culture used to be in some ways extremely open, which explains some really crass reactions because some have very few means of defending themselves.
This doesn’t mean hat they don’t have a life, a mind and a soul.
Edited after publishing.