My post about the perks of being Norwegian has got great support among my Facebook friends and I got many compliments for it a day later at a friend’s party. There was a note of surprise in their tone which was suspicious – am I usually not as positive? 🙂 So I had to reassure them: “Don’t worry, the negative post is just around the corner. It is already half-baked in the oven. First you catch the attention by the positive one – and then swoosh, comes the negative one. This is what I call strategic blogging, hehe”.
This was not far away from the truth, since I had written a draft a month earlier – about what I like and dislike about a typical Norwegian. The post was half-baked indeed. But now, on the positive wave of the new year and positive confirmation – should I go back to complaining again? I have learnt my lesson: complaining doesn’t work (it took me a long time, but at last I learnt it *grin*). And it is much better to keep the focus on the things I like instead of going through what I don’t like. But on the other side, I feel that I am hiding. I have my ideas and I am just afraid to air them. Because they are less pleasant for Norwegians, and so I am also afraid to touch that.
I don’t want to offend anyone – and then I end up tiptoeing way too much. I also want to be more positive than negative. But still there are things I want to say – and why should I suppress my voice which is still so weak? When suddenly I got the idea of talking about myself, instead of a typical Norwegian. What about Norwegian culture that I adopted myself and don’t like?
Conformism. Scandinavian culture in general tends to be more conformist. As a Swedish friend in “Eat pray love” notes: “The word for Stockholm would be conform”. The word for Oslo would be just the same. Norwegians are so careful about their choices. They are never too loud if not drunk, and their behavior and clothes reflect that. I come from a country where everybody tried to show off as much as possible. In Norway that would be ridiculous. Norwegians still want to signal their taste and money, but they do it in a very subtle manner. Norwegian style is simple, with lots of neutrals, but here and there you integrate that Ganni coat or that Gucci belt, and those who know, will understand. Their appearance doesn’t shout “look at me look at me, I am so cool, I am so rich”.
I like that you can be very relaxed and wear jeans and snickers all the time. But sometimes I feel limited by this total simpleness which is almost imperative. I picked up on conformism and don’t want to stick out. No big and shiny jewelry, but small delicate pieces. Bright colors? Now less and less, but thanks God for trendy red. High red boots? Uuh, only for special occasions (very special occasions), otherwise they would think I am Eastern European
whore. Generally, that angst to appear Eastern European has followed me for a long time. On the one side, I like wearing bright colors and loud jewelry, on the other, I always have been conscious of not appearing too Ukrainian *ironic smile*. People like to repeat: “I don’t care about what others think”. Well, good for them – but I care. And I think, it is normal to care, after all we are all social creatures and we adapt our behaviors and choices in new environments. And again, maybe, I am just a little conformist who has found her perfect country 🙂
Coldness and reserved Nordic character. Norwegians are often described as cold and reserved people. At times it may also feel boring. And you know what, I find myself becoming as reserved as they are. When I am travelling outside of Norway and make new connections I sometimes find it difficult to lead a small talk. My friends would laugh into my face, if I acknowledge this, because I am chatting all the time. But in new situations I find myself without knowing what to say, and what I say tends to be simple, rational and boring. Just as Norwegians may seem boring to me – so I find myself sometimes! We don’t do a lot of small talk in Norway, and so I lost that skill. I have learnt to be reserved with the people I don’t know, and now even if they are open for contact, I am wondering at what is ok to tell them. I find this insight very exciting: you can observe inside yourself how the Scandinavian character is developing. It is like growing flowers or crystallizing a crystal 🙂
About that notorious Norwegian coldness. Recently I’ve read the best explanation so far. The author of a local hit “A Social Guidebook to Norway”, Julien S. Bourrelle, explains more in the book “Norwegians. Friends and Love”. His points are humorous and illustrated by pictures, which makes it a mix of fun and revelation. So, his idea is that Norwegians value independence above everything and that’s why they don’t do favors – so that the person would not feel like he owes them something. Amazing! That explains a lot. For how long we’ve been saying: “Norwegians are greedy. When they lend you 10 kroner, they expect them back”, “They split the bill on the date even if it is just two cups of coffee”, “They don’t pick up their friend at the airport”. While I was studying in Oslo, my friends were Polish, Cuban, Mexican and Iraqi. We all agreed on the fact that Norwegians act strange. We would lend little sums of money without expecting it back, we would invite a friend for coffee and paying for him, we would go far for our friends. But we come from the cultures where such favors are paid back later and maybe in another form.
But in Norway the exchange culture is more direct and immediate in time: you paid my share of dinner, I transfer money to you by the app here and now. And then they don’t want favors, so they can be independent. They will not do you a favor – so that you can stay independent. It is not rudeness, it is not greediness, it is not bad intention. They just have different values. In my culture we create a net of inter-dependence, and that works for us. In this society they value independence of individuals from each other. That’s why the family and friendship doesn’t play the role that it plays in other places. In Ukraine you can loan a big sum of money from your friends, and care and help are provided in greater degree through relations. In Norway there is a welfare state that provides care and help, and small (and big) loans are made in the bank.
I have learnt to be independent and to rely on myself in the everyday basis. There is this unwritten rule that you don’t cross the borders of others. You don’t start chatting with them on the plane or in the line, like all Ukrainians do. You respect the privacy and don’t ask personal questions. You take for granted that the person doesn’t want your intrusion – so you don’t intrude. And even with friends you can tolerate a distance that before would seem almost unpolite. Funny enough, but I am sure that now I would seem cold and reserved for the newcomer Ukrainians.
To be honest, I appreciate this value of independence. And it works for me in this country. But sometimes I wonder if I didn’t get way too cold or distant, forgetting to ask a friend who is sick if she needs some help. Also, I imagine that not all of my life will be spent in Norway – and how then will I act in a new country? My Catalan family definitely thinks that I am very Nordic in my ways, and maybe, my Polish family thinks that too (my brother is married to a Polish girl and lives in Poland). How can I communicate my love and care for them, after I’ve been feeling here like a lonesome fighter lost in a snow storm? I’ve spent many years making my way stubbornly through the snow and loneliness, I have learnt to be independent and self-sufficient – but I don’t want to be a hard and cold Viking without empathy (and I feel like that sometimes).
I haven’t noticed how I have changed. I don’t even notice so much now – unless I am abroad. That would be fun to go back to Ukraine and live there for some months. I wonder if the locals would recognize me as one of their own tribe. I look like them, but I don’t talk like them, don’t think like them and don’t act like them. I’ve been defining myself as a Ukrainian living in Norway. But no, no way. How much of Ukrainian do I have in me now? It is time to redefine myself. I have become Norwegian-Ukrainian. Does it make sense? Is it possible? Well, at least, this is something I am now, so it must be possible.
Do you have experience of becoming a part of this and a part of that? How do you feel about it?