I hope, you will disagree with me and prove me wrong. Really. I am here not to drive any point home. I am just wondering: is it just me or is it true for others? So here is the thing. Is Norwegian culture lonely? Or just very independent? And where does the difference go? Sometimes extreme independence and freedom can look like loneliness (but is it so?).
To begin with, I appreciate the independence and freedom a lot. A LOT. I was born and grew up in the Ukrainian city, with the social control like in a village. Our culture was (and I guess, still is) very collective oriented. The people around you can support you, and they know you well, but it can also feel suffocating. As a kid, I knew all the neighbors in my block, and the most in my backyard. You could borrow salt, matches and money from your neighbors, and you could babysit for them for free. At the entrance to every house there were benches, occupied by the old ladies of the block. They functioned as a daylong news station. They held all the information about the neighbors, they knew who didn’t clean her house, and whose husband was drinking too much. Sometimes I wonder if they were bribed by KGB for keeping the information up to date :).
Where I grew up, it was normal to be asked by your neighbors “Why are you not married yet?” and get a dating or relationship advice. It was normal for people on the bus to start a heated discussion of politics and bring it almost to the point of fighting. It was normal for people to ask very private questions about your life. So it was a relief to come to Norway where people respect your privacy over everything, and where it is not normal to ask about your salary and which party you are going to vote for in the next election. It was like a breath of fresh air. Freedom.
Some time ago I stumbled upon blog post by a Russian make-up blogger where she was discussing natural aging and surgery methods for staying young. Her position was firm and clear. The blog had a compilation of celebrity photos: those aging naturally versus those who use plastic surgery and the botox injections, – and the former seemed to be losing the game. The author argument was like that: there are many natural processes in our body, like body hair, which we don’t accept and fight, by epilation or shaving. So natural aging is not better, and should be fought by all means. In her comments a man supported that point of view: “It is the strongest that survive. So if you can find the means to look young and beautiful – of course, you should use them!”
My reaction was strong and emotional. I had a recollection of the culture where I grew up, the culture that believes in “survival of the fittest”, and for a moment I felt thankful for living in a different reality. I was born and grew up in the city in Eastern Ukraine (Soviet Union then), with the strong Russian culture and language traditions. It was that kind of place that make (Western) Europeans gasp and wonder. Why do they do it? Why – in the country with an unreasonably low wages – do the guys have the latest versions of smartphones? Why do girls look like they just got out of manicure salon, balancing on high heels in the mess of bad pavement?
Because this is Eastern Europe, I would say. A place where you must impress, you must fake that you are richer and cooler than you are. And since people don’t have enough money to impress with houses or cars, they would impress with phones and clothes. The streets can be messy, but on every corner there would be a barber’s shop, a beauty parlor or a solarium. And nowhere else but in my city will you see a girl on high heels, with a party make-up and sexy gear, heading to her usual office job on a Monday morning.