Hallo! Another commentary (two of them, actually) about the wonderful life of Norwegians (“What we saw in Norway: A model for Minnesota” and “The U.S. can’t become Nordic just by declaring policies,” April 2). I beg to differ.
I’ve spent my professional life unwilling to judge people of different cultures and values in Africa, Asia and Latin America. But now I’m doing just that about Norway.
Let me explain. My American daughter, her Kenyan husband and their bi-racial children are residents of Norway. Over the last decade or so I’ve visited them in the Oslo area up to three times per year, living there for three to four months each year. I haven’t found Norwegians to be particularly happy.
It is true that Norway is at or around the top countries in the world for income equality, low pupil-per-teacher ratios, high life expectancies, low infant mortality rates and all sorts of measures of well being. It’s just that they just don’t seem all that happy to me.
I spend a lot of time walking while in Norway. Winter is the worst — cloudy and cold and icy for many months. The main problem, though, isn’t the bad weather or even the long walks necessitated by one’s distance from public transportation. It is the unfriendliness of the Norwegian people.
Granted, Norwegians can be quite friendly once you know them. But to walk down the streets means that people, including naturally effervescent children, literally turn their heads away so they don’t have to say “Hi” or even smile at you. I know, because I spend all of my time trying to smile at them and say hello. Maybe I’m just too Midwestern. We love to walk down the street, say hello to everyone, smile and say, “Isn’t it a beautiful day? I just love the sunshine. Have a wonderful day!”
I suppose the polite word is “reserved.” Norwegians are reserved. They are also very “rule-based,” a polite way for me to say “impolite.”
Random people come up to me and say things like, “You shouldn’t be sitting with the baby in the bubble-ball areas of the children’s playground because you’re not a child.” (“Yes, but I’m sitting with the child!”) Or, “You shouldn’t allow the child’s older brother to help him in the little children’s area of the swimming pool. (“Yes, but my arm is in a cast and I obviously cannot help my little grandchild.”)
I always thought Norwegians didn’t like me because I’m a foreigner. Then it hit me — maybe they don’t like me because my grandchildren are black.
I don’t say this lightly. I don’t like to think that people, especially Europeans, are racist. But Norway, like the rest of Europe and the U.S., is growing increasingly racist, or at least anti-immigrant (which is often the same thing). There is a rising far-right nationalism growing even in the countries we view as being particularly tolerant.
My daughter works with the mental health of victims of trauma whose asylum cases have been turned down and are now living undocumented lives in Norway. I’m convinced that no immigrant communities are included in the “happiness” surveys. Their lives are incredibly sad, just like the lives of those being turned down for asylum when entering from our Mexican border. This is the hell of it. Undocumented immigrants must hide, worry for their children, and live with their traumas regardless of country. It’s a global trend.
My bad attitudes toward Norway aside, my worry for the world is the widespread hostility toward the world’s victims of violence. Asylum is a legal, global and humanitarian right. Let’s start with our own border.
Jacqueline Brux is an emeritus professor of economics and founder/director of the Center for International Development at the University of Wisconsin — River Falls. She is also the author of the college text “Economic Issues and Policy,” now in its seventh edition.