To integrate, must I not be allowed to particiate?

Posted: June 14, 2011 in Norwegian culture
Tags: ,

Recently I attempted to engage in a debate online in regard to the use of the term Racist in the Norwegian media.

Boy was this a mistake… I made comment upon how certain words have been hijacked by the media and politicians, thus also becoming popularly misused in the contemporary language within the land.

What I saw was a massive outpouring of hostility and complete ignorance in the verbal assault that ensued online.

My point about the misuse of emotionally ‘loaded’ words was missed completely and the fact that I had dared share an opinion and enter the debate was greeted with hostility and a ‘how dare you’ response.

Quite frankly, this worries me and may explain why the integration debate in regard to immigrants in Norway seems to be going in circles.

Now many of us expats in Norway use our blogs to vent and articulate our frustration.  We poke fun at Norway and the language, make jokes at the expense of the culture and the way we encounter situations that border on the absurd.  Whilst this is merely our opinions and is rather subjective (I have yet to encounter someone who is truly objective), we must also recognise that we live here, within this society and to survive, we must be able to function within the paradigms of the societorial culture.

But an issue that truly bothers me is that in Norway, we are bombarded with conflicting messages and trying to make sense of these is somewhat exhausting. we are told to integrate, yet most of the time I find that when the integration is used, assimilation would be a more accurate word to employ.

If we are to integrate, we must be allowed to participate.  We must be allowed to engage in debate and discussion, have our opinions heard, just as we must allow others to voice theirs.  To be overly judgemental and dismissive on contradictory opinion and become hostile towards differences of methodology and belief, often based in fear is not particularly productive. There are many immigrants in Norway, as there are many immigrants in all lands.

The phenomenon of globalisation and the information technology age we live in is shaking many of our beliefs to their very core.  We seek national identity, yet are happy to shop online from all over the world.  We demand that people conform to ‘our’ concept of society and its rules, yet have no problem purchasing imported goods.  We go on holiday to foreign lands to custom designed to appease what we are used to. We outsource businesses to foreign lands to raise profits and keep costs down.  We watch tv, movies, internet feeds from all over the globe yet still ascribe to some sort of ‘tribal’ mentality of us versus them.

Sorry, but this makes my head spin.

The modern age of freedom of information (or more free than it was in times gone by), the ease of travel and the mass movement of people of all colours and creeds over the globe should be a time of enlightenment and growth for the human race as a whole. It is our differences that make us better, stronger, more equipped to tackle obstacles and design solutions for the challenges that lie ahead of us. Instead we are group ourselves with those ‘of our own kind’, cling to nationalistic concepts that are rarely truly reflective of what our society actually is and become hostile to change and ‘new’ because we are constantly told to perceive it as a threat to our way of life. In the west we ascribe to what we like to call democracy, although recently I read an article on political science that referred to it is a ‘polyocracy’ or something like that, which meant that we vote, then we forget about being engaged in how the country is run until the next election.

Our leaders are more and more often exposed as megalomaniacs, out of touch with the real machinations of the society and culture which they are entrusted to administer and are increasingly out of touch with the electorates they supposedly represent.  We find solace in espousing to all that will listen that we are ‘free’ and our way is best yet often, immigrant populations and those who seek refuge from oppression and violent regimes are sidelined and relegated to a position of ‘second class’ citizens.  We deny them the ability to engage and participate, we do not give respect to their observations which are based upon a different perspective of the same issue.

How is this a good idea?

At what stage do we think that this is for the common good?

Is this how we wish for future generations to remember us?

I live in Norway, my wife is Norwegian as are my children.  Norway is a global player in areas of trade and cooperates with countries all over the world in the areas of business, charity, foreign aid and defence.  I identify myself as Australian, yet it only recently occurred to me that I have lived more of my life overseas now than in Australia, so really, I am a citizen of Earth, not just a nationality.

As I live in Norway though, I am primarily concerned with what happens here, how the nation is administered, the social climate and the political system as these things directly impact upon my and my family’s lives.  But if I cannot engage, in an effort to learn and understand more, as much as contribute then how will I ever be able to integrate. To be integrated means to become a functioning part of something greater, if I am to be denied the opportunity to participate and contribute, allowing my difference of experience, cultural background and  world-view to add to the mix, then I am in effect sidelined and thus it must be expected that I will resent and become hostile to that which I hear, I am supposed to become a part of.

See the conflict?

Anyway, just thought I would share that and I would love to hear from others where I could better understand and read the situation and if there are those who disagree, enlighten me…

  1. Smokey says:

    I hear ya, I hear ya… however I would say that the most effective way is evolution, not revolution. If they feel you have something to add, they will probably ask. We Aussies are pretty open & verbal, in contrast to many locals – and not all are completely enamored with it. The Aussie charm does wear off after a while, and I begin to “go native”.

    Personally,my time in Norway (10+ years) has taught me that if you bring something to the table, others may want it. Or maybe not. Little by little you become more attuned to needs, and offer opinions judiciously. Not all appreciate another outlook – especially if it is communicated brusquely. I have been burnt b4…

    I could say that this immigrant thing is still pretty new here, compared to Oz – seems we´re at stage where Oz was in the 60´s, when the 2nd generation of those who moved en masse after WWII started to emerge into society. Think about how attitudes to immigration have changed in Oz since then 🙂 Things here in Norway are changing, and changing fast – at least from my perspective in Oslo. In Geilo I guess things change a little slower, but that is to be expected.

  2. Agree with you there, I think the ‘Aussie’ way can be very abrupt and brash, we are a little too vocal with our opinions and can be a little ‘too honest’ at times. Perhaps my social radar is still in adjustment and I do need to accept that things move a little slower here, more safely whereas in Oz we have always had a little inferiority complex, thus we take a few more risks to try and catch up.
    Part of my self therapy is writing this blog as I find that by putting down ‘on paper’, a certain clarity is reached and the ability to go back, review and re-evaluate what I have written is availed to me, as well as seeking input from others to identify what I can be oblivious to.
    I have been way to guilty of being verbal with Norwegians in making criticism of things I do not agree with or drawing attention to uncomfortable topics which only burns bridges.
    I just can’t help but be saddened by the amazing opportunity that is now available to us all in growth and gaining understanding that is being trampled upon by resurgent nationalism and a climate of fear.

  3. Hi there guys. Just wanted to throw in an opinion form a Norwegian that went the opposite way. I moved from Norway 7 years ago, and are currently situated in Cairo in Egypt.

    Actually you do find people that can easily understand your Aussie way of thinking in Norway. You just have to look for them.

    People from North of Norway tend to be as direct and outspoken as you describe yourselves to be. In Oslo, big parts of the population is actually originally from North of Norway, so you do have a fair chance of meeting someone that are as open-minded as you 🙂

    • I actually have a few friends from Trondheim and find them to be great people, real straight shooters and people I feel I can depend upon and trust.
      I currently reside in Geilo, in Hallingdal, so I must admit that my perspective is heavily influenced by my current location, but I do chat with other expats and read a few blogs and observe many of the same issues seem to pop up time and time again.
      The area that seems to stand out is Stavanger, oddly enough. Must be the large expat population due to the oil industry I suppose.

  4. Jose says:

    I do not agree you made a mistake to bring the subjet online. Somebody has to wake up these people

  5. I am a great believer in debate and discussion.
    When we do not create a forum for debate and an environment where differing opinions and viewpoints can be aired openly we encourage ignorance and intolerance. Growth stops and stagnation begins….

  6. Smokey says:

    Just came across this, from a leading & very good Norwegian blogger:

    He won “Blog of the Year 2010”, for good reason.

  7. Sigrid says:

    How are you not included or able to integrate / assimilate? If you have Norwegian children, do you not benefit from the health system? Are you allowed to vote? I think I just got an excerpt because I am a little confused. I am about to bring my toddler and American husband back to Norway after 12 years in the US, and I know we will all have culture shock. I also know that my Norway from 12 years ago must be very different. How can I make the transition easier?

  8. Hi Sigrid,
    There are some barriers that are placed up for many of us foreigners in Norwegian culture and society, or at least, This is something I have encountered and it would appear that many other expats have also.
    The pure mechanics of health care and the like are not a problem, although even my wife who is Norwegian says that the health care system is the best in the world; until you get sick…
    As a foreigner, I am not allowed to vote in federal elections, the ones that matter, I can only vote in Kommune elections which seem to be a ritual of repetitive pointlessness as the Federal Government seems to overrule and impose its political ideology completely ignoring the mandate of the local representation (I know this is not unique to Norway).
    The point I make is the double standards that expats can meet. It is not uncommon to hear Norwegians groaning about something, then if a foreigner chimes in, or is so bold as to offer their input, the Norwegians suddenly about face and everything is perfect and Norway is the worlds best country to live in…this can be confusing and frustrating.
    In the workplace, often us expats find that we are held to higher standards of responsibility and accountability, that regardless of our efforts and engagement and commitment to work, we are overseen for promotion or other rewards as the locals are given first privilege. I have been told directly by employers that foreigners are not entitled to being paid correctly or are worthy for promotion as foreigners are not competent, which seems a little xenophobic.
    Where you intend to settle will play a large role, I am in the districts, so small town mentality and a complete inability to handle any form of criticism or involve foreigners in formulating solutions to challenges collectively faced.
    In the 13 years I have been here, I have seen a change in the values here, very money orientated, very much ‘me, me, me’, and due to the irresponsible European approach to immigration, nation pride has been whipped up into a nationalistic fear and suspicion of foreigners.
    If your husband is very ‘outdoorsy’ and into sports, and you plan to settle in a larger town (city), you should be okay, but it is important to acknowledge that your husband will likely encounter xenophobia and bigotry that you as a Norwegian will be completely oblivious to.
    The main thing is to be ready for some issues where his education, skills and experience are not given the credence and weight that they deserve and the frustration of having to settle for something less with the lower wages that implies. Many of us westerners have a stronger connection to our work, we can be more engaged and take pride in what we do, for Norwegians, it is a little different. They are more concerned with the status of the position and are more focussed on their free time, with work being just a pay-check.

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