fredag 15. juli 2011

The Norwegian Social Highway Code

Having lived in the "best country in the world to live in" for the last seven years, the amateur and basically clumsy sociologist in me has been able to unravel much of the social code of how to get on as an immigrant. Just in time for me to consider throwing in the towel and leaving them to their own cabin-gloat, false modesty and small snob ways.

The FRP published a guide to getting on in Norway which included never going home to your own country. It didn't include things like, don't speak to the white nordman neighbours until they speak to you... The progress party are a weird bunch of neo thatcherites who are overtly anti immigration while having a substantial following from both Asian shopkeepers and Nordstrand racists.

So anyway, Siv Jensen's plan to deport me aside, what are my conclusions on the social codes here? The type of etiquette and conduct an immigrant should follow in order to well, fit in socially?

1) Consider yourself a guest here and not a true part of society.

This will help with your frustrations. Carry a positive attitude to being an outsider on a very prolonged visit, perhaps til death-do-us-part with the land. As a guest then, you should expect to be treated politely but not elbow your way in to social circles or god help us, a real career job. Let yourself be invited- a theme which runs through most of the soical codes

2) Use large amounts of false modesty.

Norwegians are absolute experts at this and also absolutely transparent in their falseness. They love putting forward a modest proposition or understating their capabilities such that the other party immediately flatters them on their actual abilities, or in say a job interview situation, infers that this understatement belies deep Jedi type ominpotent powers which will make you a brilliant candidate. Foriegners bomb out here in everything from job interviews, sports and past times to those travel-bore-stories yanks and Brits are so glad to force down your throat in their home countries or at holiday locations.

Saying "yes, I can do that very well and have many years experience" breaks both this rule and of course rule 1- be a polite guest and don't expect to be accepted on the same level terms here. A near literal translation of what you should have said " Hmm, no, but yes, maybe . I have had a bit to do with this, a few years perhaps this"

This false modesty stuff is really boring and is one reason Norwegians like to escape to their luxury cabins, ski appartments and 40 foot cruisers so they can actually gloat about how clever they are to earn heaps of money without working too hard. They have to put up with all this understatement posturing at work so they let out steam in being asshole materialist show offs in their many holiday opportunities.

In sports to give a further example : "yeah I can run a bit" , which would be a really smarmy and condescending reply from a former olympic 800m gold medalist who still trains regularily in the Uk or US. Saying it like-it-is, or maybe showing off a little, is just too much for Norwegians to stomach and this relates to the next law of social heirarchy:

3) Norwegians know best and are best

"best knowing norwegians" annoy even people in their own national ranks. Basically a much larger proportion of the population here behave like smart alecs who always correct you, or add something better they have done, or give a cynical put down to your claims. In your home land, these types are generally those no one buys drinks for or invites to parties, and generally they are considered a bad smell outside their own herd if they manage to gather critical mass, so to speak! Here this is typical behaviour.

Conversely though, all norwegians, like the French, the Yanks and the English hate when foreigners are better at something and look for opportunities to knock y ou off your pedestal. Remember you are in "guest limbo" for the rest of your life here if you emmigrated and you have to be a nice little camper in awe of the scenery and acheivements of the country.

Norwegians kind of have a point: they work the shortest working hours in europe for the highest pay. They have the longest holidays and they have probably the best work-life balance in the world. The encourage capitalism whjile the state is a major shareholder on the stock exchange. In a nutshell they have it very good, and make no mistake it was because they weren't stupid like we Scots- they taxed and owned oil companies in clever ways to reap the benefits of the massive reserves.

4) All Norwegians are equal: Just some are MORE Equal than others

Typically, in Oslo, this is represented in aspiring to drive a black Audi A4 estate. It is a safe bet, everyone has one. Put a sports pack badge on if you are cocky, but you are the same: they say A4 for "square" here actually.

This is also seen in sporting achievements on an amateur level where winning at something is seen as both a good effort while also a bit of luck in coming just in front of all the other competitors. Every dog has its day type thing.

Norway is now about as socialist as any democratic state in the world could possibly be, but this is not based much on the paternal, union and christian movements of the 19th and early 20th centuries as much as the basic mantra

"You are getting something I am not"

Once you understand this you will grasp that therein lies a dilema: both "keeping up with the jones's", the whole Black Audi A4 estate car thing AND the need to be seen to be modest, the false modesty.

Now of course Norway is like most democratic lands: the rich pay less than 25% tax on their income so they can sqaunder it and use it in the caribean and Swiss alps. Even there these rich twits like to show their common-ness by wearing grandad's shrunk wool snow flake jumper, or rennovating at old cow heards hut to original 15th century. They between themselves have some degree of the whole modesty shit, but are more into keeping up with the Goldbergs than the Jensens.

So as an immigrant you can expect to only aspire to being EQUAL, never achieving it and thoughts of becoming say a manager and being MORE EQUAL than others are dangerous indeed.

Another situation, while talking about bosses, is that there is a percieved need for a lot of consensus and apparent mutual decision by committee where as in reality those who are MORE EQUAL than others, ie managers and owners, pay lip service to all that and make the real decisions "fait acomplis" at the time they can take advantage of the actual lack of consensus over some actually useful actions.

4) Never criticise Norway or its Landsmen

Given all the preceeding rules, this would seem an ispo facto point. However it is worth putting it down in black and white because it offering criticism is a very quick way to find yourself being a little less guest status- the happy limbo you must endure - to being cheeky, unwanted immigrant.

However, it is a very good way to bond with other ex pats and people from more normal populations where the population are by in large more outgoing and less up their own asses.

5) Never invite - be invited

Well not never never ever, but to begin with. There is no point in having a house warming party and inviting your new neighbours. They will get to know you, perhaps enough to dislike you, but outside some of the more bohemian districts of Oslo, you will not get to know them and you won't get invited over their thresholds in return.

Most of all, never invite yourself! Hearing of a party or event or knowing they have a cabin or yacht you may like to have a tour to sets an alarm bell off! DO NOT INVITE YOURSELF. This is tantamount to saying " I see you have a really nice 16 year old daughter, and I wondered if I could break her in with a good hard shag" in our home lands. It is WAY over the line to invite yourself to anything.

Norwegians play a little coy ball on this too: because of their "equality " with other Nordmenn (look up jante's law) yet obvious superiority to all other nationals, they rub it in a little. " We are off to our cabin skiing this weekend" . " I am sailing for Jensen on his new XX 45 super carbon racing yacht ". They get a chance to show off and exclude you on this. They are less subtle when in their "MORE EQUAL" posturing with each other. In our countries mentioning things like this in normal, polite and well heeled company is a pre amble to an invitation. In the case it is neither family nor people you have known a long time, it is just cock-teasing and "significantly better off than thou' ". A chance for them to rub your crumby little immigrant nose into the lack of real material success you will continue to have the mispleasure of as a " wanderer-in" to the land.

Norwegians are a bit like this: if people are in their family then they have to talk to them, and if they have been freinds at school, uni or sports for many years earluer, then they will keep in touch. But a new neighbour falling outside these groups of social circles, will not get in for a very long time indeed.

Take our neighbours now: they are very ordinary, not snobbish really, and both of them are pretty left wing being in the public health sector. We get a long with them well now, but it took them a YEAR to say hello regularily and TWO years until we have a barbeque invitation. Then suddenly we were stamped " approved". I mean I thought they were really very rude for the first year. They were just sceptical and a little shy.

Actually as an immigrant you stand MORE chance of being inivited over within a short period than another norwegian! This is due to your guest status, so as soon as you break any of the other rules and indeed get the notion to make instant friends on the grounds of this neighgourly curiosity and national guest-welcoming behaviour, be prepared to be stung!

The basis for all this is that Norwegians are very private people really. Family is important and between christmans, weddings, births and confirmations they manage to squeeze in family cabin tours or "meets" at the drop of a hat. Men folk find this a little tiring sometimes, but it is safe and everyone accepts you for who you are. For immigrants marrying into a norsk family, expect this to be a major source of social life and a major source of frustration and boredom. You can only , after all, choose your friends but not your family.

I was very lucky when I moved here because I was accepted straight into a social circle of extrovert pals, who I had met many times actually on holiday. Then that all disintregrated with kids coming and pretentions of a career for me and moves for them.

Amongst Norwegians all this is a little bit more known: when they move to a place, they play a little hard to get: stand off a little to see who comes to them: they get the measure of people- are they worth haning out with? Do I have something to gain? They let curiosity get the better of others as a newly flytted neighbour.

Now, like many immigrants, I find it all just hell with the fact that you have to wait in some wierd dentists reception, looking at the fish tank in near silence for a couple of years before you finally start to get accepted and become "freinds". Here in the sticks, the problem is that once you are "in" with people you realise it wasn't worth the wait to get in there with them in the first place!


That is a very good point to stop this more sociological rant because that is the thing: Norwegians are by in large boring and stand off and you should spend time finding ones who are fun and stalk them carefully rather than trying to be particularily sociable.

I could add little faux pas, like mid week drinking or asking to crash out on a sofa, but I think this is the main core of the creation of all that discontent you will experience.