fredag 11. oktober 2013

Living in Norway and Mid Life Early ?

While in a conversation with a GP actually, I was confronted with a fact of life- we get older, we get 2.4 kids and we get antisocial. Don't blame it on Norway.

You have to take a balanced view: you , like me are probably an ex-pat and statistics would say that you moved to Norway due to your better half and started a family.

So here you have to take that big change in life, parenthood, against emigration.

On the other side though, Norway is a bet special- Norwegians are good, polite hosts but they are not on average at all out going and sociable to strangers. If you can imagine moving to Fife, Aberdeenshire or some English county where people are inverted snobs, xenophobes and well-to-do snobs then that is the kind of atmosphere.

As I blogged before, Norway has never been big on immigrants: they had no empire and they were more used to sending their people out to the USA or to sea. So they just aren't used to it, and have all these displaced  peoples, generally Muslim  to cope with, which when young Somali males are in the picture, are viewed with more than a pinch of skepticism and outright "send them back".

However let us not play the racist card for you and I from developed countries with a native spouse. Here we fall into that which many Norwegians encounter- big city anonymity and non chalence, and small town clanism.  If you throw into that the  quite healthy extended family orientation of most people here, then you start to see that social lives plus the old 2.4,  have fallen into ever-decreasing-circles for the natives.

On the other hand to come back into the imbalance that you can feel about your new social life and lack of it, then as an immigrant you have a few more barriers: you have the language and it subtleties and the different forms of conversation.

Generally I find conversations to be pretty banal round my kids parents and I feel antipathy from several other parents towards me and partly my whole family unfortunately. I just can't get into the rythm of them down here because I don't get the point: I understand the words, but I dont get the tone and the whole point. To be frank I was never any good at small talk and prefer waffeling on and debating bigger topics or interesting stuff, which outside hobbies, have fallen away.

 So when you are approaching those parent gatherings or any social event, your new ways into a social life may well be people who are a lot more shy than you are used to, but at least they are not little snobs who can be quite intent and even a little aggressive at blocking you as an immigrant out of the social circle. You are looking to glide in very slowly often or grasp the chance when you meet someone nice and welcoming.

How do you address all this and build a social life?

Well you have to target your energies - decide who in the family and parents - circle at school / barnehage you like and have something in common with, or just feel comfortable with their conversation. Don't rush things, but don't refuse invitations ever!

Your other source of new friends will be through hobbies: your own and your children's. This is my source of chums and chat. Even there it is a little strained.
Take up new hobbies or join clubs which your previous individual efforts fit into, like photography.

Hobby clubs have a kind of commonality of objective conversation which has its own natural ice breakers and ways to get into the chat circle. Clubs and especially hobby clubs are very collective in nature here, they often talk of "we" and there is a natural belonging if you share interests. Sports clubs and activities are also good, golf and 5-a-side being two big in-ways for 30 something males at least. I have a personal reference from the helm of a 8 man boat I raced on, who says I came in very comfortably and was not flashy despite my longer experience.

It is important not to be flashy. Also one sport in particular is problematic- male football. Our local team had a first to third level team. A couple of outsiders, one half english, the other from the next district, played in what they presumed was the main team as there were always enough at training to have at least five a side and turn out a full team if they needed to. These two guys were pretty good at football- and they saw a group of about 5 or 6 players training together with the best coach and asked who they were? Oh, they are the first team. The next time they turned up they asked the firsts coach if they could come up to the team, to which the blunt reply from a trainer with 6 to 8 players was, "No, the team is full". That my friends is typical small town Norway! It may have taken them years to get invited to train a little and sit on the bench for the first team, who then drew on their favoured mates in the second to make up the first 11.

It is all a very painful boring catch a monkey with some people and some social circles you then come into: the best advice is that Norwegians do not like expectations (apart from North Norway folk who are virtually in another universe and often super sociable and welcoming) - the usual expectations you may have from North America or the EU in general must be forgotten- do not expect dinner party invitations and trips to their cabins as an opening gambit with the vast majority. Expect to take some time to come even into the circle of conversation!

The very big plus side is that it is very true that once you make a friend in Norway, you make a very good friend - mi casa, su casa. Then it can be a bit too much and difficult to reciprocate! Cabins, boats, hunting.....

This is though a culture clash to some extent: I think average UK, US, Canada, Antipodean, French, Dutch, Spanish and Italiens are far more used to having a wider circle of friends, and having a more fluent relationship to new acquaintances and how new friendships develop and old fall away. Also for better or for worst, our circle of friends have become more important than our extended family and we spend more time with them outside work than we do with our parents.

As a Londoner said to me he misses "the banter...they have no banter!" and this is the other down side for most of Norway- it is hard to strike up a friendly conversation with a stranger in a bar or cafe, and often hard at the school / sports / barnehage events it can be a bit frustrating. I once turned up in a kilt at an Oslo barnehage coffee party and not one person bothered to comment on me being Scottish or struck up a conversation.

More on this: you will find that Norwegians like Jews, are exclusive- they are not evangelical about themselves, their country, their opinions like many more extravert national temperaments  are. They will quickly form little social circles at these social parents gatherings based on old school alliances or some connection, and then physically fill an area or a table and exclude other people.  They do this to their own!

In Oslo and the other big cities, it is worth just trying to break in with a firm introduction and a smile. I am very much a once-bitten, twice-shy person on this but I shouldn't be really. I am the type of person who visually some people take an instant dislike to, and I cannot get along with very domineering personalities, or on the other end of the scale, shy types who cannot make or carry on conversation.

However I recommend sticking your neck in when you live in a big city, and just seeing how it goes- who takes up on you. Apply this to all social circles you come into, even family, and then if you find a circle is very closed then think about exiting stage left and working on just one or two individuals slowly to come in.


It is very frustrating for many of us in this stage of life, to move in your late twenties to early forties to Norway because it is not a very sociable country on average. Patience then, and a huge dose of humility are your greatest tools, plus having sensitive, tuned social antenna to pick up on the queues- the buying signals and the flow of the conversation into an acquaintancy and then into a new friendship.

Find people who do not block you socially - they may be a lot more shy than you are used to, and don't seek to convert enemies! In Oslo you will come upon a lot of outright snobs in any middle class area, who are often pretty right wing and anti immigration entirely!

Join clubs and try to find the pace of conversation and ask pertinent questions or make nice observations. Make these, wait for a response- qualifying things is bad because it takes Norwegians a while to think- hey an immigrant is talking, did we understand them right, should we be friendly to them or skeptical?

Most of all grasp invitations while not building up your own expectations.  I would recommend keeping the conversation objective on common ground rather than presenting your own personal dilemas and political view on the world, but you know yourself best.

Remember once you have a good friend, or a family you mesh with, nurture things and be a little imaginative with your counter invitations. Don't overload them though, keep it a couple of times a month.

This all sounds like bending your outgoing personality to fit into a bloody convent, but in fact the new positive friends and acquaintances could be pleasantly surprised by an open door policy, or a couple of invitations per month or chances to do other things together as a family or sports training etc for the spouses.