Some days you just get the feeling that you are not wanted, that you are uninvited to the party, that you don't quite fit in, that you are all-in-all surplus to the requirements of a small town.
I can't blame Norway for this. I come from a village where if people can squeeze you out by some form of cliqueness, snobbery or plain stand-offishness and social anxiety, they will. Not for them the big town with the pressure to meet new people and make new relations all the time. The mirror image of this in fact, that meeting new people is something to be avoided, that we have more than enough with our family and our cliques. We who saw the big wide world, didn't like the effort we had to make, and scurried back to small town certainties and pettiness.
For years we have seen the slightly mad, eccentricly dressed 60 something woman wander round the shops in town, trying to make conversation. Her only crimes are that one she maybe a little simple, learning difficulties we might go so far to say in a PC manner but more so that she talks a lot. She does so with just about anyone who returns her greeting, with a slightly heavy tone of expectation that her topics of conversation inspire dialogue and engagement. Some shop assistents are out right rude to her, ignoring her completely as a pest. She used to be maybe associated to a couple of other folk in the town centre, but now we only ever see her alone or with her shy-and-retiring husband who is also a little 'differently able'. I think me and my other half are both starting to feel a little like this woman if truth be told.
Also not that you can always blame small towns either. Living in some residential areas of cities can be equal in terms of social exclusion. Usually then it is economic snobbery and pressure for time. In small towns though, people are on average not so well off here, and often the quite wealthy are down to earth or even definitively egalitarian. Life has a slower pace. Less travel, less overtime, quicker home. Often even on fine spring evenings, well trodden paths and pavements are bereft for other human life. Rather people hide away inside or on their balcony's or out in their wee boats and huddle together as families or small groups of long established friends.
As parents we have a dilema. If we were single people or a forlorn, barren middle aged couple, then there is probably no way in hell we would still be here or have moved in the first place. On the other hand in that free-and-easy capacity we may have come easier in to some social 'krets' ( social circles) by shere prescence of a laid back form. Parenting and dog ownership are often cited as the two best ways to meet new people in towns or villages in particular- we are kind of a large village, small town size in fact often with a village feel until gatherings like 17th of May when you get a feeling for the bulk of people hiding away in those appartment blocks and bungalowed hillsides. However parenting at least carries with it also the risk of social exclusion in many forms.
The first trip wire for parenting as a route to a social life, is letting the wrong person know too much about you and your situations. Gossip and pigeon holing are rife, and it seems very much more important to the small towner than the casually disinterested or slightly snobby 'vestkant' Oslo type. there is an almost tangable lust to exclude, to find reason to not be inviting and thus there is a nasty curiosity which poses as the outreached hand of friendship. Social class, nationality, regionality, all play a role as does personality - are you slow, a bit dull, nice and generally one of those rather tedious types who seem to be able to have a two way, non threatening babble about kids clothes, sleeping times, food, holidays, flu and other ills then you at least stand more of a chance than folk like us.
We like to challenge authority, ask why mediocrity and outright bad service persist, and demand maybe a little more than we are allowed to generally in terms of being sociable. We're a bit intellectual, a bit hyper or intense for sure. We come from from another dimension, another wave length and after 8 years we are having one last fling at trying to meet somewhere half way or even make the effort to tune in once in a while, fully to that slow sinusoidal social signal that permeates the town so insipidly. So we as parents, meeting other parents are our own worst enemy, or rather the reverse, they see us as the enemy.
Secondly with kids in the picture is the old problem of what wavelength the kids are on with each other and who developes as playmates. This goes as far as having to move kindergarten. Usually there is some minor violence involved when a kid gets excluded, or bullying. Sometimes though it is just as above, the other parents get to know enough to satisfy their threshold to socially exclude you from being in the friends set with them based on a by proxy estimation of what people you really are via the type of child and thus uprbinging you give them.
Lastly there is the trap again of established circles and the time people feel they have with the new. This extends to kids because some relationships predated childbirth and kindergarten while others could be solidified there and then because of 'oh good, another small towner with a known, safe, local history we can relate to'.
Incomers all complain about this unless they are the sharp elbowed, pusher inner types who seek out the upper social echelons in business, politics and culture. An exception is sport, where smarty fitty pants from outside the area is a little set to one side and more or less ostricised for being a bit too good and self-good as they call big headed here.
Perhaps we made the "mistake" of not moving small enough? Two of the outlying villages in the council area apparently are much more socially inclusive than home town. People who grew up there also complain about the tightness of the town folk when they began at high school over the fjord. Living in the South here, people from outside often comment that folk 'don't take you in' and that is true but only really if you have no real reason to come in on them in general, people are yes ok a littel reserved like Aberdonians but not up their own arses like Fifer's. Once you make a good friend, then y ou have a better friend really than from your home land or town, because Norwegian generosity to friends is second to none. it is like the arabic brother or sister. Mi casa su casa. It is quite embarressing sometimes, because we have little often to give in return being quite (or just relatively) poor and living in a small house with no cabin or boat in the family fortune.
To us then the town's social exclusion is both a puzzle and seems a sickness, like a slow growing sosiopathic cancer that has always been there, it just persists in a kind on malignancy that stamps out new growth in terms of friends circles. Even an icelandic circle there is here, fell apart because the longer established icelanders belonged to a couple of 'closed circles' and just gave up on the new social circle that was evolving.
However the cure is rather blindingly obvious. You get to play ball with all the other outsiders who weren't picked for the first 11. Then you find out that small towns out on the coast attract not only the home birds back to roost, but also the slightly unhinged, the eccentric and the rather socially inept types - some have married into the area, and after the usual 10 - 18 year period divorce as if obeying the national statistical trend.
We are both however, giving it all one last chance, one last big effort this year before we perhaps just look elsewhere and let job opportunities steal us away to a larger town or city even. This time we can be a litttle more careful, a little less expectant that the rules of engagement for friendship here abide any normal sense of them. And we have a more relaxed attitude, sort of take-it-or-leave it unlike the keeness we had maybe 8 years ago when we moved here. The resolution for both of us will be new, permanent jobs and hard cash, but that is really only an excuse for getting the hell our of a place dogged with social malaise.