In my travels over the weekend I’ve met several Norwegian citizens who want to share their views about their country, and were in turn interested in mine. There are two I want to talk about. A gentleman I met on a train to Åndalsnes, named Bjørn, and an old woman I met in Åndalsnes, named Ann.
I was sitting on a train to Åndalsnes and gazing out the window in the Kafé train car. The man sitting across from me noticed I was looking around like a tourist and was chuckling at me. I looked at him, gestured around me and told him, “This is all so beautiful! I love this country!”. He looked back at me, and almost like I offended him asked me aggressively, “What do you like about it?”
“The trees, the mountains, the air, everything…”
“Oh, the trees and mountains, the fjords. That’s why you love it here so much?!”
“Yes…” I replied “But I think the thing I love most is the people.”
Almost as if I had answered a question correctly, his demeanor changed.
“Say it, then.” He said.
“I love the people!” I said more enthusiastically, feeling more sure of myself.
“Exactly!” He exclaimed. “The people. The trees and fjords have been here for millions of years. They’re going to be around for millions more. The people are what make Norway great. You can go to any other country and say it’s great, but why? Because of the buildings and food? No, the people make a country, not the sights, and Norway has wonderful people”.
We talked a bit more during the train ride, I asked him a little about his travels and interesting things to do in Norway. I finished my drink and went back to my seat.
This interaction was unexpected and incredibly inspiring- like I met the Norwegian Tony Robbins. National and personal pride are very important to Bjørn. According to him, Norwegians have a great deal of pride, which you can tell, he says, by the Norwegian flags everywhere, their love of exploring their country, and their holidays. Bjørn had told me that these are a people who try their hardest to keep their country clean and livable and better for each successive generation. To be Norwegian is to have pride in your county. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any people more inspired and proud of their country than the Norwegians. From my own observations, this is an important facet of Norwegian culture, one that anyone visiting or wanting to live/work in Norway should be aware of before they travel here. From what I talked to Bjørn about during our train ride, it could be hard for people that are new to the country to get used to the Norwegian way of life.
I decided to take a walk one evening from our cabin in Åndalsnes. The time was around 9 p.m. Town was to the right of the cabin’s driveway, and as such we had never even walked left. There was a small neighborhood at the foot of one of the biggest mountains I’ve ever seen, and I was determined to get to the foot of that mountain. After about 15 mins of walking I finally arrived. I walked around the neighborhood, admiring the houses and their proximity to this veritable giant, when I came across an older woman in her yard. The yard was filled with tall flowers and vegetables, and had an incredibly large, bright, hot pink hydrangea plant.
As I was admiring her hydrangeas, she came over and started talking to me in Norwegian. I politely explained I didn’t speak Norwegian, to which she asked if I was American. I told her yes and immediately her eyes lit up. She began to ask me about the United States, how Trump got elected, how our political system worked, about the differences between states. She wanted to know what kind of people Americans were. We talked out in front of her house while I did my best to iterate my points (her grasp of English was tentative at best) but she made a great conversation partner. After about 15 minutes or so she invited me to a table in her back yard that was more shielded from the wind so we could continue our talk.
Her name was Ann and she had lived in Norway her whole life, and had never gone to America. She was so curious about how our country worked, and said that a lot of Norwegians like Americans, but that sentiment is damaged now that we elected Trump. I had to explain that a majority of Americans don’t want him in office and wish someone else had won. She was very heartened to hear that. After about an hour I said my goodbyes, and walked away with a new Norwegian phrase- Tusen takk, which translates literally to “Thousand thanks”.
This was another interaction that was completely unexpected, and very much made my evening. Ann was very open and welcoming, which falls in line with my other Norway experiences. She was proud of her country as well, but her interest in US politics was unexpected. She was worried about how Trump would negatively affect her country, and how this man could become president. More shocking was that she reiterated that many Norwegians and other countries believe that this event will set America back and potentially severely weaken it. Many other countries don’t take us seriously anymore, she said. One take-away from this interview is that this seems to be how the world views Americans, and can make many interactions very challenging. Going in understanding your audience, building rapport and being respectful in your interactions can go a long way, as does learning a bit of the local language.