Sunday, March 26, 2017

Norway, and Europe, discussed

I've had an interest in visiting Norway for quite a while now - oddly enough, kicked off by comments about it in that biography about the somewhat oddball, sometimes cross-dressing, Englishman who ended up in  Antarctica with Mawson.   I quite liked Trollhunter too (available on Stan); watching Joanna Lumley travelling there to achieve her childhood ambition of seeing the Northern Lights; and generally speaking, for whatever reason (a good tourist marketing board?), the place just seems to have attracted a lot of publicity for its natural beauty over the last few years.  (Search "Norway 4K" on Youtube or Vimeo to see what I mean.)

So, it was with some interest and amusement that I read this light piece in The Guardian prompted by the country has turned up Number 1 on some international happiness survey.  (The author takes a somewhat cynical view of the matter, and makes some questionable comparisons with other countries, all leading to an very interesting thread by people who have been to/lived in Norway for a time.)

A few things I take away from reading the comments thread:  

1.  It is enormously expensive to drink and eat there, but despite this, Norwegians do like getting off their faces on the weekend;
2.  they do tend go to berserk during the few months of pleasant weather they have;
3.  the women are generally very attractive.

 But, more from the article itself:
Norwegians are often slightly nervous and awkward socially, maybe a bit repressed. It is said that the social anxiety might be a result of the weather, and it does makes sense: it’s cold, and rains a lot, so there are only really a few months of the year when we can regularly be outside among people. The rest of the year we stay inside like hibernating bears – and when, suddenly, spring comes and we have to go outside and talk to people, this can be painfully difficult. We don’t have the same social training as, say, the Greeks, who enjoy looking each other in the eye while singing love songs – or the Cubans, whose idea of having fun is to dance sober.
More than one person in comments notes that the Greeks aren't exactly doing a lot of feeling happy over the last few years, given their dire financial position.  But, to be honest, even before the current crisis, I didn't think Greeks had that big a reputation for being happy, expressive, romantic types.  I would have put that  more over in the Italian corner of the Mediterranean. 

This next part caught my attention:
The repressed part in us comes from a social mechanism we have called the law of Jante. It basically means you should not believe you are somebody special, or be too happy with who you are. It’s quite an unnecessary law, and in many ways as lame as the sound of its own name. But the exception to the rule is when you’re drunk: then you are allowed to take up more space, so people get properly wasted at the weekends.
No one in the comments thread (so far as I know) has yet pointed out how similar this sounds to the Japanese.   Perhaps I should join in The Guardian community to make this observation.  Guardian comments threads can be great fun...

For example, I liked this credible sounding observation:
I don't know much of Norway but a bit about Sweden.
Several years ago, I worked for an Italian company that owned a Swedish subsidiary. My role meant that I was, in a way, caught between the two cultures.
It was a testing experience. The two working cultures were completely incompatible and there was mutual mistrust, bordering on hostility. The Swedish resented the somewhat pragmatic way of doing things espoused by the Italians; the Italians resented the Swedish insistence on observing form and process. The Swedish disliked the Italian emotiveness; the Italians mistrusted the Swedish inscrutability.
At work, the Swedish were generally polite but reserved and disagreement was voiced quietly but in a way that could degenerate into sullenness or passive-aggressiveness; the Italians were generally much more outspoken, as one would expect, with disagreements sometimes degenerating into rows that could be peppered with expletives such as "cazzo", etc.
At the weekends, it seemed that the positions sometimes reversed. The Swedish went drinking on Friday and Wednesday (which they called Little Friday). When drunk, there was the potential for expressions of Viking Rage; the Italians would have some food, some wine and relaxed conversation.
Ironically, despite their differences, they had much in common. Both placed a very high premium on family life, albeit expressed in different ways, and more so than we seem to. Both societies seemed to be more cohesive than ours, held together by very different societal norms.
It was a fascinating experience. I very much enjoyed the experience of both - each culture had both positive and negative attributes - but working between them could be testing at times.

No comments: