Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Addressing my Hygge loving side: Norwegian meets British Values

"We do not regard Englishmen as foreigners. We look on them only as rather mad Norwegians." Norwegian diplomat Halvard Lange

Hei alle sammen!

People often talk about the BAME community in the UK; it's very often those who are from the Commonwealth who get the most (negative) attention thrust on them. It might be startling for those who claim a long line of English heritage since before 1066 (not many can actually claim such heritage)to know that I am not English in any sense other than through an accident of birth. I'm very proud of my mixed heritage and have been vocal throughout my schooling and working life about my mother's Scandinavian heritage. Whilst she is of mixed Norwegian and Swedish descent, she was born in Moss, Norway in February 1958 and has retained her Norwegian citizenship despite being educated in a private school in Durban, South Africa during the 1970's and then coming to England to work after her parents' divorce in 1977. That means legally speaking she is Norwegian. The funny thing is due to the Norwegian population being only 5, 213, 985 people as of May 2016, it does make me a minority person in the UK! So I thought it's about time to talk a little bit the similarities and differences between British and Norwegian values and interests!

Norwegians and Brits are very patriotic:
Norwegians care deeply about preserving their national and cultural identity; for hundreds of years Norway was ruled first by the Danes and then by the Swedish until 1905 when Norway finally gained independence under the guise of a constitutional monarchy. The Norwegian royal family descends from Queen Maud who was the daughter of Edward VII and remain beloved by the people. Norwegians celebrate their independence day or Nasjonaldagen on den syttende Mai or 17th May, which was the day that the original Norwegian constitution was signed in 1814 declaring Norway an independent kingdom, despite being in a political union with Sweden. Norwegians may be sympathetic to the Scottish Independence cause because they remember what it was like for Norway to be in such a union contract. Yes many Norwegians do believe it will be inevitable that Scotland will become an independent country but we also respect the patriotic fervour that people in England and Wales feel for keeping the UK together. Norwegians admire the "British stiff upper lip" mentality; the idea that we carry on with our daily lives regardless of what God or life throws at us.

Norwegians and Brits care about equality and diversity:
Hundreds of years of foreign rule has made Norwegians very modest. Economic power was centralised in Copenhagen or Stockholm, meaning that social mobility was stilted amongst the local population. Few were of high standing (except for chieftains and government officials) and in rural areas fisherman and farmers were treated as equals as both provided valuable commodities to their community. Neighbours helped each other out financially and emotionally throughout their lives and sense of fellesskap is still strong despite the economic miracle that resulted from North Sea gas and oil extraction from the 1970's onwards. Norway led the way when it came to the suffrage movement; in 1884 171 of the country's leading politicians including the Prime Minister founded the Norwegian Association for Women's Rights which campaigned for women's right to be educated and to work in the same types of roles traditionally associated with men. Norwegianisation (the policy that attempted to assimilate the Sami and Kven non-Norwegian populations of Northern Norway into a socially and culturally uniform Norwegian population) which was greatly criticised by the international community has been abandoned and the Norwegian government has made reparations for this act. Brits have also made such reparations with the disbanding of the Empire and introduction of the Commonwealth.

Like the UK, Norway has a body of equality legislation and Norwegians are especially proud of the protection they have afforded the LGBT over the past 50 years including legalising gay sex in 1972, gender neutral marriages in 2015 and getting rid of the requirement for transgender people to have to be psychologically diagnosed before changing their legal gender. Maybe now the UK has decided to exit (stage left hopefully) the EU, they may consider adopting some of the more socially progressive LGBT Norwegian laws? Just a suggestion Ms May/ Ms Leadsom/Mr Corbyn!

Norwegians and Brits care about security:
Norwegians have always been concerned about protecting themselves against terrorist attacks both internally and externally. Norway has its own National Security Authority (NSM) or Nasjonal sikkerhetsmyndighet and an Intelligence Agency or Etterretningstjenesten that work together with the Norwegian Ministry of Defence to identify security threats and protect the population in the event of a terrorist attack. Unlike many "Little Englanders" who believe that native born (white rural) people can do no wrong when it comes to perpetrating hate crimes, Norwegians do not automatically dismiss the notion that  terrorists can be white, far right extremists who are atheist or agnostic as well as Muslim. The desipcable acts perpetrated by Christian middle class anarchist Anders Breivik where he killed eight people by detonating a van bomb amid the Regjeringskvartalet in Oslo, then shot dead 69 participants of a Workers' Youth League (AUF) summer camp on the island of Utøya on 22nd July 2011 demonstrate that terrorists can come from any background !

Norwegians and Brits care about trading opportunities:
Norwegians and Brits genuinely care about trade deals and international trading cooperation; there are currently 300 Norwegian companies in the UK of which 1/3 are in Scotland. Norwegian companies that have bases in London include DNB Bank, Norway's largest financial services group, that deal in Shipping and Energy as well as Investment Banking, Goodwille Ltd a marketing and PR firm that helps to bring foreign businesses into the UK and make them feel supported and welcome by providing HR, Accountancy and Payroll services and Helly Hansen an active sportswear designer from Oslo. For Norwegian companies the UK offers a base for trade with the EU; it remains to be seen whether they will reconsider relocation to an EU country now the UK has decided to leave. It's possible they may relocate to Stockholm or Copenhagen in the near future to keep costs of exporting down.

Norwegians and Brits care about energy sources and protecting the environment:
Norwegians have always chatted to British energy companies about energy issues. Nearly half of British gas imports come from the Norwegian continental shelf and about 70% of British oil imports come from Norway. Most Norwegian companies in the UK operate in the energy sector.
Norwegians love being outside in the countryside and enjoy hiking and kayaking just like British thrill seekers. They also care about preserving the countryside from harm and have strict rules for tourists regarding hunting animals such as the moose, known in Norwegian as skogens konge, "king of the forest". Part of protecting Norwegian biodiversity is to focus on renewable energy sources so Norwegians care deeply about increasing its usage both in Norway and abroad. Statkraft and Statoil are two Norwegian companies that are deeply involved in continued development of offshore wind power in the UK.

Norwegians and Brits have a shared love for the Arts:
From Henrik Ibsen's shockingly progressive feminist plays of the 1870s to that psychedelic Scream painting by Edvard Munch, Norwegians have always been open to cultural sharing and cooperation. Generations of British pop artists have inspired Norwegian musicians who have created such award winning songs such as "La Det Swinge" or "Let It Swing", the 1985 award winning Eurovision number by those purple sequinned diva duet Bobbysocks or more recently the wonderfully eerie yet lyrical tones of Aurora and her "Half A World Away" which featured on the thought provoking John Lewis Christmas 2015 advert.

Norwegians love bargain shopping just as much as Brits:
Due to the ridiculously high clothing prices in Oslo shops, (£30 for a t-shirt) you'll find many Norwegians stocking up on #PrimarniSwag when they are visiting British relatives down London way. My Uncle can easily spend £200 in the Lincoln store because he wants to fill up his import quota with funky t-shirts and bright jeans! Norwegian women love our scarves and shoes too! However, Norwegians despair at our jackets, coats and jumper choices! If it's not pure virgin wool you can keep them!

Norwegians will drink Brits under the table if asked:
Now I love a good night out as much as any other person but Norwegians can take their drink much better than Brits. This is because most Norwegians are not binge drinkers; they steady their consumption out over the course of the night and can even go without alcohol if they just want to dance and flirt down the local discotheque. However, if you challenge a Norwegian to a drinking contest, be aware they can often drink 10-11 pints in a row and still be left standing! I know- my Mum has challenged many a man to a drinking game and there's certainly a lot of Skål (Cheers) given by the end! Might be a reason why she married an Irishman!

So you see Norwegians and Brits aren't quite as far apart as some commentators might make out, even if Norwegians do rebuke Brits with a sympathetic, slightly patronising maternal voice!