This is always a controversial topic in Norway. There is currently a documentary series on national TV that presents the issues of being an immigrant in Norway: Det nye landet. Last week the documentary focused on Norwegian men and ‘import brides’. It is commonly known amongst Norwegians that Norwegian men import brides because Norwegian women don’t consider them ‘a catch’. So Norwegian men look elsewhere.
When it comes to Norwegians marrying someone abroad certain trends have developed over the years. Currently most Norwegian women who marry from abroad marry from Sweden, Denmark and the UK. Most Norwegian men who marry from abroad marry women firstly from Thailand, secondly from Russia and thirdly from the Philippines. The import brides have clear reasons for their marriage choice: Russian women marry Norwegian men because of the ‘Norwegianess’ – meaning that Norwegian men are more domesticated than Russian men therefore Russian women have less domestic responsibility and more ‘freedom’. South-east Asian woman marry Norwegian men because they want to up-grade their lifestyle and also use it as a means to support their family in Thailand.
Through this study an unfortunate trend has surfaced. Some of these marriages have turned out to be a very bad arrangement. By Norwegian law a foriegn spouse may be sent back to their country if the marriage hasn’t lasted for more than three years. Some Norwegian men use this power to control their spouse. He threatens divorce, and in turn will send the import bride back to her home country, if she doesn’t do what the man wants or the marriage has problems. It is known that if the marriage is disagreeable in the eyes of the Norwegian man he will divorce his first import bride, sending her home, and then, I quote from the documentary: ‘they pick up a new younger wife from abroad if the marriage has conflicts’. Some of these import marriages trap women into a life of insecurity and service.
A Russian woman who marries a Norwegian man increases her social status among her friends and family. However, coming home from Norway after a failed marriage will decrease her status to the same extent. Many Russian women wait for three years until they divorce so they can stay in Norway and not have to face disgrace back in their home country.
One particular Russian woman, now living in Tromsø, said that her friend was married to a Norwegian. Her friend asked her if she wanted to live in Norway. When the Russian woman asked ‘how’, her friend said that their neighbour was a single man. Soon after the neighbour and the Russian woman ‘hooked up’. The couple are now divorced because of “differences”, after a four year marriage. The Russian woman wanted to return to Russia but said that there was nothing for her in her homeland.
A UiT researcher, Ann Therese Lotherington, says ‘The Norwegian regulations produce dominating men and subordinate women. Even if the parties don’t want it that way.’ She mentions that this does not fit with the Norwegian view of gender equality. However, ‘many of the 6500 marriages between Norwegian men and Thai women are happy but Norwegian law allows some men to exploit their wives’.
Interview from Thai woman who was masked to hide her identity:
The first time we met we hit it off and he asked me to come to Norway on a holiday… (After marriage): After two months he said I wasn’t allowed to go to school. He said if I went to school he would send me back and that I had to apply for a job. I worked long hours and when I came home he was angry with me. That’s when I made the decision I wanted to break up. I couldn’t be with him anymore. Many Norwegian men just want to have sex and then just dump them and find a new one. It’s better not to get them. It is better to leave them in Thailand.
Statistics show that most Norwegian men who marry import brides live in rural areas as there are not enough Norwegian women (as they have all moved to the cities to further their careers). It means that import brides are brought to secluded areas or small towns. This makes an even greater challenge for import brides to successfully transition to Norwegian life. Unfortunately, to be an ‘import bride’ – meaning brought into the country by a Norwegian man to have sexual relations and to clean and cook for him – they will not be well received into the community. This isolation will weigh heavily on the import bride. As is is, it is very hard for regular immigrants to make friends in Norway, so it is even harder for an import bride to make connections. Not only do import brides have to deal with regular immigration difficulties such as culture shock and discrimination, but an underlining sense of shame projected on them by Norwegian society. Even amongst immigrants, import brides have a lower status than asylum seekers.
As mentioned above most Norwegian man and import brides have ‘happy’ marriages. Even though ‘love’ might not be the primary motivation it can still be a win-win situation – meaning the man gets someone to look after him and the import bride gets someone to take care of her and her family.
This documentary Det nye landet is an interesting comment on Norwegian immigrants and immigration. The series can be viewed on NRK web-TV (it might not be available in certain countries and the dialogue is in Norwegian): www1.nrk.no/nett-tv/prosjekt/1394