Since moving to Norway I have really missed my girlfriends back home. Giving up your friends and your support base is one of the things that makes Norway hard to live in. Sure we stay connected via social media but because my friends are there and I am here, the problems and challenges I face every day is a little alien to them. There is just too much to explain about the little nuances of everyday life in Norway for them to understand where ‘I am coming from’. They hear me complaining one minute and then adoring the next and they just can’t get how living in Norway can be so ‘hot and cold’. After a while they get bored of hearing about my new country and so discussions move onto different things. After five years, it is just easier not to talk about Norway.
Everyone needs friends to share their life!
The next best thing is to make friends in Norway, however, this is not easy. When you don’t understand the subtexts in society and you don’t know the language it is extremely hard to make Norwegian friends here. When you don’t have the same background, the same upbringing and the same experiences it is hard to connect. Now you can get many ‘hello/good-bye’ friends and ‘only at work’ friends, but bosom-buddy friends, the kind that you can confide in, the Sex and the City kind, are almost impossible to come by. But you have to start somewhere so any friend is an achievement in Norway.
Truthfully, I haven’t found a best friend yet in Norway. I have a lot of friends, especially work friends, but it’s not on a level where I can get completely personal. There are three reasons why it is hard for me to make friends in Norway. Firstly, I don’t drink, therefore, I don’t hang out in bars or pubs. I’ve heard that getting drunk with a Norwegian is a fast track to making friends. Secondly, I don’t like watching sport, I like playing it. Soccer is a very small sport where I come from and watching boring ‘fotball’ games for hours on TV is not appealing to me. Though, to get male friends, watching sport with them is a good start. When we lived in an apartment building the guy below us had a ‘fotball’ party every Sunday. I’ve never heard Norwegians get so excited and loud! And lastly, I don’t speak Norwegian, well, not fluently enough to have an ‘adult’ conversation. Because of this I am limited in meeting Norwegian friends in every situation. Because of this, I prefer to stay home when there is a social function because I don’t like making Norwegians have to ‘include’ me because they feel sorry for me. You can see it click in their brains – ‘oh, L-Jay is here, better say something so she doesn’t feel left out’. (Funnily enough, this happens even with my Norwegian family too.) I love them for it but it highlights the fact that I am still an outsider. However, the people that I have made good friends with here in Norway are the Norwegians who don’t mind speaking English.
The best way I make friends with Norwegians is through my work. My work is very social and puts me in contact with many people. I work in the Arts so English is important as this industry in Norway is flooded by international artists and English-speaking media (such as movies and music). It is valuable for a Norwegian in the Arts to speak English fluently so I often find myself as a practice dummy. One of the key elements that helps me is that my reputation proceeds me. I’m a crazy hard worker, I exceed expectations and everything is a ‘possibility’. (Sounds like a resume, doesn’t it?) Norwegians like this as it means I am contributing to the community and more importantly not reinforcing the immigrant ‘stigma’.
Through family and social encounters it is harder for me to make Norwegian friends. These are always Norwegian language based situations and I am usually a silent spectator. However, I am lucky enough to have a farm that sells produce and we get many visitors. Because Norwegians are coming into my realm they accept, and I would say ‘appreciate’, the language environment – Norlish.
The most important things I have learnt about making friends:
- It happens through one-on-one encounters when there is a purpose. There has been many discussions, even on this blog, how Norwegians are rude because ‘they don’t strike up conversations with ‘immigrant’ strangers at bus stops’. It is generally believed that Norwegians don’t like making friends with ‘immigrants’. However, this is a cultural misconception. It is not that they don’t want to make friends but Norwegians need a purpose to make a connection. Just striking up a conversation to be polite doesn’t exist in Norwegian culture. (And there is nothing wrong with that!) When there is a purpose, or something that needs to be achieved such as getting information, then Norwegians will strike up a conversation. The friends that I have gained in Norway are because we had a common purpose. It is usually because we had to collaborate on a project. Sometimes they needed advice and sometimes they needed extra help. The only time that I have made friends with a group is when I participated in a dance class, and even then that was only because first I was a specialist instructor who taught them some choreography for a performance.
- It is vital to establish language limitations on first contact. It is awkward, embarrassing and can make me feel a little guilty but the sooner my language ability is known the easier the relationship will progress. When I meet a new person I state right from the start in Norwegian ‘I speak very little Norwegian but I must practice’. Then I can continue with my bad Norwegian. The Norwegian will either speak with me in Norwegian still and this gives me a clue of whether we could be friends or not. If the Norwegian breaks out into English (to gracefully stop me from struggling to express myself) then I know we can get to know each other better and maybe become friends. This is largely because they are giving me an opportunity to express my personality, who I am. It is usually your personality that begins friendship. My personality certainly doesn’t come through my Norwegian. My Norwegian is basic, factual, short and boring. It is only used to communicate the most necessary information. Jokes, innuendoes, intertextual references, etc, don’t exist in my Norwegian and to warm a Norwegian up to you it is good to be funny. A Norwegian who allows me to be me with my own language is a friend in my book.
- This goes without saying, but it is important to have a common element to make friends with a Norwegian. Norwegians grow up together and they know all the social history of Norway. They understand what it means to be Norwegian. They understand Norway. (This is the same for every country and every community.) A lot of Norwegians have their main circle of friends from their childhood. Having a history together connects people. This is one thing that ‘immigrants’ and I certainly don’t have with Norwegians. Only time can connect you with Norway and its people. I have been here in Norway five years. I cried with Norway through the Breivik massacre, I cheer at every National day and I actively care for the community. These are part of my Norwegian ‘history’ that help me connect with Norwegians. The other common elements are, of course, activities, clubs, politics, you name it. Being active in Norway (even going to your work ‘blåtur‘, will be your biggest avenue to making friends.
- Make your ‘community’ a Norwegian one. I usually find those ‘immigrants’ who have a strong ‘immigrant’ community in Norway are the ones who have a hard time making Norwegian friends. Being from a ‘British imperial’ country, I don’t have the safety net of an ‘immigrant’ community in Norway. Being Caucasian, I am expected to ‘integrate’ more than others but sometimes I wish I had an Australian community to lean on. However, I also know that ‘immigrant’ communities are hiding places. They enable people to withdraw from Norwegian society and live in Norway without having to live with Norwegians. The key to Norway is to keep your own culture but also make room for Norwegian culture. The government says they don’t expect anyone to give up their culture to live in Norway (so they say) but I find a lot of Norwegians do expect it. Unfortunately, the more Norwegian you appear, or the more you are trying to be Norwegian, the easier it is to make friends. It is obvious but funny to say, Norwegians have the greatest common element with… Norwegians!
- Norwegians are creatures of habit. They don’t like anything new or strange (just check out the supermarkets for evidence of this – ‘wink’). The more they see you, the more you are around, the more familiar you will become, you will become a ‘habit’ and the easier it will be for them to become your friend. In most countries immigrants have already pushed through this barrier (last century). In Norway, we ‘immigrants’ are the ones that have to push through this barrier to pave the way for those who follow behind us.
In my reflections in preparing to write this post I wondered why I haven’t really made that many friends with ‘immigrants’, even English speaking ‘immigrants’. I think mostly because they are movers. They move around and they don’t normally stay for too long in Norway. Unless they have a very good job, a good family base or a strong ‘immigrant’ community, they generally give up Norway. All my friends from my Norwegian language course have all gone back to their home countries. One of the other reasons I don’t have many ‘immigrant’ friends is because of the group of people I’m attracted to – I like self starters, people with enthusiasm and people who do things for the community. So far there has only been one immigrant, a woman from Africa, that has made a great impression on me. She created a small annual festival in Harstad that showcases ‘immigrant’ culture through food, discussions and performances. We had a chat once about how hard it is to try to break the ‘immigrant’ stigma about not contributing to the community. Norway needs contributors! Contributing is a great way to make Norwegian friends.
I think one of the main reasons why many ‘immigrants’ think Norwegians are unfriendly is because they are judging all Norwegians according to one type of Norwegian. There is a Norwegian out there that doesn’t like ‘immigrants’. There is a Norwegian out there that doesn’t like people living in their country who don’t speak the language. There is a Norwegian out there that only likes other cultures while on holiday. These Norwegians can be found in all communities of Norway. They are usually the ones that are uneducated, usually the ones who need or want financial help from the government and are usually from a community that has their own stigma of being ‘Hill-Billies’. And then there are others who have a certain political view point. Believe me, their perceptions also urk regular Norwegians too. The good thing about this is that the educated, the secure and the ‘diversity’ accepting are out their too! If you want Norwegian friends you just need to find yourself a community of people who are the best of society. That certainly doesn’t mean the richest with money but the richest in character. And where do you think you can find these Norwegian friends waiting to happen?