This is a true story. In fact, it happened to me yesterday. It was the first time I had ever been violently approached by a group of Norwegians and then abused because they found out I was an ‘immigrant’.
It has been really wet here in Alta. No rain, just the snow melting creating mayhem on the roads with slippery snow and large puddles which hide big potholes.
I was driving to the theatre on a university access road. The speed limit is 30km/h but I was going slower than that because of the potholes. I was approaching three people (who should have been walking on the path a couple of meters away from the road) but they were on the other side, walking on the road with a Rottweiler. I was more concerned about the woman standing in front of me in the middle of the road. She was waiting for me to pass because right before her was an enormous puddle on the road. I slowed down even more, drove on the far right and went through the puddle so I could pass her safely.
Just 30m up I parked the car in front of the backstage door and jumped out. The woman with the Rottweiler must have been running to me because she was puffing. She was telling me in Norwegian to ‘wait, wait, wait’, before going inside the theatre. So I stood there waiting, not really knowing what I was waiting for – maybe to catch her breath? No, it was so the other two guys could catch up. When they did, the woman approached me with the Rottweiler, it seemed an aggressive move but I wasn’t intimidated. I am used to big dogs and my Saint Bernard could eat her little Rottweiler. The two men stood off on the road waiting for her.
The woman started speaking Norwegian to me. It was clear that she was now angry about something. I couldn’t make out what she was saying, her dialect was strange to me. It certainly was not an Alta dialect. She then asked me ‘do you speak Norwegian’ in Norwegian. And I said ‘very bad Norwegian’ in Norwegian. This is usually taken with amusement by Norwegians and usually seen as being humble. Instead I got an angry ‘why did you speed past us?’, in English in return.
‘I was going under the speed limit’, I said.
‘You were going so fast through that puddle! You splashed water on us. Why didn’t you stop the car!?’
‘I didn’t know that I had done that’, I explained, thinking that everything would be ok. But no. One of the men started yelling at me and aggressively coming towards me from the street. ‘Don’t you know the *f* speed limit. You *f* don’t know Norwegian law. You shouldn’t have a *f* license you *f* *b*. ‘
Now, Norwegians generally know that it is not polite to swear to ‘the English’. Swearing in English is an act of aggression and he wanted to be aggressive. I had a de ja vu moment of standing in Australia again but this man was now waving his angry finger in my face. I was surrounded. She was behind me and he was in front. The other guy was just laughing on the road. I liked the other guy much better.
I felt I needed to repeat myself.
‘I was going under the speed limit.’
‘You *f* were *f* going too *f* fast, you *f* immigrant.’
‘I know the road rules and I was not going over the speed limit…’
It was getting harder to explain while the man was having a swearing rant at me.
‘You were on the other side of the road.’, I tried to reason.
I thought this was so odd. Firstly, Norwegians don’t approach you aggressively. They might make comments to you to tell you off about something, mostly under their breath, but being ready for a fight was uncharacteristic. Secondly, Norwegians are generally more forgiving of strangers. They think Norwegians should know better and outsiders need to be taught. I would have expected a lesson, not a fight.
The woman made a counter move, holding her foot up to me, ‘But you were driving so fast you wet our boots! Look.’
I looked at her yellow felt boot, but I really couldn’t see a drenched muddy mess. I couldn’t see any splashes of water. My first thought was ‘she must be worried about her designer boots getting wet. I wanted to say ‘um, you’re Norwegian, shouldn’t you know how to dress for this wet environment?’. Hec, I even had my waterproof farm boots on at the time to slush around in the wet snow – and I was just moving from car to theatre.
But she continued ‘We stopped for you. Why didn’t you stop the car and say sorry to us? You didn’t say sorry to us!’
I said, ‘Sorry’.
I was happy to say sorry. All this anger just because they wanted me to say sorry? They didn’t need to get so angry for me to make an apology. If they would have tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘By the way, please be more careful in the wet….’, I would have certainly said ‘oops, sorry’ and we both would have had a much pleasanter evening. The situation was almost defused. The woman was perplexed that I could say sorry so quickly. However, that was not all they wanted.
‘You *f* immigrant, go back to your own *f* country, you *f* *b*. You *f* have no respect. You don’t *f* live here, go home, *b*.’
I was a little angry. This person didn’t know me, they didn’t know that I had made a home in Norway, a life and a future. They didn’t know everything I have contributed to Norway. I have two Norwegians kids, developed work and service, giving my passion and love.
I said without a twitch ‘The other lady stopped before the puddle so I could pass without her getting wet. That was the smart thing to do. Why didn’t you do that?’
The man stepped closer to me very violently and I was prepared for him, with this: ‘You are violent and you are aggressive. I am not talking to you anymore. This is over.’
I turned to the backstage door for a cool exit and, ‘doh!’, it was locked! The man was still swearing immigrant hate stuff at me, and I must admit, I wondered if he was a Breivik sympathizer.
‘I am not listening to you anymore’, and I passed the woman to get to my car. She grabbed my elbow. I was a little shocked. Norwegians aren’t known for physical contact, let alone violence. I ripped my elbow from her hand. My voice became deep and slow and menacing.
‘How. Dare. You. Touch. Me! This is abuse.’ I pointed to each of them, ‘You and you, are abusive. I am not standing for this.’
The other guy had already walked on and the angry man turned, still swearing, and went after him. I got in my car and drove off leaving the angry woman unsatisfied.
I was more angry now, in the car; driving; thinking. I was angry that such people were Norwegian. I was angry because I know that other immigrants suffer with such instances every day. I was angry that such people wreck Norway for everyone. And then I thanked god that I knew this encounter was not at all Norwegian; that these people are nothing compared to the amazing, most brilliant Norwegians that I am so grateful to know. I don’t recognize these people as Norwegian at all. They don’t stand with the peace-loving people. They are some odd little dot in a beautiful landscape. I only wish I had said more so next time they would think twice about abusing someone because they are an immigrant.