I communicate everyday with Norwegian women, men, youth and children. I speak (bad) basic Norwegian and lots of English. Even though it is generally accepted that there is a language and cultural barrier when communicating with me, so all misunderstandings should be immediately forgiven, quiet often they are not. I have got into trouble sometimes thinking it was okay to have an opinion. I find I have the biggest trouble with speaking to Norwegian women.
At first I felt that I couldn’t be myself in Norway because I couldn’t express myself; I didn’t know enough language. Now, I think I still don’t know enough language, however, I know enough to express my basic opinion – bad, good, sad, ok, fantastic! But still, I need to be careful with how I use the negative words. Norwegian women can easily take offense; they have long memories and intricate connections in the community. I find you have to watch over everything you say as if you are a politician, otherwise everything will come back and haunt you.
I’m from a culture where we take everything others say with a grain of salt (unless they are a polly, of course). We are used to each other saying stupid things but we laugh if off and let it go. What is most important is that you are allowed to say stupid things and it won’t be held against you. We over exaggerate, over emphasize and blow everything out of proportion. Everything is bigger and better to Australians. This has got me into trouble sometimes when telling stories to Norwegians. If I say I nearly broke my leg trying to get out of the car, Norwegians think I am saying that I had a real chance of breaking my leg (but I was meaning it was hard for me to get out of the car). So I have to be careful when I speak with Norwegians to make sure my culture doesn’t effect a Norwegian’s understanding.
Australians also say things with a lot of emotion. We get angrier, happier, sadder and crazier. Our loudness is just because we are carried away with the situation. It is no biggy. I think we have silent competitions in Australia on how loud we can get. Maybe we have to be so loud – being so far away from the rest of the world, we need to make sure they can hear us.
In Norway it isn’t so loud. In fact, the Arctic environment makes you speak softer because your voice in naturally carried further between the leafless trees and grassless ground in winter. In Norway, expressions of emotion are not so valued. It is rare to see a Norwegian emotional. I always have to control how I express my emotions every day so I don’t frighten Norwegians. This is because I am living in a country where understating is an overstatement.
This means I can’t relish in my language anymore. I can’t blow things out of proportion for humour or sensationalism. Norwegians will believe any length, any time and any number you give them. I must admit, it is fun sometimes being an Australian in Norway. I get very amused watching Norwegians work out what I mean, waiting for their delayed reactions. However, I often can’t be myself, even when I speak Norwegian. I feel boring and uncreative. It is not fun to constantly guard you communication – language, facial expressions and body language. I live in a very sensitive country.
In the workplace, especially in the public sector, (where I work), everything is personal. Norwegians are on high guard with what they say and do. If you do one thing that ticks a person off in the municipality it will likely have lasting effects. It is because everyone in the community is connected somehow and usually everyone has known each other for 20 years or more. Your history is important in Norway, especially your social history, and follows you around where ever you go. I often hear about confrontations and arguments that happened 20 years ago to explain to me why two people or two groups are at odds with each other now. In Norway you don’t pee in your own pool because the pool belongs to everyone else too. Once you have that little blue ring around you, it will follow you for life.
I find I have to be very careful with what I say around Norwegian women. It is harder to make jokes and to say silly things around them. They seem to be the serious sex in Norway. I’m certainly not allowed to express anger with my voice, my face or body language, otherwise they will likely take offense. You have to speak diplomatically, calmly and with no energy. Norwegians often confuse my enthusiasm, high energy and loudness with aggression or stress. Norwegian woman don’t tend to like being told that they are doing something wrong or silly. Just a simple ‘shouldn’t the children play on the snow instead of the icy wet mud?’ can cause a strong diplomatic reply stating Norwegian law.
Disagreeing with any point, no matter how logical your well constructed argument is, is never appreciated. In fact, I have created friction sometimes in conversations with Norwegian women because I thought, living in a country known for equality, I was allowed to disagree. Silly me. Disagreeing with a Norwegian woman is social suicide. I’ve learnt now that you have to listen to them – everything they have to say. I can’t reply until they are completely and utterly, finished, with every, little thing, they have to, say. Rebutting is out of the question. You can’t say why you think their point is wrong; you are only allowed to say why you think your point is right. Having different opinions than the ‘Norwegian opinion’ is, unfortunately, frowned upon. Well, not so much the opinion, but stating the opinion.
I think Norwegians generally think they have to teach immigrants like me how to live, behave and think in Norway. I often find myself in a position where a Norwegian woman is telling me how I should be or not be. I pleasantly defend myself saying ‘sorry, it’s my Australian culture’ and they often reply ‘but you’re in Norway’.