Reading Culture in Norway vs. the US
Reading Culture in Norway vs. the US
I thought moving to the US at the age of twenty that the transition would be fairly simple. I was well prepared, and I had thought quite a lot about the similarities between Norway and the US. They are both western countries, they are both military allies through NATO and they are both democracies. I have always mastered English well considering it is my second language, I have visited for vacation multiple times. I have many friends and co-workers from the US. I figured I knew what I was facing, and maybe even that I had all the answers.
In Norway, we learn a lot of world history. Even though we don’t learn as much about the US as children do here, we learn a fair amount about America. I have learned about the difference between democrats and republicans, about the civil rights movement in the 1960s, American warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan and the thousands and thousands of troops that were sent overseas to fight terrorism. Prior to moving here, I had read page after page in history books, I had read newspapers, I had watched the news and I had listened to the radio. I thought, that relying on these more official sources would be enough. I figured that when I knew the past and the present history of the country, and I knew what the media and politicians made of its future, that I knew the country. However, there was one thing I forgot to take into consideration: Everything I knew about the American system and culture had been taught to me from an outside perspective.
I have not lived in a culture other than the one I consider to be mine since I was seven. I did not realize that there are some things you simply cannot understand from reading books and newspapers. On the last day of our orientation here at Pace University, every group had to perform a lip sync dance performance. We had to have a group name, and our orientation leader held up a sign with the name she had chosen for us; it read “Almond Joys”. “Almond Joys”? What on earth is that? And right then and there, it occurred to me: The news never revolved around these “Almond Joys”, nor were they mentioned even once in any of my history books, so how was I to know? Of course, everyone understood that I had never heard of American candy that is not sold overseas, but yet I felt that I was missing out. And as I sat there, tasting an “Almond Joy” for the first time in my twenty years on this planet, I realized that there were so many things I had not read during my preparation to move. In addition to the “Almond Joys”, I had never before tasted a “Tootsie Roll”, fried an Oreo cookie or dipped my fries in my milkshake. I also never knew hat you could “taste the rainbow” with Skittles. I had forgotten to read all their labels, as I had never before truly understood what it is that unites a country and makes the people who live there one society.
Everything I have been taught about other cultures is that it is the history that shapes the citizens of a country; that what the country as a whole has gone through and overcome in the past makes people feel united somehow. What I understand now is that even more important than the uniting history, are the upbringing and childhood memories; things that we remember and that makes us feel like we belong. These are things like television shows, children’s books and nursery rhymes. The things we remember from our early years that most people within a country can relate to. I have never watched an episode of “Days of Our Lives”, I have never read Huckleberry Finn and I do not know “The Night Before Christmas” by heart.
The American map was another thing I did not know well enough before I came over here; I did not understand quite how big the US is. I could name all the states and place them in relation to each other, but this did not give me any information about how different the 50 states truly are. There are so many different cultures thriving within the boundaries of this one country, and there is no way you can fully understand this without living here. The way these cultures mash together is one thing that makes America such a unique country, but it also makes it more difficult to move here from outside. Nobody had told me that I should have read between the lines on the map; that I should have torn it apart and looked beneath the names and sizes of the states. The way the United States of America is build up is unique, and the way this influences the people who live here is what you should read about to understand American culture fully.
Another document that ties Americans together is the Constitution.
Of course I knew some things about this document, such as the second amendment stating that one shall have the right to bear arms. However, there is something about the Constitution that I still do not understand. I struggle with the fact that some of the things stated in it do not make sense to me, yet even people who agree with me on this hold it dear just because it is in the Constitution. I also don’t understand what people mean when they talk about their “constitutional rights”, merely because I have never actually read it, and I therefore do not know all the details of it.
One last thing that I had not read, were all the names engraved in stone at Ground Zero. I have read newspaper articles and wikis about the terror attacks, but I have never sat myself down and read through the names. Because of this the numbers were still just numbers to me. I was a little girl back in 2001, and what happened on the other side of the globe did not affect me at that time. Because of this I have a more pragmatic way of viewing what happened on September 11th. Having talked to people over here now I understand more, as I have met those who lived through it. These terror attacks were life changing for so many people and the date represents the end of an era of trust, and the beginning of the age of suspicion. Understanding what happened and the impact this had on people is crucial when attempting to understand the American culture and the people who live here. It is important to remember that negative events also have an impact on people, and that in order to understand a culture you have to understand its struggles too. I did not know that reading these names would make such an impact on me.
So, having lived here now for a few weeks, I have understood that I had no clue. Obviously reading history and facts is important but I have now understood what I should have read in addition to this. So if I am ever to move to a new country again in the future, I will make sure to read their candy wrappers, watch their television shows, read the nursery rhymes and get a deeper understanding of their map. Thank you America, for teaching me this.
I am a twenty-year old girl from Norway, currently studying at Pace University in Westchester, New York. I love to travel and to talk to people from different places and different backgrounds. When I was six years old my family spent one year in Prague, and in addition to teaching me good English skills this also made me determined to spend time living abroad later in life. My goal for the future is to work with diplomacy, either in the United Nations or as an ambassador. Besides my studies I like to get involved and stay busy and I am currently the president of the business society at my school in addition to being the treasurer of our speech and debate club. I also work in a business on campus which is completely student driven.