Derek B. Miller is an American novelist and international affairs specialist who lives in Oslo, Norway, with his wife and two children. Here, he describes the special relationship between the US and Norway — and whether Norwegians would accept President Trump’s invitation to move to America.
There are shared values between Norway and America. Together we are allies in NATO. We stood together in the Cold War and, after September 11, tiny Norway’s support for the US was officially stated to be “unconditional.” Down here, in daily life, Norwegians like Harley Davidsons and old American cars. They love our big action movies and small indie dramas. They read our novels and follow our fashions.
We are not, however, the same. Norwegians don’t like everything about us. Not by a long shot.
That came into sharp relief when President Donald Trump stunned the world with a comment at an immigration meeting last week. Referring to Haiti, El Salvador and African nations, he said: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” adding that America should welcome more immigrants from prosperous nations like Norway.
Here, the backlash was fierce. Jan England, the Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, told Public Radio International: “I am a Norwegian, but the only thing that would make me emigrate to the States is the vibrant multicultural society of the United States.”
This incident with Trump is, unfortunately, emblematic of a wider cultural divide between the US and Norway. Norway, after all, is a country that prides itself on egalitarianism, on being low-key, on being inclusive and keeping things understated. Americans aren’t like this generally.
Norwegians think we’re often loud and self-congratulatory and shameless in even modest accomplishments. There is no apparent end to our bragging and our bling. They find us terrified of silence and when we talk it is about ourselves. We’re ignorant about the world we affect and don’t seem to care. Norwegians can’t figure out why on earth all Americans don’t want free universal health care especially when they see the size of our food portions. Clearly … eating like that … we’re going to need it.
The fact of the matter is that, for many Norwegians, America is a country that holds a fascination. There is nothing like New York here. Nothing like Florida. Nothing like Hollywood. But as they live in a country consistently listed at the very top of the Human Development Index by the UN (and the top of the World Happiness Index), where families enjoy more safety and a better quality of life than in America, few Norwegians would look to the US for greater opportunities.
Derek B. Miller’s third novel, “American by Day,” will be published on April 3, 2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.