Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Initial Thoughts on the Move to Bergen

Now that we have made it past the hassle of packing up our things, squeezing a year's worth of stuff into five suitcases and five carry-on bags, traveled for days, dealt with all the paperwork, slept through our jetlag, made some friends, and taught some classes, I feel like I am in a position to form some initial thoughts on my experiences in Norway.  We've been here for about three weeks, so I have had an opportunity to adjust a bit to public transit, exchange rates, the cost of groceries, and a lot of little differences.  I won't say I am "settled in," but I will say that I am quickly growing comfortable in Norway and have already learned to like some things quite a bit.

People here are really, really nice, though it is not always obviously so.  It's not something that people wear on their sleeves, rather, there seems to be a presumption that people ought to do the right thing.  It is a bit difficult to explain, because it is a kind of "common sense," but it is a bit different from the sort of "common sense" we talk about at home.  In the U.S., common sense seems to consist of answering thorny questions by asking ourselves, "What would I do?" and then imagine that others would act that way or "What would someone else do?" and then doing it that way.  Here, common sense seems to be more oriented towards answering thorny questions by asking, "What would I want someone else to do?" and then acting accordingly.  A small example: the other day, someone left a pretty nice sweater at the bus bench near my house and it sat there, folded, for three days.  It's not there anymore, but I am guessing that the rightful owner picked it up. 

The most powerful example of this ethos at work was on display when I visited Oslo for my Fulbright orientation.  Here I was, headed for one of the world's great cities as it was recovering from a great, great tragedy: the attacks of July 22nd.  While I was very excited to be headed to Oslo, I was also a bit worried that my excitement was self-indulgent.  I worried that I might walk around like some slack-jawed tourist while all the people that actually live there were still reeling from the horror of what transpired.  When I arrived, I found beauty, joy, and widespread affirmations of life.  Everyone I spoke to noted their sadness, but quickly moved to discuss their values, which they are convinced are much bigger than even such a big act of evil.  Such grand sentiments were expressed at many levels, including by those who lost friends and colleagues in the attacks.  The tragedy, while obviously deeply felt, was easily put into a context which was able to see the specific actions as disturbed events within a grander vision of culture and society.

It strikes me as, perhaps, a difference in imagination.  In the U.S., we seem to think of things in very immediate ways, and it leads to a kind of simplicity, which can make social interaction very easy and refreshing, but which also hampers our ability to solve certain kinds of problems.  Here, this capacity to put oneself in another position means that people are a little bit more reserved, which can be socially puzzling, but which also means that problem-solving tends to be less personal, more socially-oriented, and a bit more patient. 

As a visitor here, this hope and optimism has really rubbed off on me.  And, as I tune into world news and catch glimpses of what is going on in the U.S., I am left wondering what it would take to inspire such feelings of community back home. 

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