After five years in England and today Celebrating the #RoyalVisitNorway from my computer desk in Bristol, I have tried to sum up what I have experienced so far as major differences between the two countries, Norway and Great Britain:
1. The Posh Accent Exclusion Method- it’s all in the accent!
The really posh has a specific accent that makes others shed away. That’s how they keep the good expensive schools to themselves for example. It is a self referring, self excluding mechanism kicking in as you choose school for your little ones. Being brought up in a Norwegian and much more egalitarian society, I have refused these norms and am sending my kids to private school even if I live in a house worth just over £450000 (which probably isn’t much for most middle class and upper class families at many of these schools). In Norway we have dialects. Some are seen as less academic and more hillbilly, but ‘Janteloven’ stops us from thinking you are any better than others, or deserve better schooling… But if the better schools are out there, and they are private; Then you go for it!
2. The Gender Code!
It’s 5 degrees Celsius and girls walking to school in really short school Uniform skirts and bare legs! Liberating! At the same time girl schools are absolutely alive in the UK, three within a 10 minutes drive from where I live (two private, one non-feepaying) and with a strong message of girl power! “Girls Can” campaigns are also fully active – something we used to have in Norway in the 80s according to political commentator Marie Simonsen. But are they stuck in the past?
3. Working for Free, especially women
Lots of Mums looking after kids first 2-3 years as Kindergarten/Nurseries are not subsidzed in the same way as in Norway and a full time space for one child per month costs more like £1000/10000Nkr. Compared to the £250 per child in Norway, for everyone! Volunteer organisations with people working free take on loads of the responsibilities and work that in Norway would be viewed as what you pay tax towards, and from this perspective should be organised and the responsibility of The State/Public Services. Food bank collections in grocery shops daily and people living on the streets.
4. Class, Class, Class
We have all heard about the British Class Society, but as I moved here- I seriously didn’t realise to what extent. I brought a cake tin (with a cake in it!) to the Community farm where I was helping out, and they commented on it: Very Posh! It was from John Lewis. The differences between classes are so big that they culturally and socially vary in taste, accents etc etc and just don’t interact too well. Everyone feels better off in their own little bubble. Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees told in a trailer for a forthcoming film about his way into politics, how his Mother as born into a working class area of Bristol, working as a hairdresser and marrying his Jamaican Father – had a background that really didn’t mean he would end up as Mayor of Bristol!! I don’t think anything should stop a child of a hairdresser in Norway – neither financially nor culturally.
5. A Country’s self-image
«What should I read to my child at home?» I asked my child’s teacher. My girl was four. «Just read ‘Jack and the Bean Stalk’ and things like that,» she replied. Hmm.. had I heard of ‘Jack and the Bean Stalk’ before? No. Had my Norwegian primary school teacher friend heard of it? No.
Similarly, both Norway and Great Britain think of ourselves as naturally the centre of the world. Norwegians as the outdoorsy, Sunday walkers and skiers. The British as Great(er). You come to the airport. You wait for your passport to be checked and whilst queuing you can read on the screen that you are welcome to: Great Britain. I even think «great» was written in capital letters last time I entered.
As one of my first English friends stated in our teenage years, wanting to go into the music industry: “If you make it in Norway, you’re big in Norway. Do you make it here, you will be big in the World!” In Norway on the other hand, we all believe we can do what Jens Stoltenberg has done, learning to read and write late, leading the Labour party and then go on to lead NATO! (A friend just pointed out that his parents were not a hairdresser and a ‘lagermedarbeider’, alright then, but look to FrP now in government. Surely there are plenty of hairdressser mums and dads there.)
My kids’ teachers still don’t realise that in Norway historic periods are not sectioned after the British Empire’s Kings and Queens. But alright, most Norwegians would know about the Victorians and what that implies, but Edwardian, Georgian…what is it? History at Primary School was entirely focused upon British Monarchs. Also the «don’t mention the war»- jokes are more common than anything negative or slightly comical about the Empire – which they are partly proud of here, I think🤔