Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue

From time to time, I get this saying on my mind, I guess because it has a nice rhythm to it. I know it’s a saying concerning good luck for a wedding/marriage, but it has occurred to me that it is a good way to explain migrant life. Here follows my little “analysis”, and I think it is one that most migrants can relate to.

Something old…

The old represents all the cultural luggage we bring with us. It includes among other things our maternal language, traditions, values, worldview, conceptions and so on.

When arriving in a new country, we are expected to leave, if not all of it, so at least some of it, behind. But that is near to impossible. These things are part of who we are, it’s kind of in our bone marrow. And even if some of these things might fade, or disappear, it doesn’t happen overnight.

All Norwegian kids climb on the svaberg, i.e. the rocky formation on the coast, in the summer. It’s a big part of my childhood.
Photo: TBermond

Unless we are already fluent in our new language, and have a habit of using it already, we keep thinking (and dreaming) in our mother tongue. Our mother tongue also defines our way of seeing the world, how we organise it, how we relate to others.

We also carry with us all those unexplainable rules about how to manoeuvre in society. What is polite, what is not, how to greet each other, when and with whom to be formal, and with whom we are informal. These are things that we learn from childhood, and it is hard to explain to others why it is like this. It’s just how it is.

Leaving all of this behind the moment you step on foreign soil is impossible, because it would be like erasing who you are.

Something new…

That will be about everything we experience in our new country. The language, the culture, the food, how society is organised, values, traditions, social codes… It might even include the climate and topography.

Depending of our place of origin, what is new can be right out shocking, or it can seem familiar, at least on the surface.

The beach in Nice

In my case, the move from Norway to France seemed rather smooth at first, but I soon realised that even if the food was not that different, the unwritten and unspoken rules for socialising was indeed very different. Not to mention the language, which I didn’t master at all upon arrival.

I asked many questions about how to behave correctly, or perhaps rather why people do like this or that. But the answers remind vague until this day. With that said, little by little I have learned to manoeuver more in accordance to the rules, but I suspect that I will never master it as a native French. That’s also because at times it feels so contradictory to what I am used to, that it’s hard to adapt fully. I never want to be rude or insult someone by intention, but at the same time I find it hard to submit to social rules I find somewhat ridiculous. (Just to make it clear, I do respect the French law!)

In any case, as years have gone by, I have adopted a lot of French habits. It’s hard not to, when it’s part of your everyday life. And being married to a French, and raising our kids here, it feels only natural to adapt to my new environment.

Something borrowed…

It will be a natural continuation of “something new”, and the most important thing that we “borrow” when we arrive in a new country is the language. It’s the key to get to know people and to understand what’s going on both “big scale” (society) and “small scale” (local life, everyday life).

For some, learning a new language is easy. They arrive, and voilà, they master the language after a few months. That must be so fantastic, and people like that really impress me big time! But unfortunately it doesn’t work like that for most of us. We don’t go to bed one evening, and wake up the next morning speaking our new language fluently. It takes time, and it takes patience. Not just for the newcomer, but also for the others.

To be honest, this is not my preferred books! But they are very useful, along with my dictionary and the litlle book with Franch verbes listed.
Photo: TBermond

When I was still struggling a lot with the language, I got so upset with people who didn’t care to speak slowly, and who didn’t care to make an effort to understand me. I knew I made plenty of mistakes! I pronounced words wrong (I still do!), my grammar was horrible (it’s getting better). But I made an effort, and I just wanted people to understand that. When I got to know people who appreciated me learning their language, when they took effort to speak in a way I would understand (simple phrases, speaking more slowly), and gently correcting me, I was so grateful! And that made a big change in my progress.

The longer you stay in a new country, the more you pick up “their ways”. As mentioned above, it feels natural to adapt elements from the new culture as time goes by. And even things that seem strange in the beginning, becomes a natural part of life. Maybe you don’t even really notice these small changes at first, but they become evident when you go back to visit your home country. It can be the way you organise the day, or what you prefer to have for breakfast or dinner. Or the way you interact with other people. Myself, I have happily adopted croissants for breakfast, the ritual of aperitif, or apéro as they say, and cheese after dinner. None of this is common in Norwegian daily life.

Miam mian! Looks good, no?
Photo: TBermond

Something blue…

Every migrant knows that there are moments, short or long, when we feel bewildered and lost. Moments when we don’t manage to make ourselves understood properly, when we have this mixed feeling of anger and sorrow because we want to say something, but we lack the words. All the conversations we miss out on, because we don’t manage to articulate our views in our new language.

Moments when we feel utterly homesick, and just want to jump on the first plane to our native country. When family and friends could just as well have been on the Moon, because they are no longer where we are. Phones are good, but it’s not the same as sitting face to face.

When we realise that friends got lost, because it turned out to be too difficult to keep in touch when the geographical distance got too big, and daily life is too full of whatever needs to be done.

When we feel like having a proper conversation in our mother tongue, to discuss something important in life, but there’s no one around.

When something out of the ordinary happens, and all we want is to be close to our family and friends, but it’s not possible. Like when someone in the family turns sick, or dies, or someone is celebrating an anniversary or wedding, and we are not able to attend.

One of my favourite places in Norway.
Photo: TBermond

Feel free to leave a comment it you have something you would like to add or experiences you would like to share. Wish you all a nice day!


What can we learn from the American election?

Yes, I freely admit it. I was one of them who didn’t believe Trump would run off with the victory in this election. He was too much of a bully, a misogynist and not really consequent (except for criticizing Hillary to the detail). That there exist resistance against immigration in USA was neither shocking nor surprising. We have seen too much of the same in Europe the recent years.

Maybe the Americans are not ready for a female president yet? That was more surprising to me at first, but looking to whom she lost against, it’s a natural conclusion.

Because what is most shocking, is that one who evidently looks upon women as objects he can treat as he likes, one who is degrading women, invalids and immigrants to second rate people, still gets enough votes to embark on the position as the world’s most powerful president.

It is obvious that we are many who hasn’t understood what it is that is going on in the American population. Perhaps it is not so strange, because our impression of USA is shaped most of all by what (political) news that reach us, films and tv-series. They clearly tell us next to nothing about the average American everyday life of people in like the Mid-West. As a matter of fact we know hardly anything about the actual living conditions in the USA. Now and then we read about how people have two or three jobs to make ends meet, we read every so often about shootings and murders. But most of all are we fed with “happy” political news from the country where everything is supposedly possible, if you just dream hard enough about it, and films and tv-series where love conquers everything or where the hero always beats the bad guy. What we do know about USA is in other words very superficial.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be so overly surprised about the outcome of this election. At least not if we take a closer look to our “near surroundings”. If you dear take a dive into the comments section in the internet newspapers, you’ll soon realize it’s a rather “muddy business”. Females engaged in debate are told they should be gang raped and beaten the shit out of. And what they write about is not even controversial.

There’s a strong resent against immigration in the comment sections, to put it mildly. The view on women is shocking as we write 2016. I would have thought and hoped for, that these views were thrown out the window long time ago, but evidently we are many being proved wrong about this.

The day after, we clearly see that masses of voters, previously not mobilized, this time finally left their sofas to cast their vote. Masses of voters who long have found themselves overseen and neglected. This is something we should learn from, even in little Norway. Because even if the turnout of the election is higher in Norway than in USA, there’s still plenty of people out there who feels invisible and neglected by the establishment, and the despise against politicians is blooming as the apple trees in Norwegian gardens in May.

I do hope, that also the French political establishment, takes a lesson from this as we are soon to enter into the presidential election campaign here. Marine Le Penn was the first, French politician to congratulate Trump with his victory, honouring the American people for “taking their country back”. The contrast to the rather coldly congratulations from President Holland could not have been more clear.

Le Penn has renewed her inspiration in front of the 2017 elections, and I guess it’s needless to say that I fear she will rise to power.

The European political establishment has to put a finger in the ground, or better still, get grounded. They have to open their eyes and see what is actually going on out there in their own countries. They have to remove their well-polished shoes, and stroll around in the dust trod by normal people. They need to understand why the average man and woman is angry and frustrated.

There’s no use in hanging around in their empowered offices and corridors, fiddling with their ties and wonder about what went wrong. It’s no longer enough to make some visits to construction sites or factories, shake peoples’ hands and think you earned their vote.

Let the average man and woman scream out why they are angry and frustrated, and meet them wih constructive ideas in a language they get.

The rhetoric might be nasty for some time, but at least, words kill nobody.

It would be a shame if we didn’t take any lessons from the American election, but keep shutting our eyes and ears to what concerns most people. If we insist on continuing down that path, we risk ending up with political leaders (I hope at least) the majority of us would rather not see in office.