Ashamed to be Norwegian, and proud of it

The essential accessory on the 17th of May? Self-deprecation.

There’s a Norwegian reflex that emerges if a foreigner criticizes the country. One minute your friend is complaining passionately about the healthcare system, the university’s bureaucracy, or how hard they find dating here. But the moment you, a foreigner, start to agree with them or elaborate with your own experiences, the tables turn. They absolutely do not agree with you, seemingly in diametric opposition to what they were just saying. They will defend this place to the death. And they may even imply you’re lucky to be here, and shouldn’t be complaining at all.

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Paradoxically, these vehement defenses are suddenly dampened on the 17th of May. Unlike in most other countries, Norway’s national day is restrained. Sure, there is a parade, dressing up, and champagne at breakfast. But it also wouldn’t be complete without someone saying «I’ve never been that into celebrating the 17th,» or «It just gets too nationalistic.» The sheer volume of pride creates an aversion to participation. There is a certain way to do things, and that is acceptable, but to go beyond the usual subdued celebration would simply be embarrassing.

That is the most Norwegian thing of all: to constantly self-deprecate, play down your pride, and simply fade into the background. To not draw attention to yourself, be too overexuberant, or celebrate too loudly. Even apologizing for being proud at all can be part of this charade on the 17th.

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Because of course that’s what it is: a charade. While you may hear that they’re just not that into it, the fact is the other 364 days of the year Norwegians love their country. They just don’t like to admit they think it’s great. It’s the same reason they like to ask foreigners what their impression is when they visit, it’s the same reason they love to see international news articles about Norway, and it’s the same reason there’s a Norwegian reading this right now.

Navigating the ebb and flow of Norwegian self-confidence can seem impossible. They’re in a constant state of anticipation, wishing desperately that the rest of the world would figure out how great it is here. The entire population is like a teenager with a crush: they want the object of their affections to realize how wonderful they are, but they can’t just come out and say it. On the 17th of May, throw them a bone and offer some praise. But remember the Norwegian maxim: everything in moderation, even enthusiasm.

More articles in English here