A fond farewell for a friend

New York says goodbye to Consul General Harriet Berg

Harriet E. Berg portrait

Photo courtesy of the Norwegian Consulate General in New York
After four years of service in New York, Consul General Harriet Berg says goodbye to colleagues and friends.

The Norwegian American

On June 22, members of the Norwegian-American community in New York gathered to honor Norwegian Consul General Harriet E. Berg for her four years of service there. Berg recently returned to Norway, where she will serve in a new position as director for human rights, democracy, and gender equality at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Tireless in her commitment to her work, she graciously took the time to talk to The Norwegian American about her time in the United States and what lies ahead.

I asked Berg about her expectations and goals when she came to her consular post in New York, what was accomplished, and the challenges that the pandemic brought.

A world of opportunity

Berg explained that when she arrived in New York, she came with very clear directives to facilitate the development and growth of Norwegian business in the 22 states in her assigned region. She brought her own experience in the business world with her, which was one of the reasons why she was picked for that job. Earlier, she studied at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University in New York City, and she has held positions in private industry.

The timing of the new post was excellent, as Norway’s Equinor had just won its first license for offshore wind energy, and the environment is high on the agendas of Western countries. Offshore energy technology is an area where Norway can demonstrate a high level of competency and experience. Berg hit the ground running to evangelize to potential partners in the United States, who could benefit from Norwegian expertise.

Once in New York, Berg and her Norwegian colleagues were able to better define Norway’s goals, and the dialogue expanded to other states along the Eastern seaboard, including Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Virginia. 

Over the past few decades, Norway has gained a high level of technical expertise in the oil and gas industries, and now, much of the same technology is being applied within the field of renewable energy. Both Norway and the United States want to be part of the solution when it comes to fighting climate change, and a productive exchange of ideas is taking place.

Then the pandemic brought new challenges—and solutions. Berg and others learned new ways to work. While she, like many others, missed face-to-face meetings, new channels of communication opened up from coast to coast as she and her colleagues continued on with their work remotely, often with very fruitful discussions and outcomes.

Berg underlined Norway’s deep experience in maritime transport as another area where new partnerships are being developed. We talked about my own home state, Washington, where we are learning from Norway’s technologically advanced electric ferry system and a good deal of cooperation is underway. The development of electric cars and other vehicles can also make use of some of the same technology. Tesla cars are one of Norway’s most important imports, and overall, there is room for tremendous growth in enterprises that advance clean energy, both in Norway and the United States. The climate challenge is creating tremendous business opportunities for both countries working together.

Cultural exchange and enrichment

A consular post in New York also involves representing Norway with the cultural sector, where Norway plays a significant role. I spoke to Berg only a few days after she addressed visitors at the opening of the first exhibit of Nikolai Astrup’s art at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass. The exhibit is being hailed as a major event in the North American art world. 

But while Astrup represents a retrospective, with a beautiful and inspiriting vision of Norway, Berg was quick to underscore the vibrancy of contemporary Norwegian cultural life. Modestly referring to her home country as a “small player,” she pointed to the exciting achievements in Norwegian architecture, including Oslo’s new Munch Museum set to open to the public this fall and the National Museum, scheduled to open its doors in 2022.

Berg spoke with enthusiasm about the revival of the Oslo waterfront with its blending of old and new and the overall need for urban renewal on both sides of the Atlantic, another area for a creative exchange of ideas. 

The young cultural scene in Norway, lively in both the visual and performing arts, can also be a source of creative inspiration. Today, many young Norwegian artists are making their mark on the American scene.

Striking a balance

The consul general was impressed by the resiliency of New Yorkers during the pandemic. She was impressed by the openness of New Yorkers to people coming from other countries. “You can dress the way you want to, and no one finds it strange to hear a foreign accent,” she said. She sees that the city is enriched by its diversity, with an openness to the rest of the world. It’s something Berg believes Norwegians can learn from.

But Norwegians also have a lot to share with their American friends and colleagues. Living in harmony with nature contributes to sound physical and mental health, and Norwegian employers have come a long way in ensuring their workers’ safety and wellbeing. Taking care of the employees at the consulate during the pandemic was, of course, very high on the consul general’s list of priorities.

In the business world, Berg sees that Americans are very good at marketing themselves, something the more modest and direct Norwegians can also learn from—but she also sees that they and other Nordics are very strong on delivering on what they promise.

Despite differences, there is no doubt the ongoing dialogue and exchange between our two countries will continue. Berg recognizes that the United States is Norway’s most important ally. It is a strong and enduring friendship­—and we thank Consul General Harriet Berg for all that she has done to strengthen this bond.

This article originally appeared in the July 23, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.