The American dream of Norway
Part 5: Andy Meyer
Our ancestors came to America to give their families a better life. Now young Norwegian Americans dream of the old country. This series of interviews was conducted by a Norwegian journalist.
Andy Meyer, 37, is a Norwegian American who’s spent a lot of time in Norway, even though his own family connection to Norway dates a long way back. His great-grandfather moved from Lillehammer, north of Oslo, to Wisconsin in the early 1900s. There, he married a woman whose family came from Sogn in the western part of Norway.
“My grandfather on my mother’s side spoke Norwegian as a child but lost much of the language as he grew older. We all were brought up with many Norwegian-American traditions in our home.”
Andy was born in Iowa but now lives in Seattle. He has spent time as a teacher on a Fulbright exchange program in Norway and traveled all over the country to teach as a visiting lecturer, from the Arctic north to the south. Perhaps that is why he is also a little critical of Norway.
“Norway has a good reputation in the world, which is well-deserved. But while you Norwegians are laughing at our giant clown of a president, you also have quite a few far-out politicians on the right-wing side, and you have a large arms industry. Norway is not perfect, although many of us here believe it.”
What does Andy like least about Norway? “Well… the alcohol laws! If I am invited to dinner on a Saturday night, I would like to bring a bottle of wine along. But, no, not possible in Norway. [Note: Alcohol sales close in the afternoon/early evening on Saturdays.] But to be honest, I most of all dislike a kind of ‘cultural smugness’ that I have encountered among some Norwegians. A kind of assumption that American culture is so backward, while the Norwegian is superior to most.”
Still, he wants to move to Norway for the second time. Andy holds a doctorate in English with specialty in American literature. The goal is to have a professorship, and most preferably, “a cabin somewhere.” The list of things he likes about Norway is much longer than what he doesn’t like.
“My Norwegian identity is very important to me. As many Norwegian Americans say, it’s a strange and special sensation being in the country where our ancestors came from.”
Andy has thought a lot about why Norwegian identity has become so important for him and other Norwegian Americans and is absolutely sure that it all comes down to a basic lack of belonging.
”Almost everyone in America, except Native Americans, of course, are immigrants. I know that Europeans do not like to talk about race, but we do. When I come to Scandinavia, it is striking that almost all ‘ethnic Norwegians’ look exactly the same. You can tell that you are Scandinavians.
“In the United States, you can’t do that. Americans come from all corners of the world. Being American is our national identity, but our ethnic identity is something else. Therefore, our original roots are more important to us than to you Norwegians living in Norway. Although there is a lot of immigration in today’s Norway, most of you are where you ‘came from’ in a way, while most of us are somewhere else.”
Why does he want to live in Norway? “The culture, history, and nature attract me, and not least the social democratic system which I think is a good solution. And maybe it’s basically about the desire to belong. Many Norwegian emigrants in the 19th century had no desire to leave Norway, and they kept their Norwegian identity and language as long as they could. My grandfather had a dream of moving back to Norway. It never happened. Maybe this is my opportunity to close the circle?”
Ingerid Jordal is a photojournalist based in western Norway, with a great passion for the deep north and stories of belonging. She is scared of flying, but not scared of driving backward on a highway in Seattle. Learn more at www.ingeridjordal.no.
This article originally appeared in the August 9, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.