The American dream of Norway
Part 9: Lars Phillips
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 visiting Norwegian journalist.
“Fourth of July is a good day,” says 31-year-old financial adviser Lars Lee Phillips, “but in my neighborhood of Ballard, the 17th of May is the biggest day of the year!”
Lars grew up in Ballard and has always been very conscious of his Norwegian heritage. So much so that he entered as a contestant on the Norwegian TV show “Alt for Norge” a few years back to experience Norway for himself. His family roots come from Tvedestrand in the south of Norway, and his great grandparents moved from there to Minnesota in the early 1900s. He also has a mix of Danish and Dutch ancestry.
To a Norwegian journalist, Lars is very American: welcoming, open, and full of positivity and energy. He shows me around Ballard and nearby areas: pubs, monuments, street murals, everything that has to do with Scandinavia. All the while chatting about experiences from Norway, like the time he thought aquavit was for shooting, not sipping. “Yeah,” he says, “in Ballard we’re very proud of our love for lefse, krumkake, and all things Norwegian. The old all-Norwegian culture that used to be here is slowly dying out, but still there is the stereotypical Norwegian-American culture. Being a Norwegian named Lars in Ballard certainly fulfills that stereotype!”
He laughs. He’s happy to represent his town, even if he now lives in a different part of Seattle, proudly wearing a sweatshirt with “ROME PARIS LONDON BALLARD” printed on it. He frequently visits his parents’ house in Ballard, which is filled with Scandinavian decorations.
“What do you think about American vs. Norwegian society?” I ask him.
He answers, “It’s very easy these days to get excited about Norway and your group mentality thinking as opposed to the American individualism. You have this national identity of being in it together. Here we have a more competitive society.”
One of the things he admires about Norwegian culture is the idea of delayed gratification: “Just look at your oil treasure. Instead of spending it all, you store it for future generations.”
But Lars is happy exactly where he is and refuses to be too concerned about the future. “It’s easy to read the news and think that the world is coming to an end,” he says, “but in the scheme of things, things continue to statistically improve around the world. Poverty and violent crime are on the decline, while literacy rates and life expectancies are rising. These trends don’t make headlines, and when you see the news dominated by terrorism and other scary but unlikely scenarios, it’s easy to forget the big picture trends. I don’t want to live my life in fear, and I think that perspective allows me to live a happier life.”
Lars is certain that his life will be even better in 10 years’ time: “I hope I’ve done a lot of travelling, have a family, career and still living in Seattle area.” The tour of Ballard is over, but there is still more to see. “Do you want to see the troll?” he asks, “Let’s go to the troll!”
A troll statue under a bridge, Pike Place Market, and several lookout points later, it becomes clear that Lars never tires of his city.
“Do you feel Norwegian or American?” I ask.
“I feel kind of both. I am American and Norwegian. But I can’t say that I am a person from Norway. I’m way too outgoing amongst strangers!”
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 November 1, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.