Here and there: In sickness and health

In Norway, Dean is a creative jack-of-all-trades. Photo by David Burke

In Norway, Dean is a creative jack-of-all-trades. Photo by David Burke

David Burke
Skoppum, Norway

Many of you may know a Norwegian who has moved to America, but how many know an American who has settled in Norway?

According to Statistics Norway, the country’s official statistics bureau, just 7,450 Americans reside in Norway, which has a total population of about 5,225,000. Considering some 550,000 foreign nationals live in the country, we’re a small slice of Norway’s demographic pie.

The Norwegian American would like to introduce you to some of these ordinary Americans living in Norway, and shed some light on how and why they ended up here.

Crazy love

Like so many before him, Dean, 56, fell for “a very intriguing” Norwegian woman.

He and Karit met at a party in San Francisco nearly two decades ago. They ended up travelling the world, marrying and settling down in Oslo. Dean and Karit today live in a typical Norwegian rowhouse (rekkehus) with their two teenage children in the Oslo suburb of Asker.

A trained actor in America, Dean has had to become a creative jack-of-all-trades in Norway. He presently works as an English-language copywriter for international clients at an Oslo ad firm, and exercises his passion for drama by reading 1950s beat-era poetry on stage—in English—accompanied by a jazz trio. He achieved some television fame in Norway some years back by playing the nefarious American investor, Blake Kennedy, in the popular Norwegian soap opera, Hotel Caesar. He also portrayed an FBI agent in the Netflix TV series, Lilyhammer, and you hear his voice at the start of each show asking, “Where the fuck is Lilyhammer?”

A cultural castaway

Dean is grateful for his life in Norway, but sometimes sees himself as a cultural castaway.

“After 20 years I still feel like an outsider,” says the California native who grew up in San Francisco’s Castro district.

“In San Francisco you’re exposed to virtually every type of human being possible. It’s colorful and inspiring. The social interaction can be amazing. Those virtues likely lurk in Norway too, but need alcohol to unlock them,” he says.

“Coming from a Jewish family, I miss the Jewish cultural inflection. I miss America’s rich urban banter. I miss the American talent for finding humor in things. There’s not a lot of irony here.”

Still, Dean values the “consistency” of Norwegian character – “the honesty, decency, and fairness, even if it’s not particularly warm.”

Working with a net

Norway’s societal safety net “is a gift to children,” he says. “They grow up here with the assumption that their lives will turn out alright. One of Norwegian society’s greatest attributes is its collective compassion and that it’s not entirely beholden to profit and greed.”

He also believes Norway has a much better model for the working person.

“They work to live! “he says. “Americans assume it has to be the other way around. They don’t really serve themselves as much as they serve customers, owners, and shareholders.”

Despite socialist sentiments, Dean and family had planned to return to California in 2009.

“We were all packed when Karit became seriously ill,” he explains.

They stayed put and Karit immediately started treatment at an Oslo hospital. The Norwegian healthcare system covered all expenses. She got a clean bill of health in 2014.

“I can’t imagine what would have happened if we’d discovered the illness after moving to America!” Dean says.

Today, he can’t imagine leaving Norway.

“I’d miss the tranquility, the space, the pristine nature, less traffic, even the public transportation system. Another reason I like it here is the fundamentally healthier political and social environment.”

What about the present U.S. political situation?

“Don’t get me started!” he growls.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 7, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.