Norwegian national pride
Honoring one’s culture is a positive thing
By now, most of you have certainly noticed that Norwegians have a very strong sense of national pride. This is founded on Norway’s sterling reputation around the world—politically, naturally, and socially. Coming from a country that has this type of global standing, it is common for people of Norwegian heritage to openly express this sense of pride.
Norway’s national pride has been a large piece of their identity ever since they became independent from Sweden in 1905. This nationalism grew even more when they were finally rid of the Nazi occupation in 1945. The popularity of bunader (national costumes) and even sølje jewelry is an expression of this sentiment. And this feeling of pride, in the culture and land itself, spreads far and wide to the deepest corners of the United States where people have been continuing Scandinavian traditions for generations.
Following economic struggles in countries throughout Europe, the United States received a wave of immigrants in the mid– to late 1800s through the early 1900s. People were traveling overseas, seeking out new financial opportunities. Cultural communities stuck together as a source of comfort in a new place, Norwegians included. When talking to fourth-generation Norwegian American Lois Nokleby, she inherited her sense of culture from her community.
“Our community was made up of almost exclusively Norwegians. The township is named after the man who came from Norway first.… I think about all the difficult things that they went through, and they all stayed there because everyone around them was Norwegian. Our neighbors also came over; it was usually a generation earlier. My great-grandfather came in the 1870s, and my grandma’s family came in 1869. They started the bank, and they started the church.”
Lois has found a deep connection to her heritage, especially through food. Food and traditional recipes can be a universal way to learn about culture, and they are typically passed down from generation to generation, either within a family or through a community network. Cooking is also a great way to incorporate foreign language into the learning process. Lois remembers, “That was a big connection, was to have people speaking the language. My grandpa and grandma didn’t like speaking English. They really didn’t speak English until their children had to.”
She feels pride in her heritage, so much so that her happy place is her job, working two days a week at Ingebretsen’s in Minneapolis, one of the most prominent Scandinavian import stores in the United States. Here, Lois engages with customers from all over the world, and many of them are Norwegian. “Norwegians are easy to be proud of, I look for things and read the old stories about what happened in the past. Not just World War II, but a lot around that time…They did dangerous things, and nearly died many many times.” The Norwegian Resistance is famous for the daring stunts they pulled, many done to simply keep hope alive during the Nazi occupation. Help from the United States came and planted another seed of connection between the two countries. There’s a lot of history to be proud of in Norway.
The problem is when the line between national pride and xenophobia blurs to think one’s heritage and culture is superior to another. Since I lived in Oslo in 2013, I’ve been examining the question, “What does it mean to be a Norwegian American?” My studies took a deeper look into pride for one’s country and one’s heritage, the good and the bad. At what point does pride become something negative?
In 2013, anti-Islamic sentiments were growing throughout the Western world. Terrorist attacks were frequent and taking over news coverage. The few came to represent the many and fear is one of the quickest feelings to spread and most difficult to snuff out. The critical breaking point in Norway came with the terrible Utøya tragedy in 2011. Over 70 Norwegians, mostly youth, were murdered. The culprit was a middle-aged white man and neo-Nazi. What does this have to do with heritage?
Anders Behring Breivik wrote a manifesto, a long form document that detailed his disdain of Islam and of gender equality. These positions are what inspired his attack on the Norwegian Labor Party. Breivik believed he was acting in defense of his race. (It is confirmed that he was diagnosed with multiple personality disorders, something to keep in mind when discussing this particular situation.) The steps taken to fulfill his internal mission were many steps too far. I think most people would agree he crossed “the line.”
But he does not have to represent “the many,” and he doesn’t. In today’s world, there is still room for appreciation of where you come from. It is part of what makes the United States a tapestry of unique perspectives and ideas. But mutual respect and open-mindedness must come along, too. History of the Norwegian people shows that much of the pride in the country is rooted in great accomplishment.
Honoring one’s own culture is an important part of life and is expressed through food, language, dress, and tradition. There are facets of every culture that we can learn from and emulate. We can all find room to cherish our heritage and to respect the cultures and customs of others.
This article originally appeared in the July 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.