When you visit your home country after many years abroad, do you feel:
a) like a stranger/foreigner
b) patriotic to the point of bursting
c) like a funny/good/awkward mix of a) and b)
I decided to test this, and what occasion could be better than the bicentenary of the Norwegian constitution? Our National Day, 17 May, must surely be one of the most special National Days there are. The country turns into one long river of red, white and blue (and I’m telling you – it is long, about 1700 km from north to south!), and the streets of every town, big and small, fill up with school children and marching bands parading. In Oslo, every school parades in front of the Royal Palace, where the royal family greets them from the balcony for more than three hours straight.
We put our best clothes on, and on this day that often means either dressing in red, white and blue or in national costume – bunad – making up a map of Norway as each region has their own. We too take to the streets to watch our happy children, be happy with them, eat hot dogs and ice cream with them (after a champagne breakfast!), wave our flags with them – and celebrate. We make red, white and blue cakes and desserts and set red, white and blue tables (and post pictures of them on Facebook and Instagram). It’s a day to be together, as a country and with family and friends.
This year was special – 200 years since we got our Constitution calls for an even bigger celebration. So we were even happier and prettier, even more red, white and blue. The day was sunny and warm, and the country in bloom. Picture postcard perfect. And on a day like this, my answer is a big b). 100 % Norwegian.
My answer has never been a), and I hope it never will be. My answer is sometimes c), varying between the adjectives. That is of course because not all days are picture postcard perfect, and I see my country through different glasses after quite a few years in the middle of Europe, for better and worse. And I quite like that place in the middle of Europe too. So I might not be as Norwegian as I used to be, even though on a day like last Saturday, I was more Norwegian than ever. All in all I think I’ll stick to the 100% (and I can be stubborn). The “I am European” doesn’t quite work for me, not quite there yet.
I guess it’s that c) -that funny mix – that makes it difficult to know after a while… should I stay or should I go? When is it too late? When you’ve become too comfy? Too settled? When the children get too big? When you’re approaching a)? Never? How much do roots matter? What kind of roots do you want for your children? Where is home? What matters most to you? Who matters most to you?
Lots of questions up in the air there with the red, white and blue flags, waiting for answers to land. And if they don’t, do you just float around where you are or cut through and make a change?
This is one time when you can develop feelings for two without being unfaithful, but still have to choose one to live with and be in a long distance relationship with the other. Might work for some, might be tricky for some, might not be important for some – like the French writer Michel Houellebecq who said something like “the world is a hotel and I just check in where I want to”.
Wish I could be that cool about it.
Text and photos by Unni Holtedahl, May 2014 © 2014 Unni Holtedahl