Wednesday, May 12, 2010

#1--American Embassy Town Hall Meeting in Oslo

This is my first blog ever as an expatriate living in Oslo Norway. I have lived here for twenty years and decided tonight, after attending a Town Hall meeting at the beautiful Hotel Bristol arranged by the American Embassy, to start writing a blog about my experiences living here in Norway. I think I have some ‘street credibility’—twenty years in one place will give you that.

Well, what is the definition of an expatriate? It simply means someone who has left his or her own country and moved to another, and lived there for a while. It doesn’t mean that I have given up my American citizenship. I would never do that. Norway does not allow dual-citizenship, so if I became a Norwegian citizen I would have to renounce my American citizenship. Not likely. The USA allows multiple citizenships. I’ve got to wonder why Norway doesn’t.

Well, tonight the American Embassy officials did something they have never done in the twenty years I’ve lived here. They actually invited American citizens to a town hall meeting to present themselves, what they do, and how they can be of service to us. It was a good meeting, inspired no doubt by the openness of Obama’s White House. Most of my meetings with the embassy up to this point have left me with a cold feeling. It’s not that the embassy workers have been rude; it’s just that they’ve never been friendly. I can only remember one time in all my years here where the American Embassy sponsored a cocktail party to welcome the American company BioRad to Norway. Both Norwegians and Americans were invited to that party. It was held at the ambassador’s personal residence and was a very nice affair. But tonight was different. The feeling in the air was different. It was a good feeling, a friendly feeling. People were laughing and talking together and having a good time.

It was good to be together with Americans again. I have to say I just miss hearing English at times. My language—and the sense of humor that is uniquely American—that combination of self-deprecation, sarcasm, joking, lightness that just makes one feel right at home. It puts you at ease and that’s a good thing. Americans are friendly people. No matter what you may think about the superficiality of that friendliness, it helps strangers break the ice and gets them over that initial wall of social awkwardness.

Some of the attendees got up and asked questions at the end of the meeting. Some of them had comments about their negative experiences in Norway. I had to laugh. One fellow got up and told us about how Norway wouldn’t accept his law degree from a top school in the USA. I remember how my Master’s degree in cell biology from New York University was downgraded almost upon my arrival here in this country. My education had to be evaluated by a formal committee which concluded that a Master’s degree from anywhere in the USA was simply not equivalent to the Norwegian version of a Master’s degree—called a cand.scient. That was in 1990. How odd that twenty years later, the country is only interested in offering Master’s degrees and PhD degrees. No more cand.scient or dr.philos. or dr.scient or dr. med. In a country of 4.5 million people, it boggles my mind that there have been so many degrees offered. The rest of the world simply could not begin to understand how complicated the educational system here really was. Thank God it is becoming more streamlined.

I could write a book about my experiences here after twenty years. Perhaps I will one day. Right now, I am going to write a blog and I hope that you enjoy reading it.

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