In countries with a history of immigration – like the United States – you’re a citizen if you’re born in the country. Norway has a very short history of immigration. Thirty years ago, there were almost no immigrants – although now about 8% of the population are immigrants. Probably, though, a portion of that 8% was actually born in Norway – like me.

ad for Dagbladet debates
(This image is actually relevant – just keep reading…)

See, Norway actually has this bizarre word for people like me who have lived in Norway almost our entire lives (I was born here, but lived in Australia for four years as a kid – the remaining 31.5 years of my life were spent in Norway) and who have gone to Norwegian schools, have Norwegian jobs and speak Norwegian flawlessly. We’re “second generation immigrants”. Well, actually, I would rarely get called that, because I’m white. My name is the only thing that screams FOREIGNER, but it’s not scary foreigner: Norwegians understand English.

Finally, it seems, the government has decided that this isn’t really a very good way of making people who have always lived in this country feel at home. The minister for Labour and Social Inclusion (sic), Bjarne Haakon Hanssen, wrote a kronikk today about the effects of calling people like me second generation immigrants, or calling teenagers who were born in Norway “foreign cultural” (that doesn’t translate well, does it). Apparently the “second generation immigrant” term was introduced by the Bureau of Statistics and they actually stopped using it seven years ago, but now of course, it’s everywhere. The department for Labour and Social Inclusion has prepared a booklet about how language that many Norwegians use without thinking – like “foreign cultural” or “second generation immigrant” – can actually increase cultural differences.

So far so good – but then you read the debate below the fold, where readers have added their usually vitriolic comments. So much hatred! Reading the reader discussions in Dagbladet is an unbelievably depressing thing to do. There were NO comments in favour of the article when I read it. I was going to surf on but decided I had to leave a comment, honestly. I assume what happens is that people who are more or less cool-headed simply avoid the discussions, as I usually do, they’re so toxic.

Of course, you could certainly make the case that Dagbladet invites this kind of agressive, onesided discussion. Look at the image they use to advertise discussions started by readers, which I pasted in above.

This is hardly an invitation to a calm, level-headed, rational discussion, though Drusilla notes that at least there’s something refreshingly honest about it.

11 thoughts on “I’m a “second generation immigrant”

  1. Lars

    Interesting. I’ve disliked the term “second generation immigrant” ever since I first heard it. How many generations does it take to migrate? I believe the phrase “foreign cultural” was actually coined by the Norwegian Progress Party, as a substitute for “multi-cultural”, which I guess sounded too positive for their purposes. In the 90s, there was a general agreement among media people not to use the phrase, but now it seems to have been generally accepted. In much the same way that otherwise unacceptable speech and behaviour is accepted, even welcomed, in the reader comments at Dagbladet (and most other Norwegian newspapers. Love the image, btw. Even the gender roles are spot-on.

  2. Jeremy

    it could be much worse. I sat in a conference session in may that discussed the terminological importance of the generational immigrant nomenclature in the netherlands where they are currently up to 5th or 6th generation ‘not netherlander’ or ‘other people’ in their state categorization system. I found it on the one hand interesting, because it was started with the post war influx, and has just continued. I can see perhaps tracking 3 generations at most for demographic issues, but after 3 generations, you are, i think, a native.

  3. Drusilla

    It’s such a soulsucking experience, reading those comments. I usually click on the few good ones,
    but it seems so futile. I don’t know. We should probably plan an organised attack, getting
    a couple of hundred people to go simultaneously “click, click, click” and move some sense to the top
    for a change 🙂

  4. Bradley

    In my own country, Canada, where there has almost always been very high per capita immigration (43% of people in Toronto where I live were born outside of Canada), we simply regard it from the reverse perspective. Somebody born outside of Canada is a “first generation Canadian” and his/her children are “second generation Canadians” etc. I say “simply” but changing a society’s outlook on immigration is anything but, though using different language isn’t a bad idea. FÂŻrstegenerasjonsnordmann anyone?

  5. Anne B J

    Like you, Jill & Drusilla, I just let out a sigh when reading the comments and then I surf on to something else. I stay clear of debates with several hundred comments, because then I know they will be full of people who hate foreigners in general and muslims in particular/socialists/the government/feminists and of people who deny holocaust. And I really don’t understand where all this hate comes from!

    The Progress Party has actually coined a few phrases/political definitions, and they are not good definitons of anything. Another example is “grunnlÂŻs asylsÂŻker” (asylum seeker without a reason (?)), a phrase that defines some, and probably all, asylum seekers as gold diggers.

    So yes, maybe changing our language is a place to start.

  6. Jill Walker Rettberg

    Jeremy, let’s hope Norway doesn’t stretch immigration tracking quite that far…

    The debates are depressing. You know the warped idea of America it’s easy to get from Europe? Imagine what foreigners would think of Norway if they could read Norwegian and read those debates. Yuck.

  7. Anne B J

    If Norway was to apply immigration tracking the Dutch way, most of us would find immigrants and other “unwanted” elements quite soon…

    Anne, of Norwegian, Swedish and Danish heritage (and that is just what I know for certain, mind you!)

  8. Matthew

    I was in Canada last summer. What really struck me, particularly in Toronto, was the ethnic diversity. It was very interesting and even inspiring to see so many people of all races peacefully coexist, it’s very visible. Surely there are problems but there is no such thing as a perfect country. Furthermore, one can wonder, who is a Canadian? Several people told me that anyone with a Canadian passport/citizenship is considered a Canadian. Isn’t that terrific? Most countries have yet to reach such an attitude but I definitely think that this kind of mentality is absolutely the way to go. That doesn’t mean having to forego your heritage, couldn’t you say “I’m a Canadian of x origin” if it’s important to you?

  9. Martin GL

    Yes, we think we’re all globalised and postmodern and that the nation state rolled over and died 30+ years ago, and then we go to Or, if you have an “accent” like me, going to the local pub will do. I’ll bet something like 75% of every first conversation I’ve ever had begins with determining my national origin and then chatting about national stereotypes for a while (“Danes are so x, Norway is y, Danes are ever-so z”). And I’m white! Imagine how sick the Iraqis are of talking about Iraq, or being moslem.

    Though I have to say, that percentage has dropped significantly after moving to Oslo, so that’s good.

  10. Bradley

    It’s mostly true what you have heard Matthew – Canada may be one of the few countries where if you live here you get to be “Canadian”. We’re also big fans of the hyphenated-Canadians: Polish-Canadian, Chinese-Canadian, Lebanese-Canadian etc. The question you posed came to a political head during the crisis in Lebanon when 60 000 Canadians (citizens) had to be evacuated. But with limited resources it become a tough judgment as to whether Canadian residents & those who had lived in Lebanon for the last 30 years should have the same rights when it comes to evacuation.

  11. Norman Hanscombe

    The world would be different if the world were different, and people would be different if people were different — but? All too opften we look at what’s happening now, or has happened over the centuries in the past, and ask such questions as, “How could XXX have done YYY?” A more useful approach might be to as WHY homo sapiens behaved in such manner through the ages? Attempt to synthesise the available evidence from biology, ethology, evolutionary theory, history, and anything else which throws some light on what appears to be the underlying propensities of human nature.

    A painful process? Yes. But potentially more helpful when planning future directions than simply saying, “Tch! Tch! Tch!”? I sincerely hope so, even if I can’t help still remaining a tad pessimistic.

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