Thursday, May 7, 2009

Norway: Cross-Cultural Conversation

A couple of weeks back Skymring, of Earth and Living, posted six observations about American bloggers. I was feeling perky that day and posted a comment as to where I fit into the observations she made. Did I feel the need to differentiate myself from the crowd? Do I rebel at being lumped together with others? Probably yes, to both. At any rate, if you go to the post you can read my comment. (Go on, follow that link and read it, I'll wait here on the other side of your back arrow.) Skymring kindly emailed me to wonder whether I found the post offensive, which I didn't, and I honestly didn't mean to come off snarky. But then we started emailing a bit back and forth as a continuation of the conversation that she began with her post.
One of the things Skymring said was that she notices that there is a propensity for SAHM-ism (Stay at Home Mom-ism) in American bloggers, and that this might give some of her Norwegian friends fits. I wondered why, and she elaborated:

Norway is rated as the country in the world with the most equality between the sexes. That is easy to forget for us, as the battle for even more equality is very much alive and present in our politics and media...

The underlying assumption is that our society needs to be run by both men and women, so women are needed in leader positions and in all work areas. What most people fail to see though, (in my opinion) is that the flip side of the feminist coin is this: it basically just draws a moustache on women, as they enter the corporate world on men's premisses. Perhaps, hopefully, those premisses will change as (if?) women alter it.

I love this last statement, while also loving the former statement too! What a contradiction, but it excites me to hear about a country that values its citizens equally and so openly. Like without the glass ceiling to be kicked down and forced into.
Everyone's reading it.
Because it's great. Check out Orangette's blog.
I decided on Butternut, Pear, and Vanilla Bean Soup.
Perfect for cold and rainy Thursday.

Skymring goes on to say that because in Norway, there are not the class differences we have in the States, the standard of living is fairly, well, standard for everyone. And for that type of quality of life, two incomes are required. But this is changing also, as families are realizing the need to slow down, that the frenzied pace of two working parents can take a toll on the kids and the adults also. (Check out this article on the stressfulness of the average U.S. Kindergarten from the New York Times.) She was quick to say that she favors whatever type of lifestyle works for a family. But hey, as we also know, Norway and Sweden pay 100% of your salary while you are on maternity leave for 10 months, or 80% for 12 months, and six weeks is allotted to fathers. This seems an immensely reasonable idea and awfully civilized of them. How about for gay families? Is there the same set up, I wonder?
And finally, Skymring also observed that Homeschooling is very prevalent among the mostly white, female, blogging community of SAHMs. Yes, I agreed, this is something I notice. This may go hand in hand with the SAHM factor, because homeschooling sort of precludes working outside the home. In Norway, homeschooling is quite rare, according to Skymring, because:

a) Public schools are good. Of course, there are differences here, but basically they have a decent standard.
b) We don't have many private schools, basically just Waldorf and a very few Montessori - so we don't really have a culture for choosing our kids' education (again, based on the fact that public schools are good).
c) There are strict rules for both private schools and homeschooling. You can't just do whatever you want. There's a certain curriculum every child goes through during elementary and high school, and if you homeschool you are supervised by a person from the government education department. This is of course to see to that every child gets the same education in regard to facts/subjects etc, and that the parents are up to this, and to prevent people from giving their kids, say, an education based on religious beliefs instead of scientific facts.

2 Boys and their collaborative drawing.
You can see it's hilarious.

I love it that the government takes a concern with facts in Norway. Like, perhaps they don't want to raise an ill-informed citizenry (because as we know, education is cheaper that ignorance, or whatever the bumper sticker says), that doesn't believe in evolution (here is another interesting article).

Thanks, Skymring, for sharing your experience and observations so honestly with me, and allowing me to publish some of the highlights here. And I will also add that I am very grateful to the non-native English speakers/writers, who so graciously converse with me in my native language. It feels very self-centered to only speak one language fluently (I have some French, Italian, and Russian tucked away in my brain folds somewhere), but here are these brave souls who can discuss complex ideas in other languages...not just ask where the nearest metro station is.
The soup was amazing comfort food
that Jonas hated.
With homemade sourdough bread on the side.

Here are my own thoughts (and thanks for staying with me this far in this epic post). For me, I always wanted to be a SAHM and was lucky to be able to do so, with lots of family support and the support of my husband. So now, I am really just beginning my professional life at the age of 34. To me, this feels just right, as the youngest is on his way to first grade next year. The evolution of my professional interests, finishing school at last, beginning graduate school has been the product of being a SAHM first. I guess I am sort of a semi-SAHM now, since my schoolwork happens at home, but I work part-time outside the home. Also, I just like being at home. Period. The days when I don't have to rush myself or anyone else out the door are precious to me. Today, in honor of being a hair's breath away from a completed first semester of grad school, I cleaned the house and made this delicious dinner (which you have been seeing through this post). It felt great. So, so good.

Spring sliced salad of Endive, Raddichio, Radish, and French Goat Cheese.
We had no ripe avocados. Only rocks.
But anything with avocado is OK with me, so I'll try it next time.

So, the conversation continues....Do you want to jump in and add your 2 cents?


  1. I really enjoyed reading this post. How interesting!

    I find there is little that gets bloggers going faster than a conversation about "the right way" to raise and educate children.

    The SAHM culture seems to be something quite defined in the US but is my imagination that its less defined here in NZ?

    When people ask me what I do, I just say, "I'm at home with Benjy." There's no label for it, and I've never had anyone comment from my age group.

    But I've had some people of my parent's generation (70's) tell me I'm doing the right thing and then mutter these days about all the potential psychopaths that are being molded in day care!

    So maybe NZ does have this kind of culture too?

  2. Oh yes, I stayed right to the end too- this post reminds me of the feeling I had reading "Like water for chocolate" with the drama all interwoven with the food. Very cool. Iris, you are SO CLEVER! You are!

    Anyway, I have had a few comments about working when I "should" be at home with the children, but then there are plenty of SAHMs who have had comments about "getting back to work" so I think it's just one of those things where people have strong opinions on both sides and are happy to vocalize. I've felt criticized and I've also felt supported, so there you go.

    My goodness, epic posts get epic comments!

  3. Iris, thank you for your epic post. It is wonderful. Though I was under the impression they had up to 18 months at 80% for the mothers and 6months for the fathers...or that might be Sweden. Either way I think that is wonderful. I have hated going back after 6 weeks with both my girls. I'm not going to make an epic comment since I have to head out in a little bit. But thank you again for sharing!

  4. I want the lovely moms in lovely Norway to know that here, there are few options, and none very good, for the care of children during sick days, snow days and school vacations. cdc

  5. WOW. Stepping here, sharing your space, is always a wonderful, emotional journey. You touched on a few things that make me tingle. The issues of the stay at home moms, the professional women (in particular, as the jump off point of your conversation), homeschooling, public/private education are deep and know much conversation and discussion. It's so easy to stereotype and generalize. And sadly, the labels hold for a reason.

    There is more, however. There's the married woman with no children. Where does she fit in professionally, not allowed the time from work with pay for anything personal unless she take vacation as opposed to the mother? How is the married woman with no children accepted in a community of mothers, especially stay at home mothers? Is the married woman with no children allowed a voice in the very public issue of the education of OUR children? And socially, how do we compensate the man and woman who does not have a child, but perhaps also needs "time off," but does so without the benefit of a job upon return, if at all allowed to return, most often having to make the difficult decision to leave a job? And what about the professional woman, burned out, overwhelmed by sexual discrimination in the workplace, who decides to stay at home? Who is she? How is she categorized? Where does she fit in?

    I get nervous "speaking" in a public place. We all most often speak our very personal experiences. If, in the past, when we have done so, it's been volatile, just more reasons to feel alienated and discrimnated against, well, you believe you should bear your thoughts, feelings and "morals" alone and within.

    But, I wanted a chance to share because in doing so, I learn so much more about myself and about other people with whom I do want to relate.

    Thank you, Iris, for giving us an opportunity to learn, grow, to speak.

    And a Mother's Day weekend to you of peace, joy, blissful tranquility.


  6. I realized I said "married." Again...personal experiences. We could most definitely put in the single woman, the gay woman. She, too, knows similar experiences in society, personally and professionally.

  7. so strange to see my words on your blog! i'm working on your question about gay couples. the short answer is yes, the rules are the same. in addition, any couple (gay or not) can split the maternity leave between them exactly the way they like, but the first six weeks has to go to the biological mother for the sake of her and the baby's health and safety. after that, it's up to the parents to decide who's gonna stay home and for how long, within the limit of 10/12 months. for instance, mum can stay home for 6 months and then go back to work, while dad stays home for the remaining time - getting paid 100% from his work.

  8. I am just going to make one point to stir the pot, and that is I think the proliferation of home schooling moms on blogs is perhaps because home schoolers use the resources of the internet to a great extent so blogging is a natural fit for them. (Rather than their numbers being indicative of the population as a whole)

    I'm not a homeschooling mom but i do work from home part of the time, outside the home the other part, so I don't know where that puts me!

  9. Here's my take on the homeschool/blogging connection. When I started blogging, I didn't homeschool. But the more I read about the experiences of families that I felt a kinship with, the more I realized it was the right choice for our family. (Not that I hadn't been vaguely considering it as a choice since day one of Kindergarten. I just didn't really have the guts to try it until I saw so many wonderful examples.)

    In the same way I've been encouraged to learn new cooking and crafting techniques by reading my favorite blogs, I've also been encouraged to try new ways of raising my kiddos. Not that I'm following the heard, it's more a matter of hey, that totally makes sense. I think I'd like to try it. And the online support to keep doing it (with links to educational resources and creative ideas) is invaluable as well.

    Love this conversation.