Andy Meyer is a Norwegian American who’s spent a lot of time in Norway, even though his own family connection to Norway dates a long way back. His great-grandfather moved from Lillehammer, north of Oslo, to Wisconsin in the early 1900s. There, he married a woman whose family came from Sogn in the western part of Norway.
– My grandfather on my mother’s side spoke Norwegian as a child but lost much of the language as he grew older. We all were brought up with many Norwegian-American traditions in our home.
Andy was born in Iowa but now lives in Seattle. He has spent time as a teacher on a Fulbright exchange program in Norway and traveled all over the country to teach as a visiting lecturer, from the Arctic north to the south. Perhaps that is why he is also a little critical of Norway.
– Norway has a good reputation in the world, which is well-deserved. But while you Norwegians are laughing at our giant clown of a president, you also have quite a few far-out politicians on the right-wing side, and you have a large arms industry. Norway is not perfect, although many of us here believe it.
– What do you like least about Norway?
– Well… the alcohol laws! If I am invited to dinner on a Saturday night, I would like to bring a bottle of wine along. But, no, not possible in Norway. [Note: Alcohol sales close in the afternoon/early evening on Saturdays.] But to be honest, I most of all dislike a kind of "cultural smugness" that I have encountered among some Norwegians. A kind of assumption that American culture is so backward, while the Norwegian is superior to most.
Still, the list of things he likes about Norway is much longer than what he doesn’t like. Andy holds a doctorate in English with specialty in American literature. Now he works as a teacher in Seattle, but he wants to move to Norway for the second time. The goal is to have a professorship, and most preferably, “a cabin somewhere.”
– My Norwegian identity is very important to me. As many Norwegian Americans say, it’s a strange and special sensation being in the country where our ancestors came from.
Andy has thought a lot about why Norwegian identity has become so important for him and other Norwegian Americans and is absolutely sure that it all comes down to a basic lack of belonging.
– Almost everyone in America, except Native Americans, of course, are immigrants. Americans come from all corners of the world. Being American is our national identity, but our ethnic identity is something else. Therefore, our original roots are more important to us than to you Norwegians living in Norway.
For Andy, moving to Norway is basically about the desire to belong.
– Many Norwegian emigrants in the 19th century had no desire to leave Norway, and they kept their Norwegian identity and language as long as they could. My grandfather had a dream of moving back to Norway. It never happened. Maybe this is my opportunity to close the circle?