This is a piece I was asked to write for The Irish Times online edition, reflecting an my viewpoint on Trump’s now infamous comments on sh**hole countries and immigrants from Norway. Published in Irish Times on 16.01.2018
News of Trump’s damning comments last week, when he referred to Haiti, El Salvador and nations in Africa as “sh**hole countries”, was met with the same disgust and disbelief here in Norway as elsewhere in the world. Having lived here in Oslo for the last five years, I can safely say that Norwegians have a pragmatic and just view of the world. Racism is generally not in their fabric, hence the disgust. The disbelief was because this was the President of the United States talking in such rancid, profane terms. And then when he added to boot that he would like to see migration to the US from countries like Norway, there was ample mirth piled on top of the disbelief.
Now, it wasn’t lost on anyone here that Trump had just had a successful meeting with the Norwegian Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, one day previously and given this bizarre, call-to-action for Norwegian migrants, Erna clearly had made a good impression. She even commented afterwards that Trump seemed like ‘an ordinary man with a sense of humour’. Apparently, he was really on the charm offensive. Many here have commented that Trump’s positive endorsement and invite of sorts may well have stemmed from the fact that she was also representing a mainly white, wealthy, western nation that buys US military equipment, runs a healthy trade deficit with the US, not to mention investing a large chunk of its trillion-dollar sovereign wealth fund in the US economy. He’s a business man and let’s face it, business is good.
Trump’s comments about “sh**hole countries” were met with widespread ridicule here, in no small part because any suggestion that immigrants from some countries have more value than others, would not sit well with Norwegian values. Immigration into Norway has sharply reduced since a spike in 2015 and this drop is largely driven by the populist Progress Party currently in coalition with Solberg’s Conservatives. Norwegians are most worried about levels of migrants, not where they come from. The biggest concern here is that migration is at a level where immigrants can be properly integrated, embrace Norwegian values and, of course, contribute to the economy.
Neither did Trump’s assertion that Norwegians would be desirable immigrants land as a huge complement here with these no-nonsense Norwegians. While many Norwegians spend a year or two studying in the US as part of their higher education, there is no great desire to relocate there permanently. Why would they when they have one of the wealthiest nations in the world per capita, the world’s happiest people according to the UN’s World Happiness Report last year, not to mention affordable education, a great welfare system and huts in the mountains? While there may be a certain smugness that their little country is suddenly a world headline, you won’t hear any Norwegians bragging about it as this would go against their social codes of humility, respect and generally never, ever positioning themselves as better than anyone else.
From my own perspective, as a migrant in Norway and previously in the US, I think it’s fair to say that many Norwegians would really struggle with some aspects of American life if they were to take the plunge and relocate. I was fortunate enough to live in San Francisco and later Boston when working for Irish and British tech companies many years ago. I loved it there, the openness and friendliness that I as a talkative Irish person could really connect with, as well as the sense of possibility and optimism that came with hard work and a can-do attitude. But there’s no getting away from the fact that the US has a much wider gap between rich and poor than Norway, not to mention two weeks annual leave vrs five here and as I remember it, a norm of working late a lot more often than going home on time – with no paid overtime. So Donald Trump may want immigrants from Norway but they may not stick around for very long even if they did take the leap.
Coming back to Trump’s castigating ‘sh**hole’ remarks, this has predictably generated a raft of comments from the satirical press here in Norway. This ranges from proposals to rename Norway to the “Kingdom of Sh**hole” in solidarity with those maligned countries, to deriding US policies on gun violence and healthcare. Neither is the irony lost that, the Prime Minister of Norway, with English as a second language, seemed more articulate and able to express herself in English than the US President. While Norwegians are nice people, both respectful and humble, I’m happy to say they are not above a good-natured jab where it may be warranted.