20 Qs on 20s: Question 3, on the view from Norway

This is a series of interviews with friends between 20 and 29 years of age. It’s going to be all over the place, and today I mean that literally.

Question 3 is a set of questions for an insightful young lady I know who hails from Norway…

I’m Nina’s friend from graduate school in London. I used to study political science as well as Indian languages and cultures, and now I work as a strategic analyst in the security sector in Norway. I’m from a small village in Norway, but since I turned 18 I have lived in Germany, India, the U.K., Denmark and in Oslo–that’s my hometown now.

A. These days, there’s a lot of media attention on the appeal of Bernie Sanders among young voters in America. A bulk of his rhetoric, as you may know, is about socialism and aspiring to a more Scandanivian style of social welfare and safety nets. As a young person who actually comes from the region, what’s your first reaction when you hear about Americans calling for the U.S. to import your government’s system of benefits?

I think large inequalities are very detrimental for democratic societies, so there are many areas of the world that should look to Norway! Obviously you can’t copy the Nordic model in the U.S., but there are certainly elements that you could incorporate in order to create a more humane society. Since I am watching “The Wire” right now, I might have a more negative view of the U.S. than I otherwise would, but honestly, I find your system very depressing. It doesn’t have to be that way.

B. How politically revolutionary do you think young Americans are… relative to young Norwegians and/or Europeans?

Young Norwegians are not revolutionary at all. There is a minuscule minority of Islamist revolutionaries that go to Syria to fight with the Islamic State. If the rest of us want to change something, we turn our energy inwards, go on diets and have mental problems. 😦 But Norway, despite sinking oil prices having an impact on our economy, is on the whole a very peaceful, affluent and philanthropic society, so we have a pretty good excuse not to get revolutionary.

With regards to the rest of Europe, there are huge differences; in Southern Europe they call the youth a lost generation. There is a lot of potential for political extremism there. In the states, I can’t say, really. I think a bit of proper activism, some revolutionary spirit might do both the U.S. and parts of Europe very good. But the left hasn’t been able to create a narrative that resonates with people, so the disadvantaged people turn towards the xenophobic ideologies of the far right.

C. New York is notorious for attracting career-oriented young professionals, or people who tie their sense of personal growth to their jobs. How would you say this is similar or different in Oslo?

Oslo is definitely the most career-minded city in Norway and young people that feel the need to prove themselves probably feel it more. But in general, once people start working, they calm down. Pressure is higher in some sectors, but I imagine most Norwegian jobs would be 10 times more stressful in New York! On the downside, Norway is really shallow and conformist, and it can also be very boring.

D. When are kids no longer “kids” in Norway? Is adulthood there defined around one’s career, or owning a home, or having a family, or none or all of the above?

I’m 27 and I definitely consider myself an adult. I have an apartment and a mortgage, which felt like a major contribution to my adulthood. I think there is a tendency for my generation to accept our adulthood more than the generation before us. The job market has gotten worse, the housing market is crazy for first-time buyers, and it’s clear that the world around us is changing in many ways. So we need to take a bit more responsibility, which I don’t think is a bad thing.

E. Imagine that you could sweep up the various conversations that you have with your Norwegian friends and colleagues who are your age, and put it all into a bottle. Now shake the bottle and mix them all together. Imagine that this big average mess has a color. What would it be and why?

I think it would be some kind of sprightly green! Because most of my conversations are pretty upbeat. At work, I have many young colleagues that I laugh with.


P.S. From Nina: There is much in these answers worth longer discussion, but one point that had me laughing is in D.: the mere possibility that a 27-year-old living in Norway can legitimately consider a mortgage. Not sure the same can be said for any typical 27-year-old in any urban city in the states. (I.e., HAHA on the thought I’ll be mortgage-ready when I’m 27 next year.)

More broadly, her answer poses a few interesting questions for us back here in the states. How does our generation compare to that of our parents when it comes to adopting adult responsibilities? We’re not buying houses or getting married as young as they did, and some say the economic times within which we came of age haven’t allowed us to. At the same time, there seems to be quite the market for services that seem to exacerbate that by encouraging us to simply keep outsourcing/avoiding those pesky tasks that our parents did for us when we were kids, like cooking and keeping house, or that our schools arranged for us in college, like finding friends. I myself am unsure whether I lean more toward the idea that me and my American peers are living some weird, extended adolescence (which frightens me), or if we should be measuring adulthood by completely different metrics than what our Baby Boomer parents used. After all, the times have changed and are still a-changin”…


For more reading on the new lives of contemporary young American adults and workers:

  • May 24, 2016: “More Young Adults Living With Parents Than a Romantic Partner” in The Wall Street Journal: “…young adults are lagging in setting up their own households.” [Video interview]
  • Feb. 22, 2016: “The Single American Woman” in New York Magazine, an adapted excerpt from “All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation” by Rebecca Traister: “There is also the question of whether this vastly disparate group that runs the gamut of race and class and has largely defied the pull of identity politics can be unified and politically activated around its remarkably common needs. The independent woman, both high earning and low earning, looks into her future and sees decades, or even a lifetime, lived outside marriage, in which she will be responsible for both earning wages and doing her own domestic labor. This is the new social compact that she requires…”
  • Dec. 11, 2013: “On Pay Gap, Millennial Women Near Parity – For Now” by the Pew Research Center: “When young adults who do not yet have children consider that possibility [of being a working parent], most see roadblocks ahead… There is no gender gap on this question among young adults. Millennial men and women tend to agree that having children will make it harder for them to advance at work.”
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