Wednesday, August 01, 2007

cultural differences

Today on the train I noticed a new sign posted in the official NSB information area. Normally whatever is posted in this area relates to transportation or train schedules, so I was rather surprised at the topic of this particular poster.
The sign is in four languages: Norwegian, English, Somali and Arabic. It is a reminder that in Norway, female circumcision is not only illegal, it is also harmful and is NOT a requirement in ANY religion. It is illegal to perfrom this 'procedure' not only in Norway, but if you are resident in Norway, it's illegal to take your daughter out of the country to have it performed.

This is a pretty sobering thing to be faced with first thing in the morning on the trains, let me tell you.

It's been quite the issue lately.

It's also a fairly telling side effect of the immigration occurring everywhere. I know Americans are all up in arms about immigration in the US, but believe me when I say every country has its problems. And here, we have some pretty unique issues going on, as Norway is fairly new to immigration on a large ongoing scale (unlike the 'melting pot' of the US where we are ALL immigrants of some sort). Norway until the 70's was always a fairly quiet country left to its own devices. From what everyone's told me, it was a quiet backwater above Europe, poor and rurally based. Now, with the new wealth and generous benefits programs, there are all these new people coming in and they all carry their own societal norms which don't always mesh so well with the tolerant atmosphere around here. Like, female circumcision. To veil or not to veil. Arranged marriages or not? It's a mine field of cultural education, tolerance and mutual understanding.

I'm not sure where I stand with it all. My gut feeling is that if you are going to move to a country you should do your best to fit in, while somehow also holding on to your roots. I know this is not easy. Be a productive member of society and try to add to the culture as best you can. Get a job, pay into the system, try to get to know some people. What makes America interesting (and England, too) are all the different cultures that add spice to the mix. Norway has some of that now, too.

It's just, when you see signs like that one on the train this morning, that you start to wonder, and worry, about how hard it is to create a harmonious mix that works. I don't envy the folks who have to do that, but I do applaud them for making an effort such as they have done thus far. And for protecting the interests of women, and reaching out to them in their OWN languages, so that they know that here, in Norway, they DO have a voice and a choice.

But most of all, I thank my lucky stars I don't come from a place where female circumcision is even remotely an issue.

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