“How old are you, really?” is perhaps something you’ve never thought about, yet it is an important part of the Norwegian way of living and thriving. I have recently stumbled into it again, and I thought I should tell you something about it as well.
In my experience, the way Norwegian people look at their age and what they can achieve in their lives is very different from what I was used to, and I am quite sure that you have been used to as well.
Age is spiritual, and not the actual number of years.
In Norway, people can be allowed to be as young as they want. Life is joy. At least, this is what they say upfront. The complaints are only for selected ears. People can afford to be “children” much longer than we’re used to in Southern Europe or other corners of the world. I discover a similar attitude in my French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Asian, or southeast European friends. If you are 40, you need to retire, or go home and wait to die, as life is over for you.
A refugee from a war zone, 40 years old, is considered by his or her society very old. I was helping with an integration course one time and I saw the reaction of the group of refugees when they heard that my colleagues’ ages were 59 and 64. Their estimation went as far as 45 and 55.
Another time, a colleague was very happy when she was about to reach her 40th birthday, as she got old. She comes from an African country and, in her culture, you’ve passed your youth and become old at this age. If you are old, everybody respects you and asks for your opinion. You also gain status in your community. At the same time, not many people think that the number of years you lived is always wisdom’s attribute. We can find many old people behaving childishly. Maturity of the physical body is not the same as emotional maturity. Many people had to grow up fast because of the harsh living conditions. That did not always allow them to develop emotionally at a natural pace. The emotional development in people is a whole story, too big and too complex to mention more about it here.
Living in Norway has proven to me that until 40, life is research in development. You start living at 40. People here get married late if they do at all, and they live life to the full, for as long as they can. If they marry early and find out on the way that they’ve grown apart, they separate and build a life with somebody else, or on their own, while doing the things they love, enjoying time with their children, if they have them.
After all, children are much better off with two happy separated parents than with two miserable parents living together. A general rule I discovered here is that children are “mine, yours and ours”. I have a friend who remarried at 40 to a 50-year-old guy who had also been married before. They have one child, as a testimony of their love for each other, and the 50-year-old guy was the one to stay at home with the baby.
They both have three children each from previous marriages, and the youngest was the joy of the whole family. They travel together as a family; they walk up the mountains, work, and have a good time. Of course, this is the outside picture, visible to me, but the point is, that they are not “old” at 50 or 60, as they might be considered in other countries.
The welfare state contributes to this as well, and life is much more stable than in many other corners of the world. It became like this especially after 1969 when oil came into the picture.
In Norway, among the couples I know, some do not have children yet. Therefore, each partner spends Christmas or parts of the summer holiday at his/her parents’ house and takes time to be a child for a while longer. Only when children come into the picture, couples consider it as the end of their own childhood. If couples get help with the children from their parents, they consider themselves very lucky, and they express it. They do not take this help for granted.
I recently heard a 60-year old southeast European woman talking about her “grandma duties”. In many families from southeast Europe, the expectation is that grandparents get involved in their grandchildren’s lives and they are given responsibility for their upbringing. They are not paid for that, and often enough this help can be just taken for granted. This does not happen in Norway. Some grandparents consider themselves lucky to be part of their grandkid’s lives, but they can choose the time they want to spend with them.
Another detail I think might contribute to the Norwegians’ youthfulness is the language. They have no politeness pronouns. Respect is shown through attitude, not in words. People are called by their first names, regardless of their age or social status. People forget their age if they are not constantly reminded that they are a “Madam” or “Sir”.
By contrast, as soon as I step off the airplane in my country of birth, someone swiftly shows me their respect by calling me “madam” or “lady”. But I do not always feel their respect in their attitude or in their voice. It is just a word. I also recognize this in the words and the attitudes of my friends, the same age as me, but still living there. It feels like they are slowly marching to the cemetery. I don’t think they are aware of it, and if I pointed it out to them, they look at me with confusion, saying: “Stop being so Norwegian.” As if my becoming Norwegian was their main concern.
My point is, that Age can be looked at as just a number, and we are all children. In Norway, if a 60-year-old person becomes widowed or divorced, it is perfectly normal to find someone else to share the rest of his or her days with, without being judged by society. It is a natural thing to do. The children are also happy when their parents are not alone and can still enjoy life in someone’s company. The retiring age is between 62 and 70, and if the health allows, people are strong and green many years after that. It helps that they keep physically active, running/walking up mountains and marathons, skiing, kayaking, and doing all sorts of other sports. In Norway, I have learned that people are as young as they want to be, and they get help with that.
What is your experience with age/aging, that you have from your country of origin?
How do you relate to the age you have? If you are thinking of exploring your true age, and not the one in your passport, feel free to sign up here for a free talk.
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Best wishes from Norway