Even After Dovre Falls
Really, it’s not the “middle finger,” even though it looks like that in the picture. The boys and I were just mimicking the pose of Peder Anker at the Constitution Hall grounds in Eidsvoll. The picture will not be available, though I like it because I know that we were sincere.
Confession: I have never been to Philadelphia. Most Americans haven’t been to Philly but that doesn’t mean anyone of us is less a citizen. How many Norwegians have visited Eidsvoll?
I had my education of the Norwegian Constitution in reverse. First I did the parade, then I visited the signing site. In retrospect I suppose that is how most Americans who’ve visited Constitutional Hall in Philidelphia have done it too.
In know Philadelphia is a major American city and the Constitution Hall area is a major tourist destination. I can imagine all the selling and schlock in the neighborhood, entrepreneurs eager to separate the faithful from their money. The Constitution Hall site in Norway is the opposite, it is probably the photo negative. I’ll have to make a journey to Pennsylvania to confirm.
A trip to the Constitutional Hall site has been on my “must do” list in Norway. I have done them all save two: visit every fylke – I looking at you Sogn og Fjordane – and see a moose. Iallfall, fornøyd.
We took the train from Lysaker to Eidsvoll Verk. It was a familiar and unassuming ride. Just north of Oslo Airport, the way to Eidsvoll was old hat for me. Several times I have traversed the spot for other journeys.
The day was fair and mostly sunny. Fields were freshly tilled and in want of rain. A dry Norway is a strange Norway. From the platform we had a walk of about two kilometers to the sight. Truthfully, the walk was welcome. After about an hour on the train, I was grateful to stretch my legs. Also, the walk made it more like a secular pilgrimage, something I could appreciate as a American. I wonder how they arrive in Philly?
The walk took us off the main highway and onto a side road mostly for people powered traffic but you had to look out for the occasional car. On the side of the main road the police were conducting sobriety checks. Well done! No drinking, then driving is allowed in Norway. I wonder wonder how many lives we surrender to the “freedom” of drinking and then driving in America each year? In Norway I don’t wonder constantly if the car coming down the road has an impaired driver, in Iowa I do.
The walk to the Constitutional Hall grounds cleared my head and helped me to focus on the gravity of the place I was about to visit. The boys wanted to know when we were going to eat.
And then we were there. A well manicured grounds of tidy buildings arising from the country-side, there you have it.
We had a packed lunch on a picnic table along the river, typisk norsk. One little boat coursed up and back from the bridge. People walked about, but no crowds. The sign of civilization was the regular approach of planes to Oslo airport.
Dining completed we bought tickets for the tour of the special residence in which the delegates met and agreed to the Constitution. The building itself was a fascinating study in multipurposing, culture, and preservation. The tour was in Norwegian, of course. Meghan and I were counting on the boys to translate as necessary. We did our best to nod and say, “Ja,” at the right times so as to fit in and hid our foreign identifies. I’d like to think we pulled off a pretty good counterfeit.
The guide, in all black, welcomed us and led us into the building. We put on slippers over our shoes and commenced the journey back in time.
I have professionally studied and practiced history. I use historical recreations in my lessons. But truly, the past is a mystery. I wonder about the lives, the smells, the ambitions, the diets of the historic and I lament that I just can’t fully appreciate their full lives.
Even a tour in a such a lovely cared for historic home cannot recreate the past. Our first stop was the dining room. While the colors were correct and the wood was original, I don’t know what it smelled like. I don’t know how hungry the men were, how little sugar they consumed, the working condition of the women who served them…
Each room was like that for me. Yes, I’m a little weird like that. Okay, a lot weird, but the point being that I felt more like a ghost haunting a building than a participant in the grand achievement.
A tight and narrow room, thankfully with a very high ceiling, packed in over 100 men that spring, 212 years ago. To think of of smells, the sounds, not to mention the sights, and then here we were. My family stroad the floors of consequences, we rested on the benches of decision. The angle of the sun that streamed through the old panes were not much different than that of the now ancient lawgivers.
I wanted to linger, I bet many fans of history do. Alas, the tour continued, and I with it. The tour guide had a schedule. How many of the delegates had a timepiece in 1814? How did “time” work?
The tour ended. We retrieved our bags from storage and then bought what we needed from the giftshop. The return walk was less eventful than the entrance. There was no time to be contemplative at the platform.
Courage. The signers of the Philadelphia constitution were puting their lives on the line vis-a-vis honoring the revolution. The men at Eidsvoll were signing their death warrants to a debilitated King of Sweden. In contrast, I’ve signed my name to a mortgage.
As we left, workers were lowering and removing flags. Visiting hours were over. We left with some memories and photos. Meghan got a Christmas ornament for us, I bought a copy of the Constitution, Grunnlov. The boys got lollypops.
When the men of the assembly parted on 20 May, 1814, they were reported to hold hands and profess their loyalty to this new Constitution, “until the mountain of Dovre falls.” That is, forever. Benjamin Franklin responded to an eager follower of the constitutional proceeding in Philly that the Americans now have a republic, “if you can keep it.”
Historical sites don’t make for a present. They help inform the present but they are only ideas of the past. As for my republic, I want to keep it, until even after Dovre falls.
From King of Prussia with Love
Philadelphia is a city with a Greek name, French architecture, and Puritan roots: what could be more American than that? Ah, a suburb with the regional shopping center named after a Baltic nobleman. Maybe American culture is best expressed in what we “consume,” that is our shopping habits. How Americans spend their money drives the factories and trends of the world, for better or worse. I suspect the suburbs around Philly are interchangable with the suburbs of Boston or Chicago or Sacramento. Little do we appreciate how our time in the mall invents a life for the rest of the world.
Once in a while I have a student approach me after a workshop to ask more questions. Without reservation, I love those moments, especially because they are too few to my liking. This past week in Stavanger a student stayed after to talk, I will refer to her as “Steina.” Regretfully, I could not oblige because of the day’s schedule. I apologized, gave her my card, and then asked her to email me any questions she had. She did.
Steina was writing a paper on the positive and negative influences of American culture in Norway and she wanted my thoughts about the matter since I was the American living in another culture. Steina was kind in that she asked for only short answers, as if my down time was too precious to bother. I suspect what I wrote was a little longer than what she expected. But it is nowhere near of what I could have or wanted to write.
Below is a lightly edited version of my reply. My hands and arms are recovering from a “medical event” that makes typing very difficult for now, so I know there are typos and such in the text. You’ll have to deal with it. Oh, if you want the story then I will tell it to you in full over lunch, you buy.
Steina asked about the depth and breadth of American culture in Norway I observed, my thoughts on it, and perhaps larger global implications I noticed. Ultimately, she wanted to know, was “this influence…good or bad for Norway?” I wrote:
The American influence in Norwegian culture is strong, based on my observations. I see the dominant style of clothes worn by Norwegian teens as American. The brands, images, and messages on most clothing seems to promote or reflect an American bias. English is a heavily promoted language in Norway, it is the default second language taught to children and the additional language on most signs in Norway. I have come to expect to use my english anywhere I go in Norway, even though I do try to use Norwegian out of respect. The growth of private high schools and the policies of Education Minister Isaaksen are very American; the idea that competition, measurement, and “the market” will make education better.
I have traveled throughout Norway this year, in addition I have traveled in England, Germany, and France. In all cases, the influence of America is strong. The French seem to put up the most resistance to being Americanized. As the world’s largest economy, post-war patron, and cultural dynamo, it is not surprising that America is a strong influence in Norway. Norway also has a very strong emigrant connection to America not found in other nations like Spain or France, for example.
One subtle way that American culture may be trouble for Norway is food choice. Americans eat too much “fast food” and drink too much soda and sugary drinks. As a result, America has epidemic levels of diabetes, heart disease, and cancers. I see Norwegian teens drinking a lot of American style sugar drinks at school, that is a bad sign for the future.
Is American culture good or bad for Norway? I don’t know, that is not for me to say. I do think that there is a well of Norwegian culture that does stand apart from American culture and is a source of strength to draw on to meet specific Norwegian needs. For example, the Norwegian commitment to a social democracy in which equality is a powerful force is unique and resists American demands for individualism. Also, Norwegian culture seems to favor long-term projects and solutions to the problems you face. Such as diverting profits from the discovery of oil into a sovereign wealth fund, building tunnels for transportation and then having drivers pay a toll for the tunnels, and taking climate change seriously.
China, India, Brazil, and Nigeria will be major world economic and cultural forces in the coming century. As such their cultural influences will grow. I predict that American culture will be changed more profoundly by these new powers than Norwegian culture. As a polyglot nation, those changes will be neither good nor bad. They will just be change, as America has always changed. Norway, with a more coherent national identity, will change as well but less so and perhaps with more discretion.
Med vennelig hilsen,
John Lawrence Hanson, Ed.D.