Monday, May 08, 2006

The Haircut

I got my haircut at a barbershop in Grunerlokka over the weekend. It cost me 100 NOK which is I guess about the cheapest haircut you can get in Oslo.

The barber was a middle-eastern guy and asked me in Norwegian how I'd like my hair done. I just said "short" which is what I tell barbers everytime I get my haircut. I figure it doesn't really matter what I say because once I take my glasses off, I can't see a thing and I've got to leave everything in the guy's hands anyway. The only requirement is that the haircut is short so that I don't have to be back for the next haircut too soon.

So anyway, once he started cutting my hair, he asked me in Norwegian where I was from. I told him and asked him where he was from. He said he was from Iraq.

So far, in my stay in Norway, I've met people of many, many nationalities but never before an Iraqi. I don't know much about Iraq except from what's been in the news the last couple of years. I don't often make small talk but I was intrigued.

I tried asking him in Norwegian how long he'd stayed in Oslo for. I stopped taking Norwegian classes this semester and what came out hardly sounded the way it should. It was at this point I realized that the barber could actually speak pretty decent English but probably only spoke Norwegian because he thought I did!

The conversation went a lot faster after this. He told me he'd been in Oslo for 4 years but his family was back in Iraq. More interestingly, he told me he used to be LAWYER and had graduated in 1989! Of course since coming to Oslo, he hadn't been able to get a decent job and decided to settle down giving haircuts.

Interesting isn't it?

I had recently read on that contrary to what most Norwegians believe, immigrants to Norway are the most qualified in the world, after UK and Ireland. The thing is, many of them can't get jobs.

When I got back to my apartment and told my Norwegian apartment-mate about the Iraqi guy, he immediately acknowledged that as a foreigner, it was difficult to get a job in Norway. He mentioned the story of an educated Norwegian speaking foreigner who was so frustrated at not being called for job interviews that he changed his name to a Norwegian one. Thereafter he immediately got job offers! My Norwegian friend (who is half mexican) told me that when he applies for a job, he's definitely not going to put down his Mexican name but only his Norwegian one.

While many international studies place Norway as amongst the "best places in the world to live", sadly, the reality appears to be that it is the best place to live only if you are born Norwegian.

I've met lots of people from many nationalities in my time here and, interestingly, none of them really has a very good impression of Norwegians or Norway, except that the country-side is beautiful. I agree the scenery is pretty good.

Having said that, I must admit that I do have some Norwegian friends. The thing they all have in common though is that they have spent quite a bit of time outside Norway and have a different perspective of their country and the world.

This is of course a generalization, but the feeling I get is that the average Norwegian thinks every foreigner is either a refugee or at best living off their welfare. I think the country has no interest in skilled immigrants and this is perhaps fueled by an innate fear that if the country really gave expatriates a fair chance, the Norwegians would have to face the reality that they aren't all that great.

Bjorg and I were trying to figure out the right word to describe the situation. We settled on "xenophobia". For all the anti-racism, and human rights talks that go on in Norway, I'm pretty sure that we treat foreigners better back home.

My experience here has been pretty good but I'm still glad that I'll be leaving.

Update: Afterposten just published another article regarding employers' resistance towards hiring foreigners, you can read it here


At 5:28 PM, Blogger shreedhar said...

Hi Jose,
Nice info....!
Can you give me the location of the barber shop in Grunerlokka....!

I havent had a haircut since i came to OSLO....2 months now.

Thanks and Regards,

At 7:54 AM, Anonymous Peter said...

Agree. There are too isolated to understand foreigners. Some of their actions I can call brutal by any standards. Interestingly enough, they are not that way to some nations like Germans or Americans. Overall they are bullies when they do not like someone. I wish I had an option to leave this country.

At 6:34 PM, Blogger Edouard Eme said...

I beg you, tell me where it is!

At 5:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, I rarely bother to read stuff like this, and I'm usually not a very patriotic Norwegian either, but you really made me angry! I think you should check you facts a little bit better before you say such big words. If you've actually been around and seen how many foreigners there is working everywhere, EVERYWHERE, then maybe you wouldn't have said that. Us Norwegians have trouble getting jobs because there is so many who needs it. Yes, everybody deserves a place to work, foreigners or not, but if you look at the statistics and see how many foreigners we actually have, you see they soon are taking over Norway. It's that many. So at some point, the government has to do something, if we still wanna keep Norway, Norway. Such a small place can't be the best place to live in when the whole world is coming to stay and live here. Do you know how many mosques we have built for the Muslims? They would never ever build a church for us in their country for us!
Just because one guy you met used to be lawyer, and ended up cutting hair in Norway, doesn't mean the whole country of Norway are cold and doesn't treat foreigners good. For all you know, he probably didn't even try to go thru the extra years of school he had to, to get his "lawyer license" here. We are probably the country that treats them the best, other countries even calls us stupid cause we treat them too good! Idiot.

At 4:28 PM, Blogger Jose K said...

I wrote this post 8 years ago. Perhaps things have changed since then. I don't know. The point I was making and which could have been clearer is that Norway shouldn't simply be trying to take as many immigrants as possible. Instead the cou try should focus on ensuring that the immigrants it takes in assimilate (learn the language, live with the locals etc), and giving jobs to immigrants who are qualified and hardworking.

If the country doesn't want foreigners at all - or to build mosques. Thats actually fine as well. I think everyone just needs to be up front about it.

I live in a country where we have many foreigners (including Norwegians) and mosques and things have so far been working out.


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