The Boyfriend's Taking Over - Q&A on Norway and Being Sámi

Today I have something special for you: a Q&A session with the boyfriend! I figured it's about time for him to introduce himself after he's made appearances on this blog and my social media for already about 9 months.

Now this blogging community is something I really appreciate and I feel like I've known most of you for ages! Therefore I thought I'd give you a little more insight into my life and present you the man I'm spending most of my time with.

Or rather, he's presenting himself and answering some questions I asked him about being a Sámi, life with me and Norway in general. After all, he's an insider and can tell you about Sámi culture and Norway much better than I can!

Get ready!

1. Tell my readers a bit about yourself.

My name is Simon. I am Sámi and I come from Northern Norway. I currently do my Master’s degree in Indigenous Studies.

2. You are Sámi. What does that mean and how does being Sámi influence your life?

It means a lot for me. I have a background and an upbringing that not many others in Norway have. Since I have grown up in a reindeer herding family, I have experienced many great things but also a couple of things that have not been so great.

The Great: When people show that they are interested in listening to what I have to say about being Sámi and they ask questions about reindeer herding. Especially when people ask because they are genuinely interested to know because they do not know anything about Sámi culture.

Sometimes when I have been to Markomeannu (a Sámi festival) or Riddu Riddu (an international indigenous festival) or other Sámi events and concerts, it feels like I don’t have to justify that I am Sámi. They know that I am Sámi because I have my traditional Sámi dress on. They don’t question me or ask me if I really am Sámi. They just accept it.

The Not So Great: There was a debate some years ago in Tromso about the city becoming a part of the Sámi language area. You see the thing is, that if Tromso would become part of it, it would mean that if I wrote a letter in Sámi to the mayor, I would receive a reply in Sámi, and the municipality would receive more money to teach the Sámi language to Sámi people. But the debate became more and more focused on the Sámi only demanding rights and stuff like that and that Sámi people had not existed in Tromso until a couple hundred years ago, long after Norwegians lived there.

Reading the comments on the internet made me sad. People were mean and you could say a bit racist. It felt like people were attacking me personally. I tried to ignore it but nowadays when there is a news article online, I scroll down to the comment section to look if it is open and to see what people write. Sometimes the comment section is closed as if the newspaper that runs the site already knows that people will write horrible stuff.

Since I grew up in a little town and I come from a reindeer herding family though, I am very sure of my own identity, even though life as a Sámi in Tromso can be tough sometimes.

3. Tell us a bit more about reindeer herding.

It is a tough, hard, exhausting but rewarding life. I have spent a lot of times in the mountains with the reindeers, even when the weather has been bad, and I have seen some incredible things.

In the summer of 2014 for example, we had the herd on a patch of snow. It was 20-25 degrees Celsius in the mountains with sun and not a cloud in the sky. Working in just a t-shirt was strange because usually it is a bit cold so we need warm clothes, but that summer was fantastic. And I even managed to get sunburned, haha! Sometimes it is not so easy to remember to pack everything for being in the mountains but I will try not to forget sunscreen when the weather report says it is going to be warm next time.

Other times though, it is not so great. With winter and polar night, it is not so easy to keep track of the reindeers and when it gets dark we cannot see or work outside anymore. So if the reindeer come down from the mountains and walk on the road, they can get hit. It happens a couple of times every winter and then we have to take care of them.

But the positives far outweigh the negatives. It is a rewarding life and it is only few people that still have this kind of life.

4. You're actually half Norwegian and half Swedish in addition to being Sámi. Do you feel multi-cultural?

Kind of hard not to feel multi-cultural. I mean, I have a lot of relatives in Sweden and I spend every Easter holiday in Sweden in our cabin in an area where only our family is living. I grew up learning Norwegian from my mom and Swedish from my dad and Sámi which we use with the reindeer herding.

5. Your girlfriend (aka me) is German. How does it feel to be in an international relationship?

It is very fun and exciting but sometimes a bit frustrating too. Since we come from so very different cultural backgrounds, me being Norwegian and Sámi, and she German, there is stuff that I do not understand or the other way around. On the other side, it is fantastic because we can learn from each other, like when we’re traveling. I have seen a lot of Norway but I have never been on board of the Hurtigruten until we went on a cruise this fall. And she has never been to Bavaria (neither have I), but we went there before Christmas.

6. What's it like to be in a relationship with a blogger?

When we are traveling and she is having her camera out, I always walk a bit behind her. The reason for that is that she likes to stop and take many pictures and that way, I have enough time to stop without getting in the shot. It took many shouts of “You are in the picture. Move!” before I figured it out.

She also opens up my perspectives of different stuff when she shows me different blog posts from different bloggers.

7. You've spent a year travelling through Norway to tell school children about Sámi culture. What did you gain from that year and what were the highlights and lowlights?

Aside from the money I earned? Not much. No, I am just kidding. I became very good at holding presentations for very big groups of students and keeping it interesting. I think the largest group I talked to, was around 300 people. Although I am not really sure about that number. Could even be higher. I remember it was a huge auditorium and it was almost full.

The highlight was the trip to New York. As part of the program, we travelled to New York to observe the proceedings of the Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples at the United Nations. That was really cool. I mean, not many of my friends can say they have been to the UN.

Downsides? I spent many hours in a hotel room as I did not really have the energy to do other stuff after work. Also, it is not fun to hold a presentation for students who really do not want to listen or who think it is boring. Sometimes it also felt like I was living out of a suitcase. And during the weeks I was at home, I had to plan my next travels and pack down everything I needed.

8. Since you're an insider, what would you say defines Norwegians and what defines Sámi people?

That is a bit hard to say since I don’t really notice it. But there is something I can say: What defines Norwegians? Being passive-aggressive. Like, if you have a bad experience with a hotel or restaurant, instead of letting them know or arguing, you give them a bad review or a one star on TripAdvisor.

Another thing is for example on the bus or the train, people always sit beside the windows first, so when the bus is half full no on sits beside each other. When more people come on the bus, most of the times they will rather stand than sitting beside a stranger. Just looks weird if seen from the back of the bus (my girlfriend pointed this out and now I notice it). [EDIT: So true and I have pictures to proof it!!]

Another really weird thing is that when people go out to town to party, they do not dress for the weather at all. I have worked as a bouncer at a club and saw women in high heels and miniskirts during winter all the time. On ice. Like if they start to slip, they fall and you can see everything. [EDIT: Sure hope for you, you didn’t have a closer look when that happened!!!] Same with guys except they use cool shoes that are useless on ice and snow and they dress in clothes that are not warm but look good. Well, they say Norwegians are descendants of Vikings after all. On the other hand didn’t Vikings disappear? Haha.

What defines Sámi? That is a tough one. Kinda hard to see what defines Sámi from the inside. Although, there is one thing I can say. The ability to feel that you are Sámi. See, the Sámi Parliament has a couple criteria you need to fulfil in order to vote. The most important one is that you must feel that you are Sámi deep down. I am not talking about waking up one day and then say you feel a bit Sami today. No, it is something you feel and something you are aware of every day. It is not something you can just escape, although there are people who refuse to call themselves Sámi, even though their brothers/sisters/parents/children call themselves Sámi.

9. If you were to explain Sámi culture in a nutshell, what would you say?

Someone who stands between the traditional way of life and the modern way of life but manages to find a good balance.

Photo Credit: Arvid Larsen

10. What advice would you give to foreigners like me who want to move to Northern Norway?

Try to learn Norwegian. At least so you can get by. Why? It will help you a lot. Don’t get me wrong, almost everyone knows English, but it will really help you when searching for a job or a place to stay. I don’t know why it is like that, but Norwegians sometimes are a bit hesitant to speak English. I think it is because most Norwegians are not used to speaking English in daily life and they automatically switch to Norwegian when saying something to other Norwegians. I know I did it with those that speak Norwegian in my class and unfortunately those that spoke English did not understand us. [EDIT: That’s why it took us half a year to start a relationship. He simply didn’t talk to me, haha]

Also research as much as possible before actually moving to Norway. Some stuff you can google, like: Is it cold there? Can I see polar bears? Is it expensive? And so on… Just so you now, yes it is cold there so bring warm clothes. You can only see polar bears in Svalbard, which is an island north of Norway and not part of mainland Norway. Yes, it is expensive. If I as a Norwegian think it is expensive sometimes, YOU will think it is expensive all the time!

My girlfriend wrote a blog post about moving to Norway [EDIT: That everyone loves and I totally hate, just so you know] and she researched how much money she would need each month, which was expected to be 1000 Euros a month but which turned out to be almost too little. The thing is, Norway is expensive, period. Housing is expensive (I pay 550 Euros a month for a room in a flat-share) and then comes the food, clothes, haircuts and whatnot and other stuff for university.

So, save as much as you can and find a job as fast as possible before moving to Northern Norway. Don’t get me wrong, Northern Norway is wonderful. There is a lot of stuff to see and do and if you research everything and you have place to stay and a job, you will have some wonderful experiences here!

Now you finally know more about my man! Is there anything else you'd like to know about life in Norway or Sámi culture? Ask away and we'll do our best to answer!

For you fellow girls in international relationships out there: Can you relate? What do you think is the best about coming from different cultures? And what does your partner think of you blogging?

Linking up with Bonnie for Travel Tuesday!