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Am I Norwegian-American or just American? Posted by on Nov 21, 2008 in Culture

There are several pockets of the United States that are heavily populated with descendants of Norwegians.  When someone asks me where my descendants are from, I say Norway (because literally all of my great-grandparents except one are from Norway and without them, my existence would be impossible).  However, I don’t say that I am Norwegian.  Years ago before I went to Norway when I would hear others say “I’m German” or “I’m Irish,” perhaps I would say “I’m Norwegian.”  Not anymore. 

Norwegians do not appreciate it when Americans or anyone else say that they are Norwegian.  I’m sure they would hate it too if an American said he/she was Irish just because of their heritage.  I think it’s hard for people who are not from the United States to understand how we, as Americans, identify ourselves.  Many recent immigrants to the United States still maintain very strong ties with their home countries and the people in their home countries still see those who emigrated as a part of their nationality.  However, I think at least for the mass emigration of Norwegians at the turn of the 20th century, the story is different.  Most Norwegians today (unless they still maintain a relationship with their American offspring) don’t necessarily care about my generation of Norwegian-Americans or even my parent’s generation of Norwegian-Americans.  They think, “Ok, so a lot of Norwegians abandoned this country 100 years ago.  Their offspring are Americans, not Norwegians.”  The United States is still such a young country and during it’s early years, it was made up of so many different nationalities (with even greater diversity today), it’s hard for some Americans to say that they are just simply Americans.  Of course, they are Americans.  However, I know that I, personally, have a hard time not associating myself with my ancestors’ country of origin because my family still has ties to Norway and we still continue some of the same traditions that Norwegians do.  It seems like most Americans feel this way. 

I think Norway’s history with Denmark and Sweden (which I briefly explained in the last post) is another reason that Norwegians feel so strongly about who is considered part of their nationality.  Norway was not a completely sovereign nation for over five centuries!  When Norwegians were finally able to say that they were their own people, governed by themselves, they became a very nationalistic people, naturally.  It kind of reminds me of teenagers who turn 18 and fully embrace their independence. 

There is quite a large immigrant population in Oslo and in most other big cities in Norway.  This is a fairly recent development and there are mixed feelings about this reality.  Several family members and friends that I spent time with in Norway are not pleased with the influx of immigrants and the effects this has on Norway.  I will save this conversation for another post, however. 

Just remember to be careful if your ancestors are from Norway; do not say that you are Norwegian!�

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About the Author: kari

I attended St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, where I majored in Norwegian and History. During college, I spent almost a year living in Oslo, Norway, where I attended the University of Oslo and completed an internship at the United States Embassy. I have worked for Concordia Language Villages as a pre-K Norwegian teacher and have taught an adult Norwegian language class. Right now, I keep up by writing this Norwegian blog for Transparent Language. Please read and share your thoughts! I will be continuing this blog from my future residence in the Norwegian arctic!


  1. Shanna:

    I am an American with Viking heritage. Norwegian Vikings are in my bloodline. I enjoy learning the history of Norway and I think it’s wonderful.

  2. Guri:

    Haha, that is actually true.. Im norwegian. I hate it when people say that.. or.. I dont hate it, but I think its weird.. Especially when they dont speak norwegian!

  3. Shanna:

    I’m an American and wont deny that fact. But the Vikings are in my bloodline. I’m trying to learn the language (not doing so good..pronunciation), still trying to at least have an idea what they say to me. I’m going to Oslo in December as a tourist. Looking forward to it. I promise not to say that I’m Norwegian. Nope, I’m an American living in West Virginia.

  4. Norwegian girl:

    That’s a good point! When I was an exchange student in the USA during my high school years, I met a girl who said “Oh cool! You’re Norwegian! So am I!”. i was so thrilled, and said: “Er du norsk? Hvor i Norge kommer du fra :)”.She just looked at me flabbergasted and said “uhm, what language is that?” I was disappointed (finally I had the chance to speak Norwegian, but no), and couldn’t understand how she would brag about something that wasn’t even true (in Norway we prefer saying we’re not good at things even though we might be quite good at it – janteloven).

    I played the violin for many years, and played for a symphony orchestra, yet I don’t call myself a violinist – as I’m not a proffesional. In the US, people I met who had played the violin for a couple of months walked around with their heads up saying they were violinists.

    When an American told me they were Irish or Italian or Norwegian and didn’t know the language or the name of the capital of that country I considered that arrogant bragging, probably because i grew up in very different culture. I mean, my father is French and came to Norway when he was 25 and I learnt French from him, yet I wouldn’t even consider myself French (only half-French).

    I’m a Norwegian because I was born here, have citizenship, speak the language, know the culture and references. I have no problem with someone with Pakistani parents saying they’re Norwegian because they are just as Norwegian as I am (born here/came here when they were very young, speak the language, know the cultural codes etc.), but I understand why they feel Pakistani too: they speak urdu at home, are muslims, go to Pakistan every summer, have many Pakistani friends etc. They are much more involved with Pakistan and its culture than most “Irish”/”Italian”/”Norwegian” Americans I’ve met.

  5. Karoline:

    I’m Norwegian and yes it does annoy me when I meet americans who say they are Norwegian, especially when they don’t know what city the capital is or even know how the language sounds. I know lots of american still connects to their roots, but somewhere a few geneartions back, there were some scottish people in my family, but i’m Norwegian because i dont know those people who were scottish and i don’t know enough about their lives to call myself scottish. It might sound cold, but don’t think much about the family i had a 100 years ago.y family has lived in Norway so long that we are norwegians 😉

    • Cherry:

      @Karoline I think this is because America is young. Being a melting pot, America doesn’t have one dominant culture for most people. The diferance being when your country has a history of one culture you can prety much count on your neighbor being brought up in roughly the same mannor as you. And having had the same schooling, the same family system the same value system the same first languige the same folk stories the same history. You learned the same songs in school. Along with picking up the same idials. In America we find that often this is not true for us. So we often say we are our place of oregen first American Example I am Norweegen- American. My Neighbor is Chineese- American. We do this actually because when your grandperance leve your place of oregin, they move to the next country in this case America. When they raise your perants your perants teach them the way they know. They make then the same food they know how to make from “Home land” The same value system, Morals right, and wrong. The same bed time stories on and on. Then your perants who were raised in this mannor raise you. Many of the things of the original culture are still intact. Being that America has so many diferant cultures in it we find it helpfull to know the origen place. It tells us a lot about the person we are dealing with. It also helps is have tolerance for each other. For example my Chineese -American neighbor wares a straw hat all the time with a point on it. If I need to talk to the neighbor’s husband I have to go through his wife as in his raising would have him shalked if I Just go aproch him. Another is when I go to a sail or store with my Japaneese- American friend I try not to get emberest when she Haggles the price. As for me if my Japaneese-American friend buys something from me knowing I am Norweegen-American she would have respect for my raising and knows I do not believe in hagaling. Also she knows never to ask me to lie for her. So if a bill colector call she hands it to another friend to say she is not there. So for us stating your oregen explains behavior you might have that could be strange to the other due to handed down culture. Some of us struggle to see America as one culture. But inpaticular it’s hard when your moral code you have been tought doesn’t fit. For example I am femail. But being Norweegen by oregin, the American idia that I am inferior to Mails ofends me. It is agents my moral code. Bigger is better here but my teaching is live simple. I was constantly told look at me when I am talking to you by teachers and so forth as it is American culture for some reason to eye rape oneanother when speaking. Being rased with a lot of Norweegen tendency this is so uncomfortable for me and feels like an invasion on my person. We can not escape that who rased us has so much impact on who we are. And that the oregins that shape us came from somewere. So when we read our culture of oregin and we can see our values and moral beginning we finally have an answer as to why we feel act and think diferantly. We can’t help but to feel attached on a very personal level. For me to completely adopt my American born culture entirely I’d have to change entirely my moral code I have been tought and believe in. I often feel Alien in my own home and like people don’t understand me. I have diferent values. So it feels more true to me to say where I got them and why I’m different. Saying I’m Norweegen-American explains me better. Better to myself, and better to my friends who are trying to understand me. I am not the one who choese to leve Norway. I am also of German descent so why do I not call my self Norweegen-Germin-American? The same reason you don’t call yourself Scotish. I don’t know my Germin ancestors that wouldn’t help to explain me. But I was raised by my Mother who has two Norweegen perants so that dose explain me. We feel atached because we are. Normaly we don’t just say we are Norweegen like we are citizens because we are not. We are also not Just Americans.

  6. Karoline:

    hehe du kan norsk godt så 😉 denne siden er veldig bra, ante ikke at det var så stor interesse for Norge og det norske språket før nå! Keep it up

  7. Shanna:

    Please translate. I am an American with Norwegian bloodlines but I never professed to be a Norwegian. So please translate your last statement.

  8. Kari:

    Karoline said “hehe your Norwegian is good so this page is really good, didn’t think there was so much interest in Norway and the Norwegian language before now! Keep it up.”

  9. chad:

    Im sorry that you feel that way and hope you can over come it ! I understand what you are saying but maybe you should tell them not hate them . I have norwegain heritage in my family and I am very proud of my heritage .

  10. Elle:

    This is a mindset shared by the English too. Not so strongly as to say you *hate* when someone calls themselves a particular nationality, when they weren’t born there and have never lived there, but it seems… odd.

    It comes down to the statement of “where you are from”.

    To a Norwegian (or English person), this would mean the place you were born. If you’ve moved, you would say “Now I live in …”, whereas it seems Americans would change to say “I am from …” (the new place), even if they only moved there yesterday.

    I think it’s simply a matter of perspective.

  11. Kari:

    yes, I agree, hate is a strong word. Perhaps the Norwegians who have made such comments to me about Americans with Norwegian heritage who say “I’m Norwegian” when asked where they are from or what nationality they are, don’t really HATE it, but rather it deeply annoys them. I was simply relaying the messages I have received.

  12. Kristoffer:

    People who come from two different cultures are often considered outsiders by both their bloodlines and that is a shame. Perhaps those who are lucky enough to be born in Norway will never completely understand those of us who are so lucky as to share a heritage in two wonderful nations.

    I for one am proud to say I am a Norwegian-American. I am neither one nor the other but a combination of both. Although this has brought negative comments upon me from both sides in the past, I cannot bring myself to choose one heritage over the other. They are both a part of me.

    I was born in America and am a second generation American citizen. But I grew up in a home with four generations of Norwegian immigrants and Norwegian-Americans. I live in a town with a healthy Norwegian-American population and a profound respect for our ancestry and traditions. If a native born Norwegian thinks it’s odd that I count myself as part of the same culture, I think it odd that anyone feels they could shed a thousand years of such a rich heritage over the course of a generation or two.

    The old language might be one of the first things a family loses when it emigrates to a new land. Couple that with the fact that the American culture doesn’t always foster bilingualism and one might not be surprised to find a lot of Norwegian-Americans who don’t speak much of the Norwegian language. For those who weren’t fortunate enough to have grandparents to teach them, the old language is a maze of different dialects and conflicting spellings and pronounciations. Books and CDs that can teach the language “properly” are hard to find.

    Every person has a right to find their own identity, the other people or places that make them feel like they belong. Often the best place to look for that identity is in your own family tree. To paraphrase an old expression, “You can take someone out of Norway, but you can’t take the Norway out of them.”

    Finally, though I too was raised not to brag about my accomplishments, jeg tror at jeg snakker Norsk ikke så dårlig, takk så mye. 🙂

  13. Vilde:

    Very good post, I am Norwegian and agree completely. I get very annoyed at Americans that call themselves Norwegian or even Norwegian-American.
    Because, really, they’re not. To call yourself Norwegian(or any other country for that matter) would require you too live there and be a part of the culture. You have to speak the language and know the social norms. Most of all; you have to care for Norway the most. Most people who say they are Norwegians that live in America doesn’t care what goes on here. They’re main concern is America.(And it should be because they are Americans. ) They don’t follow the politics or feel the pain if something happens here.
    We’re a small country with a lot of culture and history and I thinks it’s extremely presemptious to believe that you can just be a part of that without contributing to the country what so ever.. Most of so called Norwegian-Americans don’t even have enything authentic. They show off they’re “Norwegian national costumes” and alot of the times they’re cheap imitations..

    I’m sorry if that offends you; but this is one thing that really annoyes me about Americans..
    (Sorry if there are grammar mistakes; English is obviously not my first language, so I hope you’ll ignore any mistakes. ;P)

  14. Karoline:

    yes, I get what you’re saying. (it felt a little odd when you said “the old” language, since people still talk that language). The Norwegian language still has a lot of dialects and different ways to pronounce a word. So in that way Norwegian isn’t easy to understand unless you know it well. I understand other dialects but its because its all the same to me, i’ve heard it before. I didn’t get what you meant about learning the language properly, because if you live in a place with a certain dialect, you’re guarantied to speak that way. Learning it in classes you’re most likely to learn bokmål, as opposed to nynorsk, because bokmål is more “common”. (the two written forms). Hehe, what you wrote in Norwegian was very..formal :P. I don’t think we would put it like that. More something; jeg syns ikke jeg snakker så dårlig norsk! But it was correct 😉
    But don’t concern yourself about what dialect you learn, no one is more “right” than other.

  15. Kristoffer:

    Vilde, I’m sincerly sorry if it annoys you that I am a Norwegian-American, but it doesn’t change who I am. It may sound presumptuous that I count myself as part Norwegian, but I find it presumptuous (and perhaps a little annoying) that you feel I’m not. Please do me the favor of understanding that I was raised by proud Norwegians and Norwegian-Americans. The love and respect for tradition that my parents and grandparents taught me far outweighs your annoyance. Your grammar is quite good, by the way. I wish I could communicate in Norsk as well as you do in English. 🙂

    Karoline, I guess it must seem odd if I called your day-to-day language “old”. Sorry about that. 🙂 Of course, it is only the “old language” from my family’s perspective. The trouble I have with speaking to native Norwegians is that my family’s speech seems to have evolved in its own direction since they emigrated from Toten. Sometime’s its seems to me as if there is Bøkmal, Nynorsk, and “Utvandrersnorsk”. Guess which one I’m used to?

    I appreciate your advice on the “formality” of my speech. With all the different language sources I am exposed to (family, movies, Aftenposten) and no formal education in the language, I know I don’t always get it right. Takk for hjelpet!

    I’m glad I found this thread. It is nice to hear everyone’s opinion on this subject, even if I can’t agree with them all. A sincere “thank you” to everyone.

    -Kristoffer Larsen
    (Norwegian American)

  16. Vilde:

    I was not really talking about you in particular, as you seem honestly interested in Norway.
    Are your parents Norwegian? If so, then of course you would be American-Norwegian, but if its a lot further down the family line then i don’t think thats right.. I am not denying that anyone have Norwegian blood in them, but wouldn’t it be more accurate too say that you/they have a Norwegian Heritage and not that you ARE Norwegian? Techincally you DO need a citizenship to be citzen of a country after all..

  17. Elle:

    I wonder how this whole situation operates in reverse: At what point does an immigrant *to* Norway become “Norwegian”? I think Vilde’s point about caring for a place is a good one. Someone who moves to Norway but who ignores the local news in favour of reading about the place they came from will never truly become part of that society, regardless of whether they apply for and get citizenship.

  18. Kristoffer:

    Hei igjen, Vilde.

    I don’t take your comments at all personally, please don’t worry. And if I was in your position I might feel the same way you do.

    Actually, my family has been in America for quite some time. The last of us to leave Norway came here sometime in the 1920s. Perhaps you would have to see the village where I grew up to understand why we feel the way we do here. The immigrants who settled here are some of the only people of Norwegian descent for hundreds of miles around, so we tend to stick together. For many, many years we have kept the customs from the “Old Country”, eaten traditional Norwegian food, and kept the language alive in this little town.

    As the population has grown older, things have changed. But we have tried very hard not to forget where we came from. When I was a young boy (not too many years ago) the local Lutheran church used to hold a separate service in Norwegian. For a long time that service was better attended than the one in English.

    We celebrate Syttende Mai every year and sing “Ja vi elsker dette landet” with respect when the flag is raised. Many of us still converse in Norwegian with our family members.

    We are one of the only towns for many many miles around where one can by a bottle of Norwegian akevitt.

    More importantly, I had a wonderful grandfather who loved me very much and told me so every day. He would say “du er min godt Norsk gutt”. I also had an uncle who fought in the 99th Infantry Battallion in the second World War. Few people know about this military force, but they were native Norwegians and American citizens of Norwegian descent. They were from towns like mine, and were chosen because they could fight, ski, and speak Norwegian. (Anyone who is interested in the history of this battallion can visit ).
    I think both my morfar and my uncle would be disappointed in me if I did not proudly call myself a Norwegian American.

    I also think perhaps this whole debate is just a slight misunderstanding. I hope you will understand that when I say “I’m Norwegian” I am not trying to claim citizenship or to detract anything from native born Norwegians. In fact on the occassions when I have visited Norway, I’ve always felt slightly in awe of those whom I might consider “more Norwegian than me”. 🙂 And when I say “I’m Norwegian” it is normally to other American citizens and is really just our American way of saying “I’m of Norwegian descent”.

    Please try to imagine what it would be like for you if conditions forced you to leave your wonderful land. Would you want your children or grandchildren forgetting their heritage or the culture they came from? Of course not! 😉

    Thanks for listening to me. Sorry if I got a bit long-winded!

    Ha det bra.

  19. Karoline:

    Yeah you’re right, if i moved to America i wouldn’t want my children to forget that I’m Norwegian. But now i’m curious; what kind of Norwegian food? My favourite is kjøttkaker!!

  20. Kristoffer:

    Hei Karoline,

    We eat kjøttkaker a lot and it is definitely one of my favorites. (I think my mother makes the best in town, of course). Lefse is another favorite of mine, but few people make it by hand any more. Får i kål is very common, also various kinds of lapskaus. Someone always finds some lutefisk around Syttende Mai, but I can’t say I like it very much.

    Julekveld is the best time of year for the food, in my opinion. We have lots of cookies (krummkaker, sandbakkler, fattigmansbakkler, pepperkaker) and other foods like rullpølser and fiskeboller. I think the rullpølser is my second favorite.

    And there are plenty of other everyday dishes I’m forgetting to mention.

    What kinds of foods do modern, native Norwegians eat a lot of these days?

  21. Karoline:

    I love fårikål!!!!! And lapskaus and kjøttkaker and that stuff but lutefisk is yucky! We eat spagetti, pizza, taco..a lot of different food really but my mom still makes “typical norwegian food” like what i’ve mentioned and a lot of fish..i don’t really like fish but salmon is the best, i call it pink fish 😀

  22. Kristoffer:

    I sometimes wonder if anybody likes lutefisk! 🙂

  23. Shanna:

    What is lutefisk?

  24. Kristoffer:

    Lutefisk is dried codfish that has been soaked in lye (caustic soda) then rinsed and boiled in water.

    It comes out almost clear and jelly-like. Sort of like fish Jell-O. It has a very pungent smell.

    People either love it or hate it.

  25. Kåre Ærret fra Østfold:


    Judging from comments on this website, it seems like people confuse Norwegian citizenship with ethnicity.

    I was born and raised in Norway, and I have never been anything but Norwegian. But please, please know that most Norwegians deeply love the fact that millions of Americans have Norwegian ancestry/ethnicity and are proud of it. In fact, Norwegian-Americans are so popular in Norway, that they have their own popular show on Norwegian TV (it’s called “Alt for Norge”). Every year, on Norway’s “Independence Day” (17th of May), Norwegian TV-channels show Norwegian-American celebrations of the day.

    Norwegian-Americans are not Norwegian citizens, but they are definetely Norwegian by ethnicity, culture and ancestry. It is in your blood, and never ever let any bigots rob you of your heritage. It is yours to claim, even if you never have had the pleasure of visiting Norway yet, and even if you do not speak your ancestral language.

    Most Norwegians are for you, we appreciate you and we are VERY proud to recognize you as our fellow Norwegians.

    • Sera:

      @Kåre Ærret fra Østfold @Kåre
      Thank you so much for your post. I am an American, my ancestors immigrated mostly in the 1800s from Norway in all sides. They settled in a small mid west town where everyone has deep norwegian roots. My grandfather spoke Norwegian, and Im crushed he didn’t teach my mom. Being Scandinavian is deeply rooted in my culture. And I trace my ancestors back to Norway (and occasionally Sweden) on all sides back to the 1600s. We have our ancestors family Bible from the 1700s in Norwegian with all the baptism records written in it. To not be able to claim that I have Scandinavian roots and that i love the culture is like saying I don’t have a culture at all, which would be devastating! I don’t think non Americans can understand how vital it is to have a connection with your background. It affects everything, from my food, traditions, and even my religion. I’m very proud of my culture, and I have none other to claim. It’s part of who I am, and I can’t wait to visit Norway and visit the farm from which my family immigrated from. When other Americans ask where your family is from, they’re usually referring to asking where your family immigrated from. They will specifically ask where you grew up if they want to know that.

  26. Summer:

    I’m Norwegian-American & I love the last post on this blog. I couldn’t agree more! Just because you don’t have citizenship doesn’t mean you do not have bloodlines. Do you guys not realize that as Americans our ancestry comes from all over the world? Im motherfucking part viking!

  27. Donna:

    Wow! I am an American of Norwegian (among several other scand & euro countries) descent. My Great Grandfather, Olaf Edvard Pedersen crossed the Atlantic and succeeded in obtaining the American dream. Tho, I am very proud of my ancestry I am also proud of my ancestors (Grandparents & Great Grandparents) who forged new paths so that I, yet unknown to them, could have a better life. My children will see the world and appreciate their special blend of it. So Norway, you can be the “Norwegians”.. We Americans are proud of our own Melting pot.

  28. George H:

    My family came from an Island name after our last name. I am deeply proud of my Norwegian heritage. My family arrived in the US in 1635, A long time to move away from Norway. The why’s and what for’s are not clear in out genealogy book. I am an American, I am proud of the Norwegian my family has. I hope to one day return to visit the island of my family name.

  29. Patriciaq:

    This is a most interesting site to land in. I understand both sides of the issue. When people ask me what “I AM” I say my grandparents came from Norway (mom’s side). Hence, the ivory skin and blue eyes and lots of sunscreen. Everyone else is going to the tanning booth! I have never been to Norway, but my grandparents were so much a part of my life. They did not speak the language to me, but every culture has its’ way of passing things on. I believe whole heartedly that a person is made up of nature and nurture. Nature/blood made me Norwegian and nurture made me a little bit more Norwegian. On the other hand…On my Father’s side I am German. In the 80’s I had classmates calling me a NAZI in school. My German grandparents fled during WW2. They had no part in that atrocity. My last name gave me away, so obviously german, so I was automatically a NAZI? I see both sides of the coin. I want to hold on to my heritage, but heritage can be very subjective, misinterpreted, and a thing of pride or persecution. In the mean time, I hold it closer than my sunscreen, because it is part of me.

  30. Blah blah:

    @ Norwegian girl

    No. The Pakistanti is not Norwegian either, because to be fully Norwegian you must BE Norwegian. That’s your bloodline!!! Emphasis on DNA!

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Blah blah Hei Blah blah!

      Well, I know a lot of Pakistani Norwegians would disagree with you on this one. 🙂 Genes are not everything.
      Thanks for reading!


  31. Raul:

    If one is an “obvious” American born, English-speaking citizen of the United States then to call one’s self “Norwegian” appears perfectly transparent and respectable, for it is implicitly understood that one is American first and foremost and that one is simply stating his or her ethnic heritage. My mother is Norwegian-American, (second generation), and she married a French-American, hence, I believe that I am “half Norwegian and half French” while quite evidently 100% American, whether in another country or in America.

  32. Tommy:

    Americans are strongly identified by the country our ancestors came from. Usually its associated with our Grandparents or as far back as Great grandparents. It is a question that literally starts getting asked of us once we are old enough to talk or go to school and intermingle. It is not meant to be disrespectful but I agree that those of us that know nothing about a country and yet claim heritage can be considered oblivious. The need to reveal our heritage is a simple a sense of pride. Not a shot across the bow nor should it diminish you in anyway. My grandfather on my mothers side was born on a reservation my great grandmother on my fathers side came from Norway. My mother is dark skinned.M father has blonde hair. I am in between the spectrum and its obvious. People ask me all the time what am I? I am an American but when pressed I am proud to proclaim at being the Big Norsk Cherokee!

  33. Sophie:

    I speak Norwegian and both my parents are Norwegian and we try to follow customs and do Norwegian things but I live in California so it’s difficult to keep up with the language and I’m constantly forgetting how to say some words. My English and French are way better but I really don’t want to lose the language entirely! Anyway, how long do you think that one would have to live in Norway to be Norwegian, if they spoke the language and tried to integrate?

  34. alsk:

    Sigh… I agree with the post above, indicating that being Norwegian is about ethnicity, family heritage and culture. If your ancestry is predominantly Norwegian and you identify with Norwegian culture (perhaps you eat lutefisk for Christmas and say things like huffda!), you are Norwegian by ethnicity even if you are not Norwegian by citizenship. I live in Norway and I am proud to be a Norwegian citizen, yet I am not at all Norwegian by ethnicity. I was born into a Sami family in Oslo (far away from Sami land), and have a strong Sami cultural identity. Citizenship is defined by WHERE you reside etc. Ethnicity is quite different, and is determined by CULTURE AND ANCESTRY. Norwegian-Americans are Norwegian by ethnicity, ancestry and they have auunique Norwegian-American culture, and they are American by citizenship and nationality.

  35. Ben Solberg Bryant:

    My mother’s grandparents came to the states in the late 1800’s from Norway and Sweden. My middle name, Solberg, is my mother’s maiden name, and my great-grandfather’s name, having come here from Lille Solberg, although perhaps that was a place name taken as a last name like my greatgrandmother Sophie Tufte (Tufte farm by Gausdal) who was actually Sophie Hansdotter who married a Swede (Berglund) from Gilberga, west of Karlsrud. I knew my bestamor well, although we always called her Mormor because that’s what mom called her. She lived to 101. All our family dinners started out with “I Jesu navn gor vi til bords….”; we were called to dinner with “vars sa god.” There was much talk around the table of the “old country.” My grandparents, like many if not most first generation Americans didn’t speak language from the “old country” with my mother; they didn’t want their children to suffer the discrimination they did as immigrants “square heads” etc.; the idea was to become American as fast as possible.
    We grew up eating lefse, cardamon rolls, krumkaka. I make and like lutefisk, as do my mother and sisters, my youngest having occasionally done candles in hair as a Lucia bride. My mothers father, however, had no use for lutefisk, being reminded of the boarders in the rooming houses his Swedish mother (Norwegian father who died of tb in Wisconsin when my grandfather was 12) ran all over Seattle one of whom in each house always seemed to be “cooking” it in the back yard. My great aunt, Ragna Eagas (married to a Norwegian chief engineer on a steam ship) used to bounce me on her knee to “Rita Rita runken, hesta heta blunken….” I learned to dance standing on my grandmothers shoes as my grandfather played the violin. In his 80’s on a trip my mother took with him to the old country he played a violin that belonged to his uncle. I am a member of the Swedish club in Seattle (more friends there than Sons of Norway, and Scandinavian culture in General is celebrated). We have been visited by Scandinavian relatives, and I intend to further those connections. My mother, when disgusted with American politics suggests that we should head back, say we gave it 130 yrs or so here, but it didn’t work out and would like to come home now. We chuckle, and grow silent…. Wondering. I usually root for Norway and Sweden (as well as the Dutch and the Irish) during international competition.
    Seattle, being barely 150 yrs old, is full of scandanavians, and I often ask people I meet where their people are from…. This is usually not misunderstood, and answers usually start with “I’m 1/2 something, or 1/4 something…,” but the connections to an old country, often Scandinavian, are often strong.
    I’m clearly American, but you can’t take the Norwegian out of me.

  36. Michael Dooley:

    My grandmother is from norway. I asked her about the viking’s she told me that they were thug’s and killer’s,she said there was nothing glorious about them!

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  38. Andreas:

    @Michael I`m sorry to hear that you only learnt that side from the viking era from your grandmother because the vikings were so much more than just thugs and killers.It`s true though that we were know as the “horror of Europa”,that we killed,raped,took slaves(treller) and robbed other countries when we went “viking” and into “herjing”,but most people were actually peaceful farmers and fishers back home in Norway well know to be good traders as well 🙂


  39. Bevy:

    I find it quite interesting all the comments from Native Norwegians, people with Norwegian bloodlines and even some Norwegian “wannabes”. 🙂 Although my father only taught me a few Norwegian words, his family always talked in that language while he was growing up. My mother says the same. They even had an aunt staying with them at times who spoke only Norwegian and refused to learn English! I recall all the family gatherings at my aunt and uncle’s home when, after a huge meal, the older generation of men would sit around the large kitchen table talking in Norwegian and laughing until they were just about in tears. I would sit at the other end of the table and smile when they talked and laughed, just as though I understood. What a wonderful time! My mom and I still make lefse (and always manage to put a couple holes in a few pieces so we could eat them!). Of course you couldn’t serve them to anyone else!! Our Christmas baking still consists of sandbakkels, fattigman, rosettes, pizzelles, smaa brod and more. Love that Norwegian flair! Proud to be 100% Norwegian ~ just not born there!

  40. Randi:

    Quite a fun conversation. And it is obvious that what Americans mean when stating ‘I am Norwegian’ is something quite different from what Norwegians mean when saying it.

    As a Norwegian, born and bread, I have to say I really do not consider Americans with Norwegian decent as Norwegians, far from it, though I am sure there are some with stronger ties to their Norwegian heritage than others. Though I have no problem understanding the feeling of being linked to Norway and Norwegian heritage if your grandparents or great grandparents emigrated from Norway. I feel a strong bond to Hedmark, the region where my mom grew up, and generations before her, though I am from Oslo myself.

    While a student, I worked as a tour leader in the summers, for mainly French, but at times also English speaking tourist groups in Norway. And twice I travelled around Scandinavia with groups of Americans of Norwegian descent. They considered themselves Norwegians, but culturally I have to say the French groups had more common cultural references with me than those Norwegian-American groups. For example, when talking about Norwegian history, which is closely linked to European history, you mention a few historical keywords and the French at once know what you are talking about, with the Norwegian-Americans, you need to broaden the history lesson. That is no critic; American history put emphasis on other aspects of the world history, that I might not be that familiar with. Quite often I found their comments and reactions rather odd. Like when I suggested they walk back to the hotel from the restaurant in the very center of Oslo; 500 meters (apx 550 yards) down the main street, pass the Parliament, the National Theater – they all chose to return with the buss – it was obivious to me that they were Americans, and far from Norwegian.

    And when talking about history, your Norwegian-American grandparents, or my Norwegian grandparents were no experts in Vikings, since the Viking age ended about 1000 years ago. We are today more likely to have knowledge about the different aspects of the Viking age than they were 100 years ago. Yes, the Vikings were violent, but the middle ages in Europe were violent, and most peoples that invade new countries do so with force. As America is also an example of, the Europeans were not kind in their treatment of the natives in America. The Vikings were technologically advanced for that time, as they had ships that could navigate open seas, and they knew how to navigate with the stars and the sun, and they had means to do so even when the weather was cloudy. And they were not Christian, so when they plundered churches and monasteries, where you found the most riches, they showed no respect of the Christian god. They were clean, as they bathed once a week. They were brave warriors, as their religion stated they would go to Valhalla, the Viking heaven, if they died in battle. They were thus seen as barbarians. I suspect the Aztecs would not have been kind in their description of the Europeans if the Aztec civilisation had survived the arrival of the Spanish. The history of Europe and America is brutal, violent.

    And then back to the Norwegianness of American descendants of Norwegian emigrants. Norway and the culture of Norway has evolved and developed since the wave of emigration from Norway to the US in the 19th and beginning of 20th centuries. Norway is a very different place today. The Norwegian cultural markers the Americans have kept have in general little to do with contemporary Norwegian culture. Some of these cultural markers are markers of Norwegian identity in Norway as well, as lutefisk (though in Norway around Christmas and not at 17th of May) and the ‘bunad’, but as in the US, these are archaic symbols of our heritage, and have in reality little to do with Norway of the 21st century. So we might share a common cultural heritage, but we are not of the same culture. I am Norwegian – you are American. But… in American speech, ‘I am Norwegian/Irish/French/Greek’ means ‘I am an American of Norwegian/Irish/French/Greek descent’, fair enough. Though I hope Americans are wise enough to add the word ‘descent’ at the end when in Europe, because for Europeans, having a European grandparent, or great grandparent does not make you a European.

    And contrary to what some other Norwegians here seem to think, if you are born and bread in Norway, speak Norwegian, are educated in Norway and consider Norway your home country, then you are Norwegian, no matter where you parents were born.

  41. shayne:

    My father is a Sami from tromso. And my mother is English.they parted ways many years ago.and I have lived in the UK for most of my life but I still consider myself a proud Sami.and Norwegian.( ie.born in uk then moved to troms.until I was 5 years old)then back to the uk.would I be considered.Norwegian or English??

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @shayne @Shayne. Maybe Sami-English? 🙂 What do you consider yourself?

  42. Carla:

    This was interesting to me. Some of the posters have already stated this, so as an American I thought I would clarify a little.

    In America, in conversation no one says I am of Irish descent, or Norwegian descent, or whatever descent, because it is too formal. We know without them saying that when they say I am 1/2 Irish and 1/2 Norwegian, or whatever mix they are, or that they are all Norwegian, that they mean descent not “nationality”, although in America, when we ask someone what nationality they are, it is used frequently in place of ethnicity. Most of the time we don’t mean citizenship. Mainly because everyone in America except Native Americans are descended from another place, so most of the time, we know we are speaking to another American by their voice and appearance.

    Those posters discussing the brutality that the Europeans inflicted on the Native Americans should read

    It is a American English language and culture difference that is making the confusion and irritation for some people.

    Americans often ask when meeting a new person what they are. We are all very curious about our backgrounds. I will tell you why….

    General American culture is very boring and almost featureless, because of the fact that everyone has their own family culture that they cling to and that is what is cultivated here in most families. We have cultural festivals here in every city and town and it varies from place to place based on the ethnicity of the people living there.

    I am so grateful to call San Francisco my home because of the rich mix of cultural heritages here. I get exposed to so many different people here that I feel I am traveling the world, which I will probably never be able to afford to actually do! I am originally from far Northern California, which is featureless and boring culturally.

    Why do Americans cling to their family’s cultural heritage and ethnicity? It is an American thing. Maybe it’s because Americans have always moved around a lot, and their family’s cultural heritage is the only thing they can relate to? Maybe because there is NO American culture really! Maybe it’s because the Native American culture was raped and destroyed, and it is considered extremely rude to emulate anything remotely Native as that would be stealing from their culture. Even recent immigrants cling to their original culture, which I love to experience. I love that America is like this! It is very interesting to me. I hope someday that my country changes it’s policies and learn from the Scandinavian government policies I hear about. Your education and social policies seem to be better to me, from my mainly ignorant knowledge of it. Although, I have read that some of the political climate there may be changing… I hope that someday the ignorant, racist, arrogant, and entitled learn to be peaceful and empathetic. They as always, are ruining our country.

    John Steinback said in one of his books, Travels with Charley, “Americans are rootless people who cling to their roots”. I can’t find this quote online, I read the book over 20 years ago, so it might not be entirely accurate…but it stuck with me! It is true…we are seeking our roots for something, anything to identify with!!!!!

    I am proud of the fact that I am a mix of so many cultures. I am genetically half Norwegian, but my genetic mix is a little bit of all the European nations with a sprinkle of Middle Eastern and Native American. I am a recent mix of all the California pioneers, and I would like to say I am proud of that. I am proud of who I am, not of what my ancestors did to the native people.

    I have gotten into amateur genealogy and found the link all the way back to the few common Norwegian ancestors that probably all genetic Norwegians are related to. Most of my European ancestors link back to a Norwegian bloodline. Since I am a tall blonde, fair skinned woman, I have always identified myself of Norwegian blood. When people ask me what I am, and they do a lot because I am tall, what I tell people is either I am half Norwegian or I tell them I am a mix of everything. They all know I mean ancestry.

    My cousin married a Norwegian man and moved to his home in Flekkefjord, she has told me a lot about her experience there, and I have had discussions about Norway with her husband Jan, but it is very little. I hope to someday go visit him there, but it’s hard to do since he is always either visiting here or traveling somewhere else!

    If I ever go there, I would never say I am Norwegian or half Norwegian, because I would not expect them to understand my meaning, but here I fully expect an American to understand.

    The problem people in Norway are facing is that Americans are very casual people. We don’t get too formal here, even when eating on fine china, we are still informal. We are taught to be friendly, confident, independent, casual people. Formality is considered snobbery. Anyone who is not is considered to be unusual here. So when Americans have visited Norway, they are still their casual, informal, friendly, confident selves and don’t realize they should change their vocabulary to fit a different culture. PLUS…the people traveling generally have more money than most in the US, and people in the US with money tend to be arrogant and entitled. This is the whole reason for the “Ugly American” image you see in tourists.

    You will know from their accent if they are Norwegians when they tell you that they are Norwegian. They won’t be telling you in Norwegian language, they will be saying it in English with an American accent…so there should not be a misunderstanding.

    I look forward to reading more posts on here!

  43. tvzi odzer:

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  44. Lorijon:

    I’ve read alot of the comments some made me sad:(
    I’m a full blooded 100% NORWEGIAN that just happen to be born in California in the USA but that doesn’t change anything it’s just a place.
    I make potato lefse, sandbakkels, krumkake some call it “struyl”, fattigmand, gaufrettes, tumbles again some call it rosettes,sweet soup and even dabbled with making flatbread I use to help my Grandmother pickle cod in lye -love that stinky fish lutefisk.
    The irons,the griddle and tins belonged to my Great-Great Grandmother. Everytime I bake I think of them ,thier hands, and all that work; what I wouldn’t give to be in the kitchen with my Mom & Grandma one more time.As far as speeking Norwegian I know very little which is a shame but apparently during the European Immigrant wave to America; once here as homage or a sign of respect we lost our dialect as it was considered rude to speak or whisper any other language but english in public (small sacrafice to make to be in America) would love to go to Norway someday and he’ll ya we are Vikings and he’ll ya we navigated and charted the Oceans according to the celestial skies and mapped this planet ; our world and way before anybody else and yes we were experts in trade but like my great great grand pappy THOR always said “NORSE” Vikings sailed the seas from port to port we pummeled and pilaged and raped the women and drank the wine and that’s why there’s a little Norwegian in everybody-LOL

  45. Janice:

    My mothers parents came from Norway in 1895 and Norwegian was my mothers first language, they lived in a Norwegian settlement in the Midwest. My mother identified very strongly with her Norwegian heritage and taught us a lot about it. Her parents were Hardangers. My mother passed away, 15 years ago, and I became curious about Norway and whether I had relatives there so I started researching and found a cousin, of my first cousins wife, that was In Norway and doing research on my Grandparents. He explained to me that either their names were changed or they Americanized them so that is why I was not having any luck in finding relatives in Norway and told me their real Norwegian names. Anyway, he put an ad for me on a website in Norway that helped connect people in the USA who were looking for their Norwegian relatives in Norway and within just a few days a cousin contacted me, quite excited, and told me he had been looking for relatives in USA for twenty years. I ended up going to Norway and they arranged a family reunion for me. I got to see a house an Uncle built that was still intact and had all his old tools it was like a museum. I also got to see the house my Great Grandfather built in Odda and the church both my Grandmother and Grandfather were baptized in – and the spot on the farm where my Grandfathers house once stood. All of my Norwegian relatives were warm and kind and we exchanged pictures we had of my Grandparents and my cousins gave me copies of some correspondence my Great Grandfather had sent them from the USA. My cousin who responded to me and who I stayed with in Utne was a genealogist and knew the family history back to the 1200’s. I went from someone who only knew two generations back to someone who knew who they were I can’t explain the feeling — and I understood my Grandparents much better and what it must have taken for them them to leave their home. It’s so beautiful there – and it just made me appreciate the sacrifice they made to make a better life for future generations. I also realized how hard they must have worked just to survive at that time based on where they were located and what tough people they had to be – no wonder settling in the Midwest of the USA was not as hard for them as it might have been for people who were not used to such hard work. I guess I am not Norwegian to you – I only speak a few words of Norwegian – but I think my Grandparents would cry if they ever heard me say I was not Norwegian – they were extremely proud of their heritage and held onto it. American Norwegians still maintain a lot of the traditions, make Norwegian foods and lefse and wear the traditional clothing and most are still Lutheran – so like many immigrants in this country we still identify with where our Grandparents or Parents came from because that’s our heritage. All my Norwegian cousins have been so nice to me and I never want to lose that connection again – because it’s important to me and it’s important to them – so that’s my long response to your statement. You have to understand Americans identify with their ethnicity because it gives them a sense of identity that someone whose family has always been in the same country for hundreds of years just can’t understand or maybe you take for granted knowing your family history – but for some Americans if you don’t know your family history you feel like an orphan in the world and that’s a sad feeling. On my Dad’s side we go back to the 1700’s in the USA – so on that side my history is here – so this is my home and I am American but knowing my Norwegian side of the family has given me a whole new perspective.

  46. Janice:

    So what do you think of DNA I have had mine done and found that my Grandparent although probably had been in Norway going back to the1200’s actually must have migrated from Finland and or Sweden. When I asked my Norwegian cousins if they would do their DNA to help me analyze where we matched and what their DNA showed they balked – don’t seem to want to know where they migrated from or acknowledge the fact that they have mixtures of other nationalities too. Would you?

  47. Aase:

    My grand-parents came over from Norway and I am very proud to be part Norwegian!

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Aase @Aase – That is great! Gratulerer. 🙂

  48. Haley:

    I am an American, with a French-Canadian mom, and a Danish/Norwegian dad. Outside of the US, I would not say to someone, “I am Canadian/Norwegian/Danish”, because I’m not- I’m American born and raised. HOWEVER if you are in the US and you ask someone, “What are you?” or “Where are you from?”, it is commonplace to tell someone their ancestry. Of course don’t take it overboard, if you’re great-great-great-grandparent came here in 1810 from Ireland, people would usually just say they’re American. But when an American asks an American where they are from, it’s usually assumed they’re American and are actually asking their ancestry. So if asked here in the states, I’d probably say “French-Canadian with a bit of Norwegian and Danish in there”.

  49. Eric Tor:

    Here’s the thing. If you are chatting with a U.S. citizen in the U.S. and they say something like “I’m Norwegian” *of course* what they actually mean is “I’m a U.S. citizen with Norwegian heritage.”

    But when people chat with each other, they typically don’t use words in the way one might if one was creating a footnoted thesis for graduate school. People talk in shorthand.

    Despite all the earnest commentary above, no one is going to shame me into not using typical conversational verbiage when conversing.

    Ha en fin dag.

  50. Dalton Ellingson:

    Im full blooded Norwegian, born & raised in North Dakota and I’m proud to say so.