I’ve been living abroad since I was 20 — the very term ‘abroad’ doesn’t even make much sense anymore; I consider myself a Swede from Norway, being truly at home in Denmark (and spending most of my days in an international world of the Internet, TV, and music). Without going into detail, there may be reasons other than the practical and circumstantial (and, as some Swedes will doubtlessly say: the obvious) why I’ve left Norway and have no immediate plans of returning.
When I watch Norwegian TV, most of the names don’t mean anything to me, some of the faces are apparently world-famous celebrities. So they say. It’s mostly a channel I flip past on the way to BBC World or EuroSport.
I don’t know why it lasted for more than five seconds today, but for some reason it did. Doubly bad: it was a stupid reality show. The kind where some farmers who had spent so much time making ends meet or shovelling dung from over-subsidized cows that they hadn’t had time to find one of those two-legged companions, got a chance to pick six of the kind out of ten candidates to go with them to a hotel where one by one they will be sent home until one is left, and the two will live happily ever after. That kind of show.
In sum, it’s stupid, it wasn’t particularly excitingly produced, and I wasn’t supposed to sit there and watch it, but I did. And as I watched, I suddenly realized: I know these people. I know that guy at about my own age who sits there with an awkward grin and uncomfortable clothes; who for the first time since his school days is in the same room as ten women, and for the first time in his life is in the same room as ten women who show an interest in him and among whom he can pick and choose as he wishes. I know that girl who lives close to the mountains, who goes hiking and jogging because she can, and that girl with the dark, intense eyes and the slightly angular face, whose attractiveness does not stem from any resemblance with Sharon Stone but it’s there anyhow. I know them.
Not personally. I’ve never met them. But I’ve met people like them. I grew up with them. I know from their dialects exactly where they come from, I have loads of prejudice and fact-based opinions about people from their districts, and I can see through their TV make-up and Sunday costumes which, as is clear for all to see, they don’t wear every day; I know what they look like when they’re not in front of the camera. I know who they liked in high-school, I know what they heard on the radio in 85, I drove through their villages on my family vacations the summer when I was ten (summer? it was raining that whole summer and we were stuffed in a car, five people, and it was glorious), and I know how they reacted to the changing school book reforms which their older teachers sniggered at and the young, idealistic ones eagerly tried to implement — to no avail because they had no respect, especially from the fattish boy at the back over by the windows with the sly grin and the bad grades, who is now more than semi-alcoholic and semi-violent and spends his days in the diner, looking up the eighteen-year-old girls who could have been his daughters had he ever had a relationship. I know them all.
And I felt at home.
I’d be very surprised if any of the genuine Norwegian viewers shared my experience. If it’s true that it’s the newcomer who knows most about a place (because he notices the things that everybody else takes for granted), then I was the newcomer, but I had the upper hand even on the newcomer because I knew so intimately well that which I now, once again, saw for the first time.
It wasn’t a time machine — I wasn’t taken twenty years back in time, thank god. It was more like one of those DimensionWarpTM devices that can take you to parallel existences and skip forty years, twenty in each direction. It’s a very handy device. After forty years, you’re naturally a foreigner and see with untainted eyes, but you’re also back almost to where you started and thus see with the preciseness that only familiarity gives.
But most remarkable is that the same process takes place in the other direction: when you’re back again in your home dimension, after another forty years and a nick of time, that too appears more clearly, untaintedly.
What I saw there, was myself, my own identity, on prime-time display, disguised as awkward-looking, romantically unsuccessful but hard-working people wilfully making a fool of themselves, most likely to get the pay-check from the TV company and some exposure, but possibly, just possibly, in pursuit of that dream which had laid dormant ever since the girl two desks in front of them married the jerk from the class above. It wasn’t my dream, but they let me borrow it for a while, and an objectively horrible TV show subjectively made my day.
I guess I’ll have to watch it next week too.