The thin line between integration and imitation.

A couple of words on the topic that was in my mind for quite a while. Don’t worry, even though the title looks like a bachelor, it is not a scientific paper.

When you’re immigrant, whether for the financial, lifestyle or in general for the change so you must have come across word integration. That’s a topic number one for those who are against immigration but also those for are in for it. Imagine that you are French for a moment. You live in a small town by the mountains, where everyone knows everyone but out of nowhere local political party decides to take some refugees in as a part of the EU’s program.

You are for the immigration: how nice to have some fresh blood in our bloody boring city! We have plenty of space for new people and some work positions to fill up. Our kids will be able to learn some new cultures and languages, maybe those people will even open restaurant with their national cuisine? Imagine that! I hope they will learn French so I can talk with them. I hope they will know the language so they won’t break the law.

You are against immigration: Again refugees? Aren’t whole Europe like full of them already? Why not other East European countries take them? Well, I hope at least they will learn the language, I won’t speak with them with their language. Also, they have to work and not just sit and eat from our taxes. Do we even have jobs for them?

Language. For both of the sides it’s important that the potential new citizen can language. It’s the background for integration, because it not only let us communicate with the natives, but let us be the part of the culture. Language is culture.

The funny thing is, that imitation is one of the key ways to learn the language. You imitate the sounds natives make in order to pronounce them correctly yourself, or you just use words from local dialect so you can be understood better. If you live in a small Norwegian village there’s a chance that someone will get the dialect word better than the official bokmål version of it. Personally I often say påse (official version is pose) to clients, because I know it’s their way of saying it (however, I have no problem to switch in between those two if necessary).

On the other hand, if you start to imitate other things, like sounds (saying ja while inhaling) or certain body language you can be seen as fake, wannabe, try-hard. A person who learned language in their adulthood cannot possibly be on the same level as natives, and both sides know about it. There’re sounds and words that will probably never come naturally to us, immigrants, and that’s totally fine. Trying to use them in order to blend in can be seen as weird (however, it all comes down to what kind of people you meet on your journey).

To integrate is to learn the language (semantics) and the culture surrounding it, to imitate is to take this language-speaking to level beyond our own possibility to comprehend. Of course, there’re people who have naturally talent for languages (which translates to “good hearing”) and can learn certain language on much higher extent then us “everyday Joe’s”. However, I remember until this day my Polish teacher from University of Szczecin (she’s married to German guy, but I don’t know if that brings anything to the topic) doing the ja on inhale (which is called ingressive sound) which always sounded very unnatural to me. There’s also my coworker, who like to use this ingressive sound, even though he doesn’t have the best understanding of basic topics in the language. But again, it’s my personal opinion that some things should be left to the natives.

There’s also one interesting part of integration when you take part in the same activities as natives. In Spain you would start to go for tapas, in Slovenia you would start to drink coca cola with red wine, in Norway you would start going for a tur (somehow I can’t think about anything specific about Poland right now, besides going for a beer, which is a bad example, of course). Even if you’re not a fan of those things that natives do, it’s important for integration to be aware of what makes natives special and what’s their top 10 of activities (and honestly, from 10 activities there must be at least one that you could handle), because things like that “like” to come as a topic in conversations. Being at hytte, cooking fårikål, or organizing julebord can be hard to understand if you don’t dive into the subject first.

When it comes to those things, I don’t think overdoing it is really an imitation. There’s nothing wrong with adapting your cuisine to the new country or doing some new sports. Problem starts when you forget who you are and why are you doing all this. Are you doing those things because you enjoy them or you do them because you want to be someone who you simply can’t be?

Anyway that’s it from me now, I wrote way too much that I intended to (in one post at least). There might be a part two, so stay tuned. Have a nice weekend everyone!

Author: againorway

a dreamer trying to make a living in Norway

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