Author: Eric Dregni
Title: “In Cod We Trust – Living the Norwegian Dream”
Publisher: University of Minnesota Press 2008, 189 pages
Eric Dregni wrote about his experiences in Norway as a Fulbright scholar. Mercifully, “In Cod We Trust – Living the Norwegian Dream” does not have any Ole and Lena jokes. Rather, it is a very interesting look at modern Norway with a very nice touch of humor.
While studying in Trondheim, Norway, he had a chance to connect with his Dregni ancestors in Bodo north of the Arctic Circle. He also writes of many illuminating encounters with Norwegian bureaucracy and the joys and experiences of everyday life, particularly the Norwegian health care system.
As he learned he had received a Fulbright scholarship, his wife Katy found out she was pregnant with their first child. They were going to be living in Norway when their child was born. But first they had to work their way through Norway’s Alien Office to get a residency permit to live in Norway for a year.
“You don’t have your marriage certificate? Why not?” Dregni writes. “We didn’t know we needed to carry our marriage license with us to prove we were married.”
After getting a phone installed, so the Alien Office could call them, they got their permit.
“A simple yearlong residency permit meant the Norwegian government would take care of us and pay for the birth of our first baby,” which seems to have amazed Dregni.
Dregni calls this “Living the Norwegian Dream.” However, when his great-grandfather left Norway with more than 750,000 others, the largest per capita emigration after Ireland, it was the poorest country in Europe. Thanks to the discovery of off shore oil and gas in the 1960s, and the fact the country set up its own oil drilling company (Statoil which also operates in North Dakota — one of the “colonies”) Norway is one of the richest countries in Europe. According to his friend Knut, “Norway is rich not only because of Statoil, but also as a country we’ve made a decision to share our resources with each other … We’re founded on a fusion between social solidarity and a democratic ideal.”
Think of what could have been done in Venezuela if the people and the leaders of that country had the same kind of national solidarity.
Dregni notes the Norwegians seem to be happy about paying higher taxes as they are proud of their welfare system. Dregni soon understood what higher taxes meant, “Gasoline was five times what it cost in the U.S.” He writes, “With this big government taxing — and helping — the Norwegians, it’s no wonder that Oslo beat out Tokyo as the world’s most expensive city.”
His many stories of their experiences during their year in Norway are entertaining. When he writes of the Norwegians love of butter, and I can feel my 100 percent Norwegian blood flowing freely through my veins, as I, too, really like butter. I’ve always believed you can eat anything if it’s covered with butter or chocolate, which is true of lutefisk (which he calls fish in lye) once a year at the Sons of Norway and meatball dinner.
However, he did discover one dish — rakfisk — basically “you take a trout, smother it with salt and sugar, and bury it underground for three to four months.” Dregni ate it with sour cream and onions (I would have used butter). He got really sick and followed the advice he was given to guzzle a bit of eighty-proof aquavit.
“It’s the water of life!” his friend told him, “You really need to have it with the rakfisk because it makes it much more edible and could even kill the bacteria if it’s gone bad.”
Without a car, they relied on public transportation, even to the hospital miles away for the delivery of their baby. The entire story of the birth of their baby is delightful, and somewhat unusual. The nurses insisted they give their baby a taste of cod liver oil and then build up the dose. It brought back memories; as in the late 1940s, my mother had all of us kids take a daily spoonful of cod liver oil one winter. Dregni also seemed surprised that people bought lefse at the store instead of making their own as they do in Minnesota.
Dregni has a gift for telling entertaining and interesting stories of his experiences in Norway. I would say his Fulbright scholarship has been fully redeemed by this entertaining and easily readable book.