By Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Professor of Social Anthropology. Originally published in Dagbladet.
Of course we need Abroad. Where else should we travel to defrost and drink cheap alcohol?
Sunday morning, I was bothering myself on the rowing machine while I kept my spirits up by listening to some English vintage prog rock, when the idea to draw a map of the world struck my sweaty skull. I enjoyed geography at school and I have always loved maps. They are always neat and clean on the contrary to an otherwise cluttered world. On most world maps, Norway is placed far north and centered as a constant reminder that the world is basically made up of two places: Norway and Abroad.
To most people, that is just a coincidence. The map could easily have been turned upside down, with Antarctica at the top, or dragged to the left or right, and given Alaska or Siberia Norway’s privileged position.
Here in Norway however, it appears both natural and right that we are center of the world. Because most world maps are still based on the Mercator projection from 1569, areas near the poles are stretched making Greenland the size of South America and Norway twice as large as Congo.
In other words, it is just how it is supposed to be. As a loyal citizen, I decided to draw the world about the way it looks from here, with The Best Country in the center. Long-term reading of Norwegian printed media has made it possible for me to form a picture of the world about the way it looks from here.
Earlier this year we heard that Norway is “only” the third best country to be born in – according to The Economist. (What does the Swiss and Australians have that we lack?) On the other hand, all significant indicators points to the sky – the budget surplus, oil production, the number of vacation days per person and, not least, the average temperature. Nations hit by the economic crisis can “fry in their own grease” (Editor’s Note: Norwegian expression). Boy, was it good that Norway did not join the EU – it could have turned out very expensive indeed!
– Why does such a country need the rest of the world?, we ask our self. Yes, of course we need Abroad. Where else should we go to defrost and drink cheap alcohol? Why would we go shopping Abroad if we cannot tell how much we have saved afterwards? Our children also need exciting places to study, we need to buy cheap imported goods somewhere, and the need for affordable labor is not sinking. There is also a lot of meaningful cultural exchange from Abroad, including the Philippines and Thailand. (Just a shame that we also are exchanging with Pakistan and Somalia, but after the general elections this will perhaps be sorted out.)
Certain map deficiencies have been pointed out. Among others, the Canary Islands are forgotten, and I admit that this is a scandal. Of all the Spanish islands, the Canary Islands are the most pleasant. Neither the pig feasts on the island of Mallorca nor Thailand’s lagoons can compete with the industrial efficiency of Canarian tourism. And of course, it is basically Norwegian – just like godlike explorer Thor Heyerdahl and all our insane skiing heroes.
Text modified by: ThorNews
Illustration by: Thomas Hylland Eriksen