10 Sociocultural Differences Between Norway and the Philippines




Soon, I would mark my sixth year of living in Norway. It is difficult to sum up the past six years in few words. A lot of things I have experienced, and many people I have encountered. At least, I could say I have learned a lot during this period. However, what makes it more challenging for me as an immigrant in Norway is the contrast in cultures and social norms between my home country, the Philippines and Norway. Both countries were ranked high in different survey of happiness, depending on how happiness is defined on these surveys. And this concept of happiness is reflected in the norms in both countries. In this blogpost, I would enumerate ten of these cultural differences.

1.       Love for nature

I could say that both Philippines and Norway have been blessed with beautiful landscapes. Philippines is known for its beaches, while Norway has fjords giving way to beautiful unique sceneries not found in other countries. However, there is a big difference between how nature is used. The Philippines has also forests, but it is not a popular place to go to. Private individuals and companies can hinder access to the beach, but in Norway, there exists universal right to pass by someone’s property whether it is located in the forest or along the coastline. One could say, no one owns the beach. I see that this is a motivating factor for people to go for a walk in nature in Norway. Residents in Norway accustomed to use their free time, perhaps on the weekends for this. It is a popular social activity for both family and friends.

2.       Focus on climate change

Norway is located near the Arctic region, while the Philippines lies near the equator. Both regions feel the effects of a warming planet. Norway has never experience very warm summers and relatively less snow in the winter. New plant species have come also in Norway due to warming temperate climate. The Philippines, on the other hand, has experience very powerful typhoons the world has never seen. Some animal and plant species are threatened to be extinct in the coming years. However, policies on climate are taken more seriously in Norway. There are improvements on the level of environmental awareness in the recent years in the Philippines, but there is a long way to go before it would be comparable to that of Norway.

3.       Religion

Norway has a state church. When a Norwegian is born, they are automatically members of the church, until they opt out or stay as such. However, participation in religious activities is significantly low in the Scandinavian country. More and  more people identify themselves as atheist or non-religious. It would seem not a problem though, as Norwegian culture is heavily based on mutual understanding and kindness. So one could say, people in Norway are not religious but are generally kind. On the other hand, the power of the Church in the Philippines is overwhelming. It has affected all aspects of the lives of people, their beliefs and even decision-making. The Philippines is becoming less conservative in the recent years, but it would take decades perhaps before it achieves the same level of liberalism in Norway.

4.       Family as more personal

Family is more personal and close-knit in the Philippines. The head of family has the responsibility to take care of the family, and decide on matters involving members.  Prestige is something all Filipino families aim to have. Filipino parents send their children for school to lift the socio-economic status of the family. There is a collective effort to achieve such goal. Moreover, family members spend time together very often, primarily during mealtime. It is actually almost the same with food and family in Norway, but to a lesser extent. Eating is more frequent in the Philippines.

Moreover, family seems more emphasized in the Filipino society, rather than the individual. The individual could be compromised for the benefit of the whole family. This is the primary reason why a lot of Filipinos migrate to other countries to support their family. Head of the family needs to be consulted every time there is an important decision even at a personal level. It is also expected for children to give back, and support the whole family after they have finished school and gained work. This is based on the belief that it is the children’s parents who sacrificed most just to send their children to school. This is rare phenomenon in Norway.

In Norway, the government seems to have more control on family matters. Parents are obliged by law to spend time for their children especially right after delivery of a baby. The government somehow has encroached how things are to be done at home. When is it possible to leave a child alone at home, when is parental control is too much or not enough - these are decided by the government. The government takes an active role in filling the need for care, especially when the rights of a child is compromised, or when there is a need for more care and services for family members, for example, the elderly. In the Philippines, if the parents can not fulfill their duties, other family members in the extended family are somehow obliged to take over this role. At least someone would assume the responsibility for the family, and the government is not expected to help directly in anyway.

5.       School system.

Philippine education is not fully recognized in Norway. It is very interesting to know this. The main reason the Norwegian government give is that Philippine education lacks the number of years of basic education. 12 or more in Norway, and just 10 in the Philippines. This is contentious for the Norwegian government to push for this statement. Norway also expounds that cheating is rampant in the Philippines, such that one could just buy professional degrees, without going to school. This is a generalization based on rumors or truth just for very few.

Yes. That is possible in the Philippines. However, most professional degrees require a licensure examination. Results are published online so it is transparent. Those who get the highest marks also are known nationwide with their corresponding grades. We are talking about competing among thousands of new graduates each year. That is a tough thing. This stems from the competition-driven education system. Students from 5 years old are ranked regularly in school, sometimes every 3 months based on their academic performance, and even curricular activities. Should one not excel, he or she is considered inferior. That stigma lasts for a lifetime.

Furthermore, when a subject has a time allotment of 1 hour weekly, it does not mean students spend only one hour for it. That means the teacher would be expected to conduct lecture discussions in one hour, and the students would do the rest. We are talking of multiple teachers doing so. There is no document showing how much effort a student has for a single subject, so concluding Philippine education lacks quality is baseless and immature. Also, teachers do not accept just a mediocre work. They lash out students for not giving their best. It is not enough to be recognized as good. The aim is to be the best. Hence, some teachers would expect one to memorize textbooks word-for-word and text students word-for-word just after an overnight preparation for it. This is something I myself have experienced.

6.       Equal rights

Upholding equal rights to all, regardless of gender, religion and color is difficult. In Norway, there are still problem with this, especially with religion and race.  Laws are very clear and direct on discriminating anyone but in reality it does exist. However, this is happening in a subtle way. In the Philippines, generally everyone is given equal opportunity and freedom in the superficial level. However, a right of people belonging to the so-called third gender is not enshrined in the constitution. They are tolerated but not fully protected. They are stigma around it, and the conservatives would even associate them to something evil and illegal. Nonetheless, there is no death penalty given to them, which is something comforting.

With regards to race, Filipinos are somewhat influenced by colonialism. Those with fairer skin color are respected than the others. One could be a victim of mobbing just because one has brown skin color, or curly hair.  However, this trend is changing significantly. With regards to religion, this is something getting better. Personally, Filipinos tolerate Muslims better than Norwegian. The fact is according to statistics, the percentage of population adhering to Islam belief in Norway and the Philippines are similar. The difference lies just on the degree of tolerance. Unfortunately. Muslim are met more with skepticism in Norway than in the Philippines.  Perhaps, the non-immigrant ethnic Norwegians are homogenous than multicultural Filipinos, a mixed of west and east.

7.       Relationship as a partnership.

Filipino society is patriarchal. The head of family is respected and dominates the whole family. This mentality is carried even to personal relationship. There will always be someone who would dominate in the relationship, more often men. This gives a form of ownership rather than partnership in relationship. Therefore, partnered Filipinos are very conservative, often jealous, and somehow romantic, believing there is only one person they could end up living with, that is, the person they would marry. Hence, marriage is considered sacred and supposedly long-lasting even though the relationship is failing.

In Norwegian society, relationship is seen in a liberal lens. Marriage is a contract which could end if the conditions are no longer met. There is no stigma around marrying more than one person in a lifetime. The most important is that relationship is functioning in practical way. Should something is no longer function, individuals involved would talk and sort out how could they find a solution to the problem, or just end the marriage. No one is expected to dominate entirely in the relationship. Women could decide on their own, even how to use their free time. Men do not carry the financial burden alone for the family. It is usually a partnership between two consenting individuals.

8.       Criticisms as more personal.

This is very evident among Filipinos. If someone would criticize another, this is considered a threat to one’s personal integrity. This is a source of irritation for the majority. This becomes worse, when someone has a unpopular idea or belief. One’s thoughts and beliefs are closely-linked to their personality. Should one has a weird thought, so he or she has an aberrant or deviant personality. In Norway, criticisms are part of personal growth. One could fully express one’s objection to another without fear. However, the other person would not be expected to change just because he or she was criticized. An individual decides what he or she wants, regardless what the other says to him, even though it is deemed beneficial to that person.

9.       Concept of body

The concept of body is very different in two cultures. In Norway, you are either fit or healthy. It means one should do everything to look good or feel good. One is not expected to look good, but as long as the person is satisfied with his or her body, so there is no problem. However, indirectly Norwegian social norms push for fit body. This is why going to the gym is very popular, if not going long walks and runs are highly recommended. Furthermore, this affects what people in Norway eat. They usually have control in eating sweets. It is seen as a seldom comfort food that should not ingested regularly.

In the Philippines, the body is considered a vessel of food. Food is associated with wealth. Those who can afford food are expected to eat good food, so it is natural that they gain weight. This normalizes overweight. There are even some Filipinos, who would believe that gaining weight is linked with less stress. People have nothing to do and think of, so it would be natural for them to eat. However, this trend is changing as well. However, I would be correct to assume that going to the gym or maintaining a fit body is one of the least priority among Filipinos.

10.   Concept of survival and life

Survival is the utmost goal for Filipinos. Hunger is always a present individual threat. The fear of getting poor, hungry and thirst is always there. People would always aspire to be rich and famous, just to secure a future with less fear. The competition for access for resources is high, so one has to be creative, unique and courageous enough to withstand obstacles in life. I would say in the Philippines, it is the survival of fittest, those who are weak get some empathy but not so much help and respect.

In Norway, a good life is a life full of satisfaction. Norwegian lifestyle is somewhat hedonistic. It is grounded on getting the best pleasures in life. They have vacation very often and meet their friends whenever it is possible. Surviving is more of the psychological one, rather than physiological. Food and basic needs are available to almost everyone. Almost all have access to opportunities. However, even residents of Norway are blessed by being served food in silver spoon, some of them would still complain for not getting the best of what they think they deserve. Understandably, Norway is richer than the Philippines. However, that necessarily mean a difference on how people from the two cultures view life in general.
Obviously there are cultural differences between the Norwegian society and that of the Filipinos. Interestingly, these schism is more evident as I lived longer in Norway. Perhaps, I got to see how these differences really are in the reality. I get to talk to more people and experience more. These differences somehow has made confused about which culture fits for me. I have lived in the Philippines most of my life, but I see that Norway now has become my home. However, culture is relative they say. The only thing I can do is select the best of two cultures and apply it in my life. That is perhaps the best solution.

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