Knausgaard on immigration

In part 2 of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s NYTimes magazine feature, the author - most famously of a 6-part memoir - writes about immigration. His assignment has been to trace the paths that Vikings and early Norwegians took in America, first arriving in Newfoundland and then settling in mainland America.

Karl Ove is still uncomfortable in America. He’s still unsure what to even make of his journey. But one thing is clear, his time in America is going to be spent as a Norwegian and will most likely be limited. That emotional distance allows him to think critically about American culture and American emigration.

This definition of culture, especially in the context of an American immigrant trying to assimilate, rung very true for me.

What is culture, if not a set of prejudices? A set of unformulated and unconscious rules and ways of behavior that every member of a given society nonetheless immediately recognizes and accepts?

Karl Ove is thinking of and writing about his ancestors and older family members settling here. This is exactly the kind of cultural shift I went through as an immigrant. In fact, my family and I ended up at the end of that transition absorbing all manner of American prejudices, a lot of which were targeted right back at Indian-American immigrants. That’s something about immigrant communities I have never understood - how quick we are to put down other immigrants behind us in the assimilation process. What a shame, that we can’t extend courtesy and comfort to our compatriots, the same that we were denied merely a few years before.