Sunday, July 26, 2009

Ceteris Paribus

I wasn’t a great student of economics despite taking six classes at university. Economics and I knocked heads on many occasions, and I remember virtually nothing from my studies. I remember there were a lot of graphs, and anything requiring spatial awareness has never been my strong suit (as evidenced by the many dents on my car from thinking I was six inches further away or closer than I actually was).

One concept I do remember clearly is that of ceteris paribus, which is way of explaining a situation with one variable change but all other factors remaining the same. I don’t remember how this applied to economics, but the concept struck me then and now as a way of explaining how individuals respond to change and differing circumstances.

As an expatriate, moving to a new country is a huge shift in social, financial, and cultural circumstances. But transiting between home and host countries, whether for a holiday or in the permanent sense of repatriation, causes a shift in the individual, ceteris paribus.

When I visit the US, it is in many ways the same US I left. The US is ceteris paribus. I, however, am the changing variable. Every sojourn in a different place fundamentally changes a person, sometimes for the better and sometimes not. Taking this example the other way, when I moved to Norway, Norway was the same as it had always been. Me entering did not change the fundamental being of the country. But me entering did change the fundamental being of me.

I now hold opinions and ideologies I would have scoffed at ten years ago. But even without looking at my innate sense of values, my reaction to things has changed. When I first moved here, I remember thinking everything looked strange in terms of placement and architecture and aesthetics. Many things caused me pause, such as the fact I had to buy my alcohol at an open monopoly (Vinmonopolet is not just a clever brand – it’s all in the name, man). I thought the roads seemed narrow and so did the politics. I felt egalitarianism was a concept best left to theory but should never find a place in practice. Now, however, all of those things are part of my daily life, and I can’t remember ever feeling that they couldn’t or shouldn’t be.

I was reflecting on this as I have a great friend coming to visit from the US in a few months, and I wondered what her first impressions of Norway would be. I was racking my brain for the things I found odd when I first arrived, and although I can remember a few, nothing overly vivid springs to mind. Not because Norway has changed, but because I have. Norway is ceteris paribus, but I am not. This is the reason that people become accustomed and adapted to change. The situations remain the same, but our reflections on and experiences of them do not.

This notion is actually what makes humans so complex but so amazing. No matter our circumstances and no matter how much or often those circumstances change, we find a way to integrate ourselves and make it work. Now when I return to the US for a visit and feel frustrated and foreign, or when I return home to Norway and can’t remember the things that at first made me tear my hair out, I try to remember that I am the variable in the situation, not the place. You know, ceteris paribus.


  1. Hey there.

    I somehow managed to stumble across your blogg, and for some reason kept on reading despite hating blogs in general. It's most likely because Norwegian bloggs offers no food for thought, and are often quite frivolous in nature.

    I just wanted to say that I kept on reading and reading, and found it all most interesting. An external point of view on Norway (for good and for worse) is more than welcome as most times when 'we' ask 'you guys' what your thoughts are, we usually get the polished version.

    I'm looking forward to read more of your experiences and thoughts, as you continue to manage your way through life in Norway.

    Kind regards

  2. Tomas, I really appreciate your comments. I promise to share the good and the bad (at least as I see it!). One thing I tell my students is that there is no right and no wrong - just different. Sometimes the different makes me nuts, but I am still so happy to have a chance for the experience. Thanks for reading!