Friday, September 3, 2010

Same same

Trawling through the night markets in Bangkok, every traveler has heard the shopkeeper tout that’s meant to convince you of a good purchase. “Same, same!”

When I visited Thailand back in 2003, I remember negotiating with one shopkeeper over a t-shirt when he spotted my then-boyfriend’s watch.

“Ahhhh… you like Rolex? I have watch for you!” he said.

Always one for a bargain, boyfriend asked to see it. The shopkeeper enthusiastically scarpered to the back room and re-emerged, shoving a little box at us. I opened the box slowly.

“This says Polex…” I trailed off.

“Come on, lady. Same, same!”

Now, there was no doubt that the shopkeeper knew it was not the same, and there was also no doubt that he knew I knew as well. But we went through the song and dance of the negotiation, partly for sport, and partly because I am a sucker.

Fast-forward seven years to last week. I was pushing the pram* past the local school and suddenly found myself in the midst of a gaggle of small children on bicycles. They all wore mostly identical coats** and pedaled mostly identical bikes. I stopped to let them all pass, and the words of that Thai shopkeeper popped into my head. Same, same.

They were all the same, really. But not just on the surface. The fact that an outing for a public school class involved them all getting on their equally expensive bikes would be unheard of where I come from. Economic disparity means that there is never an assumption that someone is the same as you. Teachers would never suggest something like a bike ride, as the assumption that every child even has a bike would never be made.

On the one hand, this is kind of nice. You don’t envy your neighbor as you probably have the same stuff he does. Thus, material goods have less status attached to them. On the other hand, I do wonder if there is a full appreciation that the rest of the world is not same, same.

Building an understanding that Norway is a very fortunate country is important. I hope that parents are teaching their children gratitude for economic and social equality. These are things that simply don’t exist, in varying degrees, in other lands.

Standing in the swarm of bicycles all of a sudden filled me with a sense of immense thankfulness that I live here, and I value the equality that sometimes feels pushed upon me. Any social welfare system has its flaws, and sometimes equality is more egalitarianism, which means someone is giving up something so that everyone can have the same.

But watching those little kids whiz past without a care in the world, same, same felt pretty good.
* Even though I recently wrote a post about posting more, I still disappeared for a while. That’s because I finally had the Kid. He’s pretty fabulous, but the recovery wasn’t. A big hand clap for the Norwegian doctors and midwives and hospital, however, as they did some great work in a pretty dicey situation. I’ll blog about it… one day.
** Yes, I know it was August. But it is also Norway. Summer here is a different beast. Coats are year-round, alas.


  1. Being grateful is so important. I'm so glad you are reflective and can appreciate these things! Now I am looking forward to reading some more of your tales (please)!

  2. The inclusion theme is huge in schools so I suspect that the teacher confirmed that everyone had access to a bike before suggesting the trip, as excluding any child would be a big black mark. The other side is of course that parents are under pressure to ensure that kids have the right stuff. Just wait until “the kid” gets to barnehage and you have to get the right type of rain and snow suit.
    Consumerism does exist and wearing the "right" clothes is important for teens. I was having a conversation with the 15 year old and asked him if he judged people by what they wore and he said he does a bit. I found this striking as they have the anti-bullying message drummed into them all through school. Maybe they need a little bit of Naomi Klein and learn that you are not your clothes (bike, caps, whatever).

  3. Thanks a lot for the comments, Anon. I will be the first to say that I do not have a grip on what is what with kids at this point (see latest post as case in point!), so I appreicate your more experienced perspective.
    What I can say as a relative outsider is that they *looked* the same, and that is what struck me. You're right that there were likely different labels in each of those coats and on each of those bikes that dictated a social pecking order to which I'm not privvy. I think the difference between here and where I come from is that the economic differences would be a lot more obvious.
    Thanks for adding some thoughts to the blog!

  4. I think a polish-norwegian sosiologist(can't remember the name) said; In norway being equal is the same as being like/similar.