Don’t Touch Me, I’m Norwegian: Migration and Temperament

My brother designed this pin to ward off over zealous Irish people around St. Patrick's Day.

My brother designed this pin to ward off over zealous Irish people around St. Patrick’s Day.


There are a lot of Indian families in our area. The greater Boston area has a lot of technology and biotech companies and attracts tech people from all around the globe. We were just having a conversation about how the Indian families always seem to find the best neighborhoods and schools and how they are so industrious, when suddenly I realized I was making assumptions about Indians as a whole based on a very particular subset. The average person in India isn’t necessarily good at choosing good schools. The average person in India isn’t necessarily good at scrimping and saving. The average person in India doesn’t come and live in the greater Boston area, only rich techies do that.

In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain reflects on a theory that could explain America’s national obsession with extreme extroversion. America, unlike old world countries, is peopled entirely by immigrants. That means everyone who lives here is descended from the type of person who would be willing to jump in a boat and leave everything behind in search of a new adventure. In other words, America was built entirely by extroverts. Maybe a few introverted wives and children came along. Maybe a few introverts came to escape political or religious persecution. Maybe a couple quiet types came over with the Irish escaping the famine. But on a whole, they were all the bold and brash types.

I got to see a miniature version of extrovert migration when I decided to move to Southern California to seek my fortune. Now there is an area that is entirely populated by recent immigrants. No one is born in LA. I think they have laws against babies or something. The population is entirely made up of perky blond people from the heartland who caught greyhounds to LA to try to break into Hollywood. Let me just tell you that a small town Vermonter of Norwegian descent stands out in LA like a piece of lutefisk in a tray of rainbow frosted, sprinkled cupcakes. But that just made me wonder: why wouldn’t the descendants of Vikings be more bold? Why do I feel more like looking at my feet than pillaging and looting?

I have a theory about the Vikings. And the Mongols too. It actually makes sense that the modern inhabitants of Scandinavia are really introverted. All their bold and outgoing people went off to pillage and rape. Only the quiet farmers and librarians and loot inventory clerks stayed behind. All the extrovert genes passed on to the Bretons and Normans, while the introvert genes all stayed up north. Same thing with The Mongol hordes. They took all the extroverts with them when they left Asia. Now pretty much everyone left behind is super introverted.

But extrovert migration also explains a lot of current geopolitics. I studied in Rome for a semester. Theres nothing more annoying than American tourists yelling loudly and obviously having no idea where they are or what they’re looking at. “Hey look! Boobies! Dude! Take a picture of me with this statue!” At one point I had to get past a group of American students on a bus. I didn’t want to be associated with them, so I said “scusate, scusate, grazie” and pushed through. The only Americans most people meet are the kind of Americans who go places. And they’re all loudmouthed jerks. No wonder everyone hates us! No wonder they all wish we would just shut up and go away! But you can’t judge a whole nation based on the people who leave its borders. Not everyone’s cut out for pillaging. Now where is my loot-ledger?

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One Response to Don’t Touch Me, I’m Norwegian: Migration and Temperament

  1. Sue says:

    I work with Americans in India… we have our assumptions too about Americans. But the type I work with aren’t usually loudmouthed jerks, probably because they left their comfortable homes in the US to serve the poor in India. So I guess motivation for migration matters a lot.

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