A Norwegian friend told me in an email recently that although it is important to discuss multiculturalism in our time, and be welcoming towards immigrants and refugees, it is also important not to forget the variations and diversity within one’s own country. The retired sociologist and politician Ingrid Eide (86), recalled how uniquely diverse and different towns and villages in Norwegian were before, and how much alike and uniform they had become today.

This was an important reminder; we must appreciate and respect the indigenous cultures and sub-cultures, too, and do what we can to help them stay alive and be preserved. Naturally, they will also change, but they should not aim at becoming identical to the dominant culture or cultures in the big cities at home and abroad. They must feel pride in keeping up local traditions and ways of life – as people in remote towns and villages, too, must show respect for other local cultures in other small communities, and the more dominant larger cities, with new cultures brought by immigrants and refugees.

We should remember, too, that sometimes, an immigrant family from a rural area in Kashmir or Kharian in Pakistan may find many similarities with life in a small inland town in Norway, say Rørås, or a coastal town like Mandal, rather than with life in a big city in the new homeland. It is important that when we in our eagerness to show politically correctness, be open to newcomers from far, we must also remember to be open to old traditions at home, and people who are not mainstream. Sometimes, a metropolitan city dweller may have little knowledge of life in a small town in his or her own country; urban Pakistanis and Norwegians may unwittingly be arrogant to rural cultures. Maybe it was these things that my friend Ingrid Eide wanted me to remember.

A few days ago, I read a column in ‘Aftenposten’, the Norwegian capital Oslo’s most solid newspaper, written by Knut Olav Åmås, a respected philosopher writing about everyday issues. What he said can shed light on what I am writing about. He praised the Oslo restaurants for having great dishes from all over the world, India, Pakistan, and so on. But he said it was more difficult to find simple, traditional dishes from Norway! He said he would have liked to enjoy boiled cod fish with carrots and potatoes; meatballs with cabbage stew and cranberry or lingonberry jam; and ‘raspeballer’, potato dumplings with boiled, salt mutton and mashed rutabaga. He suggested that many other European capitals are better at keeping up own food traditions, not only embracing everything foreign. Maybe we sometimes don’t think traditional dishes are fine enough, forgetting that many national delicacies began as food for common people.

Let me use Knut Olav Åmås as a representative of those who moved from the more remote and rural Norway to central and urban places during the major urbanization and centralization that took place in all decades after WWII, and still continues. Åmås moved from a small town on the West Coast of Norway to the city of Bergen, the country’s second largest, and then to the capital Oslo. I am glad that he still likes the food he was used to in his childhood. But in many other ways, he may have changed and become multicultural. His journey would not necessarily be entirely different from the journeys of people who moved from outside the country’s borders, or should we say, outside Scandinavia, because those countries are similar in cultures, languages, politics, and other ways – and with a number of differences and variations within and between each country, too – all within the Germanic backgrounds most Scandinavians come from.

True, there have always been other people than the Germanics in Scandinavia, in ‘Nordkalotten’, In the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, the Sami people came first, and they are the actual indigenous people of the ‘far North’, . The rest of us belong to the Germanics, as I mentioned, well, some millennia ago, migration was not only from the south to the north, but also from the north to the south, so even southerners may have some Sami blood in them. But it is a fact that the majority, the Germanic Norwegians, would distance themselves from the Sami, consider the Sami less civilized or what it was. Today, more Norwegians than before tell about their Sami heritage, often mixed with mainstream backgrounds, because today it has become acceptable to talk about it. As late as when I went to school and was young, in the 1960s and 1970s, the Sami people were discriminated against when they moved to the capital and other cities in the south. The official education policy was to force Norwegian language and culture on the Sami people, oppressing their own language, or two languages actually, in a population of less than one hundred thousand. Also, the missionary societies would send missionaries to the Sami communities in the north of the land, encouraging them to convert to the dominant religion of Christianity, claiming that the religious traditions of the Sami were lesser, that they contained superstition and primitive aspects.

We have come a long way over the last generations, and today, the Nordic Sami Council is a respected body, with the right to advice or decide on local issues in their traditional communities, and on other issues of the Sami people everywhere in Norway and neighbouring countries.

Earlier, the term ‘fourth world people’ was more often used about indigenous people, or cultural minorities within countries. There are such groups in most countries, even in the big European countries. There are people in Ireland, Scotland and Wales who speak other languages than English, which they also learn. In France, too, not all old Frenchmen speak French. A French diplomat told me about that at the Islamabad Literature Festival last month, but he thought it was probably too late to revive and preserve the old languages and sub-cultures.

Indigenous people and others from remote towns and villages should always be respected, and people from sub-cultures in the big cities. We should rather be curious about them, take initiative to learn and appreciate them when they live in their own communities and when they move to the ‘melting pot’ of the cities and the rather heavy handed cultures there, demanding integration and full assimilation, not multiculturalism.

It is important that we keep an open eye to the differences and variations within countries, and certainly those of newcomers from abroad. Multiculturalism has to do with the latter, that we all know. But we must not forget those who are from within either – the traditional food that Knut Olav Åmås talked about; the Sami people’s unique culture, and the old traditions of people in any towns and villages away from the big cities and the capital that Ingrid Eide was missing in today’s more and more standardized and uniform modern Western cultures, in the globalized world of our time.