H.E. Arild Braastad is originally from Bergen, and of course, as every Norwegian would know; if he was the regular guy from Bergen he would claim not being from Norway, but from Bergen! People from Bergen tend to think of Bergen as a country in itself. But, Arild Braastad is both from Bergen and indeed from Norway, as he has not lived in Bergen for the last 30 years and been serving within the Norwegian Foreign Service since the late 70’. He still speaks a very clear and lovely Bergen dialect, though.
Coming to Malaysia from South-Korea, where they stayed for five years, the ambassador and his wife Nina is starting to get used to KL. In Korea, they have four seasons, just like Norway, he says with a longing in his voice, looking out on the terrible haze in KL at the moment. It can get very cold in Korea during winter time, maybe minus 20 degrees Celsius sometimes. Sad to say they didn’t manage to learn much Korean, as this is a very complicated language. Malaysia is their third posting in Asia, as they were also posted in Japan for 4 years from 1984 till 1988. Japanese, which grammar is quite similar to Korean, is reasonably easier to learn, and they could speak quite a bit of Japanese.
Arild Braastad’s first diplomatic posting started in Nigeria in 1981, and he enrolled in the Foreign Service training course 2 years prior to that. Arild Braastad has quite an unusual overall background for an ambassador, as he has been a certified pilot (A and B certificate) and – not so unusual – he also has a law degree from the University of Bergen.
In fact, he’s from the very first class to graduate with a law degree from Bergen University, he tells me. Apparently he feels it was ages ago, but looking at him, it clearly isn’t. Combining these two rather, one would think, incompatible backgrounds he worked for the International Secretariat and the Aircraft Accident Commission in the Norwegian Civil Aviation Authority (now Avinor) for some years. Laughing, he admits to actually having held down a regular job before he started in the Foreign Service!
Many of the budding Diplomatic Corps nowadays go straight from university to the training course, to starting jobs abroad. My personal opinion would be that this is probably just as unsound as the politician “broilers” back home who have never worked in a normal job before entering politics, but what do I know?
Anyway, the International Secretariat interacted with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on quite a regular basis, and one of the “Foreign Servants” obviously saw something in him that the Norwegian Foreign Service needed, and head-hunted him.
Arild and Nina Braastad also spent two periods in Europe, one period with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Norway and another period in Brussels, where he was the Councillor within the Norwegian EU delegation. He tells me that Brussels is literally crowded with Norwegian ambassadors, as there is a Norwegian NATO ambassador, a Norwegian EU ambassador and a “normal” bi-lateral (what’s normal about being called bi-lateral is beyond me, it sounds like a serious stomach condition) Norwegian ambassador to Belgium. But Norway is not the only country with this arrangement.
Asked how his career in the Norwegian Foreign Service has affected his wife and two daughters, he says there have been pros and cons. His wife Nina is a qualified pre-school teacher and has worked many years as an educational adviser in Asker local community, outside Oslo. She has not been able to pursue her career as much as she wanted to, he admits. His two daughters, both grown up and studying at the University of Bergen at the moment, have now finally settled down as Norwegians after all these years abroad. Of course they have learned a lot about different cultures, about tolerance, about languages, but also a lot about losing friends and missing friends and family. Sometimes children can feel like they have no roots anywhere. Maybe not strangely his daughters, both living and studying in Norway for several years now, still speak English between themselves.
He also would like to highlight the very important contribution most of the spouses do. He claims he could not have done his job and served Norway’s interests in a satisfactory way without his wife’s extensive contribution. Some spouses don’t feel the same obligation to assist in the job as the Ministry at home never requests and never compensate for this type of job. Those who support their diplomat spouse do it because they have a personal interest in promoting Norway.
When ending the period in South Korea they had several alternatives pending. Understandably, having an 88 year old mother back in Norway they were hoping for a posting a little closer to home, but when Malaysia came up they were also quite happy. They both like Asia, and were looking forward to experiencing South East Asia as well, having already experienced North East Asia.
Living in KL
The Norwegian residence here in KL is very nice, he says, and even though they are still not finished unpacking and getting everything organized, it will a good place to live. He will happily invite all Norwegians to the residence on the first Saturday after our National day (17th of May), on the 20th of May, to celebrate. This is so the working party also can participate in the celebration, as he realizes it can be hard to get time off during working hours. Needless to say, I think the Norwegian community in KL will be thrilled to hear we are allowed back in the residence for our National day celebration!
Only having stayed in KL for 3 weeks, H.E. Arild Braastad finds it a bit difficult, and also a bit pretentious, to declare a manifesto for his ambassador period yet. However, he says he would like to do more cultural exchange, if possible. Obviously very pleased he relays the wonderful experience they had in Korea last year, the Ibsen anniversary year. Ibsen’s play Gjengangere was played in Korean for a whole month and the Norwegian conductor Arild Remmereit came to Korea and conducted music by Grieg and Saeverud. Next year the world will be commemorating the above mentioned Norwegian world famous composer Edward Grieg, and he hopes the embassy will be able to participate in this anniversary.
He also says that he would put a great effort into assisting Norwegian industry, trade and commerce finding its way into Malaysia. Even though Innovation Norway (previously Norges Eksportraad) has a branch here in KL and is doing a great job, he feels the Embassy still can make a contribution towards the same goal – helping and promoting Norwegian business and commerce in Malaysia.
If you’re still wondering what the new ambassador is like, allow me to inform you he is utterly charming, sociable, outgoing, competent, and would like nothing more than achieving a good relationship with both his fellow countrymen and the Malaysians in whose country he is happy to serve. He and his wife Nina are very much looking forward to a rewarding period in Malaysia.