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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Welcome to Sweden: Episode 3

This week's episode was slightly tamer but still there were some funny nuances to ponder and of course, the dynamics between a cross-cultural couple came more clearly into focus. Being both Americans, Doug and I did not share the struggles and joys of trying to fit into each other's world's as a cross-cultural couple nor have to face the headaches of obtaining the proper paperwork in order to stay together in a foreign land.
That said, the entire commentary on neighbors and not talking with them was pretty funny. While it is definitely a stretch to believe that people here look out the peep holes on their door to ensure that no one else will be in the hallway, I can confirm that chatting up your neighbors or even worse yet, strangers on the street or on the subway is a big time no no here in Stockholm! If you chat too much with strangers on the street they will think you are A) Drunk. B) Mentally Ill. C) American. Americans in particular have a very hard time with this cultural nuance as witnessed by Bruce's repeated attempts to break the barrier. Our own interpretation of this stand-offish-ness is that Swedes are rude. Over time we've come to realize however that Swedes often find the American over the top friendliness disingenuous and fake. Somewhere between rude and disingenuous perhaps lies the truth. I've come to understand that Swedes respect people's personal space too much to interrupt it with chatter. Funny enough, sometimes they aren't so generous with personal physical space and will crowd you in a line or crash into you with a baby stroller and never once utter a meager excuse me, because to say excuse me would mean to break the code of silence when it comes to talking to strangers. Silence is not uncomfortable for them and relationships are cultivated when, well, an ensuring friendship is actually a possibility. And yet, this is likely one of the cultural realities that I continue to struggle with after 16 years. I still find that the Swedes lack of casual social interaction feels very cold to me and it's hard for me to not read more into it than I should. Then again, when I'm in a very bad mood and don't feel like talking to anyone, this social behavior comes in very handy! It's totally acceptable to put your head down, keep that scowl on your face and trudge through your daily business!
We've lived in our building for 16 years. In that time, we've said hello to most of the others who live here but we've only been invited into 2 other apartments for a social gathering and those were from others who worked at Immanuel Church. To be fair, we've not done any inviting of others into our abode either. Why? I don't know.
We do chat casually. The dog has definitely broken down barriers and opened up new avenues of communication, but there is no inviting each other in and I'm not sure we could actually tell you the names of everyone here nor could they tell you our names!
I did really laugh at the end of the episode when the older gentleman is genuinely stuck in an elevator and Bruce, finally not wanting to buck the social trend, simply runs on by with a hej hej! There is a downside to all this social distance and being ignored while needing to be rescued out of a broken elevator would certainly fit that description!
The funny thing however about this is that once you have broken into a Swede's social circle, their hospitality is over the top. That's why if you come to Sweden and visit relatives or friends, you will likely not catch this nuance, unless of course, you find yourself in downtown Stockholm trying to share you trip details with every Swede you see. Then you will definitely confirm in their minds that you are indeed drunk, mentally ill and American.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Summer Loving: Loving Summer

After a miserable June, July has been a real stunner in Stockholm! One hot sunny day after another has been on order and we've enjoyed it to the max! There's nothing quite like a warm summer in Stockholm. The ability to enjoy the water and be out in the late light without feeling a chill is a rare and special treat and we are making the most of our opportunities to drink it in. Here are some highlights:
July 4th we were invited to some dear friends' island paradise for a special celebration with fellow Americans and other assorted nationalities! We took the Finnmaster out to the southern archipelago and enjoyed the wondrous beauty of our wild island surroundings. The company of good friends was icing on the cake and we toasted our homeland, sang the National Anthem, proudly waved the American flag, grilled and enjoyed. Gorgeous evening with gorgeous friends.
Even Tanner got in on the grill action!
We spent the night out on the island so enjoyed the late night sky and a gorgeous moon.
Picnics in the archipelago. We've continued our tradition of heading south to the artipelag area where we just love anchoring near a rock, grilling good food and swimming in the beautiful Baltic. A treat this year is that the water is not stinkin' freezin' cold! We've taken lots of friends out to enjoy the wonders of the archipelago for the first time. I never tire of the views, the sky, the sunsets, the refreshment of being out. And oh that summer light!
I was privileged to officiate at a very interesting and beautiful wedding of a young couple who came to know me through our church. She was American, he Swedish. Both are artistic and this wedding was vintage and quirky and all together lovely. The wedding itself was held in an apple orchard. THANK GOD the weather was good! I have no idea what we would've done if it had rained. Mud up to our ears...happily dodged that problem! The reception was in a barn. The guests were dressed in anything and everything. The new look for men right now seems to be rumpled with a dash of style. Cotton trousers, rolled up at the cuff, any manner of shoe, no socks.
This is a man
Bow ties seem to be quite in as well. Footware was funky. Delightful evening in a gorgeous setting with a lovely young couple. Love is grand!

We were delighted to share in the 50th birthday celebration of a good friend from the US who had a dream of celebrating his 50th here! We had met some of his friends awhile back so was very fun to see them again while also meeting some others from Chicago. It was a special time on the water in the company of sweet people.
After spending one month watching World Cup football almost non-stop, we held our own Immanuel World Cup last Sunday. This has become a great tradition in our church and proved to be a wonderful time. As usual, the final score was Fun to Fun.
Some friends who used to live here but now live in Germany came to visit with their 9 month old golden retriever. He had never been swimming so Tanner showed him the ropes. What fun it was to watch these two romp around in the water. I was in the mix with them and enjoyed watching Jaden figure out that he really could swim and that it was really fun to do so! He was living into his retriever identity in no time, racing Tanner for the ball and swimming and frolicking like a pro after a very short while!
It's hot in Stockholm. Some are complaining that it is too hot and when I hear that I just cringe. My feeling is to just yield to the heat. Be hot. Get sweaty. Jump in the water and enjoy. Because if one thing is for won't last. It's already getting dark by 11.00 p.m. I'm holding on tight to these incredible days. I am loving summer, that's for sure!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Welcome to Sweden: Episode 2

OK, so now we're two weeks into our Swedish/American cultural exchange via TV and here are my thoughts on Episode 2. It is
 H-A-R-D to learn a new language at any time but especially difficult the older you are. When we first moved here, Doug and I would try to speak Swedish with one another when we walked our dog. But Doug would just start making up words and I would throw Spanish in once in awhile so it wasn't a very fruitful learning experience! It did make for some good laughs however! Errors are inevitable and when you try to translate expressions, it gets rather hopeless rather fast! There are small nuances to words that are very hard for a foreigner to hear so it's easy to make a lot of mistakes, even some embarrassing ones along the way! As my friend Liz mentioned in her comments last week, one of the frustrating aspects of seeking to learn Swedish is that because the Swedes are so well-versed in English, they will often hear your broken Swedish and immediately switch to English, thus giving you no opportunity to practice. One experience stands out for me. I had to go to a music store to buy drum sticks and well, that wasn't exactly included in the vocabulary lessons so I walked in and asked, "Prata du engelska?" the phrase I have perfected in Swedish! He said, "Of course" as many Swedes reply in this way. So we transacted our business and then he asked how long I had lived in Stockholm. I said, "6 years." And of course, he proceeded to scold me for not speaking Swedish after all those years. So I switched to Swedish and said, "I do speak Swedish. But if I try to speak Swedish with Swedes, you switch to English so I just thought I'd skip that step!" grrrr. But then, after about 7 years something amazing happened...the Swedes quit switching to English! All of the sudden something in my pronunciation and vocabulary and sentence structure created enough confidence in my language skills that the native speakers of Swedish were willing to speak Swedish with an American! It is frustrating however to feel like you want to learn the language but those around you don't really want to help you. They'd rather practice their English. Fine. But don't criticize English speakers when they don't speak such great Swedish!
On being embarrassed to admit you are American...I have felt this at times, especially when the political situation was very hot regarding the war in Iraq. It's a funny thing to be from many stereotypes and pre-conceived notions emerge. Some good, some not so good. Words to live by: Do not judge a person by their country.
I will say this about the show: The brother character is totally atypical and I don't like his role in the show. He comes across so stupid and clueless and I find it terribly distracting and unfair. Not sure why the writers felt they needed to write the brother in such a dumb manner.
Of course, Bruce and Emma's desire to get some alone time dominated this episode in an overbearing manner. Wondering how the American audience received this.
The scenes at the summer house bring a big smile to my face, especially the exchange between Bruce and Emma's father! The notion that a summer house is to work and build is really very funny. While Swedes do love to relax, it is also true that most spend the entire summer working on the summer house. And yes, most summer places that are out in the archipelago have only an outhouse...strict plumbing rules prevent flush systems although now there is a new and dazzling toilet called the Cinderella that turns human waste into ash. It is truly awesome. Our friends with the gorgeous summer place have one and it has transformed toilet life in the archipelago! You put a large coffee filter type thing in the toilet, do your business, then flush. Instant incineration. Truly genius. Although I will add that the outhouses I've used here are the cleanest and nicest I've ever had to use.
Will Farrell's cameo was of course hilarious. Just the condescending way he chides Bruce was very funny. The fact that he's actually married to a Swede adds to the humor. I thought the woman playing his wife in the show was his real wife, but apparently that is not the case. Have never seen what she actually looks like but someone said she is a brunette.
On the Dala Horse: There are more American homes with Dala horse decorations than any Swedish homes. In fact, I'm not sure I have seen any Dala horses on display in a Swedish home. That said, they are a national treasure. Yes, I have a few in our home here.
Finally, the small detail of Bruce not liking cinnamon is only appreciated if you understand the importance of Fika: the hallowed tradition of coffee and a little something, usually a cinnamon bun! Not liking cinnamon is almost heretical. A hard cultural nuance to catch if you have not experienced this.
All in all, some clever bits in this episode but still...I wonder if sustains attention with the humor being even more and more subtle.
Those are my thoughts: How about yours?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Welcome to Sweden: Episode 1

Hello readers and watchers of the new TV show Welcome to Sweden. I received some great comments regarding the show and will continue to watch with interest as the series unfolds in the US. Probably the most obvious comments are rooted in this sense of needing a little backstory on living in Sweden to fully appreciate the humor. That is why I wonder if an American audience will find it sustainably interesting. I even wonder about a second season here in Sweden. Cultural stereo-typing only goes so far and in the case of this TV show, it's already way over the top. I guess we feel more freedom to laugh when the stereotyping is quite outrageous because in some ways, perhaps the more subtle cultural differences make us uncomfortable rather than providing a mechanism for a chuckle. Please do take the time to read the comments after yesterday's post.
Not surprising to me, the comments with the most resonance came from those who have lived here, especially other Americans we have known. They could see through the stereotyping to the incredible mix of excitement and awkwardness that entering a new country involves. One friend who lived here didn't like it. She felt it was tacky. Others who have a romantic love affair with Sweden through their family heritage, visiting Sweden on vacation, or studying aboard here for 6 months or less, sometimes found it a bit too critical of the foreigner's experience in Sweden.
Which perhaps leads me to my first point. The experience of actually moving abroad, leaving home, family, job and actually attempting to acculturate to another country all together is extremely different than visiting, studying abroad, or connecting with family traditions. The added dimension that Doug and I have not had is being in a cross-culture relationship. This will always present challenges because no matter where in the world you and your partner live, one of you will always be the foreigner. One of the major reasons moving somewhere as opposed to visiting or studying there is that at some point in your journey, all of the things that you found initially charming and funny eventually annoy you. The key to handling the annoying bits is to try to understand why they have become annoying and adjust accordingly. This often takes a year's time, when you've expended energy on learning the language, set up a bank account, adjusted to foreign currency, and the glow of living abroad has been replaced by reality. Don't get me wrong. I have loved living in Sweden. But even after 16 years there are things that baffle me and make me a little crazy. However, the same can be said about other things in the US but that is a reflection for another day.
As for the first episode: Here are my obvious reactions:
1. When Amy tells Bruce to enjoy Norway! I had to laugh. So many people think we are living in Switzerland. Cracks me up how this happens ALL THE TIME.
2. My experience with meeting Swedes for the first time is that they weren't so huggy as they were in the show. And the outrageous behavior depicted with the drinking is not entirely fair and would likely not take place on someone's first day unless you were to land on midsummer eve. Then maybe it wasn't so far fetched!
3. The way Swedes raise is glass was hilariously depicted...with all the eye looking. It is indeed an art and value that is not to be messed with! And we've sat around may a Swedish table, positively dumbstruck by all the singing. How can every Swede know all of these songs by heart? Well, I guess we Americans all know Take Me Out to the Ballgame...even if you hate baseball!
4. We have been to crayfish parties where all the sucking of the fish was equally as loud as in the show!
5. Small talk does not come easily for Swedes. The scene with Emma's father trying to find something to talk to Bruce about was hilarious for me.
6. The character who loves American TV and film is hilarious because we've seen how American media has shaped Sweden's view of the US. Many Swedes hone their English through watching our films and TV and for better and often for worse, allow our media to shape their view of us. We are a fairly shallow lot in the media. But then again, our view of Sweden from the media is also very silly. There is no Swedish bikini team, not everyone has blue eyes and blonde hair, and Sweden is not an evil communistic socialist state.
7. The sauna scene was just funny because of its outrageousness. It is swimwear in the sauna. The claim is that is unhygienic. You do eventually adjust to the rule, even as an American, if you enjoy the sauna. Mixed nude saunas are very rare and I've never encountered one in a public place. Also, I have never been with Swedes drinking in the sauna. It is true that Swedes are generally much more comfortable being naked than Americans are. But it is absolutely not a sexual thing at all. In fact, when on a beach with topless women or naked men, it is really quite a non-issue. And really, when you think about, it does allow you the comfort of not having to sit around in a wet bathing suit. That said, I only bathe au natural when alone or with Doug. Even 16 years has not emboldened me that much.
8. I love seeing Lena Olin in a Swedish role. She is super funny for starters and it's fun for me to listen to her speak Swedish.
Us on midsummer eve, the only day of the year I wear a flower wreath. I have never seen a Swede pick someone up at the airport with this flower arrangement on their head!
Another of the comments was that it was a little racy. I think that's also true for the standard of what defines raciness here in Sweden is very different than in the US. There will be drinking, sexual references, and maybe even a bit more nudity along the way. Some of the episodes are not that funny at all, but I encourage you to see the series through. There aren't that many episodes and it will be fun to reflect on it together. I am happy that my friends in the US are at least getting a slightly different look at what it means to be an American here. Of course, it's way over the top...but as I mentioned at the beginning...that's why we can laugh. Because it doesn't hit quite so close to home as to hurt. I must say, good on the Swedes for allowing such self-deprecation to be depicted in this show. It does reveal their silly side which is often quite hidden. I have appreciated their ability to laugh at themselves. We certainly all need to for no culture is without its quirks.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Welcome to Sweden

Tonight, July 10, 2014, a new show airs in the U.S. called Welcome to Sweden. The premise is that an American Guy with a Swedish girlfriend moves to Stockholm and what ensues are all kinds of cultural clashes and amusing situations.
Here we are, in 1998, shortly after we moved to Sweden!
Who would've guessed then that these two crazy "kids" would spend 16+ years of their life here!!!
The show aired in Sweden last year and Doug and I watched every episode, laughing hysterically at the situations described. We wondered how an American audience would receive this, given that so much of the humor required living here and experiencing all that Greg Pohler experienced when he first moved to Sweden with his girlfriend and later depicted it in a sitcom!
Of course, the stereo-typing is obvious but even so, we had to pause at times because we were on the floor laughing or rewind to watch a scene twice due to the reality depicted in the TV show! Some of it hit quite close to home!, a lot of our friends, who have either lived here or have some close affinity to Sweden, are posed and ready to watch tonight on NBC at 9.00/8.00 central time. 
We are very curious about the US re-action so while the show airs, I'd like to have a running commentary on what you as viewers outside of Sweden thought was funny or confusing. I'd like to hear on this blog post in the comments section, your reactions to this show.
Since we are ahead of the US in time, it will be Friday morning before I see the reactions. I will re-watch the show through the wonders of a slingbox and comment on your comments!
Let's use this opportunity for a wonderful, while tongue in cheek perhaps, look at what it means to live another country! I will share my thoughts within a day of the show airing and tell you what I resonated with as someone who lived this sitcom in real life! It will be a great opportunity for us to engage in a cultural exchange!
I'm fascinated by Americans who want to live in Sweden. After having lived here for 16 years, there's not much fantasy about it, even if there are things that I find completely wonderful. But I am interested in what drives that desire to live here...and how watching this over the top, stereo-typical sitcom yet still has some truth in it sitcom either encourages that desire or causes you to wonder.
I look forward to the conversation!
I really do hope you enjoy Welcome to Sweden! I look forward to seeing it again!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Summery, Finally

Stockholm is having one of "those" summer...the bad kind. Lots of clouds, lots of rain, not much warmth or sunshine. It hasn't bothered me much since I spent June in Palm Springs with sunshine and heat every single day! But even in the few days that I've been back, I can feel how this bad weather is wearing on people's nerves and psyches!
Today started as a beautiful sunshiney day and the promise of a lasting summer day was lurking. This afternoon at about 4.00 p.m. a huge clap of thunder struck followed by a full-blown down pour.  I had made plans to meet some friends at a waterfront diner so wondered what all that would look like. But lo and behold, by 5.30 when I headed out, it was clearing again and a measure of warmth was re-entering the atmosphere. 
We ended up at Lily's Burgers, a delightful little place on Kungsholmen where they make a real deal American hamburger and peanut chocolate milkshakes. It was pure indulgence but a tasty one at that. The conversation and company were wonderful and the landscape kept getting prettier and prettier.
We walked along the newly beautified waterfront, admiring the high setting sun and beautiful condos that now line the strand. We stopped to relax on this odd shaped concrete wall-like thing that we found strangely comfortable. Three adult women relaxing in the prone position gave way to much laughter and relaxation. All of us have had a bit of stress in the past few weeks so a good chuckle was medicine for the soul! It's fun to act like children now and again.
We finished our walk next to this area with little country-like stugas and gardens. Hard to believe we were in the city this entire time.
That's the magic of Stockholm...gorgeous city surrounded by fantastically beautiful water views and nature.
It was warm and light and relaxing. Felt like summer...for the first time this year.