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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.