Archive for October, 2007

Cultural Clash

I realize as I type this post that I won’t be painting myself in the best light, but what is a blog for if to be honest?

Today I took my kids to the swimming pool. The baby had fought sleep the whole day and finally sank into an exhausted stupor in her stroller. I had planned to swim with her, but since she was asleep I wheeled my stroller out to the indoor pool to keep an eye on my boys while they swam. As  I went around the corner a very indignant woman came out to tell me that I wasn’t allowed to have my stroller around the pool area. I lost my temper then. I had been out all day with my kids alone and had promised them they could swim. I wasn’t going to wake up my baby. We had a discussion which ended me of accusing the Swedes about not caring because they didn’t have lifeguards at their pools which made me have to wake up my sleeping baby to watch my boys. It was a bit irrational, but touched on something that bothers me a great deal. There are no lifeguards at public pools. The lady countered with the fact that you can sue in America. Why wasn’t I allowed to bring my stroller in? Because it had dirt on it and that was like walking with your street shoes where people walk barefooted. Eventually, the woman got some plastic shoe protectors to put on the stroller wheels (after I told my boys we were leaving) and I apologized for yelling and we parted ways.

The whole incident left me shaking my head. I’m sure I reinforced all the American stereotypes: rude, boorish, demanding, ignores rules, etc. In my defense I would like to say that there were no rules posted against strollers in the pool area.

I realized I had chosen to take my stroller in the pool area based on a couple of cultural assumptions I have made about Swedes: 1) Swedish parents take their SUV-sized strollers EVERYWHERE. (the size thing is a bit ironic when you consider Swedes like mini-size cars and consider SUV’s obscene. Funny that Americans prefer mini strollers and SUVs). 2) It is not socially acceptable to wake a sleeping infant. The nap is sacred.

But I made a miscalculation when I forgot the following important cultural rule: You never wear your shoes (or take your strollers) where people go barefoot.

I’m still left scratching my head to see why it is more dangerous to push a stroller in a pool area than not to have lifeguards at a pool. Perhaps foot fungi is more lethal than drowning?

I digress. The incident highlights clearly to me that while I have lived in Sweden for 5 years, borne children here, eaten the food, studied and learned the language, etc, I’m still not Swedish. Understanding and living by the Swedish cultural code will probably be always beyond me.

Many foreigners accuse Americans as being ignorant and intolerant. But I have to say that after living abroad for 5 years Americans are no more ignorant and intolerant than your average European. Sure Europeans may be far better at geography, but when it comes to their cultural codes and norms, they are as intolerant as the stupidest stereotypical American. Cultural codes that govern social interactions, unspoken rules at swimming pools and the like are ingrained in children until they become second nature. But I have grown up with my own  cultural code and so the Swedish cultural code isn’t innate and doesn’t always make sense to me.

And now I wonder about my own cultural code. In my interactions with an acquaintance I have found myself offended time and time again, because she broke my cultural code. I need to cut her some slack.

The moral of the story? Don’t go into the public swimming pool with your stroller in Sweden. And living in a foreign country is more complex than just learning the language.


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Random bits

So after a very hectic month, things calmed down all of a sudden. And I feel relaxed and happy to enjoy a moment on my blog.

Monday I actually CLEANED the house–the bathrooms, mopped the floors, tidied the kids bedrooms. I asked all the kids to make an effort to keep it clean. And I can happily say that on Thursday evening, it is still managable–although I should fold and put away the laundry.

Poor Josef woke up screaming in the middle of the night with a burning fever and a nightmare where he was being attacked by spiders and monsters. It took forever to convince him that there were no spiders.  He vegged on the couch today–no preschool for him–and watched videos all day. He was so tired after this exhausting activity that he fell asleep at 6:30 p.m. (that’s 18:30 Swedish time). I think we are slated for a mom/Josef day whereby we enjoy movies all day on the couch. I’m so excited!

I organized the first parents lunch date for the International school. We had a small showing, but the conversations went really well. I think all the parents appreciated it. It made me feel hopeful about future events.

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We have sold our beloved GWB in preparation for our move back to the U.S. This means we now rely upon public transportation and the power of bicycles for our transportation needs.  It usually means more time spent travelling, but what is gained is often time to reflect and really observe the place that we live. Today I was feeling pretty nostalgic as I realized that the number of times I’ll take this trip is dwindling. Perhaps you would like to journey with me to collect my boys from school today?

We start in the new part of the city, the student section. We live in student housing which bustles with students, both Swedish and foreign. The cheapest grocery store in the town is just a brisk 5 minute walk (2 minute bicycle ride) away. Several major businesses are based near this area: Sony Ericsson, Gambro, Astra Zenaca, to name a few. We have a nice blend of homes and apartment buildings. Fields lie on the edge of the city, reminding me of the agriculture richness of the breadbasket of Sweden.

We wind our way past the gym, several sports fields, a riding school and then stop at the hospital. The hospital is a teaching hospital and a member of WHO. It is the best in Sweden and boasts that it treats the King of Sweden. For me it is a sprawling hospital with vast buildings that cover several acres. I have spent a lot of time here: two births and two unexpected hospital stays and numerous visits to the Reumatology clinic. Directly across from the bus station at the hospital is a beautiful Swedish graveyard. It is a quiet place, mingling past and present among carefully groomed hedges, and gravel. There is no grass around the graves. The beloved Swedish nature embraces the graveyard with trees, hedges and a feeling of serenity.

From here, we start to see a different aspect of the city. On the left, the tall red bricked spires of Allgelgonakrkan (all saints church) loom over the city. Our bus rumbles through the cobblestoned street and I see beamed buildings that house restaurants, art shops, a graceful apothecary, and various cafes. The beam/brick buildings come from the 1500’s. All around me, I can see different periods of history intermingling in the present.

The main university comes into view, then a restful place of trees and green grass (called The grove of trees: Lundagård) and finally the awesome grey stone spires of Domkyrkan, the cathedral that was once the judgement seat of the Catholic church in Scandinavia. Visitors come from all the over world to tour it, enjoying the astronomy clock that plays twice a day and the crypt which has a legendary giant attached to it.

From here, the bus takes us through the heart of the city where the streets are narrow and cars are not allowed. I get off at the main bus station to the smell of Mormors bageri (Grandma’s bakery) and a falafel stand. I walk briskly on the sidewalk looking at the displays in the shops and see the various winter coats and ugly Swedish shoes. Then comes my favorite part of the walk. On the right, underneath a glass window in the basement of a cafe, are ruins from the oldest church in the city. I’ve stepped into Medieval times and my thoughts start wandering about the bones in the museum which show the different diseases people had in those times. But immediately, my mind starts to drift as I smell the fresh fruit displayed at the Turkish grocery store. They always have the best fruit, usually perfectly ripened and very inexpensive. As I walk down the street smelling the fruit, looking at medieval church ruins and thinking about mundane things, I look up and see a wooden beam/brick house with a prominent sign declaring that August Strindberg lived there in the late 1800’s while writing Inferno. I start thinking about August Strindbergs plays and stories and wondering why he was so pessimistic.

Around the corner, sits an elegant, discreet hotel which always makes me wonder what it would like to stay there. As I walk along, another favorite house comes into view: brick covered in ivy. The last few weeks it has been really beautiful as the leaves have changed into brilliant colors. The houses practically sit on the street. Very different from my experience in the U.S. But beautiful rose bushes always surprise me as I walk along the narrow sidewalk. I love smelling the heady rose scent in the morning. Various plagues dot the houses declaring that famous people lived there.

The last stretch of my walk takes me past charming cottages built in the early 1900’s to house worker families. Painted yellow, they now boast modern Swedish interiors. I imagine what the street would have looked like in 1900 and then finish my walk at the oldest school in Scandinavia which now houses a small international school that my boys attend.

I walked through at least a thousand years of history in a few short minutes. And it continues to surprise and delight me.

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What I have not been doing:


feeling good

keeping my house clean


eating salad

folding and putting away laundry

using Satin hands on my hands (they are so dry and could use some pampering)

listening to a book on tape by Agatha Christie (something is wrong with the tape)

sleeping well

playing computer games

What I have been doing:

attending PTA meetings

teaching cooking classes at a preschool

teaching piano and music classes

making food for my son’s after-baptism lunch

preparing for my son’s baptism

attending an international dinner with lots of fun cuisine

fake cleaning (cleaning only the areas of the house that are inhabited by visitors)

riding my bike all the time

following my daughter as she wanders around the gym while her brothers are in their gym class

typing flyers for activities

juggling a hectic schedule

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Television in Sweden

As of today, the regular television–analog–will be permanently disconnected in Sweden. From now on, if you want t.v. you have to buy a digital box.

Love the government driven economy.

Actually, this doesn’t affect me in the slightest as I have been keeping my own silent protest of television in Sweden for 5 years now? Why? Because you have to pay a yearly tax, about the equivalent of a new television, to even have a t.v. My feeling is, if I’m going to pay for television, I want to be able to at least choose something I like. So we don’t have a t.v.

It irritates me though that the government has made the choice for the people that they will no longer be able to have regular television. I wasn’t clear from the article I read if people will have to pay a monthly fee for their digital t.v. boxes. Not that I have anything against digital t.v. boxes. I just don’t like the idea of a government forcing an entire country to go to a certain type of technology.

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