Archive for the ‘Sweden’ Category

Indelible Marks

Three years have past since moving back to the States after living in Sweden for 5 1/2 years.

Some things about my experience in Sweden have left indelible marks on me.

I still think words in Swedish and have to translate them back to English. It’s funny when I do it as it doesn’t really have a discernible pattern.

I still debate endlessly with myself whether or not I should call a doctor. So my child could have a fever of 102 plus a rash and I hestitate. Should I call? If I do, will they get me in? If they give me an appointment, it will probably be just a virus. And then they’ll make me feel stupid for bringing in my child to the doctor for a virus. Never mind that the pediatrician is always happy to see us and never makes me feel stupid for bringing in a child with a virus. I just can’t get the picture of Swedish health care out of my head.

I still apologise to the doctor for bringing my sick child into the office–as if I’m wasting their time. Perhaps I endured some psychological trauma as a result of medical experiences in Sweden???

American chocolate has been ruined forever for me. I can’t eat it. I find myself dreaming about Swedish chocolate.

I now know that a fresh, ripe pear is one of the best fruits on earth. Until living in Sweden, I had never tasted a ripe pear–just canned ones. I still search for that  elusive perfect pear in the U.S.

I have developed a taste for good cheese. Sadly, my budget limits my cheese buying.

I miss riding my beautiful pink bike.


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Isn't this a pretty picture? I would love to have it for my wall.


Swedish meatballs, mmmmm, yummy!
Swedish meatballs, mmmmm, yummy!
Look at those prices! I saved 40 cents a gallon today.

Look at those prices! I saved 40 cents a gallon today.

My kids have a holiday from school and so we decided to visit Ikea. When I told my boys, the youngest started shouting, “we’re going back to Sweden!!!!!!” I felt so bad when I had to explain that we are actually going to New Jersey, another state, to go to Ikea. Still we managed to have a great trip, even if we weren’t flying across the country to our beloved Sweden.

Everyone, including myself, was really excited to go inside the store. After dropping off two of the kids, we ran over to peruse the Swedish food market to see what we wanted to get. There was an entire crate of ballerina cookies and singoalla cookies. They blackberry saft, meatballs, lingonsylt, bilar, läkerol, pepperkakor (gingersnaps), etc. I forgot to mention the knäckebröd, the Swedish crispbread that we love so much. The most delightful snack in the world is a knäckebröd with butter, cheese and sliced cucumber. The selection was much better than we had anticipated so I mentally marked the items I wanted and we got around to the business of shopping.

I discovered that Sweden really has become a part of us, because we all felt homesick after seeing favorite items that we used or loved playing with in Sweden. The bright colors of the Swedish flag, Swedish words written on the products, and familar layout of the store made us feel at home, as if we had actually flown back to Sweden.

A visit to Ikea is never complete without a stop at the Ikea restaurant. (I’m actually struggling to write this in English because my brain keeps throwing in Swedish words to describe the experience.) We had the quintessential Swedish meatballs. I was a bit dissapointed with the mashed potatoes as we are used to eating boiled potatoes in Sweden at Ikea. But the gravy was just as good as I remembered and the tart bite of lignonberry really livened up the meatballs. Ah. . . good times.

After eating, we all had to use the restroom and I was again reminded of another favorite of mine at Ikea: family restrooms. It was so nice to actually stay together and not worry about the boys in a different restroom. I also saw this beautiful picture of the woman and child. It was beautiful. I sure wish I could buy it, but I can wait.

So my first reason to move to New Jersey may be the close proximity to Ikea. When I’m feeling homesick, it might just cure those Swedish blues. The second reason to move to New Jersey came as we needed to fill up our gas tank. The gas was 40 cents cheaper in New Jersey. In New York, gas is running around $3.69/gallon or higher. We paid $3.29 a gallon in New Jersey Hence the picture.

Gas prices and Ikea. . . could we have any stronger reasons to move?

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Rest in peace my friend

Earlier this month, one of my friends from Sweden, Susan, passed away after an intense battle with breast cancer. Susan was young, in her 40’s, and left behind two young children and a husband.

I first met Susan at church in Sweden a few years ago. We immediately connected as we discussed the challenges of living abroad. Susan was an American, married to a Swedish man. Beyond this superficial commonality of immigration (temporary or otherwise) I found Susan to have a warm heart and a wonderful mind.

Susan became the nursery teacher for my second son. Her insights into his personality often gave me greater understanding of my own son. It was she who taught me that “he had a joy bubble that was so intense and beautiful.” She loved him and he loved her.

Susan lived on an old Swedish farm with her family. She invited us to her home on many occasions and we would visit her and her delightful ponies. My boys would gently hold chickens, jump in the hay and play with wild abandon with her children.

When I became very ill and awaited a diagnosis, Susan’s words of quiet understanding gave me strength to carry on.

Susan had a wonderful mind, always probing, questioning and analyzing. I think her life’s dream was to be a life-long university student. She learned for the sheer joy of it and wasn’t motivated by degrees or profit.

Susan loved her husband and children. She met her husband through an advertisement in Swedish paper. She always laughed when she shared this with people. She was so proud of the wonderful life they had together. Their two children had a mother who loved them and looked for the best ways to help them develop into good people.

I will greatly miss my friend.

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Reverse currency conversion

As any person who has lived abroad knows, a great deal of one’s time shopping is spent converting the local currency to the home currency to determine if the price is reasonable. I spent a good five years doing this. When we lived in Israel, it became really complex juggling three currencies in my head. Eventually we came to a point where we stopped automatically converting every price. But it did take a long time.

So tonight, Dh and I were discussing the bag of shredded mozzarella cheese I bought from Costco. I told him how much I paid per pound and he says out of the blue, “that’s 35 kronor per kilo”. I stared at him, calculated in my head, contradicted him and then ran to the computer to check out the currency rates. Turns out I was thinking price per pound and he was going by kilos. He was right and so was I.

It was so strange to realize that we are now doing a conversion game which involves converting U.S. currency to Swedish currency to determine if the prices are reasonable. And it isn’t only the money, I find myself using kilometers, Celsius, and kilograms.

I wonder if I’ll ever get this stuff straight in my head.

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I feel like I’m writing this as a Swede moving to America. You really can adapt to anything!

A few weeks ago, I felt totally liberated as we gave away or threw away everything we owned in Sweden except the items that filled our 12 suitcases. As we face the upcoming move to a new home, panic sets in as I realize that we have no furniture except for a small dining table, a dining room set and two sets of bunkbeds. I have many boxes of books. They certainly could serve as acceptable seating for a temporary period of time. But I’m feeling a bit itchy to actually empty those boxes and enjoy my books.

Anyhow, to the point of this post. . . So, we’ve been looking around at furniture stores and other stores to fill our home with stuff. Our first stop was to a place called Furniture Row. There were four large stores filled with mattresses, bedroom sets, dining room sets and living room couches, all beautifully displayed. It was hard to even know where to begin. We walked around dazed and confused. I don’t know why: Ikea never made me feel dazed and confused. Maybe it was that I always had a specific mission when visiting Ikea. I did see a couch that I liked. The boys were captivated by a bunk bed with a slide.

We left before we started to go into furniture overload and drove to Costco. I suppose we should have eased gradually into the whole shopping experience. But I couldn’t resist the siren lure of Costco with its yummy samples, enticing bargains and bulk size. Coming from the land of the liter and gram size packages, we felt like everything had been supersized. (Did you know they don’t even supersize combos in Sweden?) We wandered around, enjoying the samples and staring bemusedly at the piles of clothing, stacks of furniture, and double-size packages of ravioli. We left Costco empty-handed.

Our final stop was at Barnes and Noble where Dh and I had a mission to find some book reading material for our flight to NY to househunt. It was there that the whole experience hit me. I was completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff you can buy in the U.S. There are so many options and choices that it makes it difficult to choose. In Sweden there might be two or three brands (with the exception of cheeses) from which to choose. Shopping was easy. In the U.S., there are 20 brands of toilet paper, 40 brands of soap and don’t even get me started about the shampoo aisle.

The bookstore paralyzed me with delight. I haven’t been in a room with so many English books for 5 years. And yet, I couldn’t choose! For years I’ve been pining away for a better selection of reading material and now I’m stuck with indecision.

Go figure.

I will probably get over it. But it certainly is an interesting sensation.

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A day in my town

The early morning rush of getting four children dressed, winter clothes put on, backpacks ready, snacks prepared and out the door is always hectic. It is my turn to take my oldest two boys and two neighbor girls (plus the toddler in the stroller) to school. I spent this time “encouraging” the kids to walk faster so that we wouldn’t miss the bus. On the bus, we plainly stand out. First, we look strange with all the kids tagging along with me. I don’t even look like a daycare or teacher because three of the children look so obviously like me. The kids chatter away in English as strangers pretend like they’re not listening to the conversation. I never feel Swedish on these mornings. Everything is strange out our little group so I don’t even try to blend in. Occasionally, I call out to the kids reminding them to stay seated or to stop fighting, etc.

After I’ve delivered the kids to school, everything changes. I have a whole day to spend in town. As it is early, the only shops open are the cafes and bakeries. My pace slows and I begin to feel more Swedish as I push the stroller and admire the new Christmas decorations and wonder over the strange configuration of bright orange manequins grouped on a circular platform.

I stop at a newstand, browsing the magazines and newspapers. I’m too tired to read Swedish, so I opt for a British magazine. The clerk doesn’t even blink at my choice and we chat, in Swedish, as I pay for the magazine. My main destination is the best bakery in town. It’s cozy, with a large selection of breads, Swedish pastries and warm drinks. I see a sign advertising “lussekatter” for 9 Swedish crowns. (Sweden does not use the Euro currency.)  The smell of cinnamon, warm bread, and coffee fill my senses as I walk into the shop. Lussekatter and hot chocolate sound like a perfect relaxing “fika” for a cold morning. I find a table, give my daughter the warm saffron bun from which promptly picks off the raisins  and settles down for a nice snack. Paging through my magazine, warming my hands on the mug of chocolate and savoring the lussekatt, I feel so Swedish, it’s not even funny. I even speak Swedish to my daughter, not wanting to stick out or to warrant looks. For a moment, I am just another Swedish mother on “mammaledig” enjoying fika with my daughter  after dropping the other child off at dagis. I feel pleased that my accent is good enough that I don’t sound too much of a stranger.

After my lovely fika, I take the bus over to the International Preschool my youngest son attends. I conduct rehearsals for the piano and music recital on Tuesday. At the school, I feel comfortably part of the international community. Children from all nationalities work on learning English in a warm and safe environment. There is very much a sense of community as the families work together to make living abroad less frightening, overwhelming and complex.

In the afternoon, I take the bus again to pick up the oldest two boys from their international grade school. They are eating “mellis”–and afternoon snack with the other children staying in fritids–the after school care program. One of the teachers begs to let the boys stay and make lussekatter. Since this is their last time to make lussekatter in Sweden, I agree. The boys talk and laugh with their Swedish teachers as they participate in a very old Swedish tradition.

We then leave, walking on an old cobblestoned street to the bus. It’s four o’ clock and winter darkness has already descended, but the sparkling Christmas lights, entwined with evergreen greenery, make the town feel magical. The bus swings through the town and I see beautiful shop windows lit up with stars and candles and wonderful straw pigs. The main shopping street is busy, with people leisurely enjoying the evening magic of a Friday evening. In the main square, a large Christmas tree has been set up trimmed with lights. The lights sparkle on the temporary ice rink where children make lasting childhood Christmas memories.

I watch the scenes go by, feeling keenly a part of the action even though I sit on the bus. Tears well up as I realize that in fourteen days, I’ll leave it all behind for the brassy newness of America. A realisation hits me so hard that even though I really am a stranger here, this is my town. From the moment I stepped off the train platform, I have loved this place. It never stops charming me no matter how many times I wander the streets. Every corner reveals new delights and old favorites. This town beautifully displays all that is lovely and wonderful in Sweden: history and modernity, the importance of light in a northern country, clean streets, fresh Swedish faces, somber winter coats enlivened with beautiful scarves, and magic. And at times, I am a part of it. My  heart will always carry a bit of Sweden with me, leaving me changed forever.

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Packing and cleaning

So today DH and spent the morning working intensively on our packing. We are making good progress. Most of what we are doing now is going through all our stuff, sorting it and then making the final decision about what goes.

Don’t you think that would make a good reality show? What stuff makes the final cut? I think it would be different for every person. My must keep items are Swedish books, some scrapbook stuff, and cookbooks.

Anyhow, today we threw out 5 large Ikea bags of stuff (sorry about contributing to the ever increasing landfill problem), pared down our clothes pile and filled up 2 Ikea bags with clothes to donate to charity. We’ve decided on what clothes we need out for the next two and half weeks. We’ve also taken down the pictures from the walls and now the apartment feels so bare, despite all the furniture still here.

The packing feels much better than the last time I did some major packing. I thought you might enjoy that entry: https://tiffanyswedemomisraeltrip.wordpress.com/2007/01/15/my-idea-of-hell/

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