Knäckerbröd. Staple of most Swedish households. Dry, unappetising, rectangle shaped cardboard. Yet, despite this, since my return to Sweden last week, I can’t get enough of them (admittedly, slathered in Sweet Chilli Philadelphia – come on, cardboard, after all). When not in Sweden, crisp-breads were avoided unless on a strict 100 a day calorie diet, so why the big about turn? Who knows? Maybe I am trying to dive in this time with a completely different attitude: embracing Swedish life rather than fighting tooth and nail against it. I can either accept that we will live in Sweden for the rest of our lives (that’s the plan, on last count we’ve lived in 10 different places together and are quite literally all moved out) and immerse myself or, alternatively, allow negative thoughts about everything Swedish to fester.
Last time we lived in Sweden was hard. I put a lot of pressure on myself (and felt pressure put upon me by the in laws) to learn Swedish fast and to integrate quickly. I did very well at school and sailed through my SFI, progressing onto SAS (Swedish as a second language), however, I always lacked confidence in my abilities. It didn’t help that my written Swedish was so good – whenever I had a test to decide which class to be put into, I would always be placed at a level I felt uncomfortable with. All nonsense really. I could do it and wasn’t out of my depth at all, just felt as though I was.
I also developed a weird thing whereby I felt I had to speak Swedish wherever I went and to whomever I encountered. It was almost as if I had a huge, neon sign above my head proclaiming “she can speak Swedish, she can. Don’t let her pretend she can’t”. It got so bad that it almost developed phobia like qualities. I would go to the supermarket and be literally terrified that the check out operator would suddenly need to speak to me in Swedish. Hmm, like I couldn’t just say “sorry, I don’t understand” in English. But, I really couldn’t. It was as though I knew I could speak Swedish and therefore, had to. I would try to explain this to H and he would be incredulous. He would remind me that I had worked in several different foreign countries and had never been remotely bothered about speaking English to people. He was right. I couldn’t (and still can’t) explain why I felt as I did. The in-laws didn’t help. Whenever I showed any worry over speaking Swedish, they would mutter the magic mantra “practice. You must practice”. So, I think that I felt no choice but to practice. Even when I didn’t need to. That’s some kind of pressure. Mostly in my own head, but still pressure.
This time around, I plan on things being different. But old habits die hard. If you’ve read my previous posts, you will see that having to interact in Swedish really does turn me into a jibbering wreck. I need to learn that it is okay to speak English (while I am learning, of course. Don’t plan on being 80 and still can’t speak Swedish fluently) when struggling. Here lies the problem: by doing that, I will be failing. I will be a failure. That’s the crux of it. It’s all about me, you see. But, I am 5 years older and wiser, now have two beautiful little things that are way more important than any of this stuff will ever be and I have learnt by my mistakes. This time around, things are going to be different. And if they aren’t? Then I only have myself to blame.