My Sadly Neglected Blog!

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Ah, it’s been a long time…again! For some reason, I seriously forget about my Swedish blog – I guess I am too busy actually living my Swedish life!

So, two years on, we are still here and thriving! Still loving it and still not regretting our decision for one second! There have some quite substantial changes – my eldest son has been diagnosed with Asperger’s, something his school in the UK didn’t notice during the four years he was there. So, If we are grateful for being here for only one reason, this is it. The school here has been faultless – we had an incident yesterday where my son was picked on by his class-mates and it was dealt with so quickly and succinctly! I often wonder how things would have been for him in the UK as he got older – kids with Asperger’s are often a prime target for bullying and I think it would have been far worse at home.

I am back at school (think I mentioned that last time?). I passed SFI with an A (go, me!) and I am now doing Grundläggande – I got an A in my first essay, so looking good! I absolutely love being top of the class and I say that with no big-headedness at all. I was never top of the class when I was a kid and it feels great! I put in the work and get rewarded! There’s some jealousy with my class mates – they have been heard to say that I am only good because I have a Swedish partner. Erm, no. He doesn’t speak to me in Sweden, knows diggly-squat about grammar and certainly doesn’t give me an unfair advantage!

The weather is turning cold now. We’ve had a fair summer but certainly not as warm as last year. The warm days have stretched into October, too, making summer feel like it is hanging on by a thread, which is worse than if just disappeared with a bang. I always feel so sad at the end of summer and I don’t really know why. I think because the kids go back to school and the days no longer stretch out in glorious sunshine. There is something about eternally long days in the warm months that just can’t be beaten. It’s not that I hate winter, because I don’t. It’s just not summer!

So, what actually brings me here today is that I won an award! I’ve been voted “Sweden’s best expat blog” by Money Transfer Comparison. How cool is that? Anyway, that’s all for now – please feel free to pop over and say hello at my recipe blog: http://www.theculinaryjumble.com if you get time! Bye for now!

Time to Celebrate a Year in Sweden

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I am at one of my favourite places: H’s parents’ summerhouse. Many people in Sweden have a second home in the country, usually a cabin/cottagey type thing. This one is gorgeous – slap, bang in the middle of the woods, five minutes from the beach; it is a little slice of tranquil heaven. I haven’t spent any time here since we last lived in Sweden, so it is lovely to return; even better that H and the boys have gone canoeing and won’t be back until tomorrow – the stillness settles the soul; the calmness soothes the brain; the perfect place to step back and regroup.

We’ve just celebrated one of the most important holidays in Sweden: Midsommar, so I thought that as we are approaching our first year anniversary of moving back, that I would compile a list of some of the negative aspects of living in Sweden. It’s not going to be a Swede-bashing exercise, because I could wax eternally lyrical about the great aspects, including schools, beautiful nature, and the general excellent quality of lives we have, but it is always fun (and therapeutic) to talk about niggles and bug-bears!

 1. Customer Service. This, in itself, is an oxymoron. Yes, we’re the customers, but the service is usually non-existent. See here for my mini meltdown rave about some of my experiences. I find it very odd: for a country that is so PC it is almost torturous, and as a nation that avoids confrontation at all costs, I find it strange that there are so many public servants unwilling to provide customers with help. That said – because of their dislike of confrontation, the staff can behave as they like because nobody would ever complain. So, the customer service can be as crappy as hell, and it wouldn’t matter. I am a bit of a customer service freak: if I pay for service, I expect to receive adequate help if I need it. So, this bit about living in Sweden is somewhat irksome to me.

2. Swedes often enjoy a little bit of one-up-manship. They like to boast (very gently, of course – they are Swedes, after all, and don’t go in for vulgar gloating), about what they have. They buy expensive houses way out of their means, and only pay off the interest. So, they don’t (and won’t ever) own them. They are very materialistic, and I think, pretty judgemental. Only, they would never admit to that (not even to themselves).

 3. The Swedes are very proud of their healthy lifestyles: they exercise, eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, and limit their kids’ sugar consumption. However, there is an undercurrent which is either hypocrisy or ignorance, and I am not sure which: they eat copious amounts of sausage and other processed meats that are absolutely jammed-packed with E numbers and artificial ingredients. In fact, pick up any random grocery item and you would be amazed by the contents, the majority unfavourable. Kind of like the UK 20 years ago, before we realised the dangers artifical addititves presented. So, banging on about kids only having sweets on a Saturday is somewhat redundant when you feed them food full of crap every day.

4. They like herring. Lots of it. I don’t like it, and this seems to rankle with Swedes. In the 15 years H and I have been together, his family have tried to persuade me to eat it; even so far as one Midsommer trick me into it eating it! It just doesn’t sit well with them that it’s not for me. My boys like it; thank goodness – otherwise could you imagine the grief I would get then? They would assume that I was cheer-leading my own “We hate sill” campaign. And while we are on the subject of food – most of theirs is bland. And that’s coming from an English woman; we’re not exactly adventurous in my part of the world.

5. They don’t shout. Ever. I do. Lots. It makes me feel as though social services are going to come pounding on my door at any given moment, after receiving a complaint of continued shouting at children! I am not that bad, promise, but when they are all so held-together, it makes you feel like that!

6. They don’t queue. They just seem unable to grasp the concept. In the same token, they don’t let you out in traffic either; they also don’t wave thank you when you do let them out. As a polite nation I find this a rather odd phenomenon. To help with a lack of queueing, everywhere you go there are ticket systems in place, where you take a ticket and wait for your number to be called. Very handy when there are numerous people all jostling for service, kind of redundant when it is just you, but you still have to stand their like a numpty, waiting for your number to be called.

7. It’s expensive. God, is it expensive. Everything is two or three times as much as in the UK. Okay, wages are slightly higher, but not that much in comparison to the UK. Come back, Primark; all is forgiven!

Phew. Okay, I think I will give the Swedes a break now. I would love to hear other expat’s views on our lovely adopted homeland, and the little things they find annoying.

Leave your hat on..

So, let’s talk about a Brit’s favourite subject: you’ve guessed it, the weather!

We live in the south of Sweden, and the weather is very similar to the north of England (where I originate from). I think most people are under the impression that all of Sweden is covered in snowdrifts as high as houses for most of the year, and seem rather disappointed when I explain that’s not the case. However, despite not having to withstand conditions as tough as they do in the far north, the southern Swedes are still very adept at wrapping up warmly. They wear all-in-one overalls, winter boots, big furry hats and huge mittens – and that’s just the adults! They take keeping warm very seriously indeed.

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Therefore, it probably doesn’t come as a great surprise to learn that it embarrasses me no end when my kids refuse to wear their hats and gloves. I watched my nine year old walk home from school today – he came skipping down the road (I can see the school from my house), with his coat wide open, no hat, and no gloves; nose as red as Rudolph’s, and hair flapping in the wind. He didn’t have a care in the world. I, on the other hand, urgently scanned the periphery for the hoards of neighbours muttering to themselves about how English people can’t dress their kids appropriately.

I picked my six year old up from school a few weeks back, and it was a particularly cold day. They were outside playing, and every single child was dressed up as described above, apart from my lad. I was somewhat miffed, because he’d gone to school with snow trousers, coat, hat and gloves. Apart from the coat, he was wearing none of the other items. I whizzed up to the teacher to ask why he wasn’t wearing them, and she told me he’d apparently said he didn’t have a hat or gloves. I was most indignant that of course he had them with him, and that next time they should ensure he was wearing them. My little lad got a bit of an rant on the way home about the importance of wearing his winter clothes! Did it work? Did the message get through? No, unfortunately not; it seemed to fall on very deaf ears.

In our house, we have a hat and glove eating ghost. We must have. Where else would they all go? At the start of season, we had hundreds of both, and we are now down to one hat that doesn’t fit either of them. So who knows where they are – the kids have probably lost them on purpose to stop me nagging at them to put them on! Either that, or they are laughing themselves silly, at our expense, with the odd socks that have also vanished.

So, why are my kids so unconcerned with dressing up warm, when every other child in Sweden seems to have it ingrained in their DNA? I blame the UK – we just don’t dress our kids appropriately. When it snows we put wellies on them, when really it should be hardy winter boots; and when it is raining, we make no provision whatsoever – they walk to school with no rain clothes, get soaked to the skin, with no other dry clothes to change in to. Not only do kids in Sweden have warm winter outer wear, they also have rain clothes. This means that they are allowed to play outside come rain or shine; none of this ridiculous, namby-pamby business about schools following absurd health and safety guidelines here, and quite rightly so. In Sweden, they’ve got it just about right – provide your kids with rain clothes, and everything just works! But it’s not only the kids that wear rain clothes in Sweden; the adults partake in a little protective gear, too. Although I completely agree that it is the practical and sensible thing to do, it does look faintly ridiculous to see a grown man wearing rain clothes!

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Going back to health and safety (a favourite subject of mine, can you tell?), the UK have got themselves so tied up in knots trying to prevent accidents from happening, that they only thing they are succeeding in preventing is kids be kids. It’s a very rare day when my kids are not allowed out to play at break time, and that’s how it should be. Let them get some fresh air to blow away the cobwebs!

My eldest was eight when we left the UK, and had been at school since he was four – however, in all those years, I never once got the chance to see him participate in a sports day – every year, they were cancelled; either because it had been raining, was raining or was forecast to rain. To me, that is policy gone mad! I guess their fear is that someone is going to fall over and hurt themselves; ‘cos, like, kids never do that, do they? And even if they do fall over because it’s wet? Well, then that’s called an accident, and life goes on. Wrapping kids up in cotton wool will do them no favours in the long-run.

In a similar vein, I remember walking to pick my kids up from school the first day. There were kids everywhere, hanging off trees, knee-deep in sand, and hidden away in every conceivable corner you could imagine. The cacophony of noise was deafening, even in the open air, but one thing was unmistakable: the laughter and the joy. There were no teachers yelling for them to get down from  high trees; they were merely allowing the children to explore, possibly make their own mistakes, but ultimately, just be themselves. I found that just wonderful, and so liberating.

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We need to encourage our kids to just enjoy life; adulthood will have enough for them to worry about. Let them live in the moment, without instilling worry about how they might slip over if it is wet. Let them run free. Let them be kids!

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