A Call for Help!


Greetings from not so sunny Sweden! The wind is raging (okay, it’s a little bit breezy) and the rain is pelting, with an expected measly high of 18°C for the week. Summer is most definitely hiding away in a dark corner somewhere 😦

Anyway, school is out (I passed with a resounding A – so, so chuffed) until August and the kids are home, which leaves very little time for me to work, especially not on paid jobs because I get so stressed at not being able to think due to acting as a bouncer, referee or entertainer!

So, I am thinking of putting my time to good use and getting stuck into a series of e-books about Sweden I’ve been planning for a while. I need some help, and maybe those of you that have relocated to Sweden could be of assistance? I would like to know the most important advice you were given before the move, and what you wish someone HAD told you?

Also, do your Swedish family members bake or cook a special traditional dish that you’d like to share with me? If you share a recipe and it is used, you’d get credit in the book!

Thanks for any assistance you can give me and ha en trevlig sommar (when it arrives!)




…I’ve just had a blinding light-bulb moment:

I am pretty good at Swedish! Yay – let’s get the flags out, and set the brass band going!

For those that don’t know me (which is around 99.99999% of you), this revelation is not me ridiculously blowing my own trumpet. Usually, I am pretty crappy at bigging myself up.  No, this is the sudden dawning that I am doing okay.

The revelation has come after speaking to another expat that I can truly see myself in, the first time I lived in Sweden: the continual beating yourself up when you perceive that you are not quite good enough, when in reality, you should be patting yourself on the back. Learning another language, whilst simultaneously trying to integrate into a foreign society, is tough; morale and confidence take a bashing on a daily basis, particularly if you are equipped with low self-esteem. I remember last time that I stoutly refused to speak English, anywhere. I would rather struggle in pigeon Swedish with a supermarket cashier, than revert to my native language. I felt an enormous pressure to try to speak Swedish. H would just gaze incredulously at me, saying that everyone speaks English, that they didn’t care if I didn’t speak Swedish. But I cared. I cared way too much.

This time around, the pressure is off. When we have Swedish friends and family round, they speak Swedish, and I respond in English. It’s okay. It works. Many Swedes feel just as uncomfortable speaking English to a native speaker, and so this suits everyone. When I am relaxed (or with those that don’t speak particularly great English), I use Swedish. I was surprised to realise the other night that I don’t translate from English to Swedish before speaking; it flows naturally. That threw me for a second, but then it gave me the biggest boost imaginable: can’t be too crappy at Swedish if you don’t need to translate the words in your head before you speak, eh? Don’t get me wrong, I am not brilliant nor perfect.  But I don’t need to be.

So my advice to anyone beginning to learn Swedish is take it at your own pace. If you feel comfortable trying to speak Swedish from the word go, then that’s brilliant. If you don’t, then don’t. Listen to the people who tell you how well you are doing; my father in law always tells me that I speak very well, but up until now, I have just scoffed. But why would he say I was good, if I wasn’t? No reason. So, it makes sense that I probably am. Try not to set your bar too high: if you have been here for six months and know only two words, then perhaps it isn’t going too well, and you should try Spanish instead. However, if you’ve been here six months and you can write and speak Swedish, then give yourself a high-five.

I also no longer apologise for my shortcomings. I used to begin every sentence with “I don’t speak very good Swedish”, in Swedish. So, not only was that setting me up for feeling inadequate, it also made me look like an idiot. Had I said it in English, then fair enough; but to say you don’t speak Swedish in faultless Swedish is just ridiculous. Also, telling people you are not good at something just reinforces the subconscious belief that you are rubbish.

I accept and acknowledge my weakness. I have seriously trouble when I suddenly need to speak Swedish unexpectedly. For example, the dog ran off this morning, and a woman found him; although I managed to speak to her, it was basic and grammatically incorrect Swedish. I felt an idiot, but much less than I used to. Swedes are tolerant people; they accept your attempt at Swedish with good grace, warts and all.

Så mina engelskatalande vänner – vara stolt! Lyssnar på och tror de som säger att du är duktig på svenska, för det är absolut sanningen! Om du kan läsa detta, har du klarat det! Stå stolt!

So, I welcome my eye-opening light-bulb moment with open arms. It feels good.

Lunch with a bunch of Swedes

Ah. My first real test of whether things have changed since the last time we lived here: lunch with the in-laws and some other family members.

Let’s start with my thoughts on the afternoon, in hindsight: it didn’t go too badly.

Thoughts as the afternoon was happening: get me the hell out of here!

Yes, that bad.

It’s hard enough listening and speaking Swedish to people you are familiar with. Throw in some strangers and it gets a little hairy. There was a weird Swedish/English dance going on: they would speak in Swedish, I would reply in English. I would speak in English, they would reply in Swedish. You get the picture. That was until I lost the gist of the conversation and gave up.

It really surprises (and dismays) me that a whole bunch of people can quite happily speak a language that one person doesn’t understand. Never in a million years would I allow a guest in my house to be the odd one out. Yet it happened today and always happened last time we lived here. H was better than he ever used to be – he asked me often if I understood, but it was usually when I did. He seemed blissfully unaware of when I really was struggling to follow – you would have thought that the staring, glassy eyes would have been a bit of a give away.

So, I am in H’s sister’s house, meeting her partner for the first time. Already a little out of my comfort zone as it is. Then they offer me Gazpacho. Well, it would have been Gazpacho if it had been made of tomatoes. This was cucumber, onion and some herbs. Now, I have never been the most adventurous of eaters and have never had (nor fancied) cold soup. But, when in Rome and all that.

My eldest took one mouthful and his mouth twisted in horror. He was also very vocal about his disgust. I told him that it was rude to say that about food that someone else had cooked (or not cooked, in this instance). But, a few seconds later when I tried my first mouthful, I knew exactly where he was coming from. But I didn’t have the luxury of grimacing – I had to mentally screw my face up. Oh, God. It was beyond horrible. Why would anyone inflict cold cucumber soup on another human being? It didn’t help that the others were lapping it up as though it was the nectar of the gods.

Swedish people are quite adventurous with food – although their staples are quite boring (fish, fish, meatballs and more fish), they do seem pretty keen to try new things. But, I am British. The only time I am adventurous with food is when they bring out a new flavour of Walker’s crisps.

So my Swedish was crap today. But I didn’t really care. That’s one difference already. I would have cared before. I would have winced at not being able to find the right words and felt a numpty for not understanding. Then I would have gone home and dwelled on it. Don’t get me wrong, it was no walk in the park, but it was not that bad. It was bearable. And it will get easier.

Quiet times

My house is quiet. Very quiet. The kids are gone, that’s why.

They have gone to H’s parents’ summerhouse (it’s fabulous – in the middle of a wood and right next to the beach. My kids love it) and all I can hear is the gentle tinkle of the water feature. Oh, and the telly. Although I love peace and quite, the telly is my companion.  Not that I mind being on my own because I don’t. I am very used to it.  H has always worked evenings and when the kids have gone to bed, it’s just me. I like it. I feel safe knowing that he is coming home but at the same time, I have the solitude I often crave after a long, noisy day with my boys.

I am sitting here thinking how wonderful everything is turning out to be. Before coming I had massive reservations (mentioned previously) and the biggest one was H’s family. Don’t get me wrong, they are genuinely lovely people, just a little over-zealous and controlling at times. We are in the process of buying their family home (they have lived here for over 35 years and this was H’s childhood home) and they have moved to an apartment a stone’s throw away. My worry was that they would appear at the window every five minutes (cooo-eee, it’s only me), drop by without notice and just generally get in my face. I told H that they just wouldn’t be able to help themselves.

Well, it’s time for me to stuff those words right back in my mouth and hope I don’t choke on them. They have gone out of their way to avoid doing exactly that. In fact, on the odd occasion H’s dad has popped in, he has stayed only a few minutes and almost apologised for being there, even though most of his visits have been to help us out in some way. I have seen H’s mum twice in two weeks, both times fleetingly.

The best part about it is that my kids can pop down to see them every day. They have got into a little routine of coming home from school, having a snack and cycling down (there are no roads to be wary of). I can’t explain how this makes me feel, but it’s all good. It is comforting, I guess. Up until now they haven’t really had that daily contact with grandparents and it literally warms my heart to think of the strong bond they are building with them. It also warms my heart to think of how much H’s parents want to be a part of my kids’ lives. They didn’t really have that with my parents. My parents are odd. They never really paid a great deal of attention to me, so I guess it was a bit silly to expect any different for my kids. More on this at a later date, I think. All a bit heavy and I am in a light kind of mood, so we’ll leave for now!

So, I have had a very productive day. It’s amazing just how much you can get done when your kids aren’t here with their endless requests and constant fighting. I have spent hours cleaning their bedrooms – I’ve seriously never seen so many bits of Lego. It has literally carpeted the little one’s bedroom since I’ve been here and there are only so many “Lego-foot” accidents you can take. The upstairs of the house now looks uncluttered and clean. My brains works the same way as my home – if it’s messy and cluttered then my brain echoes this and I feel agitated. The old adage of: “tidy house,  tidy mind” really is true in my case.

I’ve also been doing a little work on online. I am sick of working in the rat race. I don’t like bureaucracy and I don’t like bosses. Ideally, I would love a job that involves writing, but as we ascertained yesterday, formal grammar is not my bag. I have signed up for a click-working job, albeit one that pays peanuts. I’m not knocking it though – peanuts taste pretty scrummy when you’re hungry. So, today I have earned nearly 10 Euros. I’m not going to rival Donald Trump any time soon, but 10 Euros is better than a kick in the head. And, if I earn the same amount every day, it will give me just enough to feel like I am contributing, which in turn will make me feel better about myself.

I also managed to take the little rat (also known as the dog) for a walk and encountered two little girls. They asked me if they could stroke the dog and while they did, we engaged in a little conversation. Okay, they were talking and I was doing my usual deer-caught-in-a-headlamp, jabbering buffoon impression. I didn’t understand a word they said, but what struck me was that they didn’t care. They didn’t care that I stumbled over words and they didn’t show any signs that they had even noticed it. I love the uncomplicated innocence of children. The first day I picked up my little one, a small boy asked me what strange language I spoke. He then asked me which country I lived in. He took my answers in his stride as though he encountered English women every day. I learnt a lot from that. I’ve learnt that I should chill out, take it on the chin and enjoy it. We only live once, after all.

Why I shop alone

I don’t take my kids shopping, ever. I don’t take my bloke either. I am a solitary shopper and I like it that way.

But, having extra tag-alongs was a necessity today. The kids needed stuff for school starting tomorrow and the man needed to be there because at the moment he is my chauffeur. That is, until I pluck up courage to take to the Swedish roads. It only took 4 years last time, so I hoping to break some records this time around. So, with unwilling participants in tow (and believe me, they were as unwilling to accompany me as I was to have them with me), we head to the shopping centre.  First stop, trainers. Within 30 seconds, even before finding any shoes to try on, my youngest was whining that he was bored. The type of whine that 6 year olds are so good at. The type that makes me you wince at the pitch. The type that makes your eyes feel as though they will pop out at the strain of keeping yourself together in front of other people.

This was when Pretend Mum joined us. She’s my alter-ego.  In her world,  a sing-song voice is used (when I really want to scream like a banshee), the kids’ hair gets ruffled in a “oh, you are misbehaving, but you really are the cutest little button” (when really I want to man-handle them out of the shop as quick as their little legs will carry them). She’s great is Pretend Mum, but she takes it out of you. If you’re in a state of Pretend Mum for too long, the danger is that your head will explode with all that internalised pressure.

So, my youngest doesn’t want to play ball, he wants to go and sit in the little car at the front of the shop. Ah, a carrot! A nice juicy carrot to be dangled in front of his nose so that he will co-operate. From then on, every sentence begins “If you don’t stop doing (insert whatever he is doing), you won’t be able to go in the car. It works for all of 30 seconds.

My eldest, quickly following is his younger brother’s footsteps, is having a fit because we can’t find any slip on trainers in his size. At nearly 9 he hasn’t yet learnt to do his shoe laces (well, I say learnt – what I mean is that we haven’t taught him. Bad parents). He flings his arms around like a rag doll on acid and refuses to stand up to see how the shoes we’ve picked fit. Ah, it is going to be a long morning.

Trainers all sorted, we quickly move on and I can see bribe number two on the horizon – cakes. However, this doesn’t go entirely to plan because my youngest is no longer bored. He is hungry. So hungry, in fact, that if he doesn’t eat his doughnut right now he is going to die of starvation. Cue over-dramatic facial expressions and legs too weak to stand. My boy’s going to win an Oscar one day, I’m sure of it.

Thankfully, sooner than anticipated but not quite soon enough. we were able to beat a hasty retreat. I let the kids eat their doughnuts on the seats in the shopping centre (one because I couldn’t face any more whinging and two, because I had used it as a bribe and I pride myself on never going back on those), but caught myself wondering if this is what Swedes would do. It’s what I would do in England, but here? H adds to my worry that we were standing out as foreigners (something that I think about constantly) because he refuses to eat his doughnut (and he is the doughnut king). It makes me feel like the fatty-fat-fat English brigade and I imagine everyone thinking “look at those English savages. Stuffing their faces in public because they’re too greedy to wait until they get home”. Ridiculous, I know, but I can’t help it. Got a lot of insecurities me, in case you hadn’t guessed!

One of my greatest fears is standing out in a crowd. I try to be as inconspicuous as possible. And that’s in a country where I feel comfortable. So, it stands to reason that it is going to be totally magnified when in reality, we probably do stand out here, at least on some level.

In the car I told my kids that they would never accompany me again. That next time, they would be locked in the cellar.

Only kidding! There are no locks in the cellar. It would have to be the shed 🙂

When in Sweden…

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.

    speaking swedish

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.