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!

A Call for Help!

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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!)

Swedish Kladdkaka!

If you haven’t tried Sweden’s most favourite dessert before now – what are you waiting for? This is one of my favourite desserts (and my kids love it) – the perfect way to impress your friends or family, or just when you feel the need to indulge in a little decadent pudding!

This is my latest creation – check it out on The Culinary Jumble. You will love it!

Dark Chocolate Kladdkaka

Dark Chocolate Kladdkaka 2

Winter is Coming….

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Oh, wow. It’s been so long again. Too long!

The weather has finally turned to autumn. We’ve had an amazingly brilliant summer and up until very recently, an unusually mild autumn. Inevitably, the afternoons are darkening earlier every day, and there is a distinct chill in the air. It’s dull, insipid, and grey. I literally ache for the everlastingly long, warm days to be here once more. We had such an amazing summer, and I miss it. But, Christmas is creeping upon on us, bringing with it alien Swedish traditions. I don’t like Swedish Christmas fare, and really can’t get used to Santa coming on 24th, in the afternoon. Part of Christmas excitement for me has always been waking up in the morning of the 25th, and opening presents immediately – having to wait until the afternoon is beyond torturous; and that’s me, never mind the kids! I miss crappy British telly, turkey, selection boxes and slumbering relatives adorned with rustling cracker hats sitting lopsidedly on their heads. It’s hard. However, next year, we plan on spending it in the UK – and I can’t wait.

Christmas is not the only way Sweden and Britain do things differently – every now and again, I am struck by how very dissimilar we are. And this week, this has been glaringly apparent.

Firstly, customer service. Yes, it’s a drum I’ve already battered on before, but customer service is one thing Swedes do really badly. For example, we booked a high-speed train as a surprise for my son’s birthday. He’d never been on it, but had always wanted to, and so we decided to go to Göteborg and spend the night. However, 20 minutes into our journey, the staff announced that a train in front had broken down, and we would have to go via bus. ALL the way to Göteborg. As you can imagine – not happy! Our two hour journey turned into over four hours on a bus without a toilet, or any other facilities. So, understandably we complained – they offered a paltry 25% refund. So, I complained some more – they kindly offered 50%. I complained just a wee bit more – silence. Absolute silence. They obviously had enough of my complaining that they just ceased communication.

That just would not happen in the UK. What also wouldn’t happen is me giving up. By nature, I am not a complainer – I worked in customer service myself for way too long to moan in poor people’s ears unless I have to. However, when you book a special trip which you don’t get (we booked a high-speed train, not a clapped out bus), I would expect a full refund. But, for some reason, their silence speaks volumes to me. Their silence absolutely shouts that they are not going to be cajoled, badgered or shouted into submission. We get 50%, and we need to take it or leave it!

The other delight we’ve encountered this week was the clever workmen, installing optic fibre broadband cables, accidentally cutting through our phone lines, leaving us with no internet – ironic, eh? So, H happened to be walking past the workmen, the day after our internet and phone stopped working, and just thought he’d ask if they knew why there was no internet. They jovially informed him that they’d cut through the cables the day before. No apology. Just fact. So, H rang the phone company – again, no apology. Five days later – still no internet or phone. Apparently, we are not due any compensation until we’ve been five working days without them, so bet your bottom dollar that they will miraculously solve the problem on Tuesday!* It’s so irksome. I work from home, and have lost earnings because of this. Again, in the UK, they would be on it like a car bonnet! And even if they weren’t, they would say sorry!

H thinks Brits say sorry too easily. That we say it even when it’s not our fault. And we do – God knows how many times someone has bumped into me, and it is me that has apologised! But you know; I like that. I like that politeness. It is so uniquely British, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. We went to Scandinavian’s largest store last week, and it was unbearable: Swedes pushing and shoving, without a glance around them. No eye contact, just out-and-out trolley war-fare! In the UK, we do this little dance thing, when you are trying to get past someone, they move the same way as you, and when you try to go past in the other direction, they also move the same way. Brits laugh when that happens – there is a brief locking of eyes, a minute sense of connection. In Sweden – zilch, nada, absolutely nothing. I find that hard, really hard. Like there is no bond – everyone is out for themselves. Swedes are often described as cold, and in my experience, they really are. In reality, I know that’s not true – at home with their families they are as warm and open as anyone else. But on the street, among strangers? They are cold.

They also don’t know how to queue. Simply don’t know what to do. All shops have a ticket system, so that when you arrive, you take a ticket and wait for your number to be called. Take that away, and they flounder. Prime example, I went into a public toilet, and there looked like there was a toilet free; however, the door was closed. As a Brit, I waited a few seconds to see of any sign of life before pushing the door (again, we are so polite we don’t want to disturb someone taking a pee). But, just as I was about to try, a women came bursting in, pushed past me, and went into the cubicle. That would never happen in the UK. Whenever you enter a public restroom (or anywhere else that warrants queueing) it is mandatory to ask anyone stood there if they are waiting. Most of the time you know they aren’t; but you have to ask! The Swedes don’t. The way they see it is, if there is no ticket system to guide you, then you just barge right in!

I know that sometimes the Brits are a laughing stock with the rest of the world for this kind of behaviour, but I like it. I like that you can stand at the bus-stop, and everyone knows who got there before them, and silently, without acknowledging it, they let those people on before them. That doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world – but it should.

However, despite a few little niggles, rolling of eyes, and bewildered head shakes, I am still loving my life in Sweden. We are lucky to be here, and I am grateful for that every single day.

*Just call me psychic! That’s exactly what happened!

It’s been a LONG time

I’ve been missing in action.

Well,  not when I say action,  I mean spending my spare time writing another blog.  I know.  How unforgivable of me.  It’s here if anyone is interested!

Things are really great for us in Sweden. I have not had one moment’s regret since coming back almost a year ago. Yes, there have been the odd twinges of annoyance:  when H’s parents over-step the mark (which have been surprisingly few and far between);  quirky, infuriating Swedish rules (how a British person can’t use her passport as a proof of ID if it is more than eight years old);  and appalling customer service (“oh, I’m sorry….the person you want is off to a meeting in 30 minutes, so she won’t take your phone call. Call back next Monday”).  Other than that,  it’s been just fab!

My kids are very settled at school,  especially my seven year old.  Every day I pick him up,  he’s with a different child,  and they are queuing up to come and play. It’s very reassuring.  He’s just had his first party in Sweden,  and it was a big hit;  other than the fact the Swedish kids don’t much care for chocolate birthday cake (home-made, too).  We also found several (okay then, most)  of his friends rather odd.  There were very little manners between them,  and they spoke in a way to us that I wouldn’t ever want my kids to speak to adults.  I think a big problem these days,  and not just in Sweden,  I might add,  is parents being afraid to be parents;  they are so terrified of making their child cross, or sad, that they are failing to lay down rules, and ultimately, respect towards others is sadly lacking.  Sweden was berated a while back for being “helicopter parents”:  always hovering,  and never allowing their kids to be just kids.  I have seen that over-protective parent thing a lot here in Sweden.  I’m a protective parent,  believe me,  but there are times when you need to let your little boy jump from that tree,  or let him walk to the playground two minutes away from your house.  I am not saying this is okay for every family,  or every area;  but we live in such a quite,  peaceful village, and sometimes you just have to let your kids gain a bit of independence.

My nine year old is slightly different:  he is undergoing evaluation for ADD/ADHD,  after the school noticed that his attention and concentration were a little off.  We’d noticed it at home,  obviously,  but had always been reassured by his school in the UK that he was  a model student.  Sadly, it seems that his “model behaviour” was actually him just sitting back,  right under the radar.  We had a lot of beef with his school,  and we are trying to be diplomatic and bear in mind that in the UK,  he had one teacher and a part time assistant for 30 pupils;  in Sweden,  he has two full time class teachers and an assistant for 18 kids,  plus he has two special teachers for maths and Swedish.   The important thing is that they are on the ball here,  and we are now aware of it,  so hopefully we’ll have some answers,  and a confirmed diagnosis. He’s always been such a sensitive little boy,  and I’ve been reading a lot about Highly Sensitive People (I am one, myself);  he really does fit the criteria for that,  too.  So,  his time at school is not as easy his boisterous younger brother.  He has one best friend,  and doesn’t seem very interesting in making any others.  Some of the kids seem a bit mean in his class,  but I can’t determine whether that is just a mix of him being very sensitive,  and them being nine year olds,  or something more.  But, generally,  he seems very happy,  which makes us very happy!

There just isn’t the same feeling of stress here.   Yes, it is confusing to know whether they need indoor our outdoor PE shoes (yes, the have two separate pairs),  and some things are simply done differently,  but on the whole,  everything feels a lot calmer and relaxed.  I am sat in my garden as I type,  and all I can hear are chirping birds.  It’s bliss!

I am also on a health kick – detoxing today, as I write!  Man,  it’s tough,  but I feel it’s a necessary evil.  The first time I did it (a few months ago), I went from eating a full-fat,  crap diet to a complete detox.  I nearly killed myself!  I have never felt so ill in my life!  This time around,  my diet is so much better:  I make my own bread;  rarely eat anything processed (instead, preferring to cook all meals from scratch),  and have kicked all the junk food (which has become surprisingly easy over time).   I have even got into the spirit of all things Swedish, and started running.  They all do it here,  so if you can’t beat them….This I would never,  not in a million years,  have done in the UK.  I am nearer to 50 than 40,  and I think people in England would have found the sight of me puffing down the street beyond hilarious!

So, that’s a little update from me!  I guess you could say I am happy,  and so is my family.  And that’s all we wish for, isn’t it?

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.