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!

Vad Härligt det är i Sverige i Sommaren…..

…..which, for the non-Swedish speaking among us, means “how lovely it is in Sweden in the summer”. And it really is.

We’ve been at the summerhouse for two weeks, which is a week longer than I’d planned. H went back to work, and the kids and I just stayed. How glorious to be able to be so spontaneous, without plans, just taking each day as it comes. Doesn’t get any better than that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sensitive person which means I need my space, so having the kids with me literally 24/7 has been tough at times; we’ve had our moments, but the good bits have been so good that the negatives just fade into the distance almost as soon as they happen.

Swedes are good at doing summer; they launch into a never ending supply of BBQs, and relish just being outside. As clichéd as it sounds, they are at one with nature, which is how they seem to like it most.  The whole vibe becomes so relaxed, and it isn’t hindered by the fact that kids get ten whole weeks off school;  it feels like an eternity; it feels so liberating.

The weekend has been red hot, and just wonderful. The beach was buzzing more than the French Riviera (and just as nice), and the sea was blissfully cool and refreshing. We’d talked about booking a fortnight in Greece next year, but have decided that there really isn’t any need. Why go so far when we can get all this for free. Granted, the weather can’t always be guaranteed, but you just make the most of it when it is good.

I really do love summer in Sweden; it is beyond gorgeous. We are truly lucky.

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.

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?