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

Pling….

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…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.

It’s been a while….

Hello everyone!

Just checking in from rainy (although not cold) Sweden. It’s hard to believe that the last time I wrote, the sun was baking down, way back in August!

So much has happened, yet so little, if that makes any sense? I am working pretty much full time as a freelance writer*, and there have been times when I was so busy that I couldn’t think straight. In the beginning I took on so much work, trying to prove something (what exactly, God only knows) to myself, my clients, my in-laws, but pretty soon burned myself out! I took two full weeks off over Christmas, and have come back with a new attitude: do as little as possible! Seriously though, I don’t need to kill myself over it (and certainly don’t need to prove anything to anyone), and from now on, will just take on enough to work to put some pennies in my pocket and keep the wolf from the door.

writer

The kids have settled into their schools so well, and their Swedish is coming on leaps and bounds. Mine isn’t, unfortunately. I always say to H that if people speaking to me came with subtitles, I would do great; I am pretty much fluent in reading and writing, but speaking and listening? Oh, goodness! Panic is the culprit. It makes your brain turn to fluff and you sound like a moron. This time around, I really don’t care. Well, not as much as I used to. I try to laugh at myself, and that seems to work. Prime example:

We get our eggs from a neighbour, and the last few times he has come with them, H has been out, and I haven’t had any money. Up until recently, I haven’t been shopping alone, so haven’t needed to have any spare cash in my purse; but after doing this several times, I was embarrassed to look like the little kept-woman, so when he came with the eggs, I remembered that H had put some coins in a jar in the kitchen. Panic set in – he was stood at the door, my six year old was balancing 24 eggs like a juggler in a circus, and my dog was howling hysterically in his cage. I looked in the jar, saw two coins, one with the number two, and the other with the number one; in my moment of panic, I picked them up and handed them over. He just looked at them, with puzzlement in his eyes. In my dazed state, I had picked up three Euros. The eggs were 35 Swedish Kronor. In my defence, I had thought the eggs were 30 Kronor, and I had seen the two and the one, and tried to make them miraculously add up to 30. What I was thinking, God only knows. More to the point, what on earth was my poor neighbour thinking: a deranged English women who stumbles out with a random amount of foreign currency in her hand to pay for eggs? Previously, I lived in Sweden for six years and their money is simple; and, there is no 20 Kronor coin, only a note.  I was so mortally embarrassed that I laughed so much I nearly wet myself (after he’d gone, you understand), and then cried hot tears of shame. All I could think about was how idiotic I must have looked. H laughed like a drain when I told him, and it is so beyond ludicrous, that thankfully, humour is the only thing I now recall when thinking about it.

eggskronor

The in-laws are starting to encroach on our space a little more – turning up unexpectedly, or hovering around in the garden doing maintenance work. H’s dad is bored and does things to occupy his time. They mean well, and deep down I know that, but I am a private person, and it throws me a little to be sat in my pyjamas and suddenly see his dad washing the windows!

borje

I also pretend to have a clean and tidy house, a bit like a show room: I clean within an inch of my life when visitors are looming, but tend not to worry too much when they aren’t. People dropping by unexpectedly unnerve me. H’s dad is fine – he never comes in the house, or even knocks. His mum is a little more forthright, shall we say! Last time she came, she knocked on every window, and sometimes just opens the door without knocking. I need to be careful what I say, because last time she did that, my nine year old rolled his eyes and said in a dramatic stage-whisper “can’t she KNOCK?”. Ah, the sins of the fathers (or rather, the gobby, outspoken mothers).

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I was talking to a mum at school yesterday who told me that in my eldest boy’s class there are two children with English speaking parents, and that her little girl is best friends with a child whose mum is from Wales. This is a small village! What are they all doing here? It just amazes me how many English speaking ex-pats gravitate towards this quiet part of Sweden (or any part, come to that).

So, that’s it for now! I really need to keep in touch more often – this blog was a huge outlet for me when I first arrived, and there are so many lovely people who read my entries! Hope everyone is well, and all the best for the New Year!

* Disclaimer: this blog entry is for fun purposes, so there may be errors. Unlike the writing I do in a professional capacity, I have not gone through this with a fine-tooth comb *wink, wink*.

http://theswedishlife.yuku.com/

Keep On Climbing

So, we had a BBQ this afternoon with some Swedish friends and their kids.

To start off with, when sentences were short, I held my own. I understood most of what was being said and it felt great.

But, as the afternoon wore on and anecdotes became more embellished, I could feel the familiar tingle which I now recognise to be my brain actually frying.

Brushing my teeth just now, I came up with a great analogy:

Imagine being a rock-climber: At the beginning of your climb, your muscles are strong, you glide your way up the rock-face with little effort, taking care to watch where your feet are. You are smiling to yourself, pleased at your progress.

About half way up, your legs start to ache and you miss a few foot-holes. But, your spirit is still strong and you are determined to do it.

Then, right at the top, you lose concentration and slip, falling down into a deep abyss, to a certain death.

That’s me and Swedish.

The more tired your brain becomes, the harder it is to digest what is being said and to do it quickly. Thought processes slow so much that they nearly stop and you find that you are working so hard to translate one, often insignificant word, that when it finally clicks, you are two sentences behind.

Then panic sets in. And the more you panic, the more you strain to listen for a word (any word) that you recognise and before you know it, your broken body is banging its way down Mount Everest.

I often wonder if my friends actually see my eyes glaze over.  Is there a point where they think “Ah, yep. She’s a goner”?

Because for me, I can’t imagine how they would fail to notice. They must see the lolling head; the fixed, pupil-dilated stare.

The most excrutiating thing for me is that I begin to pretend. Pretend that I understand. I listen to the cues of the other people around me and nod my head in agreement when there is a break in the conversation, or a slightly different intonation of the voice. My biggest fear is that my body language is not mirroring their conversation. That I might be raising my eye-brows in exaggerated disbelief when they are talking about some great achievement they have made. Or that I might be nodding and smiling while they are talking about the death of a beloved animal.

That absolutely mortifies me.

But you know what, I am sat here laughing at myself. Because, in reality, it is hilarious.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

And as the rock-climber fell to what should have been his undoubted death, his fall was saved by the cushioning canopy of a tree. And so he lived to climb another day.

Blonds Have More Fun

My 8 year old is a stunner. Even if I do say so myself.

Actually, it isn’t just me who thinks it – everyone comments on what a lovely face he has.

He looks Scandinavian: blue eyes, chiselled jaw and white-blond hair.

He has always hated his hair. He once told me he wished he could paint it. When I asked him why he said because he wanted to be like everybody else.

I, on the other hand, have always loved it. I would repeatedly tell him how lovely it was and how handsome he was, but it fell on deaf ears.

That was until we moved back to Sweden. Now, he is just like everyone else. They all have white-blond hair (well, not all, but near enough) and he now fits in just perfectly.

I commented on this to him the other day. He smiled. A smile that said, yes you are right mum. A smile tinged with relief. He fitted in.

I always knew that he was more Swedish than he was English. I can’t really put into words why but it wasn’t just his physical appearance. He just seemed out of place in the UK, like he wasn’t quite a match. Always on the periphery, but never totally included.

He is a wary little thing (not shy, no, just wary) and not very open. But in the two weeks since he has been at school, I have seen a shift. Almost unnoticeable and not quite tangible, but a shift none-the-less. Maybe a shift that only a mum could see?

He goes to school with a smile on his face and he comes home with one, too.

And tomorrow, he is having a friend over for tea. That’s a big deal in our house. He has only ever had one other child come for tea and she was his best friend for years. In fact, he only ever had two real friends in the whole time he was at school in the UK. He doesn’t seem to make friends very easily but when he does, it is with every fibre of his being, so much so that he doesn’t feel the need to have other friends.

He told me that the teachers here help him and that he likes it. He gets special help with his Swedish and his level of English is obviously way above his peers, so has separate lessons for that. He usually hates having attention drawn to him, doesn’t like being the odd one out, but here, it seems almost like a badge of honour for him.  He actually seems to be relishing the attention, for the first time in his life.

I guess he feels worthy and valued. Things he never felt in the UK due to over-subscribed classes and an under-staffed school. He was neglected and over-looked repeatedly. The middle-of-the-road achiever who never stepped out of line. Totally and utterly let down by the people that should have been nurturing him, lifting him to reach his full potential, recognising his individuality.

In less than two weeks, the school here has managed to do all of the things that they couldn’t in the UK.

And this is why we came back.

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.