Thursday, October 22, 2009

Five Things I’ve Learned Since Moving to Sweden

The move to Sweden was a big deal for me. I had lived away from home all through college, but it’s just college. And it was just Oregon. Moving to Sweden was different. Sweden was a ways away. I was going without a job. Without knowing many people. Without any set plan.

I jokingly tell people this has been my existential quarter-life crisis. Which I suppose is quite true. The beauty is I’ve managed to learn a few things along the way. Which is much better than my upcoming midlife crisis where I intend to make poor choices with women half my age and possibly buy a boat. Or I’ll just go skiing in New Zealand.

Until then though, I’ve got to live with lessons thus far learned.

I can’t make Swedish pancakes to save my life. Seriously. Early on in the move, I bought the proper fixins for Swedish pancakes; I even have a Swedish cook book so I don’t make any conversion mistakes. Swedish pancakes are supposed to be thin, kind of mottled, and delicious. Mine end up thick, kind of burned, and tasting like cement. Needless to say, I still have most of the fixins for Swedish pancakes.

Allemansrätten is probably the coolest right ever. Much better than that whole free speech thing in the US. That I can go essentially anywhere I want and camp as long as I don’t destroy anything, show respect to nature and whatever lucky landowner gets to have me on their property is something that still boggles my mind. And something that more people need to understand.

Swedish girls just aren’t as good looking as the stereotype will have you believe. Blonde big breasted Swedish women are not running up to me on the street. That being said, and this is a discussion I have had with plenty of friends, most productively with my little brother when he was studying here, the average Swedish woman is better looking than the average American woman. Probably because the average American woman is five feet three inches and 163 pounds. That is squat. And no one likes squat. The average Swedish woman? Five feet five inches and 142 pounds. That is less squat. It might also be demeaning and sexist, but I’m just not that into squat girls.

Never, ever, ever, leave spaghetti boiling, run to take a shower, then run out naked as you hear the spaghetti boiling everywhere. It’s just a bad idea. At least that’s what I’ve heard.

Sometimes you need to leave to find out where you belong. In the US, I have always been the Swedish guy. In Sweden, I have always been the American guy. This is confusing on a base level. Especially considering that I spent the majority of my life in the US. It is also, I’m convinced, the reason I am so intrigued by Swedishness. So in leaving the US, I was hoping to figure out where I belonged. After two and a half years in Sweden, I realize very clearly that I am an American. And I am quite pleased with that.

Welcome to Sweden. And my life lessons.

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  1. In my experience, Swedish pancakes are horrible. We're going to have a pancake contest in my corridor, American pancakes vs. Swedish! American will so win ;).

  2. Once an American, always an American. Having lived in and traveled to France, Spain, Korea, England, Canada, etc., etc., I have always concluded that I am American, no matter what my ancestry. [My parents weren't born in USA].

    And there ain't nothing wrong with that, as awesome as being Swedish (or anything else) is. God bless America, baby (whether He exists or not)!! Where we spell yogurt without the 'h.'

  3. You can be an Americanized Swede. It's okay.

    Two reasons I'll stay in the US:

    1) I'm publicly emotive.

    2) I need people who are publicly emotive. Like oxygen.

  4. @Isle Dance: Amen, sister. Sweden is awesome, and Swedes are fantastic too, but I agree: I need to emote publicly and want men to hold the door for me and occasionally make idle chit-chat in the elevator and smile and make eye contact.

    Sweden rocks, but so does the good ole US of A, baby!!!!!

  5. I thought the average was, in fact, 5'5" for American women. But, I sorta get you because I'm just a touch over 5'7" and I've noticed that I'm almost always the tallest woman in any given social setting. Not very scientific, but most other women seem kind of short to feels like more than a couple of inches.

    I always feel more American when I'm not in America.

  6. To me, it doesn't matter where were you or your parents born: the place where you spend your first years (childhood and teenage) are the ones that will have a strongest effect on you and your personality. So it's not surprising you consider yourself american, regardless of the fact you were born in Sweden. Still, I'm sure you are distinct than the average American though:)

  7. As a Sweden in USA, I have to say I'm more Swedish in USA than in Sweden. Some things around here I cannot eat or wrap my head around.
    I was so used to allemansratten in Sweden that I barely dare to even look at someone else's property over here without running the fear of getting shot.
    Trying to raise my son in the USA while at the same time teach him some of my values that are very swedish. Hmm
    For the record, I'm from north of sweden, I am 5'4, and before I had my kid I used to weight around 140'ish.
    I'd say both countries have both the good and the bad. Some things about USA that I absolutely love (customer service most of the time, availability of things) and some things I absolutely hate (you can't walk freely around on any land, people seem to have target practice with their cars and animals on the high ways, whether they are wild or pets.) Likewise with Sweden, things I love (allemansratten, the nature of the north, the local traffic system), things I hate (our politics, the embarrassing goverment and partially our "jantelag").

  8. Hairy, don't worry about it. You don't have to choose eventually. Don't have to make up your mind, not yet at least. Just be what you are, that's good enough!

  9. Did you really have to move to Sweden to figure out the downsides of the whole "boiling pasta naked" thing? I'm not quite sure what to make of that...

  10. I'm with you...I was the Swede in DC, but an American in Stockholm.

    But really, Swedish pancakes are not *that* hard. You are welcome to come over and have a lesson one day. I have a good recipe in English (and I have American measuring cups.)

  11. @Jessy – then you must have been stuck with the same kind of pancakes Ive been making. Because they are delicious.

    @anonymous - well said.

    @Isle Dance – Thanks... and those are good reasons to stay in the US.

    @anonymous – its a love fest for both countries.

    @E – hmmm... possibly. But I got that from the CDC. Although they were a little old, but either way it’s not tall.

    @TNT – Its true, those first six years in Sweden probably had some sort of impact on me. But I’m with you, its where you grew up that really matters.

    @Mamaya – It does seem that when you go abroad you become a little more nationalistic. I suppose the hard part then is trying to figure out how to balance that when you actually move somewhere instead of just visiting.

    @Smek – you know... you are absolutely right. Thats why we keep you around Smek.

    @terander – well... no. But I was smart enough while living in the US to not end up in that situation.

    @Anne – its tricky isn’t it?

    Watch out. You guys might end up with me at your doorstep waiting for pancakes.

  12. Hairy, I have been enjoying your blog for a while now and have read most of the entries. I can relate with a lot of your observations.
    I am very old, older than your mom, but have kids your age, I was born in Stockholm but left at 12 for Montreal, I live out west now. Even though I have never been Swedish(English dad, Swedish mom) I felt very Swedish for decades, I have a Swedish accent. Now I think Sweden is beautiful place to visit but Canada is home for me.
    I get much better service in Stockholm if I speak English, plus even though I speak Swedish with a Stockholm accent, I sometimes have trouble putting the words for what I want, together correctly or finding the right word. Then I just get stared at weirdly, I was even called an idiot when I wanted to by a pendeltag ticket a few years ago. I can still write the language.
    Pannkakor are very easy to make, you need lots of milk to make a very runny liquid instead of the very thick North Am. batter.

    Even though I am only half Swedish, I look like the Swedish half from Smaland, I was red haired with faint freckles, and called prickig korv by school mates, now very dark haired with grey which was my mormor's and mother's colouring. I am 5'10 and now a fat 145 lbs, used to be 130-135. My mormor was just a few inches shorter and my mom 1" shorter. My morfar was a close replica of Max von Sydow.
    Keep on blogging your observations.

  13. You were right. Wikipedia, which is never wrong, has the average American woman at 5'3.8". Now that's just pathetic. I really thought it was 5'5". This is why I feel like a giant at the towering height of 5'7". ;) Incidentally, it only has Swedish women coming in an inch or so taller (depending on the source). Does an inch really make that much of a difference?

  14. @Jessy - Take that back!

    Seriously, though, you've must have had bad luck with your experiences of Swedish pancakes if you think they're horrible.

  15. Do guys really care that much about height? Unlike weight, which can be usually changed with exercise and diet, we cannot really change how tall we are.

    /a 5'3 23 year old...that is under 115 lbs.

  16. I am glad you are learning a lot during your return to Sweden. You will look back on this time with fondness for the rest of your life.

    As for the spaghetti thing, my cousin set his kitchen on fire doing almost exactly that same thing one day last week (he left a pan on the stove and went to change clothes). Seriously - the fire department came and everything, and now he is living in a hotel while the insurance company builds him a new kitchen. Be careful with that.

    I think Swedish pancakes are delicious, and I can make them quite successfully even though my only connection to Sweden is numerous trips to Ikea and a Swedish boyfriend. The born and raised in Sweden kind, not the kind whose family came to the US 5 generations ago. Anyway, like someone else said, I think the key to making the batter thin enough.

    Darnit, now I want Swedish pancakes. Maybe that will be dinner tonight. Breakfast tomorrow at the very least.

  17. 'Sometimes you need to leave to find out where you belong.'

    Truer words were never spoken. I'm still figuring this one out.

  18. 5'4'' US woman.
    5'5'' Swedish woman.

    Don't be an ass.

  19. Loved your life lessons... I have had two similar ones. The first involved putting cabbage on to boil and showering without actually realizing that you needed to add water!

    The second is: pancakes are supposed to be like cement... The more you practise, the more edible they will become! I promise...

  20. I am 5'9"! Ha! Always knew I was "above average"!
    And..really, spaghetti naked? You couldn't learn that here?
    Love your life lessons, especially bout leaving to find out where you belong. So true, when you move back to US u will find many things u miss about sweden and you will always feel swedish and proud of it.

  21. Floridian in FinlandOctober 25, 2009 at 12:58 AM

    It is possible to be both. There are many people with dual cultural identities. And you grew up in the US so of course you're American.

    Aren't you're the one always labeling yourself? You said before that you were always really proud of your Swedish background while in the US. And now you are constantly proclaiming your Americaness in Sweden. Besides, it seems like the major inhibition between labeling yourself as a Swedish guy is the way they dress.

  22. No matter your real name Hairy Swede, I'd say that it's pretty impressive having realized/concluded where your heart is. After having spent one year in the U.S. as an exchange student, I'm still Swedish in a bunch of ways, but there's still that feeling of "what if I'd be happier in the U.S....". I'd assume that's mostly due to my year being a total blast and I can't tell how much I'd return to that year right away. But still, what if the U.S. just is better?

    So I'm impressed that you at least concluded where you belong, it's not easy and it takes time. That no matter if Swedish girls in average are prettier, most of the time they're harder to strike a good conversation with when not having any former contact or knowledge of each other.

  23. Hey Hairy, I was thinking...I think it would be fun, and a maybe even interesting, to read a post from you titled something like "American small talk - for Swedes" or something. A guide on how to to make that famous American small talk.

    Just an idea. :-)

  24. @Andreas (I wrote the first 2 Anonymous comments at the top), the American small talk is nothing more than just being cordial:

    (1) Hi, how are you? (Wait for answer).

    (2) My name is____. What's your name? (Wait for answer).

    (3) Nice/terrible weather today, no? (Wait for answer).

    (4) Follow up.

    It's merely about asking questions about the other person and then following up, IMO. Not exactly rocket science :)

  25. Don't forget...

    (5) What do you do?

    Meaning: What's your job?

    Small talk usually hits on superficial personal information & inane general topics. Sometimes the reciprocal Q & A will evolve into a real conversation.

  26. Hairy,
    Is that really your name? While surfing the web for my first Scandinavian trip I stumbled across your blog simply because the name Hairy Swede jumped out at me. My Swedish grandfather's name was, appropriately, Harry. I was born in the only other Gothenburg in the world, the Nebraska one, but I have lived almost as many years as your age in Spain. Had a wonderful trip through Denmark as I am 1/4 Danish, then on to Sweden as I am 1/2 that.
    You weren't kidding about the tight Swedish clothing.

    I now feel very much more Danish and Swedish and proudly claim both. I sometimes tell people I feel more European than American but some Europeans don't like that, they want me to say I'm American. But hey, I'm as European blooded as any of them!

    You are a great blogger so keep it up! You make me laugh.

  27. That's a great lesson... that while you are fascinated by Swedishness and so interested in your heritage, you've come to the realization that you are American at the core... Probably feels great to finally know that about yourself.

  28. another lesson on american small talk, just ask them about themselves, how many kids you have, where did you grow up, where did you go to school, doesn't take much cuz most americans love to talk about themselves!

  29. At our doorstep "waiting for pancakes"?? Ha! I believe I said *lesson*'d be making me pancakes. Nice try, though.

  30. Hairy, on behalf of the Americans who were born in American, we are heartily glad to claim you as one of our own!

  31. Well I was born and raised in America and its been a good 6 generations since someone in my family came from anywhere else but I find people with parents from other countries really interesting. I think its great you have such an awesome story to tell about discovering your Swedish heritage...and bonus that you speak both languages. That makes you cool in my book. :)

    I always stalked my friends parents that were from other countries and asked them all kinds of questions about where they were from. Even though I've been to a couple of other countries (Italy, Switzerland, and Belize) I really really want to see the entire world and probably won't be able I just badger the people that live in those places so I can feel as though I've been there...albeit vicariously. So thanks for making me feel as though I've taken a trip to Sweden. Although your blog has prompted me to do research on a Scandinavian trip which might become a reality in a few more years. :)

  32. I've had the Swedish pancakes but not American ones and they were delicious. and can assure you don't mind tasting American ones.

  33. @anonymous – it is amazing what an impact those few years abroad can have. It really is nice to hear that other people have the same experiences in similar situations.

    And thanks for the pancake tip!

    @E – I trust wikipedia over everything. Even yogurt.

    And no, but the extra 20 pounds coupled with the one inch shorter definitely does. Maybe that makes me an asshole.

    @Robban – agreed.

    @noir – some guys do. But youre right, theres not much that can be done about it. Like me and my receding hairline. Its just the way it is.

    @An American Girl – so then maybe running out naked to douse the spaghetti was in fact a good idea!

    @ Xoán-Wahn – it takes a while.

    @anonymous –
    5’3” 163 lbs US woman.
    5’5” 142 lbs. Swedish woman.

    Don’t be a jerk.

    @LadyFi – oooh... water is key to boiling.

    I think Im going to give the pancakes another shot. Maybe this weekend.

    @mamma – and you can run marathons. This is why you could beat people up that write mean comments on here.

    @Floridian – its true... thats the tricky part about all this, but the labeling has kind of been pushed on me. I think I embrace whatever I get labeled with.

    @Magnus – the grass is always greener. I often times feel the same way. Theres always that what if. Its frustrating.

    @Andreas – oooh... I like it. I’ll see what I can do.

    @Anonymous – well done

    @E – a good addition

    @Swedish Sue – it’s not. I just happen to be very hairy.

    I had no idea there was a Gothenburg, Nebraska. Clearly I need to visit this place at some point in my life!

    @*corinne – it has made moving here more than worth it.

    @anonymous – very true. I think most people regardless of nationality like to talk about themselves. Even Swedes once you get them going.

    @Anne – I learn by watching. And tasting. Obviously.

    @Laura – YES!

    @ Mama – well you should definitely make a trip to Scandinavia. Its quite the place!

    @Tod – I have a hard time believing that any pancakes could ever be bad. Except for the ones I make. Unfortunately.

  34. Or, you could write a post called something like "Swedes guide to English", correcting our most annoying mistakes. :-)

  35. But Sweden have the whole free speech and press thing too though, right?

  36. Since Andreas threw in a request I'll might as well: I'm really curious as to your plans. A post about that would be nice. I've been following your blog off and on for some time now and haven't really figured out for how long you initially planned to stay here. This post left the impression you're soon to depart..? I'm not following up on your activity in the comments section so I probably missed out on a lot. You've got your privacy and all that - and I really respect how you keep some details out.

    When it comes to your life lessons I'm glad you've found out where you belong. You've spent an important period of your life living in the States. Can't compose a good sentence in English for what I'm trying to say, so let me put it in Swedish: Du har givetvis präglats av både din amerikanska och din svenska bakgrund, men jag tror att betydande skillnader alltid kommer att göra att man väger åt ena eller andra hållet när man växt upp i den ena eller andra miljön. It has always saddened me when you wright about how you're being treated as an American over here. I hope you're feeling some kind of belonging here too.

    Oh, I just got another request: How's your take on BNPs and Sverigedemokraternas recent exposure?

    Your perspective on things is always refreshing! Thanks. (If I know myself well enough I probably won't find my way back to this thread. If you feel the need to adress anything I've written you should write a new post.) :)
    /J (jämnårig svensk)

  37. I know I am American because I still cant stop smiling at people. Somebody's got to, damnit. Oh and I prefer real pancakes to Swedish ones. Plus I am 5'3" and I don't give a damn. Take your height and eat it too if you want. Wanna talk about how much more comfortable those long flights are when you can curl up in a little ball in your seat are?

  38. @Andreas – Swedes are so damn good at English I might not even be able to put a very long post together. But I like the idea!

    @anonymous – well they’ve got it, but that whole first amendment thing is kind of unique to the US. What with it being written in the constitution and all.

    @Jon – also a good idea. As of right now, I’m still here. I’m definitely leaving Sweden at some point, but when is still undecided.

    I really do think you’re right, where you grow up I think does play enough of a role that at some point, you lean one way or the other. Swedish or American in my case.

    In terms of Sverigedemokraterna... I’m just not impressed. It’s kind of frightening but speaks to an underlying issue that I believe really tends to be waxed over here in Sweden and that is the immigration disussion.

    @m8surf – damn you and your ability to curl up on airplanes!

  39. Thanks for this post. I love it. Living here on my second college experience, sometimes as the only Chinese/Asian guy, I find it good to know that someone is going through a similar dual-culture experience. I'm assuming you speak Swedish to some extent. I love the tonal quality of the Swedish language.

  40. I think there should be a club. My first thought was "The Bi's" but that might lead to some sort of sexual confusion, plus the fact that when said outloud it kind of sounds like bajs. Which is unfortunate. I'll keep thinking.

    On a serious note, I know exactly what you mean. It is a strange experience so knowing that others are attempting something similar makes a huge difference.