Saturday, March 06, 2010

A Swedish Mea Culpa

I’ve been writing here for about two and a half years now. It started as a way to vent about Sweden. The good and the bad. At times, my writing has been dominated by critique of the Swedish system and what bothers me. Seldom will you hear me raving about the political system here for example. Not because it doesn’t work (it does), but because something inside of me lashes back at certain Swedish ideals. Just like Swedes lash back at certain American ideals.

Despite my critique, I have chosen to be here. I chose to go on this adventure. I chose Sweden. I know that at the drop of a hat, I can leave, but I haven’t. I’ve been close. Once, just days away actually. In fact, I had already told my brothers that I needed them to fly out with empty suitcases and help me move. But my stubbornness (and a deal I made with myself) said otherwise.

At the time, I felt like Sweden had beaten me. Which seems silly. Countries can’t beat people. But Sweden had beaten me. From a completely selfish standpoint, it had taken too much from me and given me so little. I was ready to head home to Colorado, tail between my legs, and be done with this country. I didn’t. I’m glad I didn’t.

Sweden and I get along now. We have an uneasy relationship at times, but deep down we love each other despite our differences. And they are myriad. But that is the point.

Moving to Sweden, no matter how seemingly familiar it may be, entails a ridiculous amount of culture shock. Coming to visit for a few weeks in the summer is not the same as living through every up and down that is the Swedish calendar year. It is not understanding the loneliness that comes with not knowing anyone. It is not understanding the feeling in your gut when you miss another birthday. Another Thanksgiving. Another graduation. It is not understanding the ever widening gap between you and the friends you left behind. It is not understanding the everyday details that make up what becomes a life.

The longer I stay here, the more I realize that. The more I realize that to complain, to bitch and moan, to criticize the very country that I made a choice to move to is a form of therapy. It allows me to work through the differences. The stark differences that dominate my life.

I will eventually move back to the US. Not because I am tired of Sweden. But because the US is home. I know this, in and of itself, will entail a ridiculous amount of culture shock. This time reverse culture shock. I haven’t gone grocery shopping in the US for nearly three years. This thought struck me the other day when I waltzed into the store and didn’t have to think. I knew what I wanted. I knew the brand. The cost. The location. It is three years of practice that has made my life in Sweden a life. Not a trip.

Some of the most commented posts here are about those entrenched differences that foreigners face in Sweden. Some are heated. Many times, the classic jingoistic comment has arisen. If you don’t like it, leave. It’s a comment that I was familiar with in the US. It is a comment I have become familiar with here. It is a comment that I fail to understand with every passing day.

I will leave when I am ready. My not agreeing with every aspect of the Swedish system does not warrant me leaving. In fact, those criticisms are what make me want to stay. To understand. The criticism of the school system is not meant to be a personal attack. The disgust with the high taxes is not meant to be a personal attack. The shock at the short prison sentences is not meant to be a personal attack. It is simply a difference so jarring that as a foreigner with a hint of insider in me can’t help but comment.

The complaints I throw around are done with reason. They are expressed because the complaints, the differences, they are what make this an adventure. They are what make me laugh. They are what I need to get off my (hairy) chest.

I have spoken with so many ex-pats. So often our conversations devolve into what we dislike about Sweden. Not so much because we dislike the country, but we miss home and the familiarity that comes with it. We leave a part of ourselves behind. The language for example. I am much more myself than I will ever be in Swedish.

Recently, I was out with an American friend and a Swedish friend who has traveled extensively. The conversation devolved and I saw the same look on my Swedish friends’ face that I often make when the conversation devolves to America bashing. Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I am a hypocrite. But in the end, despite the criticism, we all stay. We are all still here. I am still here. For better or worse.

Welcome to Sweden. And my mea culpa.

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  1. Well you have stuck to your ideals. I have been here about a year and have been turned over to more and more Swedishness. Now, there is plenty that I don't agree with yet, but Christ how I have amended my opinions so quickly. Which I suppose is good since I can't leave anytime soon (my sambo has kids that he wont leave until they finish hs). But the things that I don't like are no longer something I want to change. Bc if everywhere becomes America, then she wouldn't be so special anymore.

  2. Yes, despite the incommensurability we all keep on trying to understand and compare our different cultures. A very important, but maybe futile? human endeavour. Mr Hairy, very well written! /Bengt

  3. I have traveled a little and lived in several countries. One of the things I always do is try to get 1--2 (good) friends from my own country. There are always some frustrations, some culture shock, and it is important to be able to talk about these things with other people who really understand where you are coming from.

    Sometimes these discussions are framed in "this is soooo stupid" but I find that is just an reflection of one's own frustration at the moment. But when you hear an affirmation from an expat, you know that you are not going crazy but the world is just different.

    After these discussions, I could always immerse myself in the cutlure again, much happier with having discussed things I did not like / understood / frustrated me. And these discussion never meant I disliked the country as a whole, or maybe not even the things I found frustrating. It was just a way to mentally adapt and get a grip on the differences.

    But the thing is -- which is pretty interesting -- is that even though "immigrants" need to sometimes bash and complain, it is very difficult for a native to hear these discussions and take them for the expression of frustration they really are. This is also true for me -- I know that people coming to Sweden need to complain sometimes. It is just a natural process of living in a new culture and it does not reflect on their overall feeling of the country. Still, sometimes it can be very difficult to hear the critique and not try to defend or explain, which is the opposite of what the "immigrant" needs to hear because they just want an affirmative -- yeah, you are right.

    So, even though I do not explicitly seek out people from my country when I travel, I try to have a few that I can have coffee / dinner with now and then, and with these people have "open up my heart and talk about the frustrating differences" sessions. No natives can be invited because they take it the wrong way. And, after an hour of discussing, I feel refreshed and ready to embrace the difference again.

    So, my advice to anyone living a longer time in a country is to find at least 1--2 expats. You may meet really good and understanding native people, and you may even have a partner from the country -- regardless, to ease your own culture shock you need someone with whom you can just freely express frustration and be understood.

  4. Thanks for the thoughtful, honest and insightful notes. I hope this isn't a response to any commenters who might tell you to leave Sweden simply b/c you have a complaint you want to air.

    They don't realize that you are writing to an largely NON-native Swedish audience that appreciates your perspective as an American of Swedish descent living in Sweden.

    To complain about Sweden does not mean you don't love Sweden, any more than my complaining about NYC or the USA means I hate those places. To the contrary, I f--cken LOVE New York City and f--cken love the USA.

    But I will complain about them whenever, wherever and however I please. And no one will dare say to me: 'Why don't you leave?' Because they know why: I complain b/c I love it here and wish things could be different, better.

    Sometimes not complaining about something/someone shows you don't care, that you gave up on it. I find your so-called complaining about the absurdities of Sweden and Swedes amusing, insightful, educational and just plain fun. In fact, it makes me like Sweden (a place I never had any real interest in before).

    So rock on. I'll keep reading :) And if some readers don't like your comments, why don't they just leave?

    -S :)

  5. Well I have to admit that it hurts a little in my yellow and blue heart when I hear people bash at Sweden. But for some reason I have no problem reading your critizism about our country. You do it with so much heart and humor and there's always a twinkle in your eye (I imagine) when you describe your problems and frustration with Svea Rike.

    Just keep doing what you're doing. Hate or love, it doesn't matter, reading your blog is always a blast.

  6. Although i don't have a feeling of belonging(according to people whom know me)yet reading this post rekindled a few thoughts! which i always manage to dodge.
    No thanks hairy :P

  7. I have so much to say about this post but all of it involves me nodding and smiling. But the most important thing I want to say is: "Thank you". Thank you for a post of honesty and integrity and Thank You so very much from the bottom of my Canadian/expat heart for your blog Hairy. Really and truly.

  8. Bravo!! Well said (liten fniss) ;). - a danish/german American surrounded by swedes

  9. Your blog is grand. Your head must be huge after reading the comments to this last post of yours, but I just love it! Very well written - I can agree and see my own experiences in every line you wrote.
    Nick's comments on here were also just grand. So true, so true.
    I can't wait till the day Hairy moves back to the US and lets us in on what makes [him feel] the cultural shock coming this way!

    Maybe you'll roll your eyes at people declaring you stupid for putting ketchup on spaghetti? Maybe snort at the people asking you "how are you" at the store (as if they know me??)? It'll be interesting, to say the least. Every time I go back to Sweden I get surprised at myself when I realize what I find shocking. I thought I knew everything about life there!!

    Then I say "excuse me" at the store and quickly realize when I see their reaction that that was not the thing to say just because you passed within three feet of someone...

  10. @mamman: Seriously? No SERIOUSLY? Am I not supposed to say "Ushekta mig" (yes, I sooo spelled that wrong) when I pass within 3 feet of someone at the supermarket? I always do! Shit! Is that wrong? See? This is why I love this blog. I am constantly getting "learned". Seriously. Help.

  11. Oh and Hairy, That's just it. This move was not supposed to be a culture shock. It was not. I mean Swedes are modern folk...more modern in many ways than us North Americans. I think the fact that I didn't expect one makes it that much more unbearable to deal with.

  12. Loved this post. Wow! You sound like such a grown up and I am so proud! We can't wait to have you home but you come home when you are ready and don't let Sweden "beat" you! You are amazing!

  13. Please dont leave yet! I will miss this blog if you decide to move back to America :(

  14. Hey,
    I still read your blog from time to time and it´s still great.

    Just thought I´d tell you congrats to the Broncos for getting Bannan from the Ravens :)
    I would say now it´s your turn to hand over B. Marshall, but since we aquired Boldin from the cardinals I don´t think that will be necissary.

    Up for a beer sometime?


  15. If this is a form of therapy for you, in my opinion it is working. Whilst I have read your blog and have read your critiques, you have never come off as being truly bitter about living in Sweden.

    There are other places, filled with ex-pats who make their lives in Sweden sound as if they are physically tortured each day, where they truly do sound as if it would be better for them if they left. However, I get no sense of the seething dislike from you that I read elsewhere.

    Your therapy must be working.

    Keep it up, I enjoy reading it even if I don't respond. :)

  16. Thank you for staying Hairy! I dread the day when you actually leave :(

    Don't let our (yes, it's yours too) country "beat" you - it ain't worth it ;)

  17. Hello Hairy.

    I am a first time reader and first time responder. I am an American ex-pat living in Sweden. As you have stated so intensely in your posts, encounters between ex pats in this context are almost unavoidable and practically inevitable. Thus, I will concede to harboring many of the thoughts about Sweden that you have detailed in your discussions. In addition, I have heard them all before.

    I must also point out that reading your blog was thrust upon me and that I don’t make a habit of seeking out ex pats to share in their opinions and experiences about life in Sweden. But as you were thrust upon me, it is my obligation to respond.

    To be frank, I disagree with your perceptions and especially the reasoning that brought you to your conclusions. Most notably, that Sweden has taken so much from you and given you so little. This makes me wonder what kind of life you had before moving to Sweden. What generous corner of America did you call home that led to this sense of entitlement? I also wonder how much you know about social, governmental, and economic systems that you can so casually criticize the Swedish institutions.

    Your criticisms are not illogical, however, without offering and alternative or insights to further the development of the lacking institutions, an endeavor that the ancients dubbed wisdom, they are utterly unfair.

    Travel and exposure to different cultures and customs presents us with the opportunity to learn, measure, and value life and all it entails. Admittedly, achieving that level of enlightenment demands an open mind.

    You mentioned that you are using your experience in Sweden as a form of therapy and that you wish to understand the causation of Swedish customs. But are you really being true to yourself when you say these things? What I mean is, is this really your purpose here? If it is then I must say that you are going about it in a rather strange way. This blog, this vent, undermines your progression towards accepting Sweden for what it is or rejecting it as something that does not suit you, primarily because you constantly hold Sweden against an inveterate social construct, subjectively weighing it in accordance to your own ideologies. Am I remiss to wonder if you have examined your own ideologies? After all, therapy requires self examination.

    In my own experience the path to understanding things different to what I am accustomed to starts with objectivity. That said, I can say objectively that in the 2 years I have lived in Sweden I know that I can never reach my potential here and that my future lays elsewhere. I understand that there is no compromise between what I want and what Sweden has to offer. But while Sweden may not meet my professional needs, I have nothing but praise for the overall standard of living here.

    The glaring differences of the education, justice, and economic systems in Sweden to those of America that shocked you so thoroughly were similarly staggering to me. But it is important to take stock of the ‘big picture’ when drawing such comparisons.

    Airing your grievances with the school system is all well and good; but is deterioration in education a problem unique to Sweden? I believe you will find that it is a systematic problem throughout modernized and developed countries, none more so than the U.S. Furthermore, there is research to support the Swedish school system over American institutions because Swedish students are statistically better adjusted and more educated than their American counterparts. And speaking from experience as both a student and an educator in NYC public schools, Swedish schools are far safer and more conducive to learning.

  18. con't

    Contrasting the justice system of Sweden and America is too big an undertaking to debate here. However, I will ask you to look at the crime rate between the two countries. Do longer prison sentences really avert violent crimes or does it simply further the development of hardened criminals? A comparably staggering statistic to the short prison sentences doled out by the Swedish justice system is the extraordinary number of long prison sentences doled out by the American justice system. If the level of punishment cured or averted criminal activity then certainly America would be a safer country.
    In regards to the economy and taxation, well… nobody enjoys paying taxes, regardless of the amount. Yet again, you must observe that Sweden is a socialist country and that entails free social services for all Swedes irrespective of their station in life. People take taxation very personally, and it is a personal matter, I feel it is one of those social responsibilities that measure our humanity, truly. If I got to chose how I wanted my tax dollars spent I would snatch at the offer of using it for social, economic, and educational stimulation. Unfortunately, we don’t get to choose, and every government everywhere is guilty of disregarding the needs of the people to advance some geopolitical agenda. Coincidentally, I have watched my American tax dollars used to fund a war that I am completely against, bail out irresponsible banks, and rescue failing companies (that are completely out of touch with the consumer) from bankruptcy. At the very least Sweden maintains a socialist identity and that justifies the high taxes. Like most Americans I often wonder why I pay taxes because I rarely see the benefits. I still have to pay for health insurance (otherwise poor health is a huge liability to self preservation) and I have to pay for education (higher education to), in addition to everything else that I have to pay for. There is no perfect economic model and probably no level of taxes that will please everyone. But when you need tangible evidence of what your tax dollars are being used for, if only to assuage the anger of paying taxes in the first place, then Europe has America well and truly beaten.
    I offer you these words that they may help further your understanding of Sweden from an American perspective. I was told that your blog was humorous and thoughtful. Unfortunately, and as you have opened yourself to receive criticism, I found it cynical and naïve. Indeed, it goes a long way to scratch the itch of frustration that ex-pats feel about life in Sweden but even that loses substance over time. I too miss the comfort of ‘home’ that is America, and more specifically NY, I miss the comfort of knowing my place in society and how to develop and maneuver interpersonal relationships for my personal and professional benefit. But I am not so in love with my own comfort to put down the customs and practices that comprise the home comforts of others. I am not so Americanized that I cannot wrap my head around the significance lagom and respect it whether or not I accept it. Ultimately, you must observe that things are different and there is nothing you can do to change it. Most importantly, differences are essentially the most valued features of our national, social, and personal identities.
    I wish you the best of luck in your adventures and discoveries.

  19. Wow! Who are you Anon 1.27 & 1.28, and where can I find your blog? Please write more.

  20. Hey NY,

    I see that you've drunk the Kool-Aid and you've got a little too much time on your hands.

    Personally, I effing love this blog.

  21. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and i think what hairy was saying is that when living in another culture there will always be things that are different and that you find difficult to accept but that doesn't mean they are wrong. Just different, and it is ok to discuss that and sometimes helps to "vent" that with other expats.I don't believe as anonymous above stated, that hairy said he was using his "experience" here in Sweden as therapy but he said he used the "venting" with expat friends more as therapy. It is hard to beleive that anyone comes to Sweden (or any country that is not their own) and find everything perfect and never complains or compares! That is just human nature. To be able to "air" those findings, those differences you see, is a way of helping you understand them and sharing those with others can bring on better understanding with discussion. To live in another country is always a challenge and sometimes not easy but the "adventure" of it is worth it. Admitting that you miss home and that you realize where you really "belong" is something some people never find.
    I love this blog and can relate to so much of it! Thanks hairy.

  22. Our Anonymous friend above writes in the long, cold, boring, humourless style typical of many hyper-educated ESL students.

    There are so many "tells" in his diatribe that it's rather pathetic, actually.

    NY native spending some time in Sverige? Nah, how 'bout the other way around...

  23. Not the thoughtful Anonymous directly above, obviously...

  24. Yikes!

    I don't really see what all the fuss is about. Truth be told it seems to me that the Anon poster above wasn't really trying to counter Hairy's arguments but rather test it with real comparisons.

    IMO, both of em seem to feel the same way about living in Sweden.

    Yea, he/she didn't have to be so blunt and could come closer down to earth when interacting with people. But there are many truths in what he/she said.

    Its good for Hairy that his friends rush to his defence, but maybe you guys should reread what the poster wrote, there is nothing there to defend against.

    Seems like a bit of herd mentality to me. But good fun to read anyway.

  25. I love the long and thoughtful posts by Anonymous (NY) above. If you have a blog I'd love to read it!

  26. Uh,

    Calling this blog "naïve and cynical" while representing oneself as an "enlightened" USA ex-pat (!) is just too much to take.

    Sorry, Mr Anonymous comes across as a preachy, boring and thoroughly dour pedagogue.

    What an

  27. * HUGS*

    I completely understand how you once felt and continue to feel, every once in a while.

    I have the same feels of homesickness as you do, and the option of packing and leaving looks SO GOOD at one point, that you seriously start to consider it. But, running away will not solve the problem, so we stay.

    Thanks for such a kind , honest post Hairy. It made me feel all happy and warm. :)


  28. Some criticism for the critic, touche!

    Well done Anon (NY) would love to read more.

  29. @m8 – that’s the thing though, while I have stuck to quite a few of my ideals, there are still many that I have compromised, changed, and made much more Swedish.

    @anonymous – most likely futile, but as you say, very important.

    @Nick – agreed, no matter how much you want to immerse yourself in the culture, it is good to have someone that reminds you of home. Wherever that may be.

    @anonymous – not at all, just thought I should explain why sometimes the blog turns a bit critical of Sweden.

    @simon – glad tohear it, both that it hurts a bit when people are critical, but also that I don’t come across as an asshole when I do it

    @Tod – glad to hear it!

    @SwedishJenn – thanks.

    @Debbie – thanks.

    @mamman – I have no doubt that all those idiosyncrasies I have picked up while here will really shine through while back in the US.

    @SwedishJenn – I say it too. Although, the distance has shrunk to a more Swedish level. And youre right, I think that is part of what is so shocking, that what seems like a simple shift, is not.

    @mamma – thanks.

    @Adam – not yet. Don’t worry.

    @Jonas – glad to hear it I am definitely up for a beer. And I think Marshall is on his way out soon…

    @Boring – glad to hear it, I am most definitely not bitter, in fact, anything but, despite my critique at times.

    @terander – it hasn’t beaten me. It wont now.

    @anonymous – Because your comments were thrust on me, and because I try to respond to every comment, it is my obligation to respond to yours.

    To be frank, I question how closely you actually read my post. But to answer your first question, I lived a damn good and extremely privileged life in the US. I am not at all ashamed of that. My parents managed to eke out a life for my brothers and I that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I would also like you to note that I did not say Sweden has taken so much from me. I said at the time I felt that way. These are two very different things. One a fleeting thought, the other a sense of being.

    Your argument that to critique without offering an alternative is utterly unfair is one I have heard before. And one I do not agree with. At all. One need not be steeped in the ways of every aspect of social, governmental, or economic systems (although I did manage to get myself a decent education that gave me a great understanding of most of those subjects) to be able to see that some things work better than others. To hold ones tongue because one does not have a ready solution is asinine. To criticize starts a discussion which can quickly lead to a solution far greater than that which was hatched in the lonely mind of a thinker.

    I said that I have used the complaints on this blog as a form of therapy. Again, you seem to struggle in actually reading my words. So essentially your comments here are misguided.

    You will also note that my critique is not for the standard of living. In fact, repeatedly I say that I am glad to be here, I enjoy being here, I like living in a country that is constantly ranked to have a high standard of living. Of course, that would require you to actually read a bit deeper. Or just read.

    Again, had you read more before feeling obliged to comment, you will find that the purpose of this blog is not to constantly be comparing and contrasting. I am well aware that there are problems in other countries. Even in the country I continue to call home. I have stated so numerous times. The experiences documented on this blog are not meant to be a comparison of all that is American vs all that is Swedish. It is meant to be a look at the Swedish way of life through my Americanized eyes. While that does at times entail a comparison, it does not immediately preclude that the American system is superior.

  30. @anonymous cont. – again, your lack of reading what I have written in the past makes this comment worthless. I have stated time and time again that I believe the American system should focus on treatment more. It doesn’t stop me from reacting to murderers being given 10 year sentences. The same can be said about taxes. I will continue to react. I understand the system. I understand that it is a different system. But it does not mean I can not react to the system.

    I’m sorry you find me naïve and cynical. I find you long winded and pretentious. We all have our faults. To suggest though that I do not understand that things are different is ridiculous. To suggest that there is nothing I can do to change it misses the entire point. I am not trying to change it. I write because of those very differences. I write to give voice to them. I write to respect them while still disagreeing with some of them. You seem to have lost that somewhere along the way.

    @anonymous – I've got nothing for you Im afraid.

    @forutanvind – I think you meant saft. Our anonymous friend might be insulted that you are disrespecting the culture that is saft by replacing it with Kool-Aid.

    @anonymous – thanks, and you nailed it, the venting with friends was used as therapy, not the experiences themselves.

    @strömsund – it did drone on a while…

    @anonymous – its true, he was tsting, unfortunately, much of what he was testing lacked the substance that can be found when actually reading the posts.

    The funny thing is, as you say, we probably have very similar views to Sweden.

    @simon – the people have spoken… more anonymous!

    Strömsund – agreed, that’s what kind of killed it for me.

    @lost – and that is exactly the point, we all have those moments. But we are all still here.

    @david – clearly anonymous is in demand.

  31. re: @david

    Anything but your insufferable whinging and moaning. Funny thing is you write with hyperbole and insulting affronts behind the mask of some kind of social adventurer yet you have the guile to call other people pretentious. eh? What mad world is this?

    You know what? It sounds about right that you have had a privileged upbringing. And may you live forever with that silver spoon in your mouth Hairy Swede, it might just take that long for you pull your head out of your rear and see that the world around you is bigger than the bubble you've been blowing out of your backside.

    Posh sods with big mouths come in for a tanning where I'm from; am well pleased to see that the tradition is being upheld by hearty Swedes or Yanks or whatever that brilliant Anon poster is.

  32. welcome to sweden. if you don’t like it, leave.

    see what I did there?

  33. some people are just getting mean here. I don't understand how this post brought out such nastiness. It didn't seem like it started out as any type of harsh criticism of Sweden, but all of a sudden everyone got defensive or something. David,wow. what did hairy do to you to make you so nasty? Doesn't everyone have a right to opinions and if one wants to express those by writing about them, do they deserve to be so attacked? Why can't people disagree with intelligent discussions rather than personal attacks?

  34. I'm curious how Anonymous had this blog "thrust upon" him/her as he/she stated. Forced to read it? And David you too? Forced to read this as you call "whinging and moaning?" Don't read it if you don't like it and why do you find it necessary to be so harsh and malicious just because someone may have a difference of opinion from you? That is sad. It is possible to disagree without coming across so vicious. Is it not?

  35. An American GirlMarch 7, 2010 at 6:03 PM

    Jeez people, settle down. It's a blog. Written by someone you don't even know. If it upsets you that much, don't read it.

    Hairy, I especially appreciate your posts about the cultural differences between Sweden and the US. As I have mentioned before, I am dating a Swede, and I come here for insight and understanding. There have been several times where he has done something that made me want to react as an irragtional female, but then I stopped and thought, "oh yeah, cultural difference". Then I calmed down. I am sure he thanks you for that just as much as I do.

  36. Expat, you've hit the nail on the head.

    Mr Anonymous & David seem to be rather equivalent trolls... well-educated trolls, but trolls nonetheless.

    Their schoolboy English eventually gives them away.

    "Mjölk will always be Mjölk".

    Lots of Luck.

  37. @anonymous – this post wasn’t a criticism of Sweden at all. A couple of people seemed to disagree and took it a bit far. Not the first time its happened unfortunately.

    @expat – whats funny is I freely admit to “whinging and moaning” on the blog sometimes. I even wrote it in this post. Clearly though, when having something thrust upon you, it is not possible to exercise free will.

    @An American Girl – thanks!

    @strömsund – agreed.

  38. Even if I don't always agree on your opinions about Sweden (and frequently disagree with views about America), it's a joy to read what you have to say. I've shared this on a few platforms and hope some of my friends have something interesting to say themselves. Keep on chuggin' and maybe I'll get to visit you in snowy Sthlm someday. :) bra jobbat!

  39. I feel like I'm getting a mini version of this while I'm away for college. I'm terrified of how lonely I'm going to be in Sweden if I can barely handle the loneliness I feel an hour away from home.

    Props for making it through, though.

  40. I was following this discussion with great interest until certain posters became all egotistical and just plain mean.

    Now I feel like I'm in schoolyard, only the bullies aren't the stereotypical brainless jocks, they just happen to be the nerds. Perhaps they were picked on in school and are just now exacting their revenge, though protectively shrouded by the anonymity of the blogosphere.

    Anyhoo, as an expat I am glad I have a virtual place to turn filled with those "going through" the same things I am. Also, a place to learn so I can navigate better through social situations and everyday life in Sweden.

  41. Yep, I saw what you did there. Shame you don't take your own advice. No, but you love Sweden dontcha?

    I've been reading the odd entry on your blog for the last 8 months or so. Stumbled upon it through another blogger that I follow. If I'm being honest, I had to resist the temptation to jump in with my two cents up until now, after someone else did it with some honesty instead of shameless arse kissing. There ain't much left to say after that though, is there?

    Someone came into your bubble, gave you a proper barracking, and left as coolly as they entered, that's gotta sting. The blogosphere is full of surprises, ain't it? But I honestly thought you had more in you, and am disappointed that you simply rolled over and had your belly tickled, for all you could say is 'you didn't read what I wrote properly, you misunderstood me.' Hehe!

    Nevertheless, it's been worth it mate.

    @strömsund: Well, aren't you the pot calling the kettle and that. But thanks for the compliment, lad. Wish I could return the favour but you've shown your deck and it looks full of clowns.

    @Jenn: I've read your blog too, you seem like a sweet girl, but don't be so quick to jump to conclusions. It's just a difference of opinion, and if Hairy is to be believed, it's all just one big misunderstanding.

  42. @Jennifer – glad to hear it!

    @Victoria – it is quite an adjustment when making a move like this.

    @SwedishJenn – its amazing what a bit of anonymity can do for a person.

    @David – shame indeed. But don’t worry. Someday I will leave this country. And you will no longer have to lurk around reading things that upset you for eight months. Masochist huh? Personally I prefer to have my belly tickled, but you already knew that I guess.

    I find it interesting that both you and your anonymous hero seem to think that to criticize and to love something are mutually exclusive. They are not. I love being here in Sweden. I love seeing all of the things that work so well here. All the things that are new and different. I love the country and the people. Even if I am critical. I don’t do well with sheep who follow along without questioning and believe that criticism is extremely important in many aspects of life.

    Its no surprise that people disagree with me. Plenty of people do, from the Americans to the Swedes. I welcome it. Sometimes those disagreements turn into a worthy discussion, other times they turn into this.

    There is plenty left to say, unfortunately the anonymous commentator you look up to seems to struggle with reading skills and so rather than get into a pissing match, I decided to ignore that which made it obvious the commentator had not read what I had written.

    Glad to hear though in the end that it was all worth it for you David. It’s been fun watching you come out of your shell, unfortunate that you had to ride the coattails of someone else to do it, but fun nonetheless.

  43. It’s weird how such a nuanced post, on the difficulties of comparing cultures becomes the focus of some very one-sided comments comparing cultures! It’s a pity people have such trouble dealing with ambiguity, when you expressed those very feelings so well in you original post, Hairy.

  44. Hi Hairy,

    I just wanted to say I love this blog to bits. You've really hit the nail on its head with a lot of the things you've pointed out here. Personally I haven't found anything written here to be especially harsh criticism at all, and definitely not untrue.

    Having lived a year in Japan myself I know what you mean with the expats conversations. That's just the way it is, the country is what you've got in common. It was so nice to have people who understood everything about being a westerner in a country like Japan, both the good and the bad, the loneliness etc.

    Anyway, I'm glad you've been stubborn enough to stay here. Me I'm moving to Florida this summer... I'm excited to see what kind of culture shock I'll experience there as a Swede.

  45. Even if I've disagreed with Hairy at times I admire his well written posts and take it for what it is. And even though the New Yorker comes across as a bit harsh and self absorbed I'm glad he made the effort. I mean he isn't what you consider a troll, right? Then again I think Hairy had a solid counter comment. The bottom line is: I do not agree that this discussion is in schoolyard fashion. Misguided arguments are a part of a healthy debate. You have to get throw yourself out there in order to learn something. Of course that demands some effort on your part. I hope the New Yorker at least went back here and read the responses.

  46. It's not what you say mate, it's how you say it. And speaking of things that aren't mutually exclusive, I think you are funny but I also think you can be a pompous jackass at times. Your posturing and condescending tone smacks of person who thinks he is above it all. You speak of life in Sweden like a parent scolding a child. I mean, when mundane tasks such as going to the shop to buy some odds and ends becomes a point of critical examination then you know you have completely lost the plot.

    My anonymous hero, as you put it, said something that really hit home, that is, you don't have to be so in love with your own comfort to piss on what makes other people comfortable(but you are probably going to accuse me of not reading as well). Yanks are notorious for exactly that sort of behaviour. I saw it all the time in London and I see it here in Stockholm too. It's tiring is all. And you, an honest to goodness born Swede at that, shocking.

    I don't mean to be a prick and flame you. I mean, this is your space and I am just a guest (*cough* intruder). It's just that I expected a different response to the Anon guy. I thought the bloke (am not assuming it's a guy, I just like to use the male distinction in cases of gender neutrality) had a point. Fuck it, I thought he was genuinely sharing for your benefit, but then I come from a culture where brutal honesty is like the rain, you learn to live with it (stiff upper lip and that), so what do I really know about his intentions?

    I wish the fella would come out and sort this out despite the fact that you are all doing the very thing you accused him of, bullies. Call me Mr. Coattails or Johnny come Lately or whatever, alright, I was a bit out of line ::wags finger at strömsund:: but if commenting on adjusting to differences in new environments is your thing and your gut reaction to someone with a different opinion is to gang up on him, then you ought to look at yourselves.

    Me, I don't mind playing devil's advocate. This is probably the most fun I'll have for the next 4 days; what with working mid week and socializing when weather permits on weekends. This little bust up might even compel me to do some blogging, fair enough, I'm a sucker for controversy, it's why I bother read your blog in the first place. Not bad to have an audience made up of the lovely Jenn ever loyal strömsund, not bad at all.

  47. @Bengt – the dangers of multiculturalism perhaps?

    @Maya – thanks, good luck with your move to Florida!

    @Jon – Not at all a troll, had he been a troll he wouldn’t have put nearly as much time into it so that is definitely appreciated.

    @David – truth be told, I quite enjoy this too.

    Clearly we don’t agree because I don’t find myself all that funny nor a pompous jackass. But we can agree to disagree.

    The thing about those mundane tasks though David are those are exactly the things that when moving to a different country never get the time of day. They are the little things that suddenly add up and make for a different life. At least for me.

    I am well aware that people like the Swedish system, in fact, I admit that it works quite well. But this blog is not meant to be a love fest, it is about my experiences through my eyes. Not your eyes. Not some anonymous posters eyes. My eyes. I don’t agree with everything here in Sweden. So I write about it. It does not mean that it doesn’t work. It does not mean that there are people here that prosper in the system. And it has nothing to do with me being an American. Or a Swede.

    In terms of the anonymous fellow (because I like the masculine distinction as well) I have no problem with him sharing, I do have a problem though when the first couple of points he brings up seem to disregard what I had actually written.

    I would be more than happy to see him respond again. As I said earlier, the people have spoken and anonymous is what they want. Nothing wrong with some disagreement and a few well timed flames.

  48. @anonymous from NY: The lady doth protest too much!

  49. I once took a class on medieval holy women and a girl in my class quoted that line at least once a week. drove me nuts. plus the fact that the lady doth quote too much just seemed a bit ironic.

  50. ^ Um, okay...Rock on, troll!


    -S :) (aka - anonymous from NY)

  51. Oops, now I'm not sure that Anon 9:27's reply was intended toward me.

    Anyhoo, rock on everyone!! :)


    -S :) (aka - The actual girl anonymous who is actually from NY)

  52. rocking on is just good advice really.

  53. Well written post Hairy!
    well written.

  54. What's the point in flaming someone over their blog, their opinions, their attitude... when it really has nothing to do with you or your own well-being? Debate is great and healthy, fine. But there is a point at which is becomes counter-productive and rather unnecessary. It's one thing for someone to write in a somewhat cathartic manner about one's own experiences, and it's another to get far too involved and concerned with someone else's experiences and how they view them.

    Healthy dialogue, done in a constructive manner, is debate. Without a constructive nature, it becomes arguing. And there's really no point in that.

  55. Once upon a time I was a teacher of Hairy. In fact the class was world geography with an emphasis on cultural geography and anthrolpology. I once told his class the story that I didn't become an American until I left the US. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to live in Switzerland, France and the UK where I met my Swedish husband. Once abroad then and only then did I have the opportunity to see the big picture AND the minutia that is my culture.
    Today, I teach world cultures. I use some of Hairy's blog entries to demonstrate the development and awakening of cultural awareness.
    So, a few thoughts. The Eastern philosophies believe in balance, the Yin and Yang. Think about it.
    What ever happened to free will? If you don't like what you read, leave a comment and walk away, read something else. Only you can give away your free will.
    Lastly, I believe all of you grew up and currently live in country that values free speech.
    Thank you Hairy - you make me proud.

  56. "it is about my experiences through my eyes. Not your eyes. Not some anonymous posters eyes."

    That is an impenetrable defence in any debate. If others do not grasp your perspective it's because they are not you. Does that work both ways? Back in my Uni days I was told some geezer named Socrates formed the most functional method of debate and that my shouty and intimidating alternatives, at the time, were just knuckle dragging dumb dumb stuff. I never thought to be plain obstinate though, you're more a maverick than me.

    But... but... but, it makes you sound a bit Mein Kampf. Enough said, really.

    It was nice to finally chat with you mate. And don't sell yourself short, you are funny (and the other thing). Besides, humility doesn't fit you well, bit like leather jumpers on a cow.

  57. Din blogg visar verkligen att det går att bli svensk, men du ska veta att det finns böcker som handlar om tvåspråkighet som ett problem. Att det ses som en nackdel att vara tvåspråkig. Då med undertonen att svenska är det enda rätta och allt annat är fel. Det är "utländskt" i första hand, och inte "amerikanskt" eller något annat som många tänker. Just den här förkärleken att problematisera måste vara något unikt svenskt, eftersom vi har en förmåga att se problem överallt. Det smittar nog av sig på den nationella självkänslan och vips så har Sverige blivit ett problem - som måste lösas.

  58. A long time ago, I bought a pamphlet about living in Sweden for foreigners. Some friends also told me there were some books about it. For example: "normal", being in the middle of the crowd, etc. etc.

    I have forgotten the names and how I got the pamphlett (Swedish institute?). I need to buy a new copy and I realize this might be a good forum to find out what to get and how to get it.

  59. Wow!

    I thought your post was lovely Hairy. I appreciate the honesty and the thoughtful way you presented your opinions. I'm surprised by all of the hoopla?

    But I've got one question I'd love for someone to explain? How does a blog get "thrust upon" you? I mean is Hairy assigned reading for a class or something?

    I love this blog it ass kissing or whatever makes you feel better...but I like it so I read it. I'm not Swedish or related to, or dating a Swede. I just like it and it has made me alot more aware of and interested in Sweden and its culture. Had I not read this blog, Sweden would not be a country I thought about regularly (b/c I'm a stupid American who only thinks about America and thinks Poland is in South America. :)) So I think Hairy is doing something positive. On the other hand if I read a blog I don't like I don't read. (which is ironic considering this post...but not reading is alot easier than packing up your life and flying back across the Atlantic)

    So in the words of another commenter:

    ROCK ON HAIRY and don't keep your opinions to yourself...I love reading them!

  60. Man, if I got 1 krona for every time I saw this scene played out on blogs, DBs, and forums, I'd be so rich that I could hire someone to browse the internet for me while I sat back and sipped cocktails.

    These scenes always start the same way, evolves the same way, and ends the same way, with a long, long goodbye.

    You have your good guy, usually self elected and with a following. The bad guy appears in one of two forms, someone with an idea that is not necessarily bad but definitely not good because, of course, he is not the good guy and then there is the complete troll with nothing better to do.

    They exchange blows... bam, bam, pow. Ends in a stale mate but the good guy always gets the moral victory, decided by his loyals.

    Someone then decides annonimity is to blame (as if people are any nicer face to face), forgetting that both them and good guy are fairly annonymous too. But they are not wrong, because annonymity is why many people voice their opinions online in the first place. Blogging is like public speaking, you could say it's like yelling from the roof. In real life that would surely get a rise out of people, most would call you insane in the first place.

    For better or worse, you get what you get because you do what you do.

  61. @Karl – thanks

    @Jennifer – agreed. I understand that people aren’t always going to agree. They shouldn’t what a horribly boring place it would be, but at some point there has to be an acknowledgement that the person experiencing the experiences may be in the best position to analyze them.

    @PBAnnJ – First, I love your name. Absolutely glorious on so very many levels.

    And also, I remember you telling us that, and it has been true for me as well. It took leaving to realize what I left.

    And finally, thanks.

    @David – When in doubt, just yell louder and say you are right. I like to call it the toddler defense. Works every time.

    But on another note, did you really just try to compare me to Hitler? Well, in the spirit of dictatorial decrees then, anyone on this blog who compares any written word to anything tangentially related to Nazism loses. Credibility. The argument. Just loses.

    @Anonymous – indeed it does. Maybe I have just embraced the Swedish mentality too well.

    @Nick – Ive heard of this thing, but never seen it, like a unicorn. Anyone know where Nick can pick up a new copy?

    @Mama – Yeah, new rule from Moderaterna, anyone who enters the country is forced to read my blog and is later quizzed on it. Otherwise, no visa.

    Thanks for your comments!

    @anonymous – its happened before here, and it will probably happen again. I will say that this was the post that has surprised me the most though. I have other posts where I expected it. This was not one of them.

  62. You know,

    David likes to opine that "Mr Anonymous" slipped into "Hairy's bubble" and gave him a "proper barracking".

    Huh? Has somebody been recently reading "Gunga Din"? That's really funny.

    C'mon, nobody has spoken those words in a hundred years.

    He also observed that I'm holding a playing card hand of "clowns".

    What?? Huh?

    Schoolboy git nonsense.

    Come North, and you'll learn quite a bit, little one.

  63. When this ("Huh? Has somebody been recently reading "Gunga Din"? That's really funny.") is the extent of your cleverness,

    (I came to this timeline from the past, 50m other Brits came with me)

    and you are this ("He also observed that I'm holding a playing card hand of "clowns". What?? Huh?") thick,

    (explains itself really)

    and this ("Come North, and you'll learn quite a bit, little one") is how you do conflict resolution

    (ooh, big scary man wants to wrestle in the snow)

    you are most probably likely a yeti with a keyboard.

    It is quite the paradox that you disdain schoolboy antics but act like a juvenile yourself.

    On the other hand, it was special that you went out and learned "git" just for me. Just proves how considerate you really are. Ya big teddy bear.

  64. Hello Hairy
    I really enjoy reading your blog as I find your posts not only well written with humor but also emotionally honest, and I have found that refreshing. I also really enjoy all the comments and appreciate the fact that you take the time to respond. I'm really glad there is a place where all this can take place.

    so, thanks :)

  65. This was a great post.

    The one thing that I find more and more...the Swedes and we Americans--we really are not so different. Having lived in other areas of Europe, I could not say this about other Europeans.

    Yeah, things drive you crazy. But, really, within our own country the regional differences can puzzle us. I can't get inside the average Bostonian head, politically speaking, any more than I cold get into many of the Swedish heads, politically speaking.

  66. Interesting read - as always. You really have a talent for writing!

  67. @strömsund – Ill be honest, I don’t even know what a barracking is.

    @David – hey now… lets not make fun of large hairy things.

    @Juni – well thanks!

    @kmbr – maybe there is some sort of love hate relationship going on between the two countries.

    @lady dandelion – thanks!