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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