Friday, August 13, 2010

Swedishness in America

In my last few weeks in Sweden, I was answering a lot of questions about why I was moving back. Three years of being in the country had apparently had an impact on me. And it was in these last few weeks that I started hearing more and more about my identity through the eyes of others.

I became a sort of sideshow for some of the members of my Swedish family that I only saw sporadically while in the country. I was reminded over and over about the improvement of my Swedish. To the extent that I began questioning my own fluency. At one point I answered the phone only to be met by laughter and a comment explaining that laughter. I sounded Swedish. Apparently, me sounding Swedish was hilarious.

A good friend of mine, who happens to be Swedish, asked me why I was moving back. I explained the whole, time for something different, time to be near the family, time to be near old friends. For some reason that wasn’t enough. And so I explained that final part that has always gnawed at me. I feel more American. I don’t feel completely at ease in Sweden as I do in the US. I don’t see myself as Swedish (unless I decide to use that Swedishness to my advantage like when negotiating at a bazaar in Istanbul during a time when the US State Department suggested Americans not travel to the country).

His response surprised me. Even after three years in the country it surprised me. Because apparently, he didn’t view me as American at all. I was Swedish. Of course, the part of me that loves the sweet smell of freedom that assaults your nostrils at your local Walmart was disgusted by the comment. But I kept that part quiet.

Later, in a quintessentially Swedish conversation about the weather, I was once again called out for being Swedish. Mostly because I said that when the sun was shining during the Swedish summer, it was important to passa på. Essentially to take advantage. The sunshine is fleeting in Sweden so you damn well should take advantage. Again, laughter follows. The comment was just a little too Swedish.

But maybe, most shocking of all, I was called out by my very own parents. They felt it necessary to point out that I had become a tad European. This may have owed to my awesomely tight pants. Or baby blue collared shirt. Or really fast sunglasses. Or maybe it just so happens that they hate freedom. My father is not an American citizen and my mother does not like to eat lamb. You be the judge.

In the end though, it seems I am probably more Swedish than I care to admit. I suppose after several years in the country that shouldn’t come as a surprise. But it does. To me at least. Maybe moving to Swedish-America will be the halfway house I need.

Welcome to Swedish-America. And my de-Swedishanization.

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  1. Snabba Glasögon - Helt klart!

  2. hey, no sweat Hairy--yer 'Merkin to me...

  3. :) Åh, vad hemskt! Att verka svensk (eller europé!!). My American boyfriend doesn't want to sound or behave or look like an European! And he refuses to even try to pronounce my name correctly! :) And if someone would say that I speak English fluently I would start to wonder how bad my English was earlier! :) Hmmm, maybe you are more Swedish than you want to admit to youself! ;) Nice if you both sound like an American in America and as a Swede in Sweden! I think! I hope you will return many times! I love our light and not sauna-like summers!!! ;)

  4. I think everyone who lives abroad could related themselves to this entry. What basically happens is that one becomes more sensitive, less opinionated, self-aware, less ethnocentric. In a word more mature. The trick is one shouldn't be afraid of experiencing new things just roll with the punches, and pronounce peeps names correctly :)

  5. I remember being called "americanized". I think its the same thing as when girls are told "you are just like one of the guys!" Nice in one way, kind of insulting in another way. But liking kaviar, facing the sun with closed eyes and wearing tight pants is Swedish enough. Doesn't prevent you from being American though.

  6. Damn.
    I would very much like to read all the posts in your blog, from day one, just to have fun reading. But now you have left Sweden and it will feel awkward, uncomfortable, to read the past knowing what the outcome will be. Hmmm... now that I said that, I realize that this is what all of us (well, most of us; most of whom, me) seek in life: we try to know what the outcome of what we do will be. Good for proving theories, bad for advancing science... prrlllfff... too much philosophy for a Sunday. Anyway, damn it. I don't wanna read the past posts because I think it will feel like everything you were doing, everything you were describing was leading you to leave Sweden. And I did not want to think like that. I don't think you feel like that. So I guess I better ask: do you?

  7. Or, on the other hand, you could ask me: "have you been reading what I have been writing?" and make your point.

  8. But you have the best of both worlds: Being American *and* Swedish?! What's better than that??

    -S :)

  9. @anonymous – gotta look fast.

    @Ron – YES!

    @Karin – I think I am definitely more Swedish than I care to admit. The longer I am here, the more I realize that. It kind of worries me. At the same time, that was kind of one of the reasons I moved to Sweden.

    @Todd – I think you nailed it. Completely and absolutely. Well said my friend.

    @Lejon – also very well said. I think it is one of those things you want to hear, but at the same time don’t. Its so very confusing.

    @asazevedo – honestly, I wouldn’t suggest it. There are a whole lot of words.

    But to answer your question, I knew all along I would leave Sweden. I moved to Sweden planning only to stay a year or two. Suddenly three year had passed before I left. But everything I was doing, everything I was describing was not what led me to leave Sweden. That was predetermined. If anything, everything I was doing, everything I was describing led me to stay longer than I had planned.

    @anonymous – I suppose. But I would just like to be me. But maybe me is both.

  10. Good to know, thanks for answering. Will celebrate your answer having some of my must concentrate mixed with sparkling water. Cheers!