Friday, June 24, 2011

Split Personalities in Sweden

I have a split personality. Not the kind that talks to you. Or the kind that convinces you that there are unicorns in your closet. But the kind that comes with speaking two languages at a relatively advanced level.

The more time I spend in this country as an adult, and the more time I spend in the US as an adult, the more I realize that straddling the two countries, sliding into my Swedish persona while in Europe and my American persona while in the US isn’t as hard as it once was. Because no matter what anyone tells you, if you speak two languages relatively well, you most likely have two different personalities. Eventually, hopefully, they meld into some sort of super personality making you incredibly successful, irresistible to attractive women, and even more awesome than you already are. Or something like that.

Chances are though, instead of being that super person you will find yourself sitting around at dinner parties thinking of all the witty remarks you’d like to make. And don’t. Or wanting to join in on that discussion about politics. But by the time you think of how to say what you want to say, the conversation has moved to discussing people’s least favorite punctuation mark. Mine is the comma. You may have noticed. I don’t use them. Mostly because I don’t really know how to use them properly. And I hate them. Stay focused.

It’s a frustrating realization though. Not the comma usage, but the split personalities. Mostly because it takes such time. And if you’re anything like me, you spend a lot of time going back and forth between two cultures. It sounds like a good idea. It is a good idea. But it leads to frustration.

This hit me the other day after having been back in Sweden for a while. I have two very distinct group of friends. I have English-speaking friends and I have Swedish-speaking friends. I have a few that cross over for whatever reason, but I find myself, even in Sweden, floating back and forth between my English personality and my Swedish personality.

I’m getting better at melding the two. The more time I stay here, the more I learn about the country the culture, and the language, the more comfortable I am cracking jokes. Discussing politics. Even making fun of people. I’m a horrible person, I know. But doing all those little things that form a personality worth knowing. Or not. I’ll leave that up to other people to decide.

Those split personalities though are the thing I watch other people deal with. And discuss. And eventually meld. It’s hard as hell. It’s fun as hell too, though. Because all those little things suddenly are worth so much more. Like the first time you crack a joke and people laugh. In a different language. Or the first time you can actually hold your own in a discussion about complicated issues that you care about. In a different language. Or the first time you can make fun of the guy wearing a bright green polo with the collar popped and red jeans. In a different language. It’s a wonderful feeling. And it’s what makes going abroad so amazing. And what makes learning a different language so worth it.

Welcome to Sweden. And multiple identities.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fika: A Definition. Kind of.

Recently, I found myself doing some inadvertent code-switching. It happens. I get confused and all of a sudden my English is littered with Swedish words that few people understand and my Swedish is littered with English words which most people understand. It says a bit about the linguistic differences in the two countries. Of course, it also says that there are only about ten million people in the world who speak Swedish and so littering your English with Swedish is probably a bit pretentious. Even if it is inadvertent, but I digress. This isn’t about my inability to control my language skills. It’s about fika. The Swedish word that I found myself using.

It resulted in a very understandable, wait, what does fika mean? So what does fika mean?

Fika is an amazing Swedish phenomenon. It’s kind of like English tea. It’s become a cultural mainstay which tends to include coffee and perhaps a delicious baked good. And everyone does it. Everyone. Hell, even I suggest the occasional fika, and I most definitely do not drink coffee (although I have been trying to teach myself to be a grown-up and drink tea. Always ordering hot chocolate when I find myself in a fika situation has made me self-conscious about my inability to act like an adult). It can be used as an excuse to get out of work. It can be used as an excuse to catch up with friends. It can be used as a job interview, a date, a break-up. It’s quite versatile. As is the word. It is both noun and verb:
Det blir ingen fika idag. That’s the noun form for the grammar nerds amongst us.
Jag har suttit och fikat i flera timmar nu. That’s the verb in the supine form for those of you scoring at home.

And to further this fascinating linguistic lesson, according to Nationalencyklopedin it turns out that the word originated from some sort of slang language in which the word for coffee (kaffe became kaffi) was rearranged a bit, leaving us with fika. Now you know. And knowing is half the battle.

Welcome to Sweden. Anyone up for a fika?

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Celebrity Spotting in Sweden

I had a celebrity sighting the other day. I’m not very good at celebrities. Not in the US, and especially not in Sweden. But I enjoy Filip och Fredrik, despite never remembering which is which. They entertain me. Which is really all I ask from people. I’m a simple man. But I saw one of them. The short one. At a café. I did not speak to him; I did not even acknowledge his existence. Essentially, I delved into my inner-Swede. And I was not alone.

Living in the places that I have back in the US doesn’t make for a lot of celebrity sightings. Unless you count the local cow baron millionaire back in Greeley. But I don’t. The closest thing to celebrity in most of the places I have lived were the athletes. And by athletes, I mean student athletes. And it just weirds me out to get too excited about 18-20 year olds who play a game. Even though I do love those games.

Some people though tend to get a bit excited. Not just about athletes, but about celebrity. There’s the classic 13 year old screaming girl. The sneaky autograph hound. The apologetic, I’m your biggest fan. The creepy old man. The creepy old woman. Then there’s the take a glance but ignore. Which is where I come in. And apparently a large number of Swedes in my vicinity at the time.

Not a single person approached him. It was a busy café. In the middle of one of those beautiful Stockholm summer days that convinces tourists that they should move here (always visit in November before you decide to move here. Always. Just trust me.). Part of me was shocked. This is a man who is relatively ubiquitous on TV. But not a single soul said a word. It was quite refreshing really. Mostly because my image of celebrities out on the town tends to be a mob of the 13 year old screaming girl type.

Maybe my reaction to this has something to do with Sweden being small. Or about the US being overly obsessed with celebrity. Maybe it is because he’s a small man and he blended in with his surroundings. Maybe it’s because no one else thinks he’s funny. Or maybe, just maybe, people saw that he was out enjoying a lovely Stockholm summer day and left him the hell alone. I hope so.

Welcome to Sweden. And reticence.

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Friday, June 17, 2011

E-Mails from Kenya

I don’t check the e-mail that comes to this blog all that often anymore. Mostly because I don’t write on this blog all that often anymore. For a while, I was responding to every e-mail I got (albeit sometimes several months late). I was even responding to every comment. Now? Well, I’m just kind of lazy. I’m not going to lie to you. But now and then I log on in to my e-mail account and give a quick scroll down the list. My goal this summer is to actually do some catching up and try to respond. So if you sent me an e-mail last June and didn’t get a response, hang tight. It’s coming. Probably.

All that being said, I do enjoy the occasional e-mail. Some more than others. A while back I received an e-mail from Kenya. I do not know anyone in Kenya. I have a couple of friends who have done field-work in Kenya. I have other friends who have visited. I’ve spoken to people from Kenya, but I know no one living in the country. Which is why e-mails from Kenya are confusing. I’ve included it below (replacing the original name with a pseudonym) because it made me smile. And I hope it makes you smile too.

“How are you there in AWESOMELY BOLD from Kenya and i saw you work through internet.keep up.the purpose of writing this email is requesting whether you can offer me small grant to help me uplift my living conditions because here in Kenya poverty levels are very high and no jobs for us the a little help will move me far and i will appreciate so much.please consider my my send through western union money transfer.THANK YOU.”

I’m not even really sure where to begin with this. This is not your classic Nigerian Prince scheme; it is just a straight out request for money. I quite appreciate the ballsy-ness (I might have just made that word up, but you get the idea). I quite appreciate the brief explanation, or grant application if you will. The assumed generosity on my part. The politeness.

What AWESOMLY BOLD failed to take into account is that I am a student again. And according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, the money I pull in every month for being a teaching assistant puts me just under the poverty line. Awesome. Please consider this my own grant application. If any of you have money to burn, feel free to uplift my living conditions. Hell, I’ll even accept credit cards.

Now a quick note. I’ve been sitting on this e-mail for quite a while. Mostly because I didn’t really feel comfortable putting an e-mail someone sent me out on this blog. Some sort of trust or privacy thing maybe. Maybe because I am a smartass and knew I would crack a joke about me being poor, when “poor” is really relative. Maybe because despite it all, I am damn well aware what being unemployed is like and what it can do to you. I don’t really know. I don’t want people worrying about what they write to me, mostly because I don’t worry about what I write to them. In the end though I couldn’t resist. Every time I re-read this, I shake my head and smile.

I kid, I kid, may I suggest instead donating to some of the following organizations
Susan G. Komen for the Cure
American Cancer Society
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
United Way

Or if you really were convinced by AWESOMELY BOLD’s grant application, let me know. I’m sure we can figure something out.

Welcome to Sweden. And grant applications?

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The US to Sweden – Travel Rules

I’ve made the trip from the US to Sweden and back a few times now. I’m starting to get good at it. Not great, but good. I am in Sweden now; I wouldn’t want to get too cocky. All those trips though have made me kind of sensitive to the things that go on around me. And so, because this is the internet after all and there is no better place to rant about things that no one asked you about, I present to you a few travel rules. Feel free to leave your suggestions below.
  1. Leave your cowboy hat at home. This isn’t Texas. You aren’t Wyatt Earp. And you are only validating stereotypes. You don’t need to leave your American-ness at home. You do need to leave your cowboy hat at home. Don’t think you can check it either. It will not travel well. Just leave it be.
  2. Brush your teeth. Take a shower. Wear deodorant. This isn’t necessarily Swedish or American, it’s just polite. While I might find foul smelling things entertaining in short bursts, being stuck in a flying metal tube with your smell is not entertaining. At all.
  3. Leave your bible at home. Or at least in your bag. I get it, you’re religious. Fine. I’m not. And neither are the Swedes. So when you walk off that plane clutching your bible as if it is God’s gift to the written word (see what I did there?) you aren’t fitting in.
  4. Wear comfortable clothes. I know the Swedes look as if they just stepped off the latest fashion runway and I just told you to leave your bible and cowboy hat at home so you would fit in, but let’s be honest, you’re going to be on a cramped airplane for several hours, don’t get dressed up. Comfort is style.
  5. Do not complain about the locals before you arrive. The locals are on the plane with you. They speak English. In fact, use some of that time on the plane to maybe talk to a local. Or at least try to learn the word for hello (hej pronounced like hay) or thank you (tack pronounced kind of like tack but with a soft ah sound for the a).
  6. The US is not number one. It’s pretty great, and I moved back for a reason, but it’s not number one. Or maybe it is. But whatever it is number one in your shirt is unnecessary.
  7. Use your inside voice. You are inside. In fact, you are inside a very confined space.
  8. And finally, if you really are the stereotypically fat American just buy two seats. I know. This makes me a bad person. But I think we both know that you will be more comfortable and so will I. While I enjoy the warmth of a snuggling person next to me as much as the next guy, your uggghhhh spilling over the arm rest does not count.
Welcome to Sweden. And rules to live by.

P.S. Don’t wear fanny packs. Ever. No matter who you are or where you’re going.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Welcome (Back) to Sweden

I’m back in Sweden. For about a month, with essentially no plans, aside from a couple freelance jobs and maybe some research. It’s a glorious feeling and I have been met with sunshine, warm weather, and probably too much alcohol for my jetlagged liver to handle.

It’s strange being back. Like coming home, but not. I can slide into the Swedish way of life much easier than I thought. I can sit in silence on the subway. I can avoid eye contact on the street. I can sit on a bench with my eyes closed and my head tilted to the sun. Hell, I can even throw on a halfway tight shirt and pretend that I’m not horribly uncomfortable (that being said, I cannot put on a pair of red pants. I just can’t.).

Since being back though, I’ve been inundated with feelings of familiarity. With friends, family, and the city in general. I have realized that my Swedishness sat deeper than I maybe cared to admit when I left this country a year ago. Turns out I’m surprisingly ok with that.

Of course, being ok with that has also resulted in me ingesting nearly 300 grams of extra-salted butter in a week. Which I’m not sure whether I should be proud of or be ashamed of. Either way, it was a delicious week. It has also resulted in me buying way too much filmjölk and Kalaspuffar. Which was also delicious but resulted in that distinct sugar puff scented urine. Just a lovely way to end your morning pee. It has resulted in me spending times wandering around the city. Wandering into and out of museums. Bookstores. Cafes. Bars. But most importantly, it has resulted in me visiting old friends and family. And there is really nothing I’d rather be doing this summer.

Welcome to Sweden. Again.
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