This story begins with a Swedish man. This story also begins with an American woman. This story, my story, begins with my parents. My father was born and raised in Sweden, and moved to the United States during the 1970’s to seek his fame and fortune in the land of opportunity. My mother was born in Chicago, Illinois. The two met in a small, summer resort town in southeast Wisconsin, in the late 1980’s. They moved back to Sweden, where they were married, and soon settled to raise a family.
I was born in Stockholm, as was my younger sister, and we lived there with our family until I was two years old. We packed up & moved to the United States, and from there on out, I was raised as an American child. In the following sixteen years, I moved around quite a bit. My parents divorced when I was six, and at the time we had been living in Wisconsin, near my mother’s family. I moved to California, with my mother & sister, and lived there until I was fifteen. I left California for Michigan, to live with my father and stepmom, just before I turned sixteen, and lived there until June of this year.
I’d just graduated high school. My older brother, who had remained in Sweden (and was now married, with four children), was strongly encouraging me to come and visit him, if not just to see him & our family, but also to get in touch with my roots. The plan was simple: I was to live with them for six months, take a few classes in Swedish, and just get a feel for what day to day Swedish life was like. But as the months have passed, the plan has evolved and changed a great deal. Seems I’m going to be here longer than I thought. Whether or not it is for the better has yet to reveal itself, but as I am an optimist by nature, I can only hope that I am doing the right thing by staying here… over four thousand miles away from the people I love, and the only life I’ve ever really known.
And so, here I am. What am I doing here? Well, that’s a question I’m still asking myself, but for the time being, I am just rolling with the punches. I’m enrolled in SFI (Swedish For Immigrants) at a Gymnasiet in a neighboring community, and I’m going to school five days a week, trying to learn Swedish. What comes next? I honestly have no idea. I’d love to get a job somewhere, but it’s slim pickings for someone who only speaks English. ((Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated!))
I’m really starting to grasp a sense of irony from the situation I’ve found myself in. Growing up, I was extremely proud of being Swedish. Any time a teacher, school counselor, potential employer, pageant judge, or DMV clerk would notice on a piece of paperwork that I was born in Stockholm, I would glow, and happily answer any questions they had. And they always had questions. “What was it like, there? Do you remember it at all? Do you ever go back to visit? Why did you move to America?” I revelled in the fact that I had dual citizenship, and as a child used to brag about it to my friends. Hey, cut me some slack! Whenever anyone found out I was from Sweden, they were immediately interested in whatever I had to say, as if my birth place somehow affected my IQ and gave me an award-winning personality. It’s pretty hard to not abuse that kind of power when you’re that young.
So where is the irony? Well, I am starting to realize how (I don’t know any other way to put it) not-Swedish I am. That’s not to say I am now identifying myself as an American. To be honest, I have no idea who, or what, I am. All I know is that I have been thrown into an environment where my world has been turned completely upside down, and it’s as if I am having to learn to walk & talk all over again.
I am having a lot of difficulty relating to Swedish kids my age, particularly the ones I’m now going to Gymnasiet with. Part of that could have something to do with my maturity level: I always hung out with the older kids in high school, and never could quite get along with the students in my grade. But the culture clash is also starting to wear on me, and making it clear to me just how different I am. For example, from what I have observed thus far -
Swedes hate eye contact, and are very reserved around strangers. I, on the other hand, am bright eyed, eager, and smiling at people on the bus.
Swedes are quick to think you have some sort of hidden intention if you try to brush up a conversation with them. Then there’s me, where I feel no embarassment whatsoever about approaching someone at school and remarking about the shoes they are wearing, the book they’re reading, or asking them if they can recommend anything fun to do in town.
I’m not doing these things to be a creep, or drive people away from me. This is the way I’ve interacted with people for the last eighteen years. I’ve never known any other way. Is my behavior considered American? Not necessarily. I’ve met many Americans who are just as reserved around strangers, and wouldn’t think twice about saying “F*** off” to someone who randomly approached them on the street. It could all be a matter of personality, and a person’s comfort zone.
Regardless, I’m having a hard time making friends since I’ve moved to Sweden. Part of it could be my behavior, part of it could be the way I dress (though I will touch up on the subject of my fashion vs. Swedish fashion on another day), but I think the main reason is because I don’t speak Swedish. It immediately throws up red flags to anyone I meet, and stamps a big, red label on my forehead: “Immigrant”. No one has ever once taken the time to ask me where I came from, so I’ve never been given the opportunity to explain the situation: that I am indeed Swedish, and merely trying to catch up! I’m sure it probably doesn’t help my situation that the only kids I really socialize with at school come from the Middle East and Africa, all of whom look the part of an immigrant moreso than I do. I’m not the only one who is being ignored. Several of the kids in my class speak nearly fluent Swedish, and have tried breaking out of their shells to socialize more with the Swedish kids at our school, but no one will even give them the time of day. There are the rare few, who are former SFI students, who talk to us, and a couple of kids who approach us to ask how to say something in English, so they won’t look stupid when they go to class in an hour without having studied the night before. But other than that? Nobody. And it’s truly heartbreaking, because the kids in my class are good-hearted, wonderful people. I turned eighteen on my third day in class, and was horribly depressed because I was so far away from home. You know what they did for me? They threw me a birthday party during class! Cakes, cupcakes, delicious orange flavored saft, birthday candles, the works. Do these Swedish kids realize what kind of friends they are missing out on?
I know that not all Swedes are biased against immigrants. To assume so would be asinine. I do believe that the general Swedish public is full of intriguing, open minded people, many of whom would like a chance to get to know me, or any other person with a story to tell. But the fact of the matter is, I am currently meeting a lot of hostility & resentment because I am not a native Swedish speaker, and no one is really giving me a chance. That is a hard mountain to climb.
As I’m sure you’ve read the title to this blog post, I’m sure you’re wondering what it means/what it has to do with me. Well, it’s a bit of a spin on an old proverb: “Beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing.” I’ve had this analogy in my head for quite some time. You see, I’ve been trying to explain to my friends back home why I am having such difficulty adjusting to life in Sweden, and after trying in vain to make them understand why people immediately dislike me, I figured out the perfect way to word it: Sweden, and it’s people, are a flock of sheep. Some Swedes view immigrants as potential threats, or simply dislike them/feel uncomfortable around them because they are different. The immigrants are seen as wolves, and though they may be harmless, the sheep aren’t taking any chances. And that’s where I come in. I’m the sheep in wolf’s clothing.
And so, now that I have gone & thrown myself a pity party, allow me to introduce myself: My name is Cortney. I’m eighteen years old, and I am a citizen of both America and Sweden. I’ve started this blog because I want to chronicle my experiences of re-discovering my roots (and maybe even re-discovering myself), & share them with others in the hopes that I can reach out to people in similar positions, or maybe even help someone who finds themself as lonely as I’ve been feeling these last months.
I believe I will make friends here, I don’t think this rut will last forever. I believe I’m going to find happiness in Sweden. I just have to work hard enough to find it. I’ve yet to meet a challenge that I couldn’t overcome.