Sverige on my Mind

Another American Girl in Love with Sweden, and a Swede
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A Great Night for a Great Charity

April 22nd, 2010 by Liana

I am a member of the American Women’s Club of Gothenburg (a member of the Federation of American Womens’ Clubs Overseas), and as this blog seems to have some followers, I am going to use it to advertise our truly amazing upcoming charity event in May.

On Friday, May 21, at 7:00pm, we are hosting a wonderful evening of music, drinking and eating. How awesome does that sound?!

We are welcoming the world-renowned Yale Alley Cats from Yale University to serenade us for an evening while we raise support for the Bibi2Bibi charity- an organization helping disadvantaged grandmothers of AIDS orphaned children in Tanzania.

The event is at Örgryte’s historical Överås Mansion in Gothenburg and tickets must be ordered in advance.

Tickets are 300 SEK and can be purchased through our Plusgiro account 50 55 17-3.

For guest list purposes, be sure to include the number of people, and one or more names from your party in the message field. We must receive your payment before May 10 in order to hold your reservation!!

Venue: Överås Mansion, Danska Vägen 20 (click for map). Free parking is available at the mansion. If you’re arriving by tram, take the #5 to Sankt Sigfrids Plan, and walk up-hill on Danska Vägen. The mansion is on the left, after approximately 400 meters. It is the first property on the left which has a large lawn looking out towards the street.

Here is a link to the event blog for more information: http://aidscharityconcert.blogspot.com/

The Yale Alley Cats: http://www.yalealleycats.com/

Bibi2Bibi: http://www.bibijann.org/

Överås Mansion: http://www.metodistkyrkan.se/overas/

AWC Gothenburg: http://awcgothenburg.com/

Please feel free to comment should you have any questions. It will be a great night with great people for a great cause. Need I say more??

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Keeping Your Sanity While Living Abroad

April 14th, 2010 by Liana

When living in a foreign country, even the simplest tasks can become the greatest endeavors.

One must be prepared for this, and above all else, have the ability to laugh at themselves and to always keep on going.

I am no expert at this feat, by all means. Honestly, my time in Sweden has been my first experience living in a country where I don’t speak the language or fully understand the culture.

While in France, I now realize what an asset it was to have had my language abilities, and while yes, I can always fall back on English here, sometimes it’s just not the same. And I can’t have a translator walking around with me everywhere I go (though I really should download an app for that).

And yet, while I have no real answers for how to conquer embarrassing times in foreign countries, I can at least offer some advice, or share the stories of my mishaps and breakdowns:

First, when setting goals for yourself, be modest, kind and realistic. Keep it simple!

It took me an entire week to figure out how to buy envelopes, stamps and mail letters home. Don’t ask me why, but after 3 trips to the Post and multiple Pressbyråns, I finally succeeded.

Patience and humor are necessary for daily chores, such as grocery shopping. Really, it is a humbling experience when you have to send multiple texts to your boyfriend asking what the difference is between such and such bread and what the word is for butter, or garlic.

If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. Just because something did not work out well the first time, it does not mean it will never work out at all. You are in a different place, so perhaps try doing something in a different way. Don’t be stubborn— it’s ok to change things in order to adjust in your new home.

Give yourself time. As I hinted at before, grocery shopping and cooking are still a challenge for me here. I still end up paying more than I know I should at the store because I am not familiar with brands and products (let alone the fact that I still am not familiar with the kronor and the kilo). I don’t know yet what a good deal is here. Also, it is very difficult for me to find the familiar ingredients that I have at home, or in France. I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, all week to make one, awesome dinner for my boyfriend, and each time the seasoning or the flavors or the pasta sauce is just not right. I don’t know what it is! But I am determined to become an awesome Swedish chef here (insert Swedish chef Muppets joke here).

If you moved for love, keep the relationship with your person and the relationship with your new country/city separate. I can’t blame my boyfriend for the fact that it took me 45 minutes to find the store instead of the normal 20. It’s not his fault that the fish I cooked was too dry. Of course, I am here for him, but I love him, and no matter how hard and frustrating this experience may be, it is worth it, and I knew there would be challenges going into it.

Try not to totally depend on your significant other—be independent. I used to be scared to go shopping or do laundry on my own, because, god forbid, something would happen and I wouldn’t understand what was going on and then I would ruin everything. Well, I got sick of waiting around for him to do things real fast and just bit the bullet and went out on my own. And what do you know! I didn’t ruin anything….yet.

Find others like you—I guarantee they are out there. There are expats all over the place, and while you should be trying to assimilate and integrate into the culture of your new home, it feels so good to get together with others in your same situation and just cry and bitch about everything. Really, there are other people out there having the same struggles and feelings as you, and I am sure they can offer a shoulder to cry on or at least a friend to help explain how something works in a way that you will understand it.

Keep yourself happy, healthy and looking good. When everything else fails around you, just focus on YOU. Eating right, sleeping well and exercising can make all the difference—really. You are in an uncomfortable setting and situation being a foreigner far from home. Do what you need to do to make yourself feel good and feel like you. Treat yourself every now and then, maybe with a day shopping, or a day inside watching movies in your own language with a box of chocolates—whatever floats your boat.

Learn, and love it. This is an experience—an opportunity to be learning new things every day. How incredible is that?!

And, when everything turns to shit and comes crashing down around you, know that this is going to be one heck of a story you’ll be able to tell your friends and family later. Hell, maybe you can even turn it into a blog. :) Happy foreign living everybody.

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My Relationship with Swedish Food

March 1st, 2010 by Liana

I am back up in Sverige again everybody. Going on three weeks now, and with that, perhaps at least 5 kilos?

Over these past couple of weeks I have made a drastic change in my eating habits, and I can’t help but assume that it has something to do with my change in countries.

In France I have been living off of fresh veggies from the market, rice and lentils. Oh and red wine, of course :) (I know that France has a lot of “dangerous” foods to offer as well, but I have been very proud of myself for abstaining from my hankerings for chocolate and baguettes).

Since arriving in Sweden, however, it has been an overload of meat, potatoes, dairy products galore, and oh yeah, why not throw some carbs in there too!

I’m not quite sure what it is, but every time I arrive in Sweden I am hungry, and with that, more than ready to satisfy my urge to eat.

That is now. Three years after my first trip to Sweden.

To be honest, from the start I wasn’t too thrilled with Swedish cuisine.

Filmjölk? What the heck is that? Expired yogurt?? And hushållsost? How can anything called “household cheese” be good?

Well you will all be very proud to know that Filmjölk is now a part of my breakfast here every morning (though I still can’t completely drown my cereals in it as the boyfriend does. I still need equal parts filmjölk and cereals to subdue the taste).  And I am learning how to work my way around hushållsost.

There are still some things though that I am taking more time to warm up to.

Sill is a whole other story. Now, I am a big fan of sushi, so this slimy fish thing wasn’t something totally foreign to me, but you better believe I had to pile that on profuse amounts of knäckebröd in order to get it down. Recently I dined at Kometen in Göteborg, and while the Wallenbergare was of the upmost tenderness and mouth-watering-ness, it took a little time, and a lot of aquavit, for me to wash down the S.O.S entre of sill. If one is not used to strong, and rather awkward tastes, or slimy textures, Swedish cuisine can definitely throw you through a loop.

Honestly, out of all the countries I have been to, Sweden has challenged me the most in the food arena.

Traditional Swedish food is an acquired taste. It is the food of the Vikings, right? It must take one tough individual to keep all that down.

As always though, with my frustrations come submission, and after that, appreciation and eventually, as far as food goes, cravings.

I now have my list of Swedish food must-haves every time I am here:

  1. That korv shop near Vasaplatsen in Göteborg. Hot Dog and mashed potatoes wrapped in a warm tortilla-like bread with salad and pickles. YUM!
  2. Max! Need I saw more?
  3. And how about all the candy? Candy tubs are everywhere with hundreds upon hundreds of choices of gummies and sours and lollipops and chocolates (I’m still working on that salty stuff though. Salt and licorice?? Come on).
  4. And the baked goods.  Not quite like the pastries the Frenchies put out, but still good, if you know what to expect. Can I say semla anyone? Now those are to die for.

Ironically the majority of my time in Sweden has been spent here in the winter (and I’m still loving it, can you believe it??), so perhaps my eating habits are linked to my instinct of hibernation? I’m a California girl, so you better believe I am freezing! And there is a snow storm outside, so what else am I supposed to do but eat and stay warm for the winter?

I love coming back to Sweden, tucking away inside and getting cozy with a yummy kanelbulle, or perhaps a little Risifrutti, if I’m trying to stay “lite.”

It usually takes my body a little time to adapt up here, however, if you tough it out, Swedish gastronomy will eventually grow on you, and I must say, the end of a Swedish meal gives the most filling feel of satisfaction. They sure know how to stuff you up here—that extra layer is an essential for winter in the North!

Anyone have any other suggestions (or dares) of Swedish cuisine I should try? What is your favorite? Or arch enemy for that matter.

Another challenge I face up her with food is cooking in general. I can never seem to find the right ingredients and my homemade mac and cheese, my lasagna and even my gourmet croque monsieurs always seem to turn out far worse than I hope them to be. Any suggestions of great places to get the goods in Sweden?

Tack everyone for reading!

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Sweden: Why no Swedish?

January 21st, 2010 by Liana

I’d like to introduce the topic of the Swedish language and the way in which the Swedish culture identifies with it in this next blog. I’m a bit confused on the subject as I have personally received mixed feedback and information and would really appreciate your thoughts and comments.

My questions: How important is the Swedish language to the Swedish people?

Sweden itself is a rather small country (talking population wise, and compared to other European countries, and my home country, it is on the smaller side). The Swedish speaking population of the world is around 10 million—of course spoken officially in Sweden but also in parts of Finland—which puts Swedish at space number 78 apparently on the World’s most spoken languages (according to some sources).

Yes, Sweden is a small country, but they do contribute greatly to Europe and the world. Yes, their contributions tend to go almost unnoticed, or are at least they are not very well-known as “Swedish” contributions, but I seem to have noticed that Swedes prefer it this way (I’m mostly talking about their cultural exports (fashion, music, movies, etc.) as well as various inventions, manufactured goods, money, celebrities….I often am surprised to hear that “that is Swedish” and can always shock friends and family by saying, “oh yeah, that’s from Sweden” or “a Swede did that.”). Being modest seems to be a very “Swedish” thing to do as well.

In my experience I have also found that Swedes speak excellent English. Ok sure, not all of them do. We don’t want to generalize here. But yes, the majority of people I meet with have no problem conversing in my native tongue rather than their own (it would be absolutely pitiful if I even tried, so this is probably for the best).

As our world grows and cultures are shared, people and languages are mixed more and more. My country is a perfect example of this, and I absolutely love it for that.

However, I think that no matter how much a nation wishes to merge or blend with others, their central identity should never be lost—especially a language.

France has done an excellent job at this. Their language is sacred and protected through their own l’Académie française. French immigration numbers continue to be on the rise, but the essence of being “French” is still an identity to be revered and honored by its people.

As modernity can be changing the way in which people live and view the world, I believe it is vital to protect and maintain traditions and cultural identities. I support integration of cultures of course believe that too is essential to do so in our ever-immigrating and changing world, but a culture should never be lost.

My boyfriend is Swedish, and we have been dating for over 3 years now. Last year I finally started taking Swedish courses at the Scandinavian School in San Francisco. I had learned a bit by being around my boyfriend and his friends and of course by visiting Sweden, but I thought it was time to start a structured study on the language of the man I love. Yeah sure, we mostly just speak in English, but am I going to be that vapid and just think that was enough? I should do my part in this relationship as well, right?

I am continuing my acquisition of the Swedish language now, but mostly with my Rosetta Stone program and with the help of my boyfriend and his family. However, every time I am with his family or friends and mention that I am hoping and trying to learn the language they tell me, “Oh, don’t do that, that is just silly. We all can speak English anyways.” Seriously?

Now I have no idea where my relationship with my boyfriend will go. I’m hoping it will last a while, but in all honesty, no one knows what the future holds, right? But if this relationship does end up turning into a marriage, and then a family, can you really expect me to be married to a man whose language I don’t understand? To have children who can speak something I can’t comprehend at all? Um, I don’t think so.

I’ve been to Sweden a gazillion times already. I’ve met the family, the friends and all that, and while it is great that we can still communicate in English when needed, I’m tired of always having to wait for a translation, of not understanding group discussions. I want to learn! I actually really like Swedish. I think it is a fun language and I enjoy speaking it when I can (I studied languages in University, so it is kind of my thing).

So why exactly should I not bother learning this language? Is it because the Swedish people can just disregard their language so easily as it having no importance in the world? Or do they really just not want me to learn it? Do they think I will botch it up so much they would rather I not try to speak it at all? (I know my accent is horrible now, but I really am trying!).

A recent article on The Local reports how Swedes were criticizing the use of English for the upcoming royal wedding festivities (Love Stockholm 2010). English has also been commonly used around Sweden for a while now, whether it be for events or published journals or the phrase of the city of Stockholm itself: Stockholm: The Capital of Scandinavia, and citizens are angry about this.

Apparently there is a new language law that has been in effect since July 2009 with states Swedish as the official language of Sweden and that it must be “used and developed.”

But, I was told, and I haven’t found a reasonable source for this so excuse me if this is wrong, that Sweden did not even support Swedish as a language of the European Union. It was Finland who said it should be included. What was up with that?

Anyways, as I said from the start, what are your thoughts and ideas about this, cause I am being pulled in two directions and don’t quite get it.

Why so much English? I appreciate it of course, but is it really necessary? And why deter others from learning Swedish? This could result in a dead language, and I do not support that at all.

Regardless thought of the answers I receive, you better believe I’m going to be going out there trying to pratar my svenska. It’s a great language and a great culture and it should not be lost or forgotten.

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American-Swedish Holidays

January 11th, 2010 by Liana

Bonne année! Gott Nytt År! Happy New Year!!

Hello everyone, and welcome to 2010. I have been hibernating these past few weeks so I apologize for my lack of writing, but I am back and ready to start this New Year on a productive note.

So to begin, yes, I have just returned from experiencing my first Swedish holidays and friends, I have to say, I’m hooked.

First off, the whole event of Christmas is completely and utterly amplified in Europe in general: markets, ferris wheels and decorations galore. While I found Göteborg to not be so over-the-top with the street décor and such (with the exception of Liseberg which is a winter wonderland) the traditions definitely proved that Sweden can be the capital of Christmas (after all, Santa Claus does live here, or is it Finland? Or both?…)

Tradition is alive in everything: from the food you eat to the spontaneous singing and drinking during dinner, the annual Disney extravaganza to the exchanging of gifts.

Being the only American and foreigner at this year’s festivities in Sweden with the boyfriend’s family, I definitely stuck out and I realized something: being an American abroad (or being anything abroad for that matter), you are almost expected to be an expert on your home country and the traditions and history that it holds.

I think I failed miserably at this task. As well as at trying to pick up a few of the Swedish traditions as well.

First, Christmas in Sweden is not really celebrated on December 25th, it is celebrated on our Christmas Eve, the 24th. It commences with a visit to church in the morning and then at around 13h00, dinner is served. Swedish Christmas dinner is a literal smörgåsbord of Swedish cuisine: sill, Christmas cheddar, julvort, köttbullar and beet sauce, pate, eggs and kalles kaviar, skinka, knäckebröd and shot after shot of snaps. Everything goes in a pattern of: eat, drink, sing, repeat.

This was all very exciting to me: the new variety of flavors and getting drunk as a tradition—very fun indeed (even though I need to work on my shot-taking skills, and need to acquire a taste for sill. I’m still working on that). I did have some troubles singing along to the chants and songs, but I am still beginner in this language, so I have to give myself a break there.

It wasn’t until my boyfriend’s mother turned to me and asked “what is Christmas dinner like in America?” did I realize either how little I knew about the U.S. or how totally random and weird my family is.

In my house growing up, we eat lasagna for dinner on Christmas Eve. We have it with salad that you buy in a bag from the grocery store, and that frozen garlic bread you just cut and stick in the oven for 5 minutes. We eat it sitting in front of the T.V. watching A Christmas Story and sometimes we will drink egg nog (the non-alcoholic version from Safeway).

Uhhhh, what kind of tradition is that? And what really is a typical American Christmas? I’m not sure if I really know…

Back in Sweden, we all gathered in the living room to watch Kalle Anka’s Christmas special after dinner. Kalle Anka (Donald Duck for the non-Swedes reading this) is a necessity for a Swedish Christmas. It is pretty much a compilation of the most classic Disney cartoons and films all wrapped into one hour-long display and while none of it has to do with Christmas at all really, it was a great treat of nostalgia for me.

At around 16h00 or 17h00, Dad steps out to “get the papers.” My boyfriend, his mother and I were sitting around the Christmas tree awaiting his return, when we were surprised by a knock at the door. Immediately the two shoot a glance in my direction, to see my reaction, and my heart skips a beat. Could it be? Is it really him? Tomten???

I crept to the door, and as I cracked it open, low and behold, SANTA was there. I’m telling you, I was 5 years old again and speechless in amazement. I was in the Christmas epicenter of Sweden and Santa was in our house.

“Haven’t you ever had Santa come to your house before?” my boyfriend asked.

Well, no. I mean, yes of course he comes at night when I am sleeping, and I’ve gone to see him at the mall and stuff. But I’ve never actually seen him in my house.

Santa went to work distributing the gifts to everyone, and this in itself was yet another form of tradition. In Sweden, creating special rhymes and riddles as Christmas cards makes the gift-giving process more fun and meaningful. Each present gets one and it is written to the receiver as a sort of “hint” as to what the gift is.

Yet again, I get the question of, “how do you do this in America?”

In America, we wake up at 6AM on Christmas Day and it is a mad dash to the Christmas tree to all tear open your gifts together. Sometimes my family and I will take turns opening, but sometimes things aren’t even wrapped—they are just placed under the tree because the “elves” ran out of time to wrap them.

After all the presents were handed out at our home in Sweden, Santa (Tomten) had to be on his way. So many other houses to visit that night! (It is my theory that Sweden celebrates Christmas a day earlier than the U.S. because Santa starts there (as he lives there) and then doesn’t get to America until later).

That evening it was more Christmas television specials with Svensson, Svensson and then it was time for porridge. Another customary Christmas food, porridge is eaten in the evening at the end of all the festivities, and the lucky one who finds the almond inside gets to make the wish. Well of course I forgot about that part and scarfed down my whole bowl, thinking that crunchy part was perhaps some uncooked grain and I should just swallow it whole to be polite. Everyone stared at me as I licked the last part clean, wondering where the “wish” they had so carefully planted in my portion had gone. Yeah, I had done so well up until then! Drinking the snaps, singing the songs, eating all the fish! And then I freaking ate the almond. Oh well, I guess there will be next year :)

Anyways, my stomach and soul is overflowing with julmust and glogg now. Pepparkakor are coming out my ears and I have gained at least 8 kilos. No joke.

I am completely satisfied an enthralled by the traditions of Sweden, but it has definitely made me wonder more about my home and my “culture.” America is such a mixture, a melting pot of all sorts of customs. I know there has got to be something other than lasagna on Christmas and material overindulgence out there.

I’m going to attempt to find something more back at home next holiday, and hopefully not end up eating the almond, or anything like that, in the process.

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“I wish my parents had been more like my Swedish boyfriend”

December 7th, 2009 by Liana

Over the years I have come to learn about many of the characteristics and traits of the Swedish person.

Of course, all of this knowledge has been acquired with the help of my own Swedish boyfriend. Actually, come to think of it, just about everything I know about Sweden and Swedes has been from what he has taught and told me, so there is a very big possibility he is making it all up and that I am totally off base here.

But, I am going to have faith that my relationship is not a total lie and go along with these generalizations as truths, but please everyone, feel free to stop me or contradict me if I make any disagreeable observations.

This week: Swedes are as tough as nails.

I am an American, as I think you all know by now, and in my experiences abroad and in my relationship with a Swede I have come to the conclusion that I am just too soft. Allow me to explain.

I am currently living in France participating in a fellowship through the French government where I teach English in various public schools.

Now, I have had a “thing” for France since I was a little girl (though this “thing” for France has since manifested into a “thing” for Sweden, don’t you worry).  Anyways, I have always been fascinated and intrigued by the culture, history, language and romance of France.

It is actually because of this impassioned interest of mine that I ever met my Swede in the first place, came to Sweden and started this blog.

My boyfriend and I met while studying at the Université d’Aix-Marseille in Aix-en-Provence, France.  This of course just fueled my obsession with France even more: I spent a year in the paradise of Southern France and fell in love with a gorgeous European man. How much more perfect could it get?

Fast forward three years later to now. After moving back to the States for almost 2 years I have now finally made it back to France—the country of dreams, right?

Not quite.

Now, I am living in the North of France, and I am freaking cold. It is wet, and gloomy and pretty much as depressing as the dark ages. Kind of a cool historical experience I guess.

I live in a sleepy little town where people are…weird, to say the least.

I only work 12 hours a week, but my schedule is so spread out it is hard to leave to go anywhere and I am left with long, boring afternoons, dreaming of my home up North (a.k.a. Sverige).

So, I’ve been whining and crying a lot. “Why is there no hot water in this country??” “Why is French bureaucracy so retarded?” “Why am I wasting time in this silly place when I could be up in a more civilized country with my love in Sweden??” etc, etc.

Yeah, I’m a big baby. When I am a big baby, I call my mommy and daddy and they make me feel better:

“Oh Sweetie, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. If it is so bad, you can come home, or you can move to Paris or Sweden. We will help you do whatever it is you want.”

When I am a big baby and call my Swedish beau, he really couldn’t care less:

“Yeah, that sucks. So deal with it. It was your decision to move there in the first place.”

What?! But I’m crying, and sad, and France is stupid and French kids are mean! Fix it!!

Swedish boyfriend: “Liana, what do you want me to do? This is your bed you made and you just have to sleep in it.”

And dammit, he’s right.

I always thought, why would I ever do anything I didn’t want to do? Why would I waste my precious time on anything like that? Have it your way, right?

Well, the rest of the world doesn’t really think that way, especially the Swedes I know.

Maybe it’s their warrior, Viking blood or their ability (and need) to survive cold, dark winters, but my Swedish family has never encouraged giving up. Quitting is not something they know much about.

When I told my boyfriend that I was actually considering leaving France and quitting this program early, he didn’t quite understand. Sure, he has bad days too, and he definitely knows how to complain, but to up and quit? Nah-ah. No way.

With him and his family, there is no bullshit—it is simple: you make decisions, and you deal with them.

Is this the same for all Swedes? I don’t know, you tell me. But mom and dad, come on. I am 23-years old. It’s about time I learned to suffer a little.

It all just builds character, right?

Until next time, puss och kram Sverige.

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Not All Swedes are Supermodels

December 1st, 2009 by Liana

I have a Swedish boyfriend (hence my connection to Sweden and this blog).

This is an incredibly awesome thing of which I know I am extremely lucky for. My boyfriend is exceptionally good looking :) , he loves to cook for me, and I get to split my time between home (well, France for now) and a super cool European country that has excellent shopping. Win-win, right? It is now, but before, believe me, I had extreme anxieties about having a Swedish beau.

Before really delving into the culture, history and politics of this country, I had very few impressions about it. They were: cheap furniture, meat and potatoes, and extremely beautiful women. Yeah, that last one posed as a pretty intimidating idea for me.

Now, I don’t want this to sound like my own pity-party. I actually think I am pretty darn cute. I’ve always been on the on the thin side, I think I have some good fashion sense, and, after years of fake-tan sprays and lotions, I actually think my fair skin is quite fitting for me, and perhaps stunning in a way.

However, that daunting reputation of Sweden having some of the most beautiful women in the world was something I didn’t think I could compete with at first. Tall and slender, flowing, golden blonde hair, ice-blue eyes and gorgeously tanned skin. Who can resist that? And why was my boyfriend with me, a pale-skinned American nerd (it’s true, I really am one) with freckles and ginger hair?

My first few times to Sweden were both extremely exciting and rather nerve-racking. It is embarrassing to admit now, but I definitely prepared well in advance for them—making sure my wardrobe was up to par and appropriate to “compete” with all the cool Swedish girls. I would make sure to schedule my hair appointment with my stylist right before I left so I looked refreshed and put together. I was literally preparing to be stampeded by Victoria Silvstedts, Caroline Winbergs and the like the second I stepped off the plane.

It was however, quite the contrary. While yes, Sweden does have a profuse amount of attractive people, it was not something that was as obvious as I had expected. To be honest, after seeing one beautiful person after another, they all started to blend in together in a haze of tan and blonde. Also, for a country that is known for beauty, there was definitely also a good amount of ladies who should have taken a second glance in the mirror before stepping out for the day. I’m sorry, but don’t ruin your beautiful golden locks with strips of black. It is just trashy.

After my third or fourth visit to Sweden I finally felt comfortable in my own skin. I realized that yes, my boyfriend is surrounded my gorgeous blonde women all the time, but he prefers brunettes anyways, so I should be safe with that. And while the women really are perfectly beautiful, it seems that Swedes are used to that, and it’s no real surprise or novelty for them as it is for, say, Americans like me.

Anyways, mostly this entry is just a way for me to share my sentiments with all you other American gals in my same situation. Did any of you have these same fears and worries?

Actually, I have to say, in my experience Swedish women haven’t really been that intimidating at all, once you get to know them. For the most part they are warm and goofy, and make me feel at ease when I am hanging out with them (at least the ones I know).

So yes, ok, Sweden has pretty girls. But get over it. It’s not that big of a deal. It’s a small country, and when you look at the statistics, America probably has more pretty girls.

And who knows, I may not be an Amazonian blonde bomb shell, but maybe my whole white skin and freckle thing could even be seen as exotic here :)

(but yeah, I definitely google imaged “ugly Swedish girls” and pretty much just pictures of models came up. or ones like this one below. dammit).

Swedish Girls22919559-f899-42a7-a051-298f3dcfe77f

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Swedish Sex: Overly liberated, or am I just an American Prude?

November 27th, 2009 by Liana

When dating someone from a different country, there are bound to be a plethora of cultural differences and misunderstandings. For me, and for dating a man from Sweden, there has been one topic that continually evokes a dialogue of different views and opinions: sex.

Before I started dating my Swede, and I hate to admit this, I didn’t know too much about Sweden, nor did I think very often about it. Honestly, I could probably tell you Ikea, H&M, Volvo and meatballs, and that would be the extent of my knowledge on the country. Since being formally introduced to Sweden, I have learned about it profusely: from its history to its language, to its food and culture and to its liberal approach to speech and, well, sex.

Now, in America, we have freedom of speech as well. Also, I was by no means raised in a strict religious household. I think we had pretty open dialogues about sex, if I ever wanted to have them, and it was never portrayed as something strictly taboo. However, when it came to sex, I was taught to wait until I was with someone “special” to do it and that it was something that two people do when in “love.” I also wasn’t allowed to watch movies or TV shows that contained “adult content” until I was of the appropriate age, in my parents’ opinions.

The education my boyfriend received on this topic and the attitude that was instilled in him was a little bit different. In our discussions on the topic it seems he was introduced to sex at a much younger age and was taught that it was a thing of pleasure that it was ok to experiment with. Of course he was taught to be safe and to always respect whichever sexual partner he was to have, but he was never told not to do it, and in my opinion, was almost encouraged to try.

Coming from a country where abstinence has been the forerunner in sexual education for so long, this was a little shocking to me. Of course I don’t live under a rock and I know how ridiculous it is to tell hormonal teenagers to just not have sex, but to out rightly tell them to do it, I could never imagine such a thing.

I was shocked even more recently when watching the first episode of Sweden’s Paradise Hotel television show where, on the first night, two of the contestants on the show slept together and the act was played on TV. Yes, we have Big Brother and other similar shows in the U.S. where participants sleep together as well and it is put on TV for all to know about. It is shown in the same way: night vision cameras, mostly just lumps under the covers in the bed, showing just enough movement for you to guess what is going on. But on Swedish TV they leave in all the explicit dialogue of the event so that little is left to the imagination: “Wait, I want to do it doggy style” “No, just stay like this” “Oh, I am coming now..” “Wait for me so we can come together” “No, no I am coming now, ohhh, I’m coming” “Can we do it again in the morning so I can come too?” (this is my attempt to translate this from Swedish, so I apologize if it isn’t quite accurate, but hey, I tried).

This complete lack of privacy was, again, shocking for me. This was on regular television, for anyone to see. My boyfriend argued that it was on later in the evening, so children probably wouldn’t have been able to watch it. But come on, if I can figure out how to watch this show online and in France, any 10 year old Swedish kid could do the same.

The thing that puzzled me the most was how sex could be shown so explicitly and as if it is no big deal on public television. Is this the kind of message that a country wants to be sending to their young children, who are being told it is ok to go out and experiment with sex?

But then I thought, what is the big deal? I myself am making sex taboo—something that should be hidden behind closed doors. Perhaps when putting it out there, completely naked and uncensored (literally) it really does promote a healthier sexual lifestyle for a people.

The Local today published an article about the Green Party politician Sofia Bothorp who made explicit comments about Sweden’s views on sex during a local council debate (http://www.thelocal.se/23506/20091126/). Again, I am pondering that maybe it is me who needs to loosen up and embrace this freedom of sexual expression. Ok, maybe Bothorp should have saved her comments for a more appropriate time and not during a political meeting, but I think she is right to be proud and grateful for the openness Sweden has for speech, expression and sex. I’m not quite sure how that would work for America, and I still do get a bit uncomfortable on the topic, but I’m willing to push my sexual self to not be so rigid.

Who knows, maybe teaching kids about the best ways to pleasure themselves and slang words for their sexual organs is a good thing (see other article on The Local about sex education in Sweden today http://www.thelocal.se/23032/20091102/). Maybe it makes for a happier and healthier people and a more peaceful country. Swedes seem pretty content to me.

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Another Love for a Swede

November 25th, 2009 by Liana
the swede and me in Tahoe

This seems a common tale for this country: an American girl falling in love with a Swedish boy and from then on, her life never being the same. Has this become a cliché already?

The Local itself reported Swedish men to be the best mates, and I think all us ladies who have been swept away by one can attest to that.

In short, my story is not much different from all the rest. I met my Swede, Jonatan, in the South of France during an exchange program for my university back in California. He was there for a year abroad as well and since then we have been on this adventure of distances, cultural differences and language barriers.

It has been almost three years now: a year together in France, two years between San Francisco (me) and Göteborg (him) and now I am back in France again, this time for work. I am closer, but still not close enough.

Sweden has become a second home to me, and I hope to call it my real home this spring when I can hopefully move there to start Graduate School.

This is another blog about the love for a Swede and for Sweden, but in my opinion, there couldn’t be enough of those. It is a great country and yes, the men definitely make excellent mates ;)

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Sweden vs. the U.S.A in Climate Consciousness

November 17th, 2009 by Liana

In a recent article published by The Local http://www.thelocal.se/23278/, it was reported that a new study by the Swedish National Environmental Protection Agency found nine in 10 Swedes to consider themselves conscious of climate issues. Half of the polled citizens revealed they suffered a guilty conscience when their actions negatively impacted the environment.

In the wake of the upcoming Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, COP15, to take place next month, this seems the perfect time to re-evaluate American habits in regards to the environment and where the country stands on the new climate change deal.

Unfortunately, the United States has been causing a lot of stress to the other United Nation countries involved in this deal, saying it cannot participate so soon in this formal global climate agreement as it is not realistic for the country. But is it really too soon? Others would argue that it is becoming too late, and that time is running out. President Obama has mentioned fears that there is not enough time for the U.S. to commit such an agreement as there is still pending legislation with the U.S. Senate and of course, the issue of cost.

However, the need to take action in reducing greenhouse gas emissions has been stressed as one of the “defining challenges of our century”, according to incoming COP15 president, Connie Hedegaard.

America has never even officially signed, or rather, ratified the Kyoto Agreement, a protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC or FCCC) introduced in 1997, aimed at combating global warming. This is significant as the U.S. Energy Information Administration noted that as of 2005, the United States was the largest per capita emitter of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.

So what is there to do? Why is America so behind?

Being from California, the San Francisco Bay Area to top it off, I’ve gotten up on my high horses, thinking my home was as green as you could be. Organic clothing outlets, vegan buffets and signs about “going green” every which-way you looked. I have since been proven wrong. In my frequent stints in the glorious nation of Sweden I have quickly learned that that country puts the U.S. to shame when it comes to caring about our Mother Earth.

In California people want to drive a Prius, shop at Whole Foods and attempt to reduce, reuse and recycle. It is the trendy thing to do now.

Well, recycling-schmycling. In Sweden they have full on recycling stations in their homes, where they sort everything from cardboard boxes, to newspapers, bottles and plastic containers to batteries and old electrical supplies. Yes, you Swedes reading this may be laughing at my American naiveté. and baffled that I find your organized trash and recycling rooms in your apartment buildings to be works of art, but it’s true. I thought our blue containers we put out on the street in California were advanced and efficient, but that was before I saw the 30 square metered recycling room (of which there are two) at my boyfriend’s complex in Göteborg. It is a recycler’s paradise in there, with neatly labeled bins and receptacles complete with photo-ID cards distinguishing where one must put the paper products, the dark glass products, the light glass products, the plastic products, the electrical products and so on. Sweden has taken it to a whole new level-a level that has truly taken America far too long to reach.

In a parody of the United States’ opposition to Socialism, The Daily Show visits Sweden and analyzes the “horrific” effects a socialist government can have on a people. In the episode, Wyatt Cenac tours Swedish Pop Star Robyn’s home in Stockholm. Her recycling station in her kitchen is mocked, but really, it is just to show the absurdity of America’s slow assimilation to becoming environmentally conscious http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-april-21-2009/the-stockholm-syndrome-pt–1 . If you have the time, I would check out Part 2 of the report as well for some more satire on why free health care and free education is a bad thing http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-april-22-2009/the-stockholm-syndrome-pt–2 .

Since first coming to Sweden, I have now been trained to organize, separate and reduce my waste and recyclable–a basic skill even a 5 year old knows in this country. I cringe when I accidentally throw my plastic coke bottle in the trash can on the street and not the green recycle basket. Having lights on in unused rooms is now a pet peeve and I am completely anal about unplugging all appliances when not using them.

It is definitely a contrast looking at the way I was raised in suburban California compared to my boyfriend’s upbringing in a smaller, Swedish town. And to be honest, it is kind of silly that it is. I could go on for hours about how Sweden, and many other European countries for that matter, are more environmentally aware and advanced than us. Americans need to step it up-from slightly altering their day to day lives to help out the planet, to taking the initiative as one of the biggest world leaders and taking a daring step towards the diminishment of global warming.

I am still counting down to Copenhagen–just 19 days left. Let’s hope for possibly a surprise outcome.

Nothing stays plugged in here. There is no wasting energy allowed.

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