It’s the old story. American boy meets Swedish girl. They fall in love. Boy moves to Sweden. Boy proposes, girl accepts. A fairytale romance where nothing can go wrong.
But then there’s the wedding. How do you keep two families from either side of the Atlantic happy?
One thing Chris and Maria didn’t have to worry about was the weather as the gods decided to smile upon them with a perfect summer’s day. The setting was idyllic; a 14th century church in the St. Anna archipelago, just outside Söderköping, a small town in the east of the country.
There is a universal language when the weather is good: people smile and relax, ties are loosened and jackets are removed. With the weather taken care of, Chris and Maria’s wedding went like clockwork. They had planned carefully and everyone felt part of the day regardless of language or nationality.
Chris’s family hails from the US and Maria’s from northern Sweden. They met in London six years ago on their gap years while both were doing voluntary work. They have spent time in the UK and the US but for the last three years they have lived in Sweden where Chris has become fluent in Swedish.
This was a traditional wedding, but the first point of contact for the guests was a thoroughly modern website that gave the lowdown on the couple, the service, accommodation, etc. in both languages.
For the Americans there was a guide to Sweden letting guests know what to expect from life this side of the pond. Perhaps most important was the information on the real meaning of a Swedish summer and sea temperatures – bearing in mind some guests were traveling from southern California.
The service was conducted in both English and Swedish with the pastor a family friend whose austere demeanour relaxed slightly whenever he spoke English. He was clearly bubbling with excitement at the idea of delivering his service in a foreign language. He even peppered his sermon with a couple of jokes, transliterating Småland for the Americans as ‘small country’, much to the amusement of the Swedes in the congregation.
Like many Europeans, I am rarely in a church, so the experience alone was slightly alien, but even a heretic like myself was impressed with the concessions made to accommodate both nationalities.
Communion could be received in either English or Swedish and an extra pastor was drafted in for this part of the service. As a non-believer I shuffled uncomfortably in my seat watching the ritual and thinking how much easier it would have been if they had all been Roman Catholic with Latin as the common language.
The communion also made me realize that this was a church wedding that actually meant something. Chris and Maria were the real deal. In fact, Maria’s father is a pastor and Chris’s family are dedicated churchgoers, so the setting was for more than just the family album.
Americans seem to be a lot more religious than the average European, and with the couple cohabitating as ‘sambos’ (live-in partners), the pressure was more from the US side to hurry up and ‘do the right thing’. It must have been a relief to hear “I do”, which was uttered in both languages. I was a bit disappointed that Swedish makes do with a simple ‘Ja’, which lacks the impact of the two syllable ‘I do’.
Regardless of the language, the Americans trumped the Swedes in terms of gusto. When a hymn was sung or when doing a reading or addressing the congregation, the US contingent were behind the words in full voice. The Swedes followed the tradition of the tuneless, characterless dirge that epitomizes northern European Protestantism.
The wedding ceremony is fairly universal, and there was only one tradition that needed explaining to the Swedish side of the congregation. A unity candle was lit, an American tradition that has not gained popularity in Sweden, but even this was pretty self-explanatory.
There was a concerted effort to show that this was a wedding of two nations and the wedding cars carried both the American Stars and Stripes and the blue and yellow Swedish flag. As the cars made their way from the church to the reception, local heads turned, wondering if they had witnessed some kind of impromptu US state visit to backwater Sweden.
At the reception, speeches were generally made in English with half the Swedes keen to translate (i.e. show off) if a word escaped the speaker. More often than not, it was the groom, Chris, who jumped in first. He is very competitive, but as he pointed out, unlike most Swedes, he has studied Swedish.
The cake summed up Chris and Maria’s marriage better than any speech or ceremony. A traditional tiered cake topped by a miniature bride and groom was joined by two extra cakes, one in the shape of Sweden and the other in the shape of the US, and connected to the main cake by the Golden Gate and Högakusten bridges.
Theirs is a marriage based on more than just a beautiful Swede and a charming American (which they are). Their ability to bridge two countries will be the key to their success. Both are fluent in each other’s language, and are able to find the positive elements from each nation. Chris and Maria stand in the middle, successfully straddling both continents.
Ben Kersley (www.speakup.se) is a writer and performer who has lived in Sweden since 2006. He is also Sweden’s only Swenglish stand up comedian.