Northern Dispatches

Warm apple pie and a slice of Swedish paradise

Warm apple pie and a slice of Swedish paradise
Having survived nearly a year living in northern Sweden, former Londoner Paul Connolly shares the unexpected reaction of his British in-laws on their first visit to his "little slice of paradise".

When we first announced our intentions to move to northern Sweden last year, my girlfriend’s parents were not best pleased. They told us we’d hate the cold and that the 24-hour darkness would corrode our souls.

I’m not entirely sure they even knew exactly where Sweden was.

One of them kept referring to our daft plans to move to Switzerland. They are rather insular souls, though – few of Donna’s family have lived outside the county they were born in. London, for example, a thirty-minute train ride away, is regarded as a sordid fleshpot full of exotic people and weirdos. I think this impression was formed on a trip to the West End to see Cats.

So their visit last week to see our new home and their new twin granddaughters was pregnant with the possibility for conflict and tension. They really did have the notion that northern Sweden was some icebound hell-hole for ten months of the year. I think they fully expected to see polar bears picturesquely marooned on bobbing ice floes. Incidentally, I think the kommuner of northern Sweden are fully to blame for this fallacious perception – they only seem to promote the region as a winter destination, so it’s no wonder that most people seem to think we live a few kms shy of the North Pole.

IN PICTURES: Stunning views of the northern lights in Sweden

To say that the in-laws were won over by northern Sweden is an understatement. Within minutes of their arrival on one of our many fabulous summer days, they were surrounded by inquisitive locals. Although Donna’s parents soon resorted to English tourist stereotypes and started shouting at people to make themselves understood (“Why are they talking so loud,” asked one of our neighbours – “Do they have hearing problems?”), the locals were forgiving. Ten minutes later we walked away with two dinner invitations and at least four offers of fika.

Keen walkers both, Donna’s parents also availed themselves fully of the benefits of allemansrätten, Sweden’s right of public access. Long stomps were undertaken, piles of berries were picked, hidden beaches were lounged on and impromptu boat trips with neighbours were enjoyed. It was incredible that they had any time at all with the baby twins but they did and they loved it.

Upon their departure, Donna’s father talked about our “little slice of paradise” and the extreme friendliness of our new neighbours. We both felt as though they actually got it, that they not only finally understood the appeal of northern Sweden but the draw of travelling and living in – and experiencing – other cultures.

SEE ALSO: Swedes’ ten most common mistakes when speaking English

That was until this morning when, after a brief e-mail exchange in which Donna explained that we were trying to arrange some domestic help to assist with the twins, her father tried to score some cheap points by saying that if only we had listened to him and we had stayed in England, we wouldn’t have needed external help with the girls. Donna was briefly depressed by this retrograde development.

But this sour mood only lasted 20 minutes. Then there was a knock at our door. It was our neighbour Marie. She walked in (unannounced as is northern Swedes’ wont), homemade apple pie in hand, and said, “Do you want me to take the girls for a couple of hours? You can have a lie-in and some breakfast in bed.”

SEE ALSO: Ten soul-satisfying Swedish comfort foods

Paul Connolly

Read more from Paul here, including his Striking a Chord music column

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