Love refugees. International couples. Labour migrants. PhD students.
Oh, and me.
Born and raised in a conservative, uber-religious small American town, I replanted my south-western roots in cold Swedish soil when I was 20 years old.
I left my parents, my sisters, my hometown, my friends, and an obvious culture drought.
It was never a choice. Sweden called to me.
But when I told people in the US that I was moving to Sweden, they always seemed a bit perplexed. “Oh, really? Why is that?”
I would gush about the language, the culture, the food, the jovial songs, the way the sunlight hits the water in the Stockholm archipelago, mention my heritage… and then I would add that I was dating a Swede.
Only then did understanding dawn in their faces. “Ah, I see,” they would respond knowingly.
No. No, you don't see.
What I saw, time after time, were social stereotypes, blind patriotism, dusty norms, and gender roles. I saw that supposed epiphany in people's faces so many times, it's a wonder there is still hair on my head. I wanted to rip out every strand in frustration.
Why did everyone insist that my feelings for a man had to outweigh my feelings for a foreign country?
Surely no one would leave their homeland of their own free will, they seemed to say. “You're crazy, but it's fine, because you're in love.”
Here in Sweden, I found my conversations with other expats were not much different. I threw myself eagerly into Swedish culture, but of course getting to know the often-reserved inhabitants was a bit of a challenge. So I associated with plenty of other foreigners and fellow Americans as well – but I frequently found that I couldn't relate to them.
Everyone I met who appeared to be in my situation didn't share my feelings at all. The vast majority had moved for love, and a handful had moved for job opportunities. And they quite openly expressed their apathy for their new country.
“Sweden is where I live, but it will never be home.”
Words that were said on a stage at an American club event which were echoed and applauded with unanimous empathy from the audience.
Part of me still can't even fathom it. How can you live in such an incredible society and not appreciate it? How can you not long to embrace it?
A musical language where it sounds like people are singing all the time – and where they frequently are actually singing, about summer and sunshine.
A subtle, humble pride of the culture and the nation's accomplishments, while maintaining a curiosity and openness to the world and new ideas.
A collective altruism where people take for granted that the greater good is indeed just that – beneficial for everyone.
The fact is that, even though they may not wear it on their thermal long sleeves, Swedes are filled with joie de vivre – which during the summer months generally means plenty of strawberries and cream.
They know how to live, and they love it.
I have learned, of course, that Sweden is not a perfect country. Like any other nation, it has its demons. Globalism has presented certain challenges, and racism still rears its gruesome head from time to time, momentarily tarnishing the glow. Government policies stumble, pick themselves up, brush off the dust, and try again.
And of course the winters are tough – I needed an alarm clock with a sun-simulator to get me through the first one. But the summers are worth it. Sweden, in general, is worth it.
I guess you could say that I did move for love. I had two relationships, one with a Swede and one with Sweden. The first one ended.
My love for Sweden never did.