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'I don't think I'll ever really feel Swedish'

Sophie Inge · 7 Sep 2015, 07:28

Published: 07 Sep 2015 07:28 GMT+02:00
Updated: 07 Sep 2015 07:28 GMT+02:00

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Ask Stockholm-based musician Sarah Snavely which place she considers 'home' - and she never knows quite what to answer.

“I normally give the names of different cities in the US,” Snavely tells The Local. “But the long answer is that I was born in California, my mother lives in Hawaii, my father in Montana and I’ve lived in Sweden since 2006.”

And that’s not to mention a seven-year stay in England, a year in Italy and four months in Greece.

However, despite living in Sweden for almost a decade, the 40-year-old says that she still feels like a foreigner.

“Even though I have children who speak much better Swedish than me I don’t think I’ll ever really feel Swedish,” she tells The Local.

“I think I embrace more of my Americanisms while I’m here - like being more outgoing and emotionally accessible. I confront a lot of Swedes about why they are so seemingly cold and silent when out on the streets."

Photo: Private

But she doesn't think Swedes feel hostile towards Americans. 

“A few Swedes have told me they find Americans are quite superficial but when they dig beneath the surface they actually really enjoy it [American friendliness]. They don’t think you’re a mass murderer if you smile at them, even if they seem like they do.”

SEE ALSO: 'Swedes are great friends but terrible strangers'

Like many expats, Snavely came to Sweden after meeting her partner - himself a Swede.

“We met in Austria while my brother and I were both on tour with our band. He told us to come and visit in Sweden.

“I had never been to Sweden and at the time couldn’t even tell you where it was on a map. We arrived in the summer and it was absolutely beautiful. We said let’s stay for three months and nine years later we’re still here.”

Despite experiencing a warm welcome, she was totally unprepared her for her first Swedish winter, which she describes as “hell”.

“My birthday is in March which is usually the beginning of spring but it was still the dead of winter here,” she says. “I’m not a very outdoorsy person so I don’t embrace the weather – I just hide away.”

With no knowledge of the Swedish language, Snavely, who has an MA in translation and journalism, was as first doubtful that she'd be able to find work. But over the years, she's managed to find various copywriting and proofreading jobs.

“I realized that there was a big need for English writers in Sweden, as Swedes can’t express themselves - or sell things - as well in English as a native speaker.”

After almost a decade in Sweden, Snavely is now able to translate accurately from Swedish into English.

During that time she has also developed her music career and has formed a band with her Swedish partner Ted Malmros called A Nighhawk, which she describes as “indie electronic rock”.

Along with other expats, Snavely also does copywriting for Influence Film, a Sweden-based film club that promotes documentaries.

“Documentaries are becoming the only form of independent journalism now because the mainstream media is becoming so homogenous,” she says.

Snavely is currently focussing her energies on creating her own record label, with which she hopes to release her new album, ‘Ice in the belly, fire in the mind’.

Story continues below…

The name, she says, was inspired by the Swedish saying "Is i magen”, (ice in the belly), meaning to be calm in a crisis.

“For me the saying is the epitome of Scandinavia, the idea of sitting back and perceiving a situation and processing it rather than jumping at something. Whereas in America we have the expression 'fire in the belly'.”

The mother-of-two claims her arty career path and lifestyle simply would not have been possible back in the US.

“In Stockholm I can afford to have children and pursue a creative career thanks to the social system. Whereas in the US I would be bankrupt if I had to send my children to daycare," she says.

“Swedes love to complain about their services here but to me it’s like Disneyland. To be able to live here, start a record label after having two kids and carry on making music is amazing.”

Will she stay in Sweden?

“If you had asked me six months ago I would have said no," she says, but adds: "I think it would be great for my kids to experience another country as it can be quite sheltered here and I would like them to understand that things are done differently in other parts of the world. But for now we are here.”

Sophie Inge (sophie.inge@thelocal.com)

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