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‘Even though you can survive here without Swedish, it’s respectful to make an effort’

British-born David Ashby came to Sweden in 2002. Moving from Brighton to Gothenburg to be with his now-wife, the English teacher-turned-author tells The Local that the past 16 years have been a voyage of cultural discovery.

'Even though you can survive here without Swedish, it's respectful to make an effort'
Brit David Ashby has found creative inspiration in his adopted Sweden. Photo: Mathias Sautermeister

This article is part of The Local's My Swedish Career series. Read more interviews with international professionals and entrepreneurs in Sweden here.

“I met my wife, Elvira, at a salsa class in my hometown on the south coast of England,” he tells The Local. “She's Swedish and was in the UK for just four months, so when she moved back to Sweden we travelled back-and-forth to see each other for a while, until I decided to move. I bought a one-way ticket on the ferry, turning up in Gothenburg without a job or a plan.”

Happily, the TEFL-trained Brit was soon put in touch with another ex-Brighton resident, who offered him a role as a Corporate English teacher. “That was the start of things for me here in Sweden and I soon set up my own company, offering my services as an English proofreader and translator.”

Now based in Stockholm with his wife and children, Ashby has discovered first-hand that certain behaviour in Sweden can attract strange looks.

“I'm a talker. When I'm at a bus stop, or in a queue, I'll start a conversation. In the UK that's fine, but not so much in Sweden. People think I'm a bit odd. When we used to live in a flat I would see people hesitate about entering the lift if they saw me in it, as they were terrified I was going to start talking to them. Some of them even pretended they had forgotten something and turned round to go back to their flat rather than get into a lift with me!”

As a teacher he has seen this reticence reflected in the classroom. “I once had an introductory class with one student who came from the very north of Sweden. They're quite reserved up there, and during the whole lesson he hardly said anything. After that one class he never came back. Obviously the shock of having to speak in English was too much for him!”

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Ashby expresses the importance of making an effort to learn Swedish: “Even though you can survive here without Swedish – I have friends here who do that – it's respectful to make an effort. And it's useful, especially with children, to be able to blend in, to assimilate.”

Picking up the language, however, has not been an easy process for the English teacher. “My pronunciation is awful. I can't pronounce where I live! It makes ordering taxis difficult. My wife gets annoyed with me – she says I completely ignore the three extra vowels in Swedish (å, ä, ö). In fairness, they're hard for a Brit to say.”

As well as pronunciation, the “lack of a please and thank you culture” in Sweden has been difficult to accept. “Even though I know in my mind that it's not rudeness when someone pushes past without apologizing, it can get to me, coming from an ultra-polite society like the UK.”

“Equally, there are things that are considered rude here that aren't at home. The importance of timekeeping is one; in England time is a bit of a flexible thing. You say 'on the hour', you meet at quarter past. Not so, here: if you agree a time, you meet at that time. Arriving late is considered disrespectful. It's reset my clock and changed my perception of time.”

While the children's author describes Sweden in the summer as “a paradise”, the winters have proved more trying. “The darkness and the cold can be difficult. When I came to Sweden I couldn't understand all the Swedes standing in patches of sunlight, looking up, as if communing with a higher entity. Now I get it. My wife has a light box to combat any winter gloom. I just grit my teeth and cope with it.”

Winters aside, Sweden has seeped under Ashby's skin and into his work. He's just written his debut book, which is heavily influenced by Swedish myth culture. “The book is called 'Gribblebob's Book of Unpleasant Goblins'. Although it's set in Sussex (in the UK) there is a big Swedish influence. I first dreamed up the idea walking through the woods in Stockholm, the characters have names like Bengt, Nils, and Anna, and the evil character is inspired by the old Nordic legends of Mara, who brings nightmares. It's a British/Swedish fusion.”


Stockholm's woods proved the inspiration behind Ashby's debut book. Photo: Oskars Sylwan

“We've always been a family of storytellers; my wife Elvira has written and had published successful books for both children and adults. It was when my wife was publishing her books that I got in the mood to start writing properly. As I'd been reading the children a lot of bedtime stories, it felt natural to write for them.”

“One day, we were walking back home from Skärholmen in Stockholm through the woods, when we saw something glinting in the sun on the ground. We went over to see what it was – and it was a stone that looked like a tiny little book. I said, 'Imagine if it was a little book, and a goblin had dropped it.' As we continued walking home I made up a story about a goblin who had dropped his book, and his dog whose shadow we could see, but not the dog itself.  When we got home, Elvira said 'You should write that story down, and finish it'.”

“I did, and then submitted the book to the editor behind the Harry Potter series. The editor liked the story, wanted to publish it – and the rest is history. It comes out from Pushkin Children's in February 2019.”

“If hadn't moved to Sweden and seen my very talented and productive Swedish wife start to make a career as an author, I wouldn't have started writing 'Gribblebob' so I have my new country to thank for that.”

You can follow David Ashby on Twitter here. His debut book, 'Gribblebob's Book of Unpleasant Goblins', will be on shelf in February 2019 and can be pre-ordered on Amazon.

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MY SWEDISH CAREER

My Swedish Career: How I became Swedish Lapland’s first local wedding planner

Lisa Tousignant’s Swedish journey began with her taking a teaching job with IES in Stockholm. This month, she launched Arctic Lapland’s first wedding planning company.

My Swedish Career: How I became Swedish Lapland's first local wedding planner

Tousignant’s new company, Arctic Weddings of Lapland, opened for bookings on July 1st, and she is now focusing on arranging weddings for the coming winter season. You can see some images of weddings Tousignant has done on the company’s Instagram account. 

The idea came to her after colleagues she worked with while employed as the wedding coordinator at Icehotel, in Jukkasjärvi outside Kiruna, told her they often got weddings queries from both abroad and within Sweden.

“The photographers and the florist that I work with said they got calls all the time from people wanting to plan  weddings, but who had no idea where to start,” she said. “There’s no one doing destination wedding planning for Swedish Lapland who actually lives here and this area has so much to offer.”

Icehotel, the big international tourist draw in Jukkasjärvi, hosts dozen of weddings each year and Tousignant is set to continue her relationship with the hotel next year by doing wedding day coordinating. She hopes that Arctic Weddings of Lapland can build on the success that Icehotel has had with their customisable packages by offering different options for adventure within the whole region for winter and summer as well.

“I just had all this support from local people encouraging me to do it, because there’s so many options up here for beautiful weddings and adventure elopements. It’s hard to know where to start and how to navigate all the possibilities.” she says “The overwhelming support made me realise I have been building this idea in my heart for so long and wedding planning is what it is.”

 

A wedding at the Björkliden Mountain resort near Kiruna. Photo: Rebecca Lundh

She wants to what she calls “adventure weddings”. This week she was visiting the Nutti Sámi Siida offices to discuss collaborations. She plans to work with Fjellborg Arctic Journeys, who arrange dogsled trips and have a beautiful lodge camp that could accommodate large wedding parties. With her connection to Tornedalen, she plans to work with Huuva Hideaway, who specialize in Sami food, culture and history, and is also hoping to collaborate on events at Lapland View Lodge and Art Hotel. “i’m going to work my way down Norrbotten from Kiruna to Luleå connecting with all the venues and suppliers, “ she laughs.

 Tousignant’s journey towards being an Arctic wedding planner began 15 years ago when she left what she describes as “a successful career” doing public relations for CBC Television in Canada. 

“It just felt like life was supposed to be more than going back and forth to a job I didn’t love anymore,” she remembers, “I quit…sold all my stuff and went to Central and South America where I worked in hostels and roamed around for nearly two years getting to know myself in my mid-30’s.”

After her two years of travelling, she applied for teacher training college in Canada, got hired by Internationella Engelska Skolan (IES), and moved to their school in Nacka outside Stockholm. She thens taught at IES, and then at Futura Skolan International, for nearly 6 years, before following her sambo Martin Eriksson to the far-North of Sweden. 

“My sambo and I decided to have kids, “ she explains. “Making this decision really pushed him into wanting to change careers and follow his dream of becoming a shoe maker. We really try to support each other in following our dreams, so he moved up to Övertorneå in August while I stayed to complete my teaching contract.”

She moved up to Övertorneå in December, a week before their daughter was born. 
 
For her, moving to the far North of Sweden felt like coming home. “I immediately loved the North! People up here are chatty and friendly and very open.”
 
They lived in Övertorneå for almost three years, while Eriksson built up a successful bespoke boot business. But the Covid-19 pandemic reduced custom, and Eriksson took a job in Malmö shooting videos for the local police. But Malmö did not suit them. 
 
“After living in such a sleepy town, having two kids in the city was overwhelming and everyone missed the snow, so we took the first job opportunities we could in Norrbotten, my sambo [shooting video]for IRF (The Swedish Institute of Space physics) and me for Icehotel,” she says. 
 
 

An image from the website of Arctic Weddings of Lapland. Photo: Arctic Weddings of Lapland.
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