Something Swedish


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Navigating Sweden

I’ve been living in Sweden for nearly two years now and I have a confession: I still don’t know my own neighborhood. Outside of four major streets or highways, street names are an elusive mystery to me. Having grown up in Queens, NYC, where every street is perfectly aligned with a ruler and numbered in order, I’ve never been very great with named streets. Naturally, I thought that was the problem – until yesterday.

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Yesterday I had my first lone adventure in Sweden. I took the 8am train to Gothenburg all by myself so that I can get my fingerprints, photo, and signature taken for my new ID card (Permanent residence, yay!)

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Even though I’ve been to Gothenburg a dozen times before, I’ve never had to think about where I was because I wasn’t alone – especially not trying to find an address. Even though I’ve been to migrationsverket one time before (two years ago) and I was using Iphone maps, I was having a hard time. And that’s when it hit me:

Street signs in Sweden suck. Sorry to be so harsh (it was partially for alliterations sake… I couldn’t resist the 4th ‘s’ word) , but they are so different than what I’m used to, I’ve never even NOTICED street signs in Sweden before. No wonder I don’t recognize any street names. (thankfully, and obviously, I don’t drive)

Let me compare:

Street signs in NYC are ALWAYS posted in the same exact spot on every street corner – sticking out from a pole on the corner, away from the buildings in clear sight of pedestrians trying to find their way – spottable and readable from more than a half a block away. These signs are also always at the same height, not to be missed or confused with anything else.

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Street signs in Sweden can be anywhere. Yes, they are on the corner, but not always every corner. They are not always at the same height (from above store entrances/ signs to almost eye level). And worse of all, they are camouflaged into the surroundings – attached to the sides of buildings, sometimes nestled next to awnings or signs.

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BTW, stumbling upon street names named after Norse gods (Odin and Frigga) was pretty awesome, I have to say.

While the street sign system is not my favorite, I do give partial credit to the addresses. The sorting of addresses on each block reminds me of how books are sorted in a library: each book shelf (block/street sign) indicating which books (addresses) you’ll find there. While I don’t think it gives a good indication of where that address will actually be, if you’re looking at the sign (if you can find it) then you’ll know if that block has the address you need.

In Queens a three part address system is used (xx – xx- xxx street), which seems confusing, but helps understand where in the neighborhood the address is located in relation to other streets. The first number being the cross street, the second number being the house number, and the third number being the street that the address is actually on. Without using cross streets in the address, dependency on a map (or knowledge of the area) is more crucial in Sweden – or so it feels for me.

Of course street signs are different everywhere, and it’s easy reading what you’re used to. This is simply not something I expected to have to adjust to. Now that I’ve noted the difference, I can start paying more attention and forcing myself to look for them – on the sides of buildings.


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Being an American in Sweden

At ten o’clock this morning (4am EST)  Air-force One landed on Swedish soil, that’s right – President Obama is in Sweden. I know because we watched it in class for almost an hour, yes, it’s THAT big of a deal here. Granted, it IS civics class which discusses domestic and international politics, so it was pretty relevant, but I was still surprised. Over the past week or so it has been impossible to turn on the radio or open a newspaper without hearing or reading about this jam packed 24 hour (completely televised) visit. Before I delve into the details on Obama in Sweden, I figured this gives a relevant transition into how it feels to be an American in Sweden – or at least a few broad one side observations that I hope don’t offend anyone, but just came to mind:

First off let me point out that we are few and far between, unless you are working at an International school. Keep in mind that Sweden accepts a large amount of immigrants and refugees, so the ratio is not too surprising. Outside of native English speaking teachers recruited to Sweden, I’ve met 5  Americans in two years (one in passing, one moved back, one being my old boss, one in my current class and one a friend from school & the blog I don’t see often enough), plus a few Swedes that have lived in the US for a long time. Compared to the large groups of people from other countries bonding during class breaks (often in their own languages), sometimes it can feel a bit lonely. Not to say that people aren’t friendly and welcoming, but cliques are natural. I’m guilty of it -  hanging out with a mix of Americans, Brits, a New Zealander and a Canadian. Oh, and Swedes.

For the most part I want to say Swedes like, or are at least impartial to the U.S. The bigger happenings in America are often reported here, which is an upside of being an American in Sweden – being in the know. Someone in class today asked why it was such a big deal that president Obama is here in Sweden, knowing that if it was a president from any other country it wouldn’t have been as important or such a big deal. As much as I hate that many Americans seem to think that the U.S is the center of the world or know little to nothing about other countries, (I’ve been asked if Swedish is really a real language and told that I can drive a car from NYC to Sweden instead of fly) it’s true that America gets a lot of attention world wide, at least in Sweden. It’s not that the world cares so much about America, but one way to look at it is that the European Union and the United States are two sides of a coin – large and powerful with many smaller parts (countries / states). Countries in Europe, to me, are like states in the U.S. – different cultures, languages (Dialects, anyway), economies, politics. News is no more reported about all European countries combined than it is about the U.S.

In almost all of the classes I’ve been in and many casual conversations I’ve taken part of, America has been brought up in discussion in one way or another, sometimes more relevantly than others, sometimes with more or less hostility than others – all with me feeling awkward wanting the conversation to change (I’ve never been a fan of politics). Being the only American in a room when the super power gets brought up is a lot of pressure; either you’ve got to have an opinion, your political views are assumed, or thankfully sometimes you aren’t put on the spot but you are anxiously waiting for it to happen anyway.

Sometimes the conversations are welcomed and pleasant, especially depending on how much you enjoy talking about politics and the like. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to talk about where you are from, your opinions, and find out that people are interested in something you care about or are invested in. Sometimes it’s not even politics, which is even better.

Oh, and don’t be surprised to see Yankees baseball caps here and there -  unlike I originally thought, this does not mean they are from, or have ever been to the U.S.

I’m constantly reminded of common advice most Americans have heard at least once in their life, “When traveling abroad, say you’re from Canada.” You’re never sure how people will respond to you, what they will ask you, or what they will assume about you just because the country you come from has gotten involved in a few too many things. Oh, and sometimes being “American” automatically means being a Texan, the southern accent being a favorite to use when quoting Americans. Other stereotypes: being loud, prude, rude, and good tippers.

It’s been interesting hearing so many outside views of my home country, sometimes as if I’m not even in the room, being offended, enlightened or amused. As an immigrant, I get to learn about not only Sweden, but so many other cultures through my fellow classmates, all of whom seem to have a different opinion about something that is happening, or has in the past happened in America. I’ve heard conspiracy theories, admiration, confusion, hatred, respect, and just plain interest in current events. On the other hand, some people don’t even know who Obama is, let alone anything concerning news in the U.S.A., maybe with the acceptation of something that effects Sweden or their homeland.

Most of the time though, I’m met with positive reactions, “Oh! Where in the U.S are you from!?” Thankfully I’m from NYC, which always opens up the conversation of “Really? I’ve always wanted to go there” or “It must be really different here” or “Oh! I’ve been there!” Which are all great ice breakers.

All and all, it’s nice to live somewhere that isn’t too different from living in America, unlike if I moved somewhere where I couldn’t buy my meat already slaughtered and prepackaged, or where technology wasn’t so advanced, or where English isn’t understood or spoken by the majority of the population.

Maybe this deserves it’s own post – more on Obama’s visit tomorrow instead.


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The Village of “Os”

While spending the weekend in Värnamo to visit family we went on a little “utflykt” or an “outing” to a nearby village called “Os” (also spelled Ohs). What puts this little place on the map isn’t it’s population of about only 100 people, but it’s use of narrow gauge steam trains from 1910.

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When we first arrived I didn’t understand that the trains were actually functioning, or going anywhere – until I heard the classic Chugga Chugga noise, bells loudly clanking and the powerful pressure of steam shooting into the air as a train pulled into the station with passengers and conductors hoping on and off:

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“Train to” time schedule:

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The trains travel a distance of 15 km, to a town called “Bor Norra”. The round trip ride takes 2 1/2 hours, which includes a 30 minute stop at Bor Norra.

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If 2 1/2 hours is too long, then take the “Short round trip” to experience riding on the train for 45 minutes, to a town called “Gimarp” and back again.

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Turning the trains around is a two man job:

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Trains of all shapes and colors lined the tracks:

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Os is not only known for its trains and its train museum, but also for its industrial history. Founded in 1600, Ohs was centered around an iron mill, which was converted into a paper pulp factory in 1893. When the factory closed in 1978 the population dwindled down to about 100. This iron mill/paper factory is now a museum:

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Some of the industrial background is still around; the train yard also has sawmills (sågverk):

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   A nice little trip to a nice little town.

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Meeting and Greeting in Sweden: Handshake, Hug, or Kiss(es)?

I started writing this post almost a year ago, when it was more relevant to my newness here in Sweden and attending SFI:

When I first started visiting Sweden I wasn’t familiar with the small details of Swedish culture, like what you do when you meet someone new, or when you say hi to a friend.  I was always a little annoyed with my then-boyfriend-now-husband, because he never introduced me to people that he was talking to in front of me that I hadn’t met yet. I thought it was rude, but it was simply a difference in culture.  In NYC, It’s more common to be introduced by the mutual friend, “Meg, this is Randomname, Randomname this is Meg” handshake greetingwith pointing and gestures to indicate who is who – usually received with a wave and a smile or a handshake. It’s a lot less common to introduce yourself in NYC and comes off to be a little too forward.

In Sweden, however, you have to take it upon yourself to step up and reach out your hand and announce your name with a solid handshake and eye contact. Naturally, I never did this the first few times I visited and it got to be pretty awkward as I didn’t officially “meet” a lot of people.  Finally, I confronted my then-boyfriend-now-husband who explained it all to me. After that, I started doing it Swedish Style; introducing myself right away instead of awkwardly standing around waiting for him to do it.

Once I got over the hurdle of MEETING people in Sweden, I realized that I’ve been GREETING people all wrong. When researching how to greet people around the world, Sweden is usually not on any of the lists, because there is nothing too specific about a Swedish greeting – except maybe moderation. There is no special way to hug or shake hands that could be rude, offensive, or embarrassing. It is good to know that they generally don’t kiss on the cheek though, singlekissgreetinglike many other countries do. It wasn’t until our wedding in Sweden that my mother-in-law pointed out (in a friendly, shy and giggling way) that my family kisses on the check, which was a little strange to her and she failed to reciprocate since it’s not something normal for her. Meanwhile, this is something I have always done since being in Sweden, but it’s never been pointed out to me. Thankfully, I’m a ‘light contact’ cheek-to-cheek air-kisser which might have gone undetected or else I might have been making a lot more people a lot more uncomfortable. Towards the bottom of this interview HERE I mention it as one of the most embarrassing mistakes I’ve made in Sweden, going around kissing stand offish Swedes who generally like their personal space; at least until you are good friends.

So, I’ve braced myself and committed to being a little gentler with my hello’s and goodbye’s, reserving hugs till I’ve built up a friendship instead of freely handing them out to people I’ve only just met – and then I started making other expat friends and had to start all over again. I never thought any of my anxiety would be over how to say hello or good bye to friends and classmates, but there it was.

The thing with being an expat is you generally tend to hang out with a lot of people from different countries, we go to school together, learn the language together, and socialize together more than I’ve ever hung out with any Swede aside from my husband. This is especially true in Sweden, as anyone new to the country is given the opportunity of free language courses (SFI) everyday. Expecting SFI to be all Swedish and Swedes, I wasn’t prepared to find so many people from around the world. I thought I was well diversified coming from NYC, but it is a whole different thing when everyone has just moved to Sweden straight from from their home countries – Iran, Thailand, Africa, Iraq, Turkey, Spain, Serbia, Germany, Bulgaria, Russia, Lithuania, Korea, Croatia, Egypt, Romania with a light sprinkle of New Zealand, Australian, UK, Canada, and the U.S. All trying to adjust to living in Sweden, while bringing in their own traditions and cultures, such as how to greet one another.

Every country naturally has their own way of greeting friends, so I was thrown back into the whirlwind of what to do with who; not just “stop kissing Swedes”. I always try to take the other persons lead, but sometimes slip and turn a hatriple kiss greetingndshake into a panicked cheek kiss because there was a moment hesitation from both of us and I didn’t know what to do. Sometimes it is a light hug, a wave, a smile, or a strong embrace depending on where someone comes from. A handshake varies from a light gentle graze or a very firm grip. In some cultures it is offensive to kiss on the cheek, and in others it is offensive not to, and then you never know how many times to do it, once twice or thrice. Throw in everyone’s effort to integrate into Sweden and no one seems to know what to do outside of their own culture groups. Greetings become a little blurry and shaky, unless you have the same traditions and already know how to handle greeting each other. For my birthday I was given  triple or double cheek kisses by some cultures, hugs from others, handshakes from the rest as they congratulated me.

Upon saying good bye to new found friends from England, Canada, and USA (Places with the same customs as myself, so this should be easy) I froze and automatically (read: awkwardly) stepped back and offered a hand shake instead of what would be a friendly wave or a hug. We stumbled through it, laughed it off and ended up hugging instead.

All in all, it’s just a funny observation of a sometimes awkward situation that maybe you’ve also experienced while learning the Swedish language along side other people learning the same thing, all from different places around the world, speaking different languages inbetween classes and bringing in all sorts of delicious food that I’ve never seen or heard of before for class parties. SFI is a unique place; a smörgåsbord of cultures all brought together to learn about one thing we all have in common: Sweden.

List of THINGS TO SAY to Greet People in Sweden

Hej! or Hej Hej! = Hey/Hi – Most common, appropriate for both formal and informal.

Hallå = Hello

Hejsan = Hey

Tjena = Hey – Less formal, between friends

God Morgon/Dag = Good Morning/Day

Trevligt att träffas!  = Nice to meet you!

Hur är det? = How is it? (Whats up?)

Hur går det? = How goes it? (How’s it going?)

Hur läget? = How are things?

Vad hittar du på? = What are you finding? (What’s are you doing/up to?)

Hur mår du? = How do you feel?

Hej då! = Good bye!

Adjö! = Bye!

Ha det så bra! = Have it so good! (Have a good day)

Vi ses snart! = See you soon!


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Advice to myself: Packing

Hopefully someone out there will find this somewhat useful, even though it’s really to remind me of my packing do’s and don’ts for next year. I guess anyone that’s traveling needs to be smart about what to bring or leave behind, but this is more for those trips going “back home” when living abroad – in this case specifically Sweden to NYC.

~ You might have moved to Sweden, but all of your stuff did not. You do have clothes to wear there, and clothes/stuff you want to bring back with you. Pack accordingly.

~ Do not pack a sweater. I know that Swedish summers are cool and breezy, but you WILL NOT need one in 95 degree NY weather. Not even at night. And no, it’s not worth it because you “might get cold on the plane.” A light cardigan is enough. One, singular.

~ Only bring one pair of (comfortable) long pants and wear them on the plane. Anything that goes below the knee stays home (dresses/skirts included)!

~ Pack less, in general. Clothing is so much cheaper in NY, keep as much space available as possible.

~ Basics, basics, basics!

~ Less skirts, more shorts.

~ All those nicer dresses and cute outfits you put in your suitcase? Take them out (except maybe two) This trip is not the same as when hubby used to visit you in NY, it is all about running around to see as much family and friends as possible, not seeing the sights and going on dates. You just want to be comfortable and convenient. No matter how much you bring you will keep wearing the same basics over and over.

~ Leave the books behind. What are you thinking? Commendable thought, but you will not have the time or energy.

~ This includes your cookbook, I know you want to show off your new cooking skills and Swedish recipes, but you will NOT be cooking on your vacation.

~ Don’t bring your sunglasses, you will want to buy a cheap pair when you get to NY. (And they are annoying to carry [oh, and it's too hot in NY to wear sunglasses anyway])

~ Leave home your running pants, you will NOT be exercising. Too hot & humid, no time.

~ Shoes are never worth the space they take up. You wore your sandals every single day. If something comes up and you need nicer or different shoes, go shopping. It’s cheaper in NY (and an excuse to get new shoes)

~ No perfume. Less earrings. Less socks (remember that socks and sandals is acceptable in Sweden, but gets strange looks in NY)

~ Bring your totes or else you’ll keep buying new ones. Too useful to leave behind.

~ Don’t forget power adapters, better yet a power strip + an adapter (and leave it there if your staying with family)

~ 3 weeks is a long trip, don’t bother packing toiletries, buy them there.

~ Once in NY don’t run out to buy toiletries until you inventory what you left there from last year.

~ Hubby was right, we probably didn’t need two laptops – even if it was nice and convenient sometimes, we just didn’t have time to use them as much as I expected. And no, you won’t bother taking it out on the plane, even if you have important work to do. An iPad is enough.

In conclusion, pack less and enjoy more!


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Someone, Somewhere, Something: A Transcontinental Love Story.

(Written a year and a half ago, never posted, newly updated. Happy 2 year Anniversary!)

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Everyone has a different form of love, success, opportunity, or happiness that they don’t even realize they need or want. Something that completes you. Sometimes that “something” is a “someone,” or even a “somewhere.” Mine turned out to be both, my “Something Swedish” you can say.

Five years ago I met my “someone,” in a somewhat strange way, having only spoken through Skype and video games, proving that the world is truly a small place. It was the first time he stepped foot in a plane when he traveled 3,800 miles across the Atlantic ocean to meet me in New York City, a long way away from Sweden.

I was expecting to meet “someone,” unaware he’d introduce me to two “somewheres” – one of which was in my backyard my whole life, unexplored. The other, on the other side of the world.

I learned that you don’t need to go far to experience something, or someplace. Being a tour guide in my own city opened my eyes to where I live. Known as ‘The Big Apple,’ New York City has something for everyone (who knew?) When growing up in New York it’s easy to overlook all of the sites, attractions, culture, and history around you and at your fingertips, not recognizing why millions of tourists flock to the annoyingly crowded area of Times Square every year. You don’t understand why people want to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge when you can simply take the train. We hatched an “attack” plan of how to see/do as much as possible in just one week. I learned that there are three kinds of tourists: the sight seers, the shoppers, and the museums goers.

It turns out my Swedish guest was very excited to see the museums. I had a “museum goer” on my hands and a museum goer I was not. (Since then we’ve become more of sight seers and shoppers, but still enjoy a good museum from time to time) First I brought him to a childhood classic; The Museum of Natural History, a staple for N.Y.C. school kids to learn about science, history, animals, and geology through impressively gigantic exhibits – the most memorable being the model 94-foot blue whale dangling from the ceiling and being greeted by the fossilized T-Rex in the lobby.

A tourist in my own backyard, I wondered how I’ve lived in New York City my whole life and never even seen the famous white curves of The Guggenheim.

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The Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) greeted us with contemporary exhibitions of photography, film, architecture, typography, and design. The Cloisters showcased a collection of European sculptures, tapestries, paintings, statues, gardens, stained glass, and architecture from the 12th -15th centuries.

We were drawn to the bright lights of Times Square where we instantly regretted not preparing and buying Broadway tickets ahead of time, knowing it is a New York experience that will be cherished for a lifetime. We instead went to an off Broadway rendition of Shakespeare’s Twelve Night, leaving us thirsty for more. (Making sure never to make that mistake again, seeing something every visit: Wicked, Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, Sleep No More) Instead we soaked in our surroundings: the huge stores and flashing lights, and the overwhelming amount of people walking, selling, yelling, performing, and painting on the streets.

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Seeing Manhattan together let me see it for the first time, I learned my way around my own city. We taught each other how to navigate the named streets and the subway system. I took him downtown, away from the large crowds into the comfort of Little Italy and China Town where we ate cannolis and Chinese food. We took a tour boat around Manhattan, passing by the iconic Statue of Liberty.

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I showed him the massive buildings in the financial district, whose archways were built for giants, we rubbed the famous balls of the charging bull, explored the oldest church, solemnly soaked in the wreck of the ground zero work site, and then walked through an illumination of blue lights sparkling against the water along the southern tip of Manhattan at Battery Park.

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We reached new heights in New York. We might not have climbed to the crown of the Statue of Liberty, but we did see the famous view from the iconic Empire State building (and the next year finding the even more breathtaking view from Rockefeller Center). A horse and carriage ride through Central Park was the perfect end of the evening.

We even escaped the grasp of Manhattan. Something that most tourists don’t get to do, know to do, or care to do. He taught me how to see Manhattan and I taught him that there was more to New York City than the “city”. We walked across the Brooklyn bridge, bringing us to where the most beautiful Manhattan skyline photos are taken.

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I took him off the beaten tourist path and showed him my version of NYC. We went to the Queens botanical garden and Flushing Meadow Park, were the worlds fair was held in 1939 and 1964. We went to Coney Island, known for its amusement parks (with the oldest wooden roller coaster in the U.S., the Cyclone, and the iconic Wonder Wheel),

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walked along the famous boardwalk, and enjoyed the food vendors, aquarium, beach, and minor league baseball. We ate traditional Coney Island food: Nathan’s hot dogs, sausage and peppers, and Italian ices followed up by his first American baseball game. (Which has since  become a tradition)

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Five months later it was my turn to travel to his world, to be the real tourist instead of the clueless tour guide. Traveling the world never even crossed my mind. Sure, I always wanted to trace back the history of my heritage in Ireland, Scotland, Germany, France, and Italy, but it seemed like nothing more than a childhood dream – “something” other people do. I never thought there would be a “somewhere” other than New York City.

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I took the same 10 hour flight and finally landed in Sweden to experience my first time in another country. I didn’t know much about many other countries, let alone Sweden, where as he knew a lot about New York from school, movies, and television. I didn’t know what to expect or how to act. To my relief most Swedes speak English extremely well.

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My first impression was of how beautiful everything around me was. Flying into Gothenburg, the second largest city in Sweden, felt very comfortable and pleasant. It was a mix of both fast and slow pace, just the right amount of hustle and bustle. When I saw the trolleys chugging along the cobblestone streets I knew I wasn’t in New York anymore. Everything was picturesque – the carefully crafted architecture of each beautiful and impressive building, the churches, the stained glass, the abundance of fountains and statues.

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It felt empowering to be amongst a place so rich in culture, tradition, and history. I fell in love. Not only with him, not only with Sweden, but with traveling and soaking in another country and its culture – with him. It was my “something” – both Someone and Somewhere. I enjoyed Sweden without feeling the need to have a packed site-seeing schedule. In that way, my trip to Sweden was different than his trip to NYC. Just being there was enough. I didn’t know whether to soak it all in and enjoy the moment or take a lot of photos to make the moments last forever.

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We casually strolled the streets, shopped in the stores, and ate Swedish food. When people ask what I did in Sweden I replied “nothing.” Everyone wanted to know about the sites, the museums, what I did and saw, and were disappointed by my lack of being a tourist. They wanted to vicariously travel through me but I didn’t feel the need to rush and experience every historical or cultural crevasse of Sweden. Maybe I sensed that I was the fourth type of tourist; not a sight seer, shopper, or museum goer- but a “stayer.” I was the kind of tourist that wasn’t in a rush because I knew I would be back and would have all the time in the world.

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Since then I have enjoyed a Swedish Midsummer meal highlighted by pickled herring, new potatoes, and fresh strawberries. Then I experienced the festivities as people dance around a maypole to special songs about frogs and summer while wearing traditional clothing and a crown of flowers on their head. I’ve endured through the harsh winters when there’s only 6 hours of daylight, as well as basked in delight during the 18 hour days of summer.

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Together we have conquered the tallest wooden roller coaster in Sweden as well as visited the museum with the most Scandinavian art. I’ve adapted to stores being closed on Sundays and buying Swedish groceries. I’ve learned to eat thin Swedish pizza with a knife and fork. I have grown accustomed to taking my shoes off at the doorway of every home and have gotten used to open faced sandwiches for breakfast. I’ve seen little kids wearing witches hats to celebrate Easter and have eaten the Swedish specialty of Lutefisk for Christmas dinner. I saw that the stereotype that every Swede is a blonde bombshell with blue eyes is not true, it is actually a diverse country.

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We’ve been aboard the world’s largest operational wooden sailing vessel, a replica which originally sank in the 18th century. We learned all about the history of Älvsborg, a fortress castle built to protect Göteborg in the 17th century, then pretended to get shot out of one if its many cannons.

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I now know my way around a town in Sweden, where as six years ago I hardly knew the country existed. I have favorite places to eat and favorite Swedish foods. I’m learning the Swedish language, going to Swedish school, making Swedish friends, and working at Swedish places.542887_10151033620320628_1458500220_n

I have seen the red and white houses sprinkled through out the beautiful country side, such as is classically depicted in any story about Sweden. I’ve celebrated “Fat Tuesday” by eating a decadent creamy pastry with almond paste called “Semla.” We live in a town filled with rich history such as viking naval battles, valiant struggles between Sweden and Denmark, and a fire that destroyed almost everything. I’ve heard the cheerful drinking songs that Swedes sing before taking the first sip of liquor, and I love to say “Skål” in Sweden instead of “Cheers” while drinking snaps at every holiday dinner.

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I loved Sweden the first time I stepped foot there even though I didn’t do anything touristy or exciting. I couldn’t explain that it was the day-to-day life that I enjoyed. Maybe it’s because I was meant to get married in Sweden on a sunny day that lasted 18 hours with perfectly “lagom” weather. It’s because I was meant to move here, meet new people, gain the courage to socialize, and adapt.

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Since his first visit in New York, my “someone” and I traveled back and forth between our two “somewheres” twice a year for three years, experiencing something new each time. We have explored and experienced each place together. Not only do I now feel more comfortable in Sweden, but NYC is now a home away from home for him.  We can compare our experiences and each  country more and more each time we travel back and forth. Each time is like a vacation and visiting home all wrapped in one.

It doesn’t matter if you are looking to see the world, given a job opportunity far from home, if you want to help the less fortunate, fulfill a bucket list, or maybe you are following love. Everyone needs to find their “someone,” “something” and/or “someplace” which sometimes means taking a leap of faith.

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Something Swedish in New York City: Visiting The Highline

2013-06-24 05.50.06It’s that time of the year! Visiting family, friends, and good ol’ NYC. Last year was my first “visit” back home, but not my first time being a tourist (I’ve done that every time my husband came to visit me over the years). Experiencing your own town as a tourist is like visiting a completely different place. You want to do, see, and learn more which means actually appreciating all that stuff around you that you would normally ignore. This is especially true in NYC, where there is so much going on all the time and not enough time to slow down to even notice.

Last year I had been in Sweden for only 6 months before we came back, this time the gap has been a whole year and a lot has changed in that time: Namely me. I’ve adjusted and adapted to my life in Sweden, so I’m here to tell you that reverse culture shock is a real thing. For my visit last year I ignored Something Swedish, since it wasn’t anything to do with Sweden, but since I now have readers from all around the world who might think it’s fun with a change of scenery, I’ll try to give you a taste of my trip!

Our first big outing was to the Highline, which we have been meaning to see since it was opened in 2009. The Highline is a public park built on an old elevated freight train track which preserves the old history and structure and adds a beautiful touch of greenery, artwork, and plenty of places to sit down to relax and soak up some sun. Stretching between Gansevoort street (south of West little 12th) and W29th street, it’s a great walk above the busy yellow cab filled streets below with an awesome view of Manhattan from a new angle among the rooftops, which is amazing for photos.

The old tracks:

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The view down Manhattan Streets:

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Artwork:

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Relaxing:

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The rest/random:

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There are lots of entrances/exits so this is a great way to walk through a small part of the city to get where you need to go with some refreshing scenery, no cross walks, honking cars, or street vendors. Great for easing back into the hectic city from a small laid back town in Sweden.

Bonus! Hubby has started up his own blog and his first post is featuring his select favorite photos from today’s outing. Check it out here: Ensorcella


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My first 5k race and winning a trip to PORTUGAL!!!

It feels like just yesterday I learned about Vår Ruset (Spring Rush) and decided to make it a goal – my first 5k (3.1 miles).  Vår Ruset has been running for 25 years and is one of the biggest races in Sweden with thousands of participants in each of the 17 participating cities throughout the country, taking over a month to reach the last city. It’s only for women and raises money for a different cause each year.

I started training (jogging) three weeks before with absolutely no running experience to speak of,  horrible cardio, terrible feet, and really old sneakers. See my improvement below – the last one is my time for the actual race: 36:44. My goal was to finish it between 40 and 45 minutes. I think I was able to jog about 90% of the time, which felt pretty awesome – next step is improving my speed.

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Prepping for the race:

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After our group zumba-like warm up session with the instructors high up on scaffolding:

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The race is split up into six different start groups depending on if you are being timed, if you are running the 10k, if you are running, jogging, or taking it easy and walking.

This is our start line:

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Behind us at the start line (did I mention there was a lot of people? Imagine, our start group is second to last so most people are already gone):

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And we’re off! It was motivational to be running along side so many women:

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Hubby found me in the crowd about 2 km in:

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Afterwards everyone received metals:

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And a goody bag of stuff from the sponsors (and bananas and juice):

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I bought a bracelet to support children in Kosovo who need homes:

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The weather was perfect for the race and to sit down afterwards and enjoy a picnic.

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And as we were leaving an hour after the race, I heard my name in the distance being called over the load speaker. I went on stage and sat with 8 other women, all anxiously waiting to see what we could have won. Half way through the prizes got significantly better and my name was still not called. I’m told that I looked excited and terrified at the same time.

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With a microphone in my face I received my first place prize: a trip to Portugal for a whole week to attend Training Camp with Vår Ruset.

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I was shocked and didn’t know what to say, let alone in Swedish to thousands of people picnicking after the race.

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I explained that I’ve never won anything before and I’ve never traveled outside of New York and Sweden.

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I didn’t dare mention that I’ve only been training for three weeks… but now I’ll be sure to continue!

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Each day there will be activities to participate in such as running, “nordic walking(?)”, yoga, dancing, strength building, core exercises, and of course lots of fun in the sun!

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I can’t wait!!

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After an unbelievably exciting day I came home, collapsed, and dreamed of my next adventure.

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All About Working in Sweden

A few weeks ago I managed to find two part time jobs (Actually, one found me)! Not only are they in a new country with me speaking a new language, but also in fields where I have little to no experience – a restaurant and a preschool. Read about my job hunt Here.

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Snack Time (Mellanmål) with Name Tags

Lärare Vikarie (Substitute Teacher): I’ve taught children before as an English tutor, but never ages 2-5, and certainly never in Swedish. It’s fun to play with the kids, help them build and figure out puzzles and read to them in Swedish, even if I sometimes struggle to understand (sometimes it’s simply baby talk). It’s great practice for the language, I pick up a few new words each time I am there.

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Hair up. Rings off. Hat, Apron, and Smile On!

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             Språk Praktik (Language Practice):

More often I am at my other part time job, which is more like an internship to train my Swedish in a workplace. (Explained below) While I do a lot of what a normal worker would in the restaurant such as working the cash register, serving and preparing food and cleaning, I work less hours each shift and focus on improving my language by interacting with customers and co-workers in Swedish. This helps me become more comfortable with conversations and descriptions.

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          About Working in Sweden

It feels great to finally be part of the work force again, socializing with new people, doing different things, and learning something new every day. Expats tend to get in a funk somewhere along the way, but once working is back in the equation it helps a lot.

When you start looking for work in a new country you have to be open to try new jobs or career paths; even if you have experience, education, and comfort doing something else. It’s about adapting to a new environment, training your new language, getting your foot in the door, networking, and picking up new skills along the way.

Remember:

You never know what you will find, so just go out there and try.
Don’t be picky – Any Experience is Good Experience.
Don’t expect to (or count on) finding a job within your first six months – learning the language is priority and makes everything easier.
Don’t get easily discouraged, it’s hard for everyone.
Networking is super important, especially when you don’t have any experience or references in your new country.
Be competitive – Take initiative and be persistent.

So, What are Some Differences of Working in Sweden?

Swedish Resume: Swedes are very humble and modest, especially when it comes to work experience, responsibilities and achievements on a resume. Unlike in the USA it is considered rude and pushy if you start to list every one of your responsibilities and show off that you were the best at everything. The Swedish resume is much simpler with fewer and shorter bullet points for each job description.  Most important thing about your resume is the cover letter and when you get called in for an interview remember that being punctual in Sweden is a must.

Payday (Lönedag): Instead of weekly or bi weekly paychecks, Sweden revolves around it’s monthly payday – The 25th. This method really shapes the way things function from paying bills to going to the movies. A lot of people are pretty much broke by the 20th and life seems to slow down, it’s especially noticeable in restaurants when less people spend money to eat out. It’s a whole different way of budgeting and handling money, after the bills are paid off by the 27th, anything goes for a couple of weeks – it’s like the town comes back to life. I’ve heard very positive things from Swedish workers who love being paid a bigger sum on one day instead of a little at a time, they say it is easier to budget and save. Payday is a big deal here in Sweden, something to adjust to – it does feel like more of a celebration!

Language Competence: One of the big complaints about Sweden and finding a job here is that your expected to have very good Swedish to do anything at all. Even if you are applying to a cleaning or maintenance job where speaking, reading, and writing is not required, your Swedish has to be much better than what most people can manage within their first year or two of studying. The thing that aggravates people about this is that Sweden has the best English fluency in Europe, but being able to speak English doesn’t help in most cases. Great Swedish is usually required. In fact, it means very little that you are fluent in English in Sweden since so many people are, meaning English is not the huge asset that many people think it will be when they move here.

Breaks: Something that many non-Swedes notice and need to adjust to is how often the Swedish workplace allows/expects breaks. Fika is a very strong tradition here, and is not only limited to after work, but during it as well. Several times. When I volunteered at a school last year I couldn’t wrap my head around the staff and kids having 15 minute fika breaks other than lunch time. When I am in Svenska Som Andra Språk a two hour class has a 15 minute break, which seems unnecessary to me since I’ve never had such breaks unless the class was four hours long.

Minimum Wage: There is no national minimum wage in Sweden, but it is instead agreed upon between the different unions (Fackit…pronounced like “fuck it”), which are very important and active in the Swedish Labor market. Wage is often dependent on age brackets, experience, and what time the shift is (Night/Weekend vs Daytime/Weekday).

Paid Vacations: After being employed for a full year  at one location all employees are entitled to five-weeks of paid vacation, by law. July has always been a very popular and expected time for this vacation leave, and many businesses close during the month. Lately, vacation weeks have been more spread out over the year to decrease downtime of companies. Vacation time can also be accumulated for every year you work at a company for a total of ten weeks. In comparison: The U.S. has  ZERO paid vacation time on a legal federal level – any paid vacation you receive is directly from your employer/Union agreement.

Paid Sick Leave: Your employer must pay about 80% of your salary for 13 days sick leave a year after the first sick day which doesn’t count (no payment) because it is considered to be a “waiting period.” You must show a doctors note if you are on sick leave for more than seven consecutive days.

Paid Parental Leave: Stay home with your newborn child for 480 paid workdays without worrying about losing your job. This time is offered to both parents and is often split between both mother and father for better equality. Must be employed for at least one year. In comparison:

Paid Home with Sick Child: There’s even a special verb for this which comes from “Vård av barn” which means care of child, which is “Vab.” Where is Inga? Hon vabbar idag = Shes home with her sick kid today. If your sick child is under 12 years old and you take off of work to take care of them, there is also a type of paid “Temporary Parental Leave” that can be applied for which is paid by your employer and the state.

Arbetsförmedlingen (Job Center): This is a really helpful tool for anyone new to Sweden (with a personnummer) who doesn’t know how to get started. It could be compared to the U.S.Unemployment Office, but with a lot more to offer, easier to maneuver, and no negative connotation. It is considered to be a “Placement service” centered around helping you find a way into the workforce through meetings, workshops, or classes. You are given a case worker, can schedule a translator if needed, can place your resume on their website, search though jobs according to location or career, print helpful resources and forms, attend vocational training programs, receive help to set up your own business, go to nationwide recruitment meetings and job fairs, translate documents such as school degrees into Swedish equivalents, find information about what level of education is needed for which careers, research which careers have a good future prognosis all around Sweden, and more. Website Here. Remember that only 1/3 of available jobs are listed on Arbetsförmelingen, so use other means such as handing out resumes and trying different job searching websites.

Praktik, Step In Jobs, New Start Jobs: These are the best ways to get your foot in the door. Set up by Arbetsförmedlingen for people who are new to the country or have just graduated high school, been unemployed, or have been in prison.These ease you into a job by providing a percentage of your paycheck or a stipend which increases the chances of getting a job with a business that is unsure of your skills, language, or if they can afford another worker.

Instegsjobb: Arbetsförmedlingen can pay up to 80% of your paycheck. Only available if you arrived in Sweden less than three years ago from a non-EU country and currently studying SFI (NOT SAS).  If you work less than 51% this set up can last up to two years, if more than 50% then only 6 months.

Nystartsjobb: Arbetsförmedlingen pays 32% or 64% of your your paycheck depending on age. If you arrived to Sweden less than three years ago, have been unemployed for 6-15 months (depending on age), or were in prison for at least one year. Can last 1 – 5 years depending on age and other factors.

Praktik: If you are unemployed and collecting unemployment benefits Arbetsförmedlingen can set you up with an obligatory praktik that they find for you or you can find one on your own. A praktik lasts 3 to 6 months and provides a daily stipend instead of a hourly wage, ranging from 100kr/day ($15) to 680kr/day ($100) depending on full time or part time hours and weather or not you are collecting unemployment benefits. Suggesting that you are looking for a praktik when our job searching is a great way to get started since the business owner is getting extra help for free.


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Swedish Keyboards, Letters, and Words

For the past year I’ve been stubbornly hanging onto my laptop not wanting to switch to the scary Swedish keyboard.  A lot of the keys are in different places and there’s new letters and symbols that my fingers and eyes are just not used to! Once I get over accidentally typing _ instead of ?, ” instead of @, + instead of -, and åöä instead of whatever keys are normally there  – it’s actually been great!!

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Lets compare Ö (Oh, that’s where the colon button was…let’s try again :

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After using my Swedish computer for just a day I can tell that it’s going to improve my Swedish a lot! First of all, programs and websites are in Swedish now including Microsoft Word – which means that my spelling mistakes are getting pointed out instead of me making the same mistakes time and time again.

Until now whenever I typed Swedish I would simply leave out the öäå because they were too hard to copy and paste into my sentences. For a long time I didn’t realize it made such a big different and thought Well, they are just ‘a’ and ‘o’ with accents, people will understand what I mean.”

My husband tirelessly corrects me and reminds me that they are actually letters and not ‘ ‘A’ with two dots,‘ ‘O’ with two dots,‘ and ‘A’ with the bubble.

Now that I have this new keyboard and can start saying what I actually mean to say in Swedish it makes a huge difference.

Skipping the Swedish letters? This is what you can be saying (more or less):

Jag väntar i kön = I’m waiting in the queue
Jag vantar i kon = I gloves in the cow

Jag gillar räka = I like shrimp
Jag gillar raka = I like straight

Ska vi käka? = Shall we eat?
Ska vi kaka? = Shall we cookie?

Min får är mjuk = My sheep is fluffy
Min far ar mjuk = My father is fluffy

Hon behöver båda = She needs both
Hon behover bada = She needs to bathe

Receptet kräver kräm = The recipe requires cream
Receptet kraver kram = The recipe requires hug

Vill du höra nyheten? = Do you want to hear the news?
Vill du hora nyheten? = Do you want to whore the news?

med hela min själ = with my whole soul
med hela min sjal = with my whole scarf

Var testet svårt? = Was the test difficult?
Var testet svart? = Was the test black?

Jag tar ett tåg =I’m taking a train
Jag tar ett tag = I’m taking a while

Köpt du en båt!? = You bought a boat!?
Köpt du en bat!? = You bought a bat!?

Can anyone help me out and think of some more funny or awkward sentences when you skip the accents?

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