How Aslan led to Sweden – a personal story of a Swedish odysse

A long-time friend of mine recently wrote a post on Facebook, instigated by the recent school shooting in her home country, USA. In her post, she writes her personal story about her 30 year experience of living in Sweden. With her permission, I am publishing it here. Please read it, I think it sums up the way a lot of people who move to Sweden feel. Here it is:

‘For anyone who might be interested, I would like to share a milestone in my life.

30 years ago this week, I took the adventure that Aslan gave me. (If you’ve read ‘The Narnia Chronicles’, you understand that reference.) I packed up my clothes and few belongings, waved a tearful goodbye to my parents at Dulles International Airport in Washington and moved to Sweden. I knew that the love of my life lived there, and that was most important, but I didn’t know much else. I had NO IDEA how the trajectory of my life would change.

Among the things I have experienced in Sweden are the following:

* An AMAZING Swedish family which took me in, accepted me with all of my weird American quirks and loved/loves me like my own family. They ARE my own family now. Along the way, my Mother-in-law and older sister-in-law were instrumental in helping me learn Swedish. Their patience was infinite. My younger sister-in-law, Marina, has become one of my closest friends, but, she talked so fast, I couldn’t understand a word she said. Sometimes, I still don’t. ūüėā‚̧ԳŹ

* A society, while not being perfect, holds 2 particular values to be self-evident:

1. We have a responsibility to those who are less fortunate and that responsibility should be incorporated into government policy.

2. Women and men are equal.

* A year of paid maternity leave with each child.

* Unparalleled care through 5! major surgeries, NONE of which I had to pay for.

* A school system which treats me like a professional and gives me a great deal of freedom as to what and how I teach my students in order to reach curriculum goals.

* AMAZING colleagues from a plethora of nations, cultures and languages who are passionate about our students and who are a daily reminder to me of the common humanity of every person on the planet.

* I NEVER have to worry about a gunman in my school. ūüėĒ

Forrest Gump said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” So far, I’ve gotten a box of ALL of my favorite kinds. Who knew on that cold Sunday in February of 1988 when my parents hugged me goodbye.

Thanks for reading’. ‚̧ԳŹ

It‚Äôs Fatty Tuesday – Swedish style!

Today it’s ‘Fat Tuesday’ in Sweden, known as Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras around the world. While in the UK we eat pancakes and in Latin America they scoff down fried bread, Swedes celebrate by eating the traditional cream Lent bun – the ‘semla’. I’m also clearly going to indulge. In fact, my mouth is watering just writing this blog.

The semla is a creamy bun filled with delicious almond paste. They were eaten traditionally in Sweden to commemorate the start of Lent and the great Fast. In the south of Sweden, they still refer to them as ‘fastlagsbullar’ – Shrovetide buns. Nowadays however, semlas are usually sold anytime between Christmas and Easter.

I just love them. I could eat a barrel load. But I’d end up looking like a barrel if I did. I love the taste of them, and the feeling of luxurious indulgence. I also love the knowledge that as you take a bite into a creamy semla, you are biting into over 500 years’ history of Scandinavian baking.

The word ‘semla’ comes from the Latin ‘simila’ which means fine flour and originally referred just to the bun without any filling. As long ago as the 1500’s, bakers started to hollow out the middle of the bun and fill it with cream and butter. As ingredients became more available, bakers started adding almond and cardemon and the type of semla that we know today developed towards the end of the 1800’s. After rationing of sugar and dairy products ceased at the end of WW2, the semla took off and became very popular.

Nowadays the semla trend has reached new heights. Every year bakers around the country try to launch new types of semla, with their own spin on it -for example, the semla wrap, the semla burger, the semla layer cake, the semla cocktail, the chocolate semla, the vanilla semla, the lactose-free, gluten-free vegan semla.

All delicious I’m sure, but I’m a traditionalist in this matter. Give me a round fluffy cardemon-scented wheat bun brimming over with whipped cream and almond paste.

And give it to me NOOOOWWW!!!

5000 years of Sweden’s first people

sapmi-flagsapmi

Did you know that Sweden has an indigenous people? I know, isn’t that cool?!

Just like Australia has the Aborigine and China has the Pamiri – Sweden has the Sami. For about 5000 years, the Sami people have lived way up in the arctic north of Sweden in the¬†homeland they call¬†‘Sapmi’. Today Sapmi actually covers not only Sweden, but also Norway, Finland and Russia. Historically, the Sami were¬†referred to as Lapps, but today this is deemed a derogatory term.

Today, February 6th, is the National Day of the Sami. Today, the Sami flag should be flown and the Sami national anthem is sung in the local Sami language.  The first time this day was celebrated was in 1993 in Jokkmokk, Sweden.

The Sami are the only indigenous people in Scandinavia that are recognised and protected by international convention. The United Nations estimates that there are over 370 million indigenous people living in over 70 countries worldwide. This is roughly 6% of the global population.

Today, around 10% of the Sami population of approximately 70,000 work within the traditional work of reindeer herding. Most of the rest of the¬†indigenous Sami population is urbanised. Like many indigenous people around the world, the Sami have also been treated very badly by the colonising inhabitants of their country. Scandinavia has a legacy of law and assimilation that denied Sami their rights, and an state-sanctioned history of the removal of generations of children for placement in boarding schools and missions.¬†A recent film called ‘Sameblod’ depicted this shameful era of Swedish history.

It took until 1989 for¬†Sweden to recognise the ‘Sami nation’. Sami pupils are entitled to be taught in their native language, although a loophole enables this right to be sometimes bypassed. In 1998, Sweden apologized for their wrongs against the Sami. To make up for past suppression, the authorities of Norway, Sweden and Finland now make an effort to build up Sami cultural institutions and promote Sami culture and language.

However, it is far from rosy in the arctic north. Conflict over land rights, herding rights, exploitation rights are still raging on across Sapmi. Today, the Sami are experiencing cultural and environmental threats, including unwelcome oil exploration, mining, dam building, climate change, military bombing ranges, and exploitative tourism.

Apart from through activism, it is in the Sami parliaments that the main conflicts are debated.  There are three, unconnected Sami parliaments spanning the region РSweden founded in 1993, Finland in 1973 and Norway in 1989. Russia has not recognized the Sami as a minority and, therefore there is no official Sami parliament (an unrecognised one exists). These democratic parliaments stand up for Sami heritage but have very weak political influence.

Like many nations around the world, Sweden and their neighbours have to balance the ghost of a shameful past with the conflicts of the present and the hope of the future. Without doubt, discrimination against the Sami people still exists.

This is why today, February 6th, is so important as a day of celebration and recognition but also as a day of atonement.

 

The top 5 searches about Sweden

When looking at Pinterest for the top searches on Sweden, the following 5 come out on top. Is it old stereotypes still living on?

1) Girls

2) Travel

3) Stockholm

4) Flag

5) Women

An old joke is that Sweden’s best export are its women. They are sent out on missions to bring back fresh blood. Judging by Pinterest, there’s still a strong interest in meeting flag-bearing Swedish girls in Stockholm.

Swedish words for poo


In a restaurant in Stockholm last night, I happened to use the word ‘klutt’ to describe a small dollop of food. My dinner companions did a double take and asked me to repeat what I said. ‘En klutt’ I said. They looked at each other and burst into laughter. You see, a ‘klutt’ does describe a small dollop. But not food. It’s a small dollop of poo. Sometimes, speaking a foreign language just ends up going so wrong!
This led to a conversation on the different Swedish words for poo. I made a mental note of them, so I could share them with you. I also googled some other words. Here they are. Enjoy!

  • Bajs – poo
  • Bajskorv – poo sausage (a turd)
  • Klutt – a small dollop of poo
  • Skit – shit
  • Blaffa – a huge mound of poo
  • Lort – piece of poo, sometimes dried out
  • Avf√∂ring – defecation
  • Exkrement – excrement
  • Mocka – big pile of poo, often from cattle
  • R√∂vgr√∂t – poo with the consistency of porridge
  • L√∂s avf√∂ring – diarrhea
  • Racerbajs – diarrhea that requires running to the toilet
  • Sprutlack – explosive poo that covers a large surface

Any other words I’m missing that just have to be on this list?

The worst day in Sweden

Tomorrow, the 24th January, could arguably be the worst day of the year in Sweden. Dark, miserable, cold and poor.

The month of January is notoriously an impoverished month, following the financial excesses of December. Many people struggle through January with their evenings in front of the telly, their long walks at the weekends and their packed lunches at the office. And as the 24th arrives, this deprivation reaches its pinnacle.

You see, most Swedes are paid on the 25th of the month. New, fresh crowns rattle into bank accounts up and down the country. Pubs and restaurants fill up and Ikea is like rush hour in Piccadilly Circus as the consumerism treadmill grinds into action.

But not tomorrow. Tomorrow, the 24th January, sucks. And as we put our leftovers into the fridge to be eaten for lunch, we can be happy that this misery is soon over. On Thursday, we can drink a latte, buy an expensive lunchtime sour dough toast, and knock back a few gin and tonics after work. And maybe, just maybe, be a little less provoked by the sunny holiday pictures on social media.

So hold on, there is light at the end of this long, dark tunnel.

How to be Swedish?

Stumbled across this graphic on ‘How to be Swedish – a guide for Southern Europeans’. I have to say that there are many things I don’t recognize from living among Swedes. ‘Eat eggs every day’? ‘Complain about the Danish’? ‘Drink alcohol until intoxicated every day’?

With tongue in cheek, one can have a giggle at images like this. As long as one remembers it’s all just stereotyping and not the truth, then it’s ok. In my work with cultural training, this is an issue that comes up time and time again. Just when we think our society has risen above stereotyping, our cognitive biases take hold and we start putting people in boxes again. This is the biggest barrier to intercultural exchange, as it effects how we communicate and how we trust. It is both a stumbling block and a danger.

It’s good to be aware of cultural tendencies, or potential stereotypes, but then we must never forget we are meeting an individual. We don’t meet a culture, we meet a person. If we can always keep that in mind, then we are closer to creating an interaction based on curiosity and openness rather than on prejudice.