Saturday, December 20, 2008

Being at home, but feeling like a stranger


One of the things that I don't like about coming home is that I always feel a bit lost, and stranger-like to the 'Scandinavian way.' Also, things always tend to change over here and I have a problem keeping up. For some reason Sweden now has two different postal services, meaning that there are two different mail men coming around the same time every day to deliver your mail. Odd. 


Then, there's the fact that everything over here is about self-service. When u pay with your credit card u always have to swipe it yourself, or, like yesterday, when I bought my train ticket from Copenhagen to Malmö, put the card (if it has a chip) in the machine, select currency, then press your PIN code, wait for your purchase to be approved, remember to take your card, and so on... I know that many countries have this kind of system by now, but to me, it is still kind of foreign. (Because where I have been living for the last 8 years it has always been the person behind the counter who swipes my card...and in China all u have to do is push your PIN code).  I tend to feel a bit lost when this sort of situation occurs, and that always result in me being embarrassed. Because over here I am supposed to know how things work! I am a native, for Christ's sake! if I don't know how things work in China/Finland/Australia, I just play the 'tourist' or 'foreigner' card... but in Sweden I feel like a complete fool every time I stand there, starring at the machine, wondering what I am supposed to do with my card (swipe it, hand it over or put it in, chip first?) and hear the annoyed voice from the counter telling me that ’and then you swipe your card yourself, you know?!’  

 

Then, there's the whole ID situation. U need an ID for everything over here. Well OK, no, that was sort of a lie. But for everything booze-related. You cannot buy your alcohol from the grocery store, instead you have to head for the only shop that has a licence to sell alcohol in Sweden: Systembolaget. Over there, u have to line up for ages (It’s the only place that sells booze, so just imagine how packed it gets on Fridays and Saturdays), and always show your ID. And don't even think about going to the pub without an ID. I normally don't carry an ID with me, so it has happened numerous times that I have been refused entrance to clubs where the age limit is 18 just because I didn't bring my ID card!!! (I guess I should take it as a compliment that people think I look young, but those times when it has happened, I have felt like a complete idiot). 

 

Also, the lack of small talk in the every day life is sometimes painful. I normally don't chat to strangers in China but a little comment here and there about the weather tends to happen when I am in shops/ at the Starbuck's counter waiting for my latte. In Sweden, that sort of talk is not really OK. I remember I tried it once when I was home from Australia. I was standing in a bar, waiting for the bartender to take my order (bars in Sweden are always understaffed) and next to me was a girl in my age, engaging in the same sport. 

 

-Bit of a long wait, isn't it? I tried. 

She looked at me, wide-eyed, before turning me her back. 

Whoops. She must have thought I was trying to pick her up! 

Well, obviously it takes some time every time I get here to adjust to everything. But except for those little cons, the pros of being here add up. I mean, just taking a walk in the forest, not being surrounded by hundreds of people and breathing the clean, fresh air feels like a minor reward. Indulging in Swedish comfort food is another treat. And seeing friends and family is obviously so nice that it doesn’t need any further explanation. 

7 comments:

Amanda said...

Oh, the small talk thing is difficult, isn't it! I had the opposite - I'm Australian and lived in Germany for a few years (which might be similar to Sweden as far as small talk goes) and when I moved back home, it took me ages to realise that it's expected to make small talk with the staff at the supermarket while they scan your groceries. In Germany they wouldn't even answer if I said hello! I'm sure some Australian checkout staff thought I was very rude for a while (I've got the hang of it again now, though). Merry Christmas!

Mark's Blog said...

This feeling is just so familiar……

woai said...

yeah, it's called reverse culture shock and many expats experience it when they go home. My turn tomorrow when I head to London. Can't wait!

Jonna Wibelius said...

yeah I bet this feeling isn't odd for people living abroad. For me it just gets more and more odd for every year, or so it seems. Before I always thought I would move back to Sweden eventually but now I am more like 'no way! It's too quiet over there'. Nice to hear that I am not the only one acting a bit strange when I go home.

Amanda -although the small talk in OZ can sometimes be a bit annoying (especially when u r really not in the mood of talking) I have come to miss it a lot now when I don't live there anymore. U r so lucky to be Australian :) I love that place!!

flyingfish said...

The prospect of walking in the forest has me just dying of envy. My brother keeps emailing me about the same thing -- he lives in Central Oregon, in the Pacific Northwest of the US, and is surrounded by pine, juniper, heavy snow and active volcanoes. (Seriously, active volcanoes. His backyard is full of lava rocks and there is a significant bulge in the flank of one of the three volcanoes from which the town where he lives gets its name.)

But what is Swedish comfort food? My mum makes a lot of Scandinavian cookies at Christmas, especially brun kruger (I'm sure I'm spelling that wrong), but I don't think any of them are specifically Swedish. Besides, I don't have that much of a sweet tooth. I'm curious about the food, so please tell me if you have time! :)

Anonymous said...

It's quite normal how you feel when going back to Sweden. On the bright side, at least you don't have to worry about being detained and jailed by Swedish government. You know with some countries, expats run the risk of imprisonment when you return for a visit, like if their government wants them to spy for them but they don't want to. I am sure you don't know what I am talking about. Be happy that Sweden is your home country.

Jonna Wibelius said...

flyingfish... I don't know the English name of all the cakes we eat during X-mas, but there are St Lucy Buns for instance..yellow buns made of saffron... quite yummy. Then my family also make our own Xmas candy, such as 'knäck' and then there are the chocolate cookies.. a dry kind, called 'chokladbröd' (translates to 'chocolate bread.. although it is not a bread but a cookie).

What I eat the most of every time I go home, however, is salmon... It's just so good over here I cannot get enough. And we eat it in every single way u can think of... broccoli/salmon pie, salmon with potatoes, rice, pasta, u name it... I normally don't eat fish in China (only at japanese restos) beause I don't like the taste (or the LED) but in Swe it is a pure treat...

Anonymous: Tust me, I am happy that Sweden is my native country. Although I don't want to live here permanently (never!) it is a nice place to visit once/twice a year.