Not at all dead

1 September 2014

I know it’s been a year since I last posted, but it really doesn’t feel that long for me, in good part because I still get comments pretty regularly on what has turned out to be my iconic post, Why I hate living in Sweden. While I still remember with bitter clarity how I felt when I wrote that entry a year and a half ago, and feel intense sympathy with people who recognize themselves in that post, I no longer hate living in Sweden. My life in Sweden is going really well right now, actually. I no longer think Swedes are boring and close-minded (not as a rule, at any rate). I no longer hate speaking Swedish; sure, I still find it irritating when I say things wrong or can’t find the right word, but it’s not the biggest deal ever anymore. I no longer have to try to follow a complicated set of foreign-feeling rules to interact socially with Swedes; it just comes naturally, and I am Swedish enough now that when the American shines through, I think they just find it refreshing. And fuck them if they don’t. 

 But wait, go back a second, why did I stop blogging? I started to feel weird about posting about my kids. I felt even weirder about the growing share of Swedes among my readers, and became half-convinced people I knew were reading the blog, and that my blog was somehow the reason I was having trouble making Swedish friends. And then I got a government job and, while it certainly gave me a lot of really fabulously good stories, I didn’t want to write about them online. And I just plain got really, really busy.

That’s because I didn’t just get that government job I mentioned; oh no. During the same early autumn week last year, I got three paying jobs all at once. There was a lot going on. Now I am down to just one job, but it is full-time, and it is the perfect job for me, you guys: research at a university on the topic of schoolchildren with immigrant background. Let me repeat: I work at a university. As a researcher! It may not be a permanent position (that is my next goal) but I am almost there, almost back to where I was career-wise in the US. It feels like such a major accomplishment. And I am kicking ass at my job, too. I have brought my corporate American effectiveness and put it together with my practical experience as an immigrant, research background, and teaching degree and experience, and am just hitting it out of the park.

 The puzzle-solving element of all this working and simultaneously having two kids has been a new challenge for us as a family—I hadn’t worked full-time since having children—but it has been so wonderful for my self-esteem and my feeling of belonging and purpose in Sweden that it has been totally worth it. And the kids love daycare/after school care and time with their grandparents. What is particularly great about the work that I have gotten is that it is precisely because of, not in spite of, who I am that I am good at it, like my being an immigrant and having foreign work experience and a different native language than Sweden. My problem before was seeing those essential elements of myself as a problem instead of as a advantage. (To be fair, in most contexts in Sweden those things actually are a disadvantage: I am lucky as all get out to have found work that values them.)

While the main reason for my feeling much more at home in Sweden is because of having meaningful work where I am appreciated for my unique and professional contributions, things have improved on the living-in-a-rural-village front, as well. It is at this point that I have to give thanks to the school bully (now reformed). The ONLY reason we had moved to Sweden was for a better life for my kids, and they were not getting it. I had had enough. It was a circuitous route, but if that kid hadn’t been running around wreaking havoc on that school and harassing my kid in specific, I never would have spent the summer of 2013 rabble-rousing the other parents and (sort of) suing the school. And winning! And thus effecting real change, from getting the school to bring in new teachers and student aides as well as changing the entire climate of the school with regard to bullying. I have much closer connections now to many other families out here through this process and also as a result of their gratefulness to me for being, in effect, NOT Swedish, not conflict-averse, but being American, with my native-born get-shit-done don’t-take-crap from others approach.

This is why I no longer hate living in Sweden: I have had the great luck of finding a way, a context, to participate in Swedish society while still being myself. 


2 September 2013

And now Baby Brother is two! And what a two-year-old he is. The tantrums! The very strong opinions about ridiculous things! The messes! The toy obsessions! The biting! The “no’s”! He loves saying “no” so much right now he’s been known to turn down ice cream!

But he also has lovely manners. Usually the “no” is followed by “tank oo, Mommy.” Or it’s “nej, tack. Inte.” And he’s fully bilingual and astonishingly verbal. And really interested in numbers and letters; he can mostly count to ten and knows most of the alphabet. In fact, his great joy in life is getting someone to go over his ABC flashcards with him. Well, no, his greatest joy is probably playing with cars. Or maybe, “peez iPad Cars, Mommy!” Or when his big sister chases him around or someone reads him a book about firetrucks.

Except when his will is being thwarted, he’s a pretty cheerful little guy. He likes to help out, he likes to give high fives, he likes to be funny, he loves our dog, Loki, he goes everywhere at a run, he likes most food, he loves talking on the phone to his grandparents. He’s the best. He’s exhausting, but he’s so adorable and smart, and we love him.



19 August 2013

Age six was a big year for Little Girl! She learned to swim, ride a bike, and read English and Swedish. She became very much more outgoing and self-confident and responsible. She developed clothing and hairdo preferences and had her first sleepover and lost seven teeth. She ate all the time and shot up more than three inches. She built robots and designed zoos and wrote comic books and invented gymnastics tricks and called relatives on the phone for a chat. She got addicted to the iPad and stopped sucking her thumb. She traveled to Greece, America, and France. She helped out with chores and was occasionally very nice to her little brother and played and played and played and played days-long imaginative games. Happy Birthday to my happy girl!



11 July 2013

Today I received a letter from Migrationsverket granting me Swedish citizenship. Now I am a citizen of Europe! This automatically makes me like ten times more sophisticated. I should probably buy some tighter pants; I can pull it off now that I am a European.

The agency’s website says the current wait to process applications is ten months, but it only took three business days. In July! When nobody in Sweden works! Bizarre! I guess my application was quite straightforward as I meet all the requirements and didn’t have any problematic answers on my application, which wanted to know things like had I been convicted of a crime in Sweden or did I have any outstanding debts.

I applied for Swedish citizenship because it is my right having lived here on my permanent residency permit for three years; because there’s no downside I know of (I retain my American citizenship); so I can go in the shorter and faster passport control lines for EU-passport holders at airports with the rest of my family; and if we move away from the EU and then back again, I won’t have to reapply for any permits. That’s not a bad exchange for having to keep track of an additional passport. Congratulate me on my lifetime of free health care!

Back home from my trip home

27 June 2013

Our two-week trip to the US was way too short, a topic I repeatedly picked fights with my husband about during the actual trip, further diminishing our enjoyment of the time we had. Part of the problem was that the first week was mostly taken up with driving places; seeing my mother’s friends; injury; and illness.

The very first morning I set foot in the ocean, I got attacked by a sting ray and required various forms of emergency medical care. I was holding Baby Brother at the time I stepped on the sting ray, which then whipped around to stab me in self-defense with his venomous barb, so Husband had to pull both me and our heavy toddler out of the ocean. His back went out. Then several of us had a cold. It felt like by the time we were starting to relax and enjoy ourselves and I made some headway overcoming my new fear of the ocean, it was time to go back home. Next time we’ll just have to stay longer.

While we were in America, everything felt so natural, like I had never left. It was weird how I had naturally, without consulting or being around any other Americans, prepared for the trip by ordering from Amazon, to have shipped to my mom, the same exact swimming gear all the other Americans around me had, but which I have not seen used in Sweden at all. I just fit right the fuck in. It felt like the last three years in Sweden quickly faded and details were difficult to recall. People would ask me about Sweden, and I’d be like, “uh, it’s green?” At one point I wanted to say something in Swedish, and it came out in Spanish. That was weird. My brain was evidently on a total vacation from Sweden.

My mother’s neighborhood is full of young families and Little Girl made friends with a girl across the street (she played fabulously with all the American kids we met, was hardly shy at all like she is in Sweden, and was totally outgoing at the party my mom through for us with a bunch of people Little Girl had never met; it was shocking, really. She’s such a different kid in America/English). The little girl’s mom and I chatted a bit, and it was just like looking at what my life would have been like if I had, well, to put it frankly, married a different man and not ended up moving to his foreign land. (In related news, tomorrow is our tenth wedding anniversary!)

The good news is that I am glad I don’t have her life, even with all its comforts and ease. It would be just too insular to have stayed a nice upper-middle-class white Southern lady surrounded only by other nice upper-middle-class white Southern ladies. Difficult though it can be, I feel like it is ultimately beneficial to my character, my broadening perspective on life, and my brain activity to be a fish out of water at times and continuously adapt and grow as a person. I guess that sounds like a snide remark about that woman, who was lovely; that’s not my intent. What I realized was that I never really fit in with that kind of lady to begin with. That’s probably why I married an outsider and moved away. I’ve never cared about hairspray and azaleas and hosting cocktail parties. I didn’t know what life I wanted, and I’m not sure the one I have right now is the best fit, either, but my mother’s wasn’t it. Expats are expats for a reason.

And I don’t quite know how to put this, but I like not living surrounded by the remnants of slavery and racism. It weirds me out that all the nannies and household help and yard workers and elder caregivers we came into contact with were black (or, closer to the coastline, Hispanic). I have a newfound appreciation for Sweden’s more egalitarian society where class features much less prominently and there’s no unquestioned tradition of cheap labor with darker skin to take care of the dirty work.

Enough with the heavy stuff. The children were good travelers, we loved the food (mostly lowcountry and seafood), we swam a lot in various pools, Little Girl adored time with her grandmother fishing and gardening and biking and generally tagging along, we rode boats, Baby Brother was game for most everything, we saw a lot of friends and family. It was a good trip. We’ll have to do it again. (We have a billion great photographs, but here are some snapshots from the waterproof camera as proof of our trip.)



The sounds of America

9 June 2013

Sure, America and Americans look different from what I’m accustomed to in Sweden, but what keeps striking me since we got here two days ago is what I hear. Trains whistling in the night. Thunderstorms. Cars idling in Starbucks drive-thrus. Southern accents with their “ma’ams” “sweethearts”. Store clerks offering assistance. The tinkling of ice cubes as the waiter refills my half-empty drink of his own accord. These are things I never hear in Sweden.

At first I thought my hearing had suddenly improved; I could understand everybody at the airport so well! But no, that’s just what it’s like when everybody around you is speaking your native tongue; there’s no veil of doubt.

And then I wondered: were my children being extra super duper cute? Was I too tired to see what everyone in the long passport control line was seeing? Because every third person had a chuckle, a compliment, a joke, a high five, a benevolent smile for the kids. They never get any attention from strangers in Sweden, except rarely from the occasional elderly woman.

In America, where strangers talk to one another and especially to children, it felt so special, like we were beloved celebrities. (I wonder how it feels for the kids.) And I had to coach myself to be friendly back. I had to shrug off my years of training in Swedish standoffishness and put on my Americanness again.

Year in Review

3 June 2013

I write posts all the time and then don’t post them because I feel conflicted about sharing feelings with the public or I just can’t figure out an elegant way to express myself or I’m just being lazy and watching a lot of pirated TV instead. Now a lot of my posts are no longer timely, so here is a summary of what I really should have posted since February.

My English storytime that I give as a volunteer at the library started taking off and now there’s a spin-off English-speaking playgroup in our city. At this playgroup, Little Girl is about a million times better at English than the other kids. This has given strength to my decision to keep Baby Brother home with me (instead of starting daycare) at least another school term. It’s important to me that my kids be well-established in English as their mother tongue. Besides, his Swedish is not behind at all either, so I don’t think it’s to his detriment.

I gave up on trying to be a part of the village mommy-group because they always wanted to take two-hour stroller-pushing speed-walking forest treks in freezing rain. This torture combined with speaking Swedish in a high-stakes social setting stressed me out too much. Then, I tried attending their coffee/pastry get-togethers, but since all the other babies were pre-walkers (because the mothers disappear back into the workforce once their kids turn one) my toddler was having a very, very boring time at their homes not being allowed to interact with their un-baby-proofed coffee tables full of knick knacks and remote controls.

My psychologist fixed me right up! That and the reappearance of the sun. Perhaps hating living in Sweden is seasonal? Also, when I wrote my post all about hating Sweden, I was very sleep-deprived, being at the end of an (unsuccessful) week-long attempt to get Little Girl to stay in her own bed all night long.

I joined a volunteer group that visits elderly shut-ins. I got assigned to someone who was neither elderly nor shut-in, but was very lonely. It became quickly clear why nobody wanted to have contact with him. Now I don’t, either.

My very own evening English courses, with assorted specialties, are being offered for the fall!!! My name is on the school’s website and everything! This does not equal certain employment because it depends on how many students sign up, but it’s close!

That problematic seven-year-old boy at Little Girl’s school threatened her with a knife and nobody at the school thought this was worthy of a mention to me. Husband and I went nuclear and let Little Girl stay at home a while (she was too scared to go back), and then I attended at her side for a few days to help her feel safe and see what was going on there exactly. Mostly, I have to say, I concluded her kindergarten experience was good, if shockingly un-academic. Since my time was a kindergartner, Little Girl reported they had “fixed” this boy, which I guess meant they were making some kind of effort at the school to keep her safe from him. In recent weeks, however, she has said he has called her names and spit on her face and kept her from being able to get food. I would take this up with the principal again, except that he, the fifth principal for this school in three years, is taking sick leave due to being stressed about dealing with the school’s many problems. Yes, what a typically-Swedish solution to having too many work problems: claim you are “stressed” and fix none of them at all and don’t worry about how this affects other people. We are pissed and powerless.

I became alarmed that I have so many Swedish readers and felt worried I was offending them/you guys whenever I bitch about Sweden. I was grateful I have never gotten any dickish comments from anyone anywhere.

My in-laws are lovely people and my kids think they are the BEST.

I lost my mind over the winter regarding Baby Brother’s name. I decided I hated how it’s pronounced differently in English and Swedish and this turned out to be related to a bunch of issues I have about being an immigrant. Now, thanks to the psychologist, I am back to having a delightfully uncomplicated relationship to his name, which is a relief.

I tried to join Little Girl’s school’s version of the Parent-Teacher Association, which actually is just the P, since there are no Ts in it and thus no A. I was going to make the school better! It turns out their focus is on party-planning in order to do things like raise money to purchase McDonald’s for the kids while on a field trip. There is nothing at all about improving the actual school. Also, it was fascinating to see how they planned their events. I couldn’t follow the logic at all when it came to, for example, how much to charge per waffle and how many waffles to prepare. I am going to call it a cultural difference because the alternative is concluding those ladies were morons.

Baby Brother is 21 months old and just totally amazing and delightful and deserves not to be a footnote so he’ll get his own post.

Husband and I took a long weekend trip to Prague to celebrate our ten years of marriage. (In other news, TEN YEARS? WTF?) The kids were cared for by their grandparents and benefited from the Swedish-language immersion, meatballs, and ice cream. We particularly enjoyed swimming in a pool without trying to keep anybody from drowning; both drinking alcohol at the same time; and flying on an airplane without trying to keep anybody else from kicking the chair in front of them. We fly to America later this week where we will have none of those luxuries, but the consolation prizes are Mexican food, cheap clothes, and a large assortment of over-the-counter pharmacy goods.

I took over dropping Little Girl off at school in the morning, where I am the only parent of a child under ten who does not park his/her car and walk his/her child into the building, down the hall, up the stairs, to his/her cubby, and into the classroom every single morning. Look, the school only has like 80 kids in it and it is no mystery to Little Girl where she is supposed to go. I can’t figure out why everybody walks their kids into the building every morning. The school has a pull-through driveway at the front door for, I can only assume, the precise purpose of dropping/picking kids up. Despite early protests from Little Girl, walking to her classroom herself has turned out to be a good step in regards to her self-confidence and independence. Sometimes they grow up on their own; sometimes you have to give them a push.

My little girl is growing up.

22 May 2013

Yesterday was a hot day, as far as Swedish springtime goes. I picked up Little Girl from school and asked her about her day. Mostly we speak in English, but occasionally, more and more frequently, she’ll speak Swedish to me. “Det var skitvarmt ute!” she said.

I about had a heart attack: my sweet, shy little six-year-old had just told me that it was “hot as shit outside.” Now, in my head, I knew that in Swedish this expression is very, very mild, that it is even somehow considered acceptable for children. That everybody says it, though I certainly never would. That Little Girl didn’t even know the word “shit” in and of itself in either language or that it was a “bad word.” (She knows there are “bad words” but she doesn’t know what they are, and we don’t use them in front of her.) So I tried to keep my wits about me and not freak the fuck out about her cursing.

“Did you know that means you are saying it is as hot as poop outside but with kind of bad words? I’d rather you not say that word to me. In English it’s a very bad word, actually.”
Little Girl was horrified; she tries to keep all poop talk to the bathroom. “Then we’d better go back in the school and tell the teachers it’s a bad word, because they say it all the time!”


There’s a sweet boy in Little Girl’s class whom she’s known for the last few years and has always had positive commentary about. Today he came up in conversation.

“I have a secret to tell you, but you can’t tell anybody else,” revealed Little Girl.
“Okay, what is it?”
“I really like S. I think he is nice. I try to do nice things for him. Like if he is climbing a tree and his hat falls off, I put it back on him. I l……..” and she looked shyly away.
“Were you going to say you love him?”
“Yes, it is that, but I don’t want to say that.”

Naked Swedes

3 May 2013

Swedes are a lot more laid-back about nudity than Americans. It starts from childhood. It’s perfectly normal for little kids to run around naked at the lake in the summer, which I find cute but tend to find myself concerned about their sun exposure.

At school, since age five, Little Girl has taken group showers once a week after gym with the other little girls. Personally, I think this is kind of weird—it’s not like they get sweaty—but I imagine the idea is to get them accustomed to being undressed around and showering with each other so it won’t be as big a deal in middle school. (I suspect it is still potentially a big deal, but what do I know?) You know, I bet it’s also a way to make sure all the children get bathed at least weekly; that would be a typical Swedish institutional thought.

Grown-ups are naked in front of each other, too. In the ladies’ locker room people saunter about, no towels in sight. Once, while I was helping Little Girl get into her bathing suit for swim class, a totally naked person started talking to me. It turns out I knew her, but since I generally make it a point not to take a good look at naked people around me in the locker room, I hadn’t noticed. And that lady just stood there, chatting, nude, like she didn’t care at all that I was seeing her without her clothes. Which I guess she didn’t!

You are also supposed to be naked in the saunas. They even have a sign, “For everyone’s comfort, please do not wear your bathing suit.” I don’t know about you, but if comfort is what we are after, I would in fact prefer a bathing suit. I’ve been on pool/sauna outings with friends, and just cannot bring myself to sit around naked with them. So, I wrap up in my towel, which obviously just calls even more attention to me than if I were naked like everybody else. And I know nobody actually cares what I look like naked, but I just can’t bring myself to do it.

Since everybody is so comfortable with nudity, at public beaches there are no changing rooms. Instead, Swedish people are skilled at simultaneously having a towel wrapped around them and changing in and out of their bathing suits. Well, I say skilled, but some people are definitely better than others. I have seen assorted bits of people exposed during the process. And of course it doesn’t matter. They’re just body parts; everybody’s got them. But I still prefer to wear my wet bathing suit home, instead, and change there. There’s only so much acclimating a person can do.

Reading x2

26 April 2013

Little Girl can read now, but she still doesn’t think it’s an especially fun thing to do, not when there are sticks she could be anthropomorphizing in the front yard and Barbies to take swimming in the sink. And English has way too many words you can’t just sound out, in her opinion.

But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t like books. Oh no, if there is one thing Little Girl is into right now, it’s books. Specially, Bamse comic books. Bamse is a Swedish children’s character, a semi-magical family bear who helps of all of his forest friends and goes on adventures with his buddies Skalman (a turtle) and Lille Skutt (a rabbit). Bamse has been around since the 60s, and you can find back issues of comic books for three crowns apiece at the secondhand shop, and these books serve as a primary motivator for Little Girl (e.g. if you clean your room within 45 minutes, you get a new Bamse). Little Girl can spend hours in bed paging through her Bamses, but it’s been unclear to us how much she was actually reading and how much she was looking at the pictures and remembering what we’ve read aloud to her.

Today I had the belatedly brilliant idea to use Bamse as our reading lesson. For the most part*, Swedish is spelled like it is pronounced, and I just had to tell her what what the Swedish vowels sound like (Swedish has all the same vowels as English, plus ä, å and ö). The English vowels can each have several pronunciations, of course, and can also differ when combined with each other in assorted ways, and sometimes are pronounced differently for no clear reason at all, so compared to that, saying that the “a” always sounds like “ah” in Swedish sounds shockingly straightforward.

And the reading lesson went great, of course; she read two whole pages, and was rewarded with, you guessed it, a new Bamse. She’s in there poring over it right now. Anybody got any recommendations for English-language comic books for little kids?

* When Swedish is not spelled consistently as it is pronounced, this happens mostly around the ⟨ɧ⟩ sound, which can be spelled ⟨stj⟩, ⟨skj⟩, and ⟨sk⟩, or around some of the pronouns, as when you drop the g in “jag” and “dig.”

Three years and a lot of ruminating

23 April 2013

Well, it’s definitely time to put that last post behind us. Besides, the universe seems to have responded to my complaints and is attempting to shape up and I am actually, well, not hating living in Sweden at the moment! Life’s not so bad, after all.

That said, today marks three years since we moved to Sweden, and the first time I ever remember tearing up with homesickness, thanks to “Summer of ’69” on the radio. With its themes of nostalgia and longing for summer and the carefreeness of youth and its classic American vibe (I know Bryan Adams is actually Canadian, but still), it really conjured up some feelings. And next some Europop come on and I felt better, because I love Europop.

Magically, in the two-and-a-half weeks since my anti-Sweden diatribe, spring came, Swedish people started lining up to spend time with us, I got hired to teach some interesting classes this fall (!!!) (if they make, that is), my volunteer work has gotten even more fulfilling, Little Girl learned how to bike on our quiet little street, my sister-in-law had a healthy baby girl whom we’ll meet soon, and my husband and I booked a luxury trip to Prague next month to celebrate our upcoming ten years of marriage. All this bodes well and reflects why we were supposed to be living here in the first place.

I Have to tell you, I have very much appreciated your support and insights about my situation here in Sweden. There are lots of terrible things about blogging but the feelings of connection I have to people who understand me isn’t one of them. It’s always amazing to me how writing here improves my spirits and outlook, and not just because it’s as if I have divested myself of my problems by dispersing them into the ether of the internet, but because of knowing you guys are out there, giving a shit. Thanks, you guys!

I’ve had time to think about everyone’s comments on my last post, and I want to clarify that my complaints about Swedish society and people were not particularly directed to the people in my village. They were the culmination of every negative thought I’ve had from any Swedish source these last three years. And I don’t say that just because of my terror that someone in this village will happen upon my blog and tell everyone else about it, probably at a party to which I wasn’t invited.

No; people are perfectly nice to me. Acquaintances chat with me when we run into each other while walking our dogs; strangers ask friendly questions at play places; friends text me to make plans. Just because not everybody is clamoring to be my best friend doesn’t mean they aren’t perfectly lovely people, different as they may be from me. One again I remind myself: Swedish niceness is not American niceness, therefore a lack of American niceness does not equal Swedish rudeness. It’s just…something else. And the locus of my social life can be elsewhere without its meaning that I am shut-out from the village. I guess I have just had some idea that living in a village where you could get to know everybody and walk to your friends’ houses meant that you had to get to know everybody and have friends there to whose houses you could walk. But really it can just be an address.

These realizations are one thing leading to my feeling better, but probably the change in the weather, the sun’s reappearance, is really the main thing. Six months of winter are more than enough, thanks. Of course, now I think that 52 degrees Fahrenheit is a lovely, warm day, worthy of shorts and bare feet. I have no idea how I’ll survive South Carolina this June. Maybe then there will be some homesickness reversal!

Why I hate living in Sweden

6 April 2013

I write, or at least begin, far more blog posts than I end up publishing, mostly because I don’t want to subject you all to the same sort of whining that you’ve been hearing for the past three years I’ve been in Sweden. But usually the act of writing is therapeutic, and reading your comments even more so, giving me outside perspective and a feeling of being understood or appreciated. I should really write more.

Now that I am in actual weekly therapy with a psychologist with whom I have a rapport I am not at all feeling less full of thoughts and insights to share. And while I am currently feeling even more unhappy about my life here than usual, and it’s miserable, it’s good to know why, at least.

First let me tell you about time with my Swedish therapist. For one thing, we speak in Swedish. That has some benefits, such as the therapist probably understands me with less effort and, when she talks to me, can focus more on the content than the form of what she says. It also means she is experiencing me as the majority of Swedes do, which is helpful since a good deal of what we talk about is how I relate to Swedes and Sweden. I am also more succinct in Swedish since I usually only have one way to say something. I guess this way I get more bang for my therapy bucks. It’s also kind of neat to know that I can manage a sociolinguistic situation so complex as talk therapy in another language.

Of course, what’s not good about speaking Swedish is that I fucking hate speaking Swedish, feel like a childish idiot when I do, and can’t always explain myself and my feelings as precisely or fluently as I’d like. Nevertheless, when the therapist hasn’t seemed to have quite understood my intent at first, it seems like the problem is more cultural (e.g. expectations of behavior for an American from the south).

In general, this woman really seems to get me. She understands my feelings, my situation, my reactions. I can’t tell you how novel and valuable it is to feel like a Swedish person gets and appreciates me. She doesn’t think that all my problems with feeling at home here in Sweden are all my fault, or that I’m doing something wrong, or that my life is a series of mistakes that sounded like a good idea at the time. The therapist is good at pepping up my self-esteem by telling me various of my solutions to problems or my initiatives (e.g. volunteering at the library) are creative. And she has had some great insights into psychological and societal processes that are affecting my state of mind:

• I don’t actually having any sort of anxiety or depression disorder as I was beginning to suspect, according to her, but rather am just uniquely unsuited to my current status of being an unemployed educated immigrant from the southern part of the United States living in a rural working class Swedish village, and am thus having an especially difficult time adjusting to the change of living here. The facts of who I am just don’t mesh at all with my environment and for assorted reasons I am particularly sensitive to this discord.

• It’s probably not that the ladies in the village don’t like me (especially since they don’t really know me); rather they’re not interested in making the extra effort to communicate and connect with me, given my foreignness and my accent. They are comfortable with known entities, and don’t want any new friends or even acquaintances. This is a very strong phenomenon in a rural Swedish village and my therapist advised I straight-up give up trying to be friends or even all that friendly with the mommies in the village. Theoretically if I stop trying, I’ll stop being disappointed (shout-out to Facebook, for facilitating much of this disappointment!), which is wreaking havoc on my self-esteem. I’ve never had trouble fitting in or getting along with people before, and I really like socializing, and I feel very alone out here in this village, so this bit is very hard for me.

• Where I come from it’s your social class, education, and work accomplishments that provide status and context for an individual, whereas here it’s who you know and where you grew up. I don’t know anybody and didn’t grow up here, so I’ve got no cache. Though I could of course take personal and professional satisfaction in having an appropriate job and doing it well, and thus compensate for my lack of social capital, I still have no such job.

• My map/guidebook for interacting effectively and winningly interacting with people and institutions (e.g Little Girl’s school) is of no use so besides the language difficulties, which still arise, I feel bereft and powerless in these contexts.

• In my “previous life” in the US, I did everything a girl like me should: played the piano, rode horses, did well in school, went to a good college, got married before living together, worked a professional job, had a baby, stayed home to care for her. It was all by the book for my milieu. And then I went off and moved to Europe, which was totally off the rails, and this one major life decision that was the first which was entirely my own isn’t turning at a) at all how I’d hoped and b) very well for me personally at all. This is apparently why I can’t seem to feel comfortable with any decisions I now make, about issues big or small; I don’t trust myself to make good ones.

• My marriage is now direly unequal, since I rely on Husband more and more (instead of the expected less and less) for so very much as I am emotionally dejected by previous failures and in practical terms not interested in repeating them (e.g. not securing a refund on a defective item at a store; unable to convince school personnel to take me seriously). Now I try to get him to call or be present at appointments for everything, having no faith in my ability to manage them. This makes e feel the opposite of capable and adult. Being an immigrant is like being a five-year-old.

• I feel super-guilty, apparently (as evidenced by all the crying in therapy), about having left my mother and grandparents behind in the US. When I moved, my grandparents were both in serious decline, and my mother had left her work to care for them full-time. Very shortly into my time here some things happened I am not comfortable detailing here, but they were pretty horrifying and necessitated my return to the US to deal with the fallout. My having moved abroad was one reason they occurred. GUILT.

• Additionally, I am a good southern girl, and we are supposed to take care of our families, sometimes I of course am not at all doing from another continent. MORE GUILT.

• Much of my expectations have been met with disappointment. We were supposed to come to be near Husband’s large extended family, but we hardly ever see anybody except his parents. The country life was supposed to be idyllic, but the villagers ignore us and there are a couple of men who drive around our village and others trying to convince schoolgirls walking home to hop in their cars for who knows what terrible purposes. Apparently Little Girl’s sweet little country school is crappy. The long winters and unreliable summers are taking a toll on me. The graduate degree I got in the US with the explicit purpose of being more employable abroad has turned out to have no practical value in Sweden. I had expected to travel within Europe a fair amount but we don’t get around to it too much, what with the never-ending house renovation using up our time and money instead. And, not to be too middle school about it, but nobody wants to be my friend, at least nobody Swedish, and that’s disappointing.

• I feel like a culturally incompetent parent and I hate that for my children’s sake. They deserve someone who knows what’s what and can work the system on their behalf.

• There’s a fair amount about Swedish culture I just don’t like and now I’m going to make some big assholish generalizations here in discussing them because I am in a bad place about Sweden at the moment and don’t feel like being fair: Swedes don’t appreciate how good they have it. They take advantage of their social welfare mechanisms and expect to be taken care of entirely in a very entitled way. Everybody wants to look the same and do the same things (preferably in a group) and buy the same crap and it’s boring as fuck. Swedes hate change and innovation unless it relates to their iPhone. They are too casual about sex which I personally think is part of why their rape culture is so strong. The typical foods are boring and bad for you. Adults are rude and unfriendly and children indulged and undisciplined. They don’t value education beyond trade school, which they sometimes call university even though it is not. They think everything about Sweden is automatically the awesomest and are incurious about everywhere else. Extended family has little value, and neither does staying home with one’s children. Swedes are suspicious of and/or uncomfortable around anybody who is different. The only books they read are cookbooks, and then they just go ahead and fry up ready-made meatballs all the time anyway.

• My point about the above diatribe is that a lot of what I see as common Swedish values I do not like and I do not share. It’s tiring and frustrating and demoralizing to run up against them, to work against them in raising my children, to see them at work everywhere.

So now that the therapist has figured out why I am having such a hard time, we need to figure out how to make it better, because I can’t go back in time and not have moved, and even though we could and might move back to the US (something I think about many times a day), that’s not going to happen for a few more years for practical and ideological reasons. I want to be happy here, but how?

For a positive update, click here.