800,000 minutes in Sweden...
This is me exactly a year and a half before that. Sitting on a balcony overlooking the sea. On the day I first arrived in Sweden.
(wow do I look jetlagged)
So I've lived in Sweden for a year and a half now. That's quite awhile. Some things have changed since then for me, and here they are...
1. I can’t really handle Mexican food anymore. I will happily eat it, but my stomach will be really unhappy about it. That first became clear this summer when I was back in the States. I had dinner at the most authentic Mexican food place in Stockholm the other day, called La Neta, and felt bad for a day afterwards. This is sad (but probably better for me) but it makes me feel like I’m losing some of my California heritage. Mexican food is an entire food group there.
2. The above is a result of eating out WAY less and cooking WAY more. I have never loved being in the kitchen, always seemed like a waste of time. But in the last few months I’ve arrived at a place where I actually get excited about creating something new and interesting to eat. I’ve been getting creative with vegetables and actually using some of the fun recipes I collected to bring to Sweden. I’ve marveled at the way that most Swedes feel so comfortable in the kitchen and now I’ve started wanting to take charge when a group of us get together to make dinner.
3. My English has gotten worse. It’s getting harder and harder for me to hear or read when something is not grammatically correct. The other day I typed to a friend “they need to get their asses out of their heads!” and I barely caught my error there… haha. I sometimes ask friends questions in English and realize that I asked them in the particular Swede-speaking-English way of translating it directly from Swedish, which isn’t wrong so much as it is just not native English. And as far as trying to speak Spanish in Sweden, I can’t get out one sentence without putting Swedish words in it. My brain isn’t used to managing two foreign languages. I envy my colleague who daily flows between Swedish, French and English all quite smoothly.
4. Also regarding language, I don’t really hear any accents in English anymore. It doesn’t occur to me that I sound any different from everyone around me or that so and so has a more British accented English than the average Swede. Whether I am speaking to a Ukrainian or Dane, the differences have all sort of faded to the back of my awareness.
5. On the other hand, I hear all accents in Swedish now. I used to not. In California, one Swedish friend sounded very much like the other. It was around late spring of last year that all of the sudden, when I would hear people speak around me, my brain would go “HELSINGBORG!” or “KARLSKRONA!” or “GÖTEBORG”! And it’s so strange when I hear the Swedes I met in California three years ago speak Swedish, since now their Swedish voices, accent, and how they use their native language have come alive for me, when before it was all simply a flow of words I rarely understood.
6. My world is even bigger than it was. Because of Swedish friends I have living abroad, colleagues spread internationally, friends from across the globe from my masters program, and those I met in Lund and Budapest for the student International Weeks, I know people across the world that I could visit at a moment’s notice. I’d done a lot of traveling before Sweden but now my international ties go deeper than simply “having traveled there”.
7. I drink 2 cups of coffee every weekday. It becomes a habit like this of course when your office has it for free, but I never even drank one cup per day until Lund last year. It was only in 2009 that I started ever ordering plain coffee (and adding sugar and milk of course). Normally I’d get Starbucks vanilla lattes! I think I’ve come a long way since when I was 18 and couldn’t even stand the smell inside a coffee shop so I waited outside for my friends. I never have wanted to be dependent on coffee, so I do sometimes intentionally go without it.
8. I sleep better in Sweden. I had trouble sleeping starting around 2008, which got worse as time went on, until I got here and got settled late in 2010. The winter darkness helps, as well as better indoor temperature regulation in Swedish apartments compared to rental homes in California. I think that reduced stress is the biggest influence.
9. Along with this, I get sick less often in Sweden. I used to rarely get sick. Then in 2009 I started getting sick ALL the TIME. I would get a serious cold that would turn into chest congestion and once it all started to fade away it would start all over again. I was put on antibiotics 3 times in 7 months which in turn, reduced my immune capacity. It was maddening and I felt so helpless. And it didn’t help that it was one of the craziest and busiest years of my life. I got to Sweden and it has become extremely rare for me to become full blown sick. Sometimes I’ll hover around the edge for days on end, but I no longer get infections or chest congestions or anything like that. I am SO grateful.
10. After a year in Sweden, when I was back in California this summer, after staying with my friend Megan for a week, she told me, “You’ve definitely changed. It’s a new version of Corinne.” What she was talking about was that I’ve become a bit… calmer. The urge to run (drive) around seeing all my friends all the time, never missing a gathering… it had eased up a bit. I certainly don’t think this is a result of getting one year older, I think it was the total lifestyle shake-up I experienced moving to Sweden. After building a new social life almost from scratch in a foreign country, I don’t know, maybe it occurred to me that I don’t have to be having ALL the fun ALL the time with every friend I have in order to have quality relationships and a really fantastic life.
11. It is so cliché to say, “Oh I’ve moved/traveled abroad and now I totally have a new view on America! I’m so enlightened!” I don't have a brand new view. I don't look at McDonalds with disdain. What I do have, after a year and a half of living in Sweden, is a wider perspective and deeper understanding of my native country that I love so very much. I have gained this from reading, listening and observing both from this distance and through the hearts and minds of countless Swedes, Europeans and others across the world. I understand more than I ever did about why America is admired and why it is so not. All that I think and feel about this could take up a dozen different posts. Maybe someday it will. I love you, America. You are not perfect. And you know what? Absolutely nowhere else is either.
12. I love winter now. And I'm not longer afraid of walking on a frozen sea. Well, maybe a little bit at first step. But especially if I’m with a friend, then nothing can stop me J
And here is proof. Plus some more photos of my friend Filip and me to show how I celebrated my year and a half anniversary in Sweden on one of the most lovely winter days I've ever seen.