Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Which Came First, the Cereal or the Milk: nitpicking and the Swedish Breakfast

I've had a lot of serious things running around my head lately in regards to Sweden and where I fit in here, but my head is heavy and I need a light-hearted break. And thus, thoughts from my breakfast table.

So which do you put first? Does it matter? Does anyone care?

I ask because this morning I found myself pouring yougurt into Little Swede's bowl, followed by the cereal.

OK, so it was yogurt and not milk (I don't think I've mentioned the awesome Swedish tradition of selling yogurt in large Tetra Pak cartons so it lasts for ages, is perfect to make smoothies, and much less wasteful than a cup of yogurt).

But growing up in the US I was always a cereal and then milk girl. I used to find it odd when I came to Sweden and my friends did the opposite, milk and then cereal. The Swede here also is a milk then cereal kinda guy. I feel like I can't accurately guage how much cereal I take that way. Plus it is just wacky. Also they use that nasty 'Sour milk.' (I have grown to appreciate Fil, but not one-hundred percent love it).

Now I find myself doing it.

What does it all mean? No, I hope it doesn't mean I've run out of things to write about.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Studying in Sweden: Surviving Group Work

So as I have mentioned here on this blog before, I am back in school, starting a part-time Masters while also running a business and being a full-time Mom (Whatever that means, since I don't know too many part-time Moms – even if your child is somewhere else, you are still the Mom right? Little Swede does go to daycare FWIW)

Anyways, studying in Sweden means Groupwork, and as much as part of the reason I chose my program was because of its advertised lack of groupwork (and I actually wasn't the only one to do so), there was still a little groupwork to get us started.

I find groupwork to be a struggle. But it is true that Swedish groupwork is a pretty good testing ground for working in Swedish groups in 'the real world', it doesn't make it any less frustrating.

So here are my tips for survival – and this time I am not going to apologize for my opinion, because seriously, it is my opinion and that is what it is worth. Please note that this list is made from experiences in courses that I have taken in the past and does not reflect on my current groupwork experience! (Although they are oblivious to this blog anyway).

  1. Be careful about grabbing the reins: A great deal of time in your group will be spent hemming and hawing because no one wants to really take the leading role. There will be a lot of 'So, what shall we do?' 'I don't know, what do you think?' 'I don't know, how about you.' This does not mean that nobody in the group has an opinion. It just means they don't want to lead or be first. As someone who in the working world has to lead groups, I find this very difficult to deal with. Mostly because it means a project that should take 1 hour will not take less than 3. I often weigh the options, if I take the lead it means I usually means I will do 70% of the work, but in about 30% of the time. Sometimes I will do this and other times not.
  2. Ignore the fact that one person always does nothing or worse, cheats: There will always be someone in the group who does not pull their own weight, mostly by never showing up to any group meetings. This makes my American blood boil because this person will be receiving the same grade I do, when I bust my ass. In discussing it with my groupmates 100% of the time no one thinks it is a good idea to report this lack of participation to the teacher. Not even when one group member submited three pages of directly plagiarized work and I was forced to rewrite it or submit a piece of work with my name on it that had been plagiarized or had a 3 page gap in it could I get the group to report this person to the teacher. I admit, in every case I chickened out of reporting it myself, mostly because we are usually 5 people in the group and I wanted some back-up.
  3. Compromise, compromise, compromise – this means just say yes: When I did a group paper in the US it was a crazy experience. We argued, debated, went back and forth and in the end had a nice solid paper we could all agree on. It wasn't pretty, but we all started as strangers and left as friends. In Sweden, I find it hard to debate with my groupmates without becoming 'overbearing.' The thing is they back down right away. And seriously, I may think I am right, but I am not always right. Discussion and debate is a valuable learning tool. But instead it is all, OK, let's see how we can add that' or a quick change of subject. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I Tweet, Or Will Try To

So i am trying to make friends with twitter again. Even though it makes be feel old and totally antisocial media I've found a few things I really like on there. So when I was debating taking on Facebook or twitter for this, twitter won. No way I could handle both at the same time. I'm way to wordy and procrastinaty for so many short updates. If you are on twitter or have any thing you would recommend I follow, give a shout. Right now I feel like if a twit tweets in the forest and nobody hears it... But not really because ive only got like 4 tweets. Check me out under survivinginswed.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Swedish Children's Literature: Max

I realize that it is probably criminal to discuss the topic of Swedish children's literature and not to begin with Astrid Lindgren. I love Ms. Lindgren and will tackle that topic when I can give it the time and the attention it deserves. But my kid isn't quite at the Astrid Lindgren stage of development yet, so I have to stick to somewhat simpler pastures.

And so I have chosen Max. When Little Swede was born he received a few of these Max books as gifts. And since then has gotten a few more.  And slowly I began to see that the world of children's literature is somewhat different in Sweden than it is in the US. There is no poetry here. There is no 'let's learn about something' hiding in the background.

No. Max is a naughty little boy. Although the word naughty doesn't really work because he is 'busig' which is a fabulous Swedish word which means both positive and negative things.

In the books that we have Max does things like hit a duck in the face, try to sit his big dog on a tiny potty, take toys from his friends, and an assortment of not nice things to his rather large dog (this dog thing is the bit that worries me, since we have a rather large dog and I don't want Little Swede getting any ideas).

For the most part there are no real consequences for Max's bad behavior. In one instance I think he does get hit by another kid. In another one the dog kind of growls at him. But for the most part, Max gets what he wants, which is his pacifier, a cookie, a ball or a car.

The Max books are written by Barbro Lindgren and concluded with a book for grownups, which is written in a similar style, but includes Max getting married, growing old and dying.

It seems, despite his naughty nature, Max grows up to be a good little Swede. Which is really the point isn't it? Get out all the 'busig' when you are young, so you can follow the rules and understand them when you are old? Or am I missing it?

Ah well, here is a picture of Max dumping his potty on his dog's head. I hope Little Swede doesn't feel too inspired. At least the texts says 'Doggy sad.'

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Kan man vara sig själv på ett annat språk? Or Who am I when I speak Swedish?

Det finns mycket som hänger ihop med språket. När jag pratar engelska vet jag vilkna ord jag ska använda med en viss publik. Jag kan vara sarkastiskt. Jag kan skämta. Jag kan använda ord som har subtila nyanser. Jag låter som jag är utbildad, som jag är kanske någon som man kan lita på. Jag förstår hur mitt ordval kan ge information om mig själv.

When you really begin to learn a language, you begin to notice just how much goes with it. When I speak or even write in English for that matter, I know how to use it. I can play with words. I can be sarcastic and funny without thinking too much about it. I can use big fancy words or simple explanations. I sound like now and then I open a book.

Men när jag prata svenska känns det fortfarande som jag är lite handikappad. Att jag kan prata men kanske inte alltid kommunicera. Jag har svårt för subtila undertoner. Många kanske tycker att jag är väldigt självsäkert när jag prata. Men jag tycker att jag har inte så stora möjlighet att variera mitt språk, så det låter kanske bara självsäker för att jag kan inte tona ner det så lätt.

Often times when I am speaking Swedish I feel like I am stuck in the fifth grade. Left back a year or two because I am just very slow. I can get out my sentences and people understand me, but I am not really being me. I notice, particularly in job interviews, that the feedback I get is you seem very self assured and ambitious, which isnt really what we are looking for. I sometimes think that is because I dont really have the skills to vary my language and tone yet. When I speak English with people, my nonverbal communication is caught up, but when I speak Swedish, my nonverbal communication is very rigid and not very soft.

Jag har mycket respekt för folk som är i ett fast förhållande med någon som prata har ett modersmål som dem inte kan förstå. I vårt hus är det lyxigt att båda jag och min man kan prata våra egna språk och bli förstod.

Much respect to those who are living in relationships where they always need to speak a foreign language with their partner. I find it very comforting that I can relax and speak my own language and have my Swede understand me. And that he can do the same. But I guess maybe thats why my Swedish skills a bit lagged behind. If I had to speak it all the time, it might be a different story!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Becoming Swedish

Are you a Swedish citizen yet?

It's a question I get asked a lot. And because I spend way to much time thinking about these things, the answer is 'No, I'm not'.

Depending on when you ask me and my mood, the answer varies.

1) I travel too much. I don't want to surrender my passport for an unknown amount of time and thus be landlocked.

2) Migrationsverket has thus far lost my paperwork every single time I have sent them something. I do not want them to lose my passport too.

3) I just don't feel Swedish yet, I'd feel like a fake.

The truth is probably a combination of all three. Words cannot describe my dislike for Migrationsverket - and if you have never had to deal with them, count yourself as lucky. 

But this whole being Swedish thing, it is something that I struggle with. I mean, why would I want to be a Swedish citizen if I didn't want to be a Swede. And why wouldn't I want to be a Swede, if I like them so friggin much? (which I do).

One of the things about the Sweden Democrats (a Swedish political party considered to be racist) that infuriates me is also something I think that they are sadly correct about in the state of today's Swedish society. The Sweden Democrats describe a Swede as 'anyone who considers themselves to be Swedish and who would be considered by others to be Swedish.' And there in lies the rub. Who is considered to be Swedish by others and why? Is that particular club too exclusive? Would they have me? Do they want someone who speaks Swedish? Someone who is white? Someone who is blonde?

I know. I don't take too much to heart what SD have to say about much of anything. But this feeling I get from so many Swedes around me. The sentences that begin with 'You know that guy from work, he's Swedish, but not Swedish Swedish, I mean he was born here, but his parents are African, I think.' (You may think that sounds strange, but I have heard that or something similar from co-workers, clients, family members etc.) I realize that this is a Swedish dance for saying 'You know that black guy who works with us?' but it makes me feel like I will never be 'Swedish' enough.

Anyways, now that I am raising a little Swede, who will always be viewed as a 'true Swede' thanks to his blue eyes and blonde hair, it makes me wonder - do I belong to this club now? Is it time to sign up? I don't really mind the outsider status, but I don't think becoming a Swede officially will change that status.

Achhh, I guess I just think about it way too much. I would hate to not be able to vote in the next big election. I think that might be the deciding factor.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Nu Även På Svenska (Now in Swedish!)

Hejsan allihopa,

Jag har tagit en ganska stor beslut att jag ska skriva lite på svenska, förhoppningsvis en gång per vecka, här på bloggen.

Translation: I am going to make the ambitious move to try to post once a week in Swedish here.

Anledning är att jag har börjat gå i skolan igen och därför behöver att skriva lite mer. Just nu kan jag tala svenska utan hinder, men skriva? Usch, nej tack!

Translation: I hate writing in Swedish and it terrifies me. But I am taking a class this semester where I need to write graduate level papers, in Swedish. So I need to practice. Sorry.

Tanken är att jag ska omorganisera bloggen lite, snart, så att det bli lättare att hitta runt. Jag tänkte svenska blogginlägg skulle har egen kategori som jag ska länka till i huvudbloggen. Men, jag pluggar, jobba, starta eget och försöka spendera lite tid med familjen då och då. Så frågan är bara NÄR jag gör det här ambitiös projekt.

Translation: My brilliant plan is to reorganize this blog sometime soon. And then I will try to keep the Swedish posts a bit separate, linking them with only a small snippet in main blog, so that all non-Swedish speakers can easily jump over them. The only problem is that I always plan to do way to many things and always end up watching the newest episode of True Blood instead of any of them. So it might take awhile. But the thought counts, no?

Jag är så jätteglad att jag har lärt mig att känna så många olika sorts människor genom den här bloggen och jag uppskatter alla kommentar och mejl mer än jag kan säga. Jag hoppas att några svenskar  som läsa det här blogg bli inte livsrädd och försvinna när dem läsa min dålig svenska. Om ni vill kommentera på min dålig stavning, ordval, grammatik, etc gör det! Snälla! Eller bara skriva vad ni vill. Men jag menar bara att det är OK att rätta mig om ni vill. Eller inte.

Translation: This is the part where I let my Swedish audience know that if they decide to rip my Swedish to shreds I will mostly greatly appreciate it - after I get annoyed with myself for making the same mistake for the 80th time. But also that they don't have to feel obliged to correct my Swedish either. I just hope I don't scare them - and you - away.

That said - I won't be doing a running translation in all of my Swedish posts. Or maybe I will, I don't know. It's kind of fun for me. But if you are curious - there is always Google Translate. Or just ask.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Yes, You Can Eat That - Mushroom Hunting in Sweden

“Some of my friends are going mushroom hunting this weekend, want to come?” The Swede innocently asked me probably too many years ago than I am willing to admit.

“I don't want to die.” Or something equally dramatic was probaby my answer.

I spent my childhood going on the occasional woodland romp or park excursion, but mostly I did New Jersey Girl Scouts, which means arts and crafts, baking and the occasional tenting in our fearful leader's backyard. (I hated it and quit early once I realized I would never sell enough cookies to win that goddamn rainbow hangy thing).

One rule was universal. Every Mom in the neighborhood and every scout leader repeated it. Do NOT eat ANYTHING you find growing outside. This PARTICULARLY means mushrooms. Mushrooms will KILL you. But berries, too. While they might not always KILL you they will make you very very very sick.

Cut to Sweden. I was out orienteering with my 7 year old niece. (She was guiding me through the woods). She bends down and goes 'Here have a blueberry!' and my first instinct is 'NOOOOO'. But I am learning, really. I tried it. And ate quite a few. They were good. I hope I won't be the first case of Heartworm in Sweden.

But back to the mushrooms.

First The Swede tells me, don't worry, we will only be picking chanterelles, they are easy to spot. Promise. And they are because they are very distinctive looking. But then he also notices these other mushrooms. The ones they call 'fake chanterelles,' or Trattchanterelles. I am worried about the name. Really? Fakes? That sounds poisonous. I think I will stick with the real deal.

We wandered the woods for awhile. Staring at the ground. Finding the occasional small gathering. And then, something magical happened. Once you see the mushrooms? You really see the mushrooms. They are everywhere. And OF COURSE you can see which is which. It's as obvious as telling the difference between two people sitting on a bus. They are both people, but they are not the same.

And so when we got all of our mushrooms home, I ate them, fake ones and all. I ate them despite the fact that I really don't like mushrooms (mostly because I feel they have the consistency of chewing on your own tongue).

Now we go out regularly to pick mushrooms. Now we have trained our dog to hunt chanterelles. Now I can tell a blueberry from a fake blueberry. I can spot a raspberry and vinberries. I know. To your average Swede that's a 'So what.' But for a Jersey girl? It feels like a big step!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Is It American Customer Service Or Is It Me?

We made it safely back just before the hurricane, thankfully.

I haven't lived in the states for a long time. So obviously a thing or two has changed. And then when I start to ponder these things too much I get stuck on the question: How much has changed vs. how much have I changed?

Let's take customer service for example. This, for my first three years here, was most likely the reason you might have heard me exclaim "In My Country . . ."

Swedish customer service drove me crazy. Even if I was the only person in a store I felt like I still had hunt down a sales person. And then there are the times I tried to make a suggestion or two like: If you are going to borrow the American idea of a wedding registry, you should also have the gifts shipped to the bridal party. That is how a wedding registry works. To my more politely asked form of this request I received the response 'That's stupid.'

In my country the response might have been (circa 2004) 'I'm just a sales clerk, but if you go into our webpage you can leave your suggestion there.' and after I left 'did you hear that stupid idea that crazy lady had.'

I don't know what has gotten into the water in the most mall dense area of the world, aka New Jersey, but I kept being shocked by how rude people were. One time we stood in front of this cashier in what we thought was the line, made eyes contact and everything, but not until we put our things down did she point out a long line on the other side of the desk.

And I had to hunt down salespeople as well. There was mysteriously always someone to greet me, but then they just up and disappeared or were totally all about gossiping with their co-workers.

I have come to enjoy the brute honest of Swedish customer service. When we had a problem with an airlines a while back the customer service Swedish rep responded in authentic horror at our situation. She couldn't do anything to help us, but sometimes it is nice that someone acknowledges that the company  f'd up. The American customer reps are so scripted it is worse than watching Days Of Our Lives.

So is it me? Do you see a decline in customer service in the US?