Friday, 30 March 2012

Week5: SwEngPolish Poetry

One part of Swenglish is that I do housework or other random jobs in exchange for food and a roof over my head. Since I started the project five weeks ago I've done everything from collecting firewood on the beach to cleaning a mouldy cupboard, from playing with a child to helping someone sort out an e-mail list. But my absolute favourite job so far was to translate a poem from English to Swedish, and stand in as a reader at a poetry event.

Last night I truly shadowed poet and playwright Maria Jastrzębska when she did a reading at the Pighog Press poetry event at the Red Roaster in Brighton. Maria is originally from Poland and she was supposed to read a poem in Polish at the same time as her partner read the English version, but sadly her partner wasn't very well on the day so I covered for her, reading the English bit. The poem is called At The Border and is published in Anthologia - a Polish English bilingual publication.

In the second half Maria and I did both an English and Swedish version of her poem Why do you laugh? I really enjoyed translating this dark poem and was honoured to be asked. I hope to able to do more interesting jobs like this during my Swenglish year! (But honestly I don't mind doing the washing up for people!)

To find out more about Maria and her latest poetry collection, Everyday Angels, please click here


Monday, 26 March 2012

Week5: Cucumber Sandwiches & Fussy Tea Drinkers

When I arrived at the house of Swenglish person number 5 the kitchen looked a bit chaotic – but smelled divine – as my host and her partner were in the middle of preparing for a joint birthday party.

After a quick cup of green tea I was set on sandwich making duty: salmon and cream cheese on Polish bread, egg and cress on brown bread, and finally cucumber on white bread. First I was a bit nervous as some people are very particular about their sandwiches: the thickness of the butter, the amount of filling and which shape to cut them in, but luckily my hosts were happy with my triangular creations. 

I find cucumber sandwiches very funny as if that little bit of green would make the sandwich healthier or spice up the butter. My grandmothers in Sweden used to put half a grape on their bread rolls, but at least they had cheese to go with it.

This is the delicious sandwich, scone and cake table, but I had to wait quite a while before I could stuff myself with “Death by Chocolate” or “Rocky Road” as I was partly in charge of the tea-making which was more nerve-wracking than the sandwich making. A friend once said the following about tea: ”There’s a process in making it that you can take pride in” which make it sound just as complicated as it is.

English people are so fussy about their tea! In Sweden anyone would be happy if you handed them a black coffee, here people wanted either Breakfast Tea or Earl Grey or Rooibos or decaffeinated or something herbal or other, and if that wasn’t enough you have to deal with the strength of the tea and not to forget: the milk and the sugar:

Just a bit of milk, please
Make it very milky, please
Put in the milk first, please
One and a half tea-spoon of sugar, please
No sugar, please
I like mine quite strong, please
Don’t stew it too much, please
Leave the bag in, please
Is there any more hot water?

In the end everybody got what they wanted (hopefully!) and gathered in the sunny garden to laugh and gossip and listen to a speech by the host and a surprise ukulele performance. I’m glad I tried a scone for lunch because believe it or not – by the time the guests went home the plates and trays were empty, save the pumpkin cake which only I really enjoyed as it had the same spice mix as Swedish gingerbread. A big thank you to my hosts for letting me be part of such a lovely typical English afternoon!


Friday, 23 March 2012

Week4: Tintin and Bad Spiderman

At 6.30am I get woken up by Spiderman – the bad black one who’s made out of yucky slugs. The good Spiderman is made of small blue and red spiders that aren’t yucky. That’s what I learnt from the 4-year-old I’m staying with this week.

To share a small space with a child and his mum is challenging as we constantly bump into each other and the furniture, but I think that’s the price you pay for living in the middle of a big city, even in Sweden.

What I really like about this week though is reading bedtime stories – or anytime stories to the little boy. It’s nice to be able to recognise characters such as Paddington and Tintin from my childhood in Sweden. Although in the Swedish version Tintin’s dog is called Milo, not Snowy as in the English translation. I’ve also read about Katie Morag, dinosaurs and the Octonauts. What surprises me is that Sweden’s most popular children’s author Astrid Lindgren isn’t very well known in England even though a lot of people have heard of Pippi Longstocking.

One thing that can make me feel really alienated about English culture is that I didn’t grow up with the same books, films and TV programmes. The nursery rhymes and songs are also different. Last week the woman I stayed with taught me Hickory Dickory Dock which she used as a an exercise to warm up her voice before doing a recording.

I better stop here because I’m off to read a Charlie and Lola-story! (Which I secretly enjoy reading to myself even after the kid has gone to bed ...)


Thursday, 15 March 2012

Week3: Sea Swimming

Sea swimming is an old tradition in England and the Brighton Swimming Club, founded in 1860, was the first club in the country.

Yvo Luna - the woman I’m staying with this week has been swimming in the sea every day for eight years and she keeps going all through the winter. Mainly she does it because of the mental health benefits it brings, and as a performer it also helps her with stage nerves.

’It’s a humbling experience,’ she says. ’To be part of something that’s bigger than yourself.’

I’ve been cycling down to the beach with Yvo in the mornings and it’s an amazing feeling to get up at seven and be by the sea before everyone else wakes up, but I’m not tempted to go in the water! At the moment the temperature is about five degrees Celsius and the swimmers stay in for ten minutes – it’s not just a quick dip as I’d expected. And Yvo is very hardcore; she doesn’t even have a hot shower after.

‘It can make you feel colder having a quick, hot shower afterwards. If I get in the shower, I don’t want to get out!,' she says, towelling herself dry. After all the sea-swimming is meant to be a Cold Water Cure.

In Sweden it’s a tradition to cut a hole in the ice in winter, have a dip in the lake and then run into a steaming hot sauna. After seeing the sea-swimmers, that’s cheating in my book.

Yvo is putting on a show in the Brighton Fringe Festival called ”Luna’s History of Madness” where she’ll talk more about the Cold Water Cure and other ways to look after mental health. So after the swimming and breakfast I usually follow Yvo to The Apple Store where she's got a work space. At the moment she's working on her press release. Very exciting!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Week2: See You, Pet?

According to The Xenophobes guide to the English, English people are doting on their pets more than any other nation. I don’t know if this is true – my friends in Sweden who own pets are quite crazy about them too, and I don’t mind; it’s quite cute the way some people talk to and about their animals as if they were family members.

What I do mind is being called ”pet” as an affectionate substitute for ”sweetie” or ”darling” or whatever. (In Sweden you only use words like ”sweetie” or ”darling” if you’re truly fond of someone and mean it with your whole heart.) The first time some said ”Alright, pet” or ”See you, pet” I got quite upset – I’m nobody’s blooming dog! I thought it was a joke.

So far none of my Swenglish hosts have called me pet, and as I’m allergic to cats and hairy dogs I’m trying to avoid staying with people who got animals, or so I thought ...

It’s the fourth day and my current host hadn’t even mentioned any pets until today. I’d convinced myself that the tanks in the living room and bedroom were empty as I haven’t seen anything stir, but it turns out I’m sleeping under the same roof as two snakes and four spiders!


Sunday, 4 March 2012

Week2: Green Tea & The Sea

I'm not in China, but I've just moved in with my second Swenglish host and I was very happy to be offered green tea on arrival. After a week of trying to get used to rooibos tea at the last place I stayed, I've realised that I can't live without green tea.

Another thing I missed last week was the sea. You can't see it or smell it from Preston. Where I'm staying now, in Brunswick Square, I've got a sea view!

It's funny how I learn as much about myself as I do about other people through this project. I'm trying to give up my own habits and adapt other people's habits to a certain extent, and that's how I find out what I miss and don't miss about my "old" life. It does feel like a long time ago already since I was a writer who lived in Hove and worked part-time in the library.

PS. no carpet in the loo!


Friday, 2 March 2012

Week 1: The Quirks of English Toilets

 Before I moved to England I was warned about English toilets. 
“They have carpets in the loo!” people told me, looking appalled. “What if you’re sick? Or spending a penny when you’re drunk? It’s not like you can wipe the floor with disinfectant soapy water after …”
The toilet in the house where I’m staying this week is to my relief carpet free, but there’s another problem: there’s no sink. 
Sometimes dirty (and I mean literally dirty) business happens in the toilet and you want to wash your hands straight after you’ve been. If the sink is located next door, this isn’t that easy; someone might be having a bath and there you stand with the p-word on your fingers not knowing what to do. Of course you could wash your hands in the kitchen sink, but that’s not very hygienic.

Another quirk about English bathrooms is that in a lot of places there are still separate taps for hot and cold water, and the hot tap is often so hot you burn your fingers. There are warning signs everywhere, but I still forget. If you just want to wash your hands it seems like a waste to put the plug in and mix the water, so most of the time I end up washing my hands in either freezing cold or scorching hot water. (But I’ve seen people having both taps on at the same time, moving their hands between them.)

I pointed out the problem with sink free toilets to the person I’m staying with and she agreed it wasn’t very convenient, but said that nowadays, for health and safety reasons you’re probably not allowed to build a room with just a toilet in it.*

She didn’t really have a comment about the separate taps as she’s so used to it, but her Swedish housemate who’s a care worker said the scorching hot water ruins his skin because he has to wash his hands all the time. And talking about health and safety, he also mentioned that mixing the water in the sink isn’t very hygienic as you wash your hands in your own dirt, a bit like having a bath which is still very popular in England. (For four years I lived in two different flats in Hove with no shower, only a bath with no shower hose!)

I think a little bit of dirt is good for you though; Swedish people tend to be too clean and that’s probably why a lot of people suffer from allergies in Sweden. I’m already excited about what the toilet conditions are going to be in the next place I’m staying. Funnily enough, after writing this, I’m almost hoping there’ll be a carpet as it will at least keep your feet warm(er).

*Just had a comment on Facebook from Liz saying "But - separate loo means not having to wait while someone finishes their shower/makeup/cleansing ritual etc." Fair enough!