Tuesday, 25 September 2012

WeekX: Shoes off!

The shoe culture is a bit different in Sweden compared to England. The policy is to ALWAYS take your shoes off when you enter a Swedish home, but I was surprised to find that you even had to take your shoes off to enter the children's area at the central library in Malmö.

A few weeks ago I was at a party in Småland. Quite a few people were drunk on homemade booze, but they still managed to take their shoes off every time they had been out for a cigarette or some fresh air. It wouldn't have happened in England where it's normal to walk into a house with your shoes on. (Unless you have stepped in poo or mud.)

This picture is from a birthday party in England. I was the only who had taken my shoes off. They looked quite lonely in the hallway and people kept falling over them because ...

In general England is not very good at hallways. In Sweden, no matter the size of your flat or house there are almost always hangers for your coat, a shelf for your hat and a rack for your shoes.

However, someone I stayed with in England who worked in an office tried to be creative in his work environment, but only two of the ten or so people in the room felt free to leave their shoes off. (I wasn't one of them. That day I felt very English and left my boots on.)

PS. This week I'm having a break from Swenglish as I'm signing books at the Gothenburg Book Fair. More info here.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Week20: A bit of England in Sweden

I’m jealous of my current host. She gets to speak and hear English everyday because she’s brought a bit of England to Sweden in the form of an Englishman. They live in a beautiful house on Österlen, the famous flatland in the south of Sweden where the sky is big and you’re surrounded by a special light.

Everyday I’ve been for walks, walking for half an hour in each direction and I’ve come across a church and a few art galleries, but mostly there are fields and tractors among the scattered villages where people live. I pointed out that in England it would be unusual to walk for half an hour in the countryside and not come across a pub, and that I missed it. Not that I would go to the pub everyday, but just knowing that I had the option would make me feel less isolated. This turned into a heated discussion between my hosts about whether the Swedish countryside has a heart ... Of course it has! It’s just different from England, perhaps to do with the population. Sometimes I find there’s a freedom in the fact that you can’t walk to a pub – there’s nothing to escape to and you’re forced to deal with yourself.

 Apart from the English sausages in the fridge there’s nothing particularly English about the lifestyle of my hosts, it’s just the language really. After three days of having conversations in English I’ve gone back to thinking and dreaming and writing in English. In my head I switched to Swedish just a few weeks ago after having had English as my main thinking and dreaming and writing language for the past few years. Now I’m confused!

My host’s feeling is that Swedish and English aren’t just different because they’re different languages, but the whole structure, how you express yourself and make your voice heard is different and creates one English identity and one Swedish identity. Because her boyfriend doesn’t yet master Swedish she needs to keep her English identity even if she lives in Sweden. He in his turn misses to be able to speak in his Geordie accent with people from the same area.

If I decide to live in Sweden I hope to make some English friends because I miss my English persona and if I decide to live in England I’ll make more of an effort to hang out with Swedish people – something I hated when first moved to Brighton. It can be confusing, but also enriching to keep two languages alive.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Week19: Play and Poo

’What do you want to wear today?’ the mum asks.
’Poo!’ her 5-year-old daughter replies.

It’s the fourth week of Swenglish in Sweden and just like the fourth week in England, I’m hanging out with a single mum and her child (who is only a couple of months older than the child I stayed and played with in England). The everyday life is pretty much the same: food on the floor, pee in the bed, not wanting to get dressed and toys everywhere. But of course there are also the joys: being served (pretend) poo soup, taking part in a fashion show in the living room and having a pillow fight.

Through this project I’ve gone from being indifferent to kids to actually liking (some) kids – they’re a good excuse to dress up in curtains and talk about poo, but I’m still not sure that I want my own ... Tonight I’ll experience what it’s like not being able to do what you want all the time. There’s an author talk my host (and I) would like to go to, but instead we’re planning to watch a film suitable for a 5-year old and eat crisps. All the parents I’ve stayed with so far say that the love they feel for their children make up for the worries and the stress of everyday life, and the things you have to sacrifice. I guess you don’t understand what it’s like until you’re in that situation yourself ...

The emotions and everyday life for a parent might be the same in Sweden as well as in England, but I’m just beginning to understand that the childcare system works in a different way. In Sweden kids are allowed to be at pre-school from an earlier age and for longer hours which means that mums can work or study full time, and it’s also common for dads to stay at home with their kids. In Sweden children now start school at the age of 6 as opposed to 7 when I went to school - English children start when they are 4 or 5, and in England it’s not unusual for a mum to stay at home until then, but it’s very rare for a dad to do the same thing. So far I’ve found that in general women in Sweden are more careeer focused than women in England. If this is because of better childcare I don't know.

Career or not, it’s a full time job being a parent. As you might have gathered I love talking about pee and poo – it seems more accepted in Sweden! – but I’m not that keen on actually dealing with soaked sheets and wiping bottoms. You can’t have one without the other though ... 

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Week18: Trees or Seas, Concrete or Bees?

The deeper I get into my Swenglish project, the more decisions I have to make. I've realised it’s not just about choosing between Sweden and England. There are other things to consider: work or study? Single life or partner/family life? City or countryside? Trees or seas? In the picture I'm not looking for water - I'm up in a hunting tower that people use to spot elks!

This week I’m staying deep in the forests in the county of Småland near the area where I grew up. When I was nineteen I hated the darkness, the tall oppressive tress and the silent lakes – I wanted to get away and see some ”real” life: concrete and traffic and a general ugliness that would match my mood. (I've never lived permanently in the countryside though, just in a small town, surrounded by forest.) 

I escaped to England and ended up in Portslade – at the outskirts of Brighton – and found it very romantic with the industrial port and its cargo ships. Boundary Road was bleak: a place where pasty pale people devoured their fish and chips (I pronounced it ”ships” at the time) with their fingers. But Brighton was only a bus ride away and I fell in love with the sea and the hippified punks who hung out in the North Laines.

For years I preferred the sea to the forest, but now I've changed my mind. The most beautiful landscape I know is the countryside of Småland. Staying here makes me calm and creative. The other day my host practiced her guitar in the garden and I lay on the lawn among the fallen leaves and wrote poetry, listening to the buzzing bees. However, a sunny week in the beginning of autumn isn't the same as a grey week in winter when it’s too cold to go outside and the road is a mush of slush. How long would it take before I got bored and restless? How long before I longed for the seafront in Hove? (Where it’s sometimes warm enough to have a cup of tea on the beach in January.) My dream is to live by a forest lake in Småland in summer and by the sea in Brighton in winter. Or ideally spend the spring and autumn in Brighton and live somewhere truly warm like Thailand in winter.

Another thing I've been pondering – this blog post is rather long, it seems like there’s more time in the countryside – is whether you always yearn for the landscape of your childhood at some point. I read an article about an old Greek in a Swedish rest home who was watching the sun go down behind the trees, but still imagined that the sun was setting in the sea on the Greek island where he grew up. I think that if I died in a deckchair on Brighton pier I’d dream of the Swedish forest, and if I died sitting under a tree in Småland I’d dream of the English channel.

The view from my bedroom window is of a 13th century church with a graveyard. There's also a tractor and some cows if I crane my neck. And in the room next door is a rehearsal studio. The countryside is not dead!

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Week17: The Stonehenge of Sweden

Yesterday my hosts took me for a ride in the countryside in the most Southern part of Sweden. This is where you can find Ales Stenar - almost as impressive as England's Stonehenge.

And this is the car that took me there!

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Week17: The Kettle in the Cupboard

’I can’t be arsed to get the kettle out’, my host said when I arrived on Sunday night. She offered me a cup of tea alright, but boiled the water in a pan instead of using the kettle. This isn't unusual in Sweden. My parents store their kettle in the cellar and find it a real hassle when I’m visiting and they have to get it out. Some Swedes don’t even own a kettle. (Although they probably have three different kinds of equipment for making coffee.)

For lunch one day, when my host was at work, I had toast, but I had to rummage in the cupboard for the toaster as well. Tea and toast is not in fashion in Sweden. Coffee and open sandwiches are more popular.

When an English friend visited a while ago he couldn’t believe there wasn’t a toaster in my brother’s flat. Instead he used the waffle maker ...