Sunday, 24 February 2013

Swenglish - A year later

On Tuesday I'll be 31 and then a year will have passed since I started my Swenglish journey.

Last year was the most eventful and adventurous years in my life. I learnt so much from staying with 30 different people during 30 weeks. I've realised that there's no such thing as the perfect life. Everybody's got their own struggle. Some people want change. Others are quite happy.

"People often talk about being scared of change
But for me I'm more afraid of things staying the same
Cause the game is never won by standing in any one place for too long."
- Nick Cave, "Jesus of the Moon"

The personal purpose of my Swenglish project was to decide whether to live in England or Sweden. It's not that black and white anymore. I'm a person who's addicted to change, but maybe that will change too. Perhaps I don't want any change once I've found a life that I'm happy with. 

This week I'm visiting Brighton & Hove. It gives me a melancholy feeling, a bit like seeing an ex lover that you still have feelings for, but you know that things aren't right. At the moment. I haven't made a final decision. In fact I don't have a "real" life at the moment.

Next week I'll carry on living in the bubble I've lived in since I finished the project: staying in my parents' basement in my hometown, spending my days writing writing writing. The first draft of the Swenglish book is completed and I have a plan for the autumn. I'm not thinking more than 6-10 months ahead, like I've always had. So that hasn't changed.

And I still like Nick Cave. He's got a new album out. He lives in Brighton. I saw his car the other day.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Question 4b: What do Swedish People think about England?

Photo: Adriana Pusha

Poor housing, bad food, but the humour is good and you are well looked after …

Thirteen of the fifteen people I stayed  with in Sweden had been to England at least once. But the question is whether a weekend in London gives a true picture of England or just contributes to preserve stereotypes? Although five of my study subjects had lived in England for longer periods.

"They’re polite and say " love "and stuff like that to strangers. They drink a lot of tea. They eat bad food. Disastrous school dinners and not so good schools either. "

"I have met many English people who have lived cool lives and had cool thoughts. But I have a bit of a problem with Englishness, there’s too much talk. Everything is "lovely" and "darling" and "nice to meet you." You’re always well looked after, but I have not met anyone, have never had a true meeting. "

"It's a cool language, I like English ladies, they call you " love "and" darling ", you feel looked after in some way."

"Bad food, anyway. They drink tea a lot. I don’t know much about the culture, it’s similar to Sweden.”


"There’s nothing weird about saying hello to people in the street. They’re very nice and polite, you get a cup of tea, you’re always invited. Very homelike. "

"There’s not much of a food culture. But there’s history, many events, festivals and things like that. I also think they’re very nice. Some people just start chatting to you, like the lady on the bus. "

"Not good food in general, but super good breakfasts in particular. Full English breakfast is a treat, that you can have breakfast in the middle of the day is a special thing. "

"Not very high standard, cold flats."

"All the houses are cold. But I like the houses and the villages, the old stone houses. "

"The fucking fitted carpets, the draught, the mould, the damp and on top of that the unreasonable rents, damn it!”

"Usually they’re quite nice but sound pretty posh because they speak English. I’m more used to American English, Americans are more relaxed. Great beer, ginger-haired people, rowdy football fans."

"It feels more open. People talk to you just like that, it doesn't happen very often in Sweden. For example I have done coach surfing there and it’s so natural. Here, people find it a bit weird."

"They're very polite, respectful. They’re respectful towards each other, but don’t have respect for authorities. "

"I like British humour, Monty Python."

"Fish 'n' chips. The Royal Family. Humour, comedy, they have the best TV series. "

"They’re not that complicated. They are light-hearted, have a certain kind of humour.”

"The rain. I have watched the Time Team, a series of archaeologists in Britain. It always rain, they’re always soaked. "

"The class system, social division. People voted for Margaret Thatcher. And they voted a second time! A lot of neo-liberal crap. Poor housing. But a lot of culture, music and stuff. "

"A colonial empire. The standard of living and the living conditions are poor. Low wages, crappy jobs. There’s no paternity leave. They still have gender-segregated schools, which is so incredibly conservative and affects people a lot. Their view of women.”

"I'm not particularly drug liberal. The country is a bit passive and it doesn't feel like an exaggeration to link it to the drugs."

"I keep returning to England to get cultural kicks. I watched the Olympic opening ceremony and realised how much I love English culture, it’s the country that has influenced me the most culturally. I almost forget about it because there’s so much that is destructive and sad."

"Brighton is the most vital, vibrating, inspiring city I've ever visited."

"Very old houses. Architecture. A lot of countryside, pub culture, and a lot of football. Rain."

"People are more extreme and stick out more than in Sweden. They say what they mean, but I don’t not know if that’s true. "

"I think a lot about London, it's like other European cities: shopping and musicals, but that’s such a small part of England. There are many people who have been to Stockholm and think that’s Sweden. London is not the whole of England. "

"More familiarity, I picture a pub in front of me, the whole family goes to the pub. A football mad country. The Queen, conservative and royalist. "

"More crowded, more packed, more density in cities."

"Very conservative, but I don’t know if it’s like that, I don’t have in-depth knowledge. I was in London many years ago. It was stern and strict. At Harrods we were not allowed to stand still, a little stiffer than Sweden."

"Divided, more conservative, hierarchies. More rebellious, artistic."

"Spontaneous, simple, easy to understand. Easy to find your way, easy to go on the tube, easy to live there."

This study is by no means scientific, the answers to this particular question are based on interviews with fifteen people in Sweden, aged 22-52. Next question: Where have you travelled?

Friday, 8 February 2013

Question 4a: What do people in England think of Sweden?

From Abba to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo ...

Five of the fifteen people in England whom I stayed with had been to Sweden, but the others had met or knew a few Swedish people, and have based their impressions on that.

“I group it among the Nordic countries. I know where it is, but I couldn’t draw a shape of it. Now, I happen to know the Swedish flag just because England played Sweden in football and I made the flag for the match.”

“I like the language. I could possibly identify Swedish if it was spoken.”

“Swedes are well-behaved, well mannered, polite. They’re pleased when doing things out of the ordinary. They’re intelligent. Mostly blonde, that’s the first thing that pops into my head.”

“All Swedish people I’ve met are very different.”

Sweden seems very different politically, humanist, liberal.”

“I imagine it a boring place, it’s not based on anything. People say it’s just like England, but I have no desire to go there. There are blonde, attractive people … Björn Borg , blonde bombshells, that’s the exposed image I grew up with.”

“It’s an efficient place – better than here. They do everything properly, correct. A good place, but I associate being good with being boring. More efficient than England, but not as extreme as Switzerland.”

“Quite organised, cleaner, lots of snow, forests, beautiful nature, more culturally uniformed. Women’s right, more equality, progressive, open-minded, maybe a bit more uptight.”

“I feel very ignorant, something to do with living in England, you learn very little about other countries, it really pisses me off. I have stereotypes after watching Ingmar Bergman films. Mum got me to read Selma Lagerlöf, I got a sense of the beautiful forests.”

IKEA, lovely clean life,  furniture, good design. Lingonberry juice, fish dill sauce.”

Ordered, clean, organised. Gentle people. No sense of danger, almost unlived in, no one was out in the streets in Stockholm. Big cities are normally dirty and bustling, it was very clean, no rubbish. I didn’t expect people to steam clean the benches.”

“They’re all tall and blonde. Scandinavia, we lump all those countries together. I  had friends from Finland and Norway. German efficiency. Gloomy, high suicide rates. Beautiful country, cold in terms of weather. Too expensive to get there. Corporate executives sitting together in saunas. On the surface there are utopias, but there’s the dark corrupt heart of the Swedish dream …”

“Good music, good bands. Cardigans. The first country to be able to get indie music outside of Britain.”

“I’ve been once to Gothenburg for a friend’s wedding. I was struck by the architecture, it all looked like IKEA. People were quite friendly, but very straight edge. They’re strict cut or they are Goths. Alcohol is really expensive. People in bars were friendly. They have country houses, they go ice-skating. It’s not a very loud country, English people were getting drunk, the Swedish people were quite restrained. They have an appreciation of finer things, enjoying food, enjoying the outdoors, garden spaces, nature. I was impressed by the food, I had reindeer and vodka.”

Beautiful, but boring. I like the sound of the language.”

“They used to have a large empire like Britain, but have adapted better.”

“A reputation for being a bit organised.”

“They’re sexually liberated,  they go naked in saunas.”

“I don’t know anything about Sweden. There are four or five Swedish people in this area, they seem very nice, but I don’t know anything at all … It snows, it got trees, IKEA, chocolate – oh, no that’s Switzerland.”

“My first impression when I was travelling was that the Swedes and the Canadians got the British. They have a similar sense of humour, they find the same things funny.”

“There’s a lot of tradition in Sweden, it always gob-smacked me. Lucia and carols at Christmas, the Semla buns. The cakes you have for birthdays, special food for Christmas.”

“Clean, the streets very clean, never a traffic jam.”

“The Swedes like to please even when they can’t pull through.”

“Swedes are quite serious people, friendly but quite serious and quite traditional.”

“I got a good feeling about it, you hear a lot of good things about it, even if there are high taxes people are well looked after. There are free nurseries for mums.”

“When it snows the whole country doesn’t come to a standstill.”

“People are more socially minded, organised, sophisticated, cultured.”

“They’re very friendly, very sweet, polite, but seem a bit wide-eyed about kissing on the cheek.”

“If you mentioned the word Sweden, ABBA would leap to mind. You get stereotypes from magazines and films. People are incredible beautiful, handsome with blue eyes. But now you’re shown a lot of the dark side of Sweden with things like The Girl with the Dragon tattoo, not the blonde-singing stereotype.”

This study is by no means scientific, these particular answers are based on interviewing fifteen people in England, aged 25-59. Next question: What do people in Sweden think of England?

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Question 3: Which Traditions do you Celebrate?

Can you celebrate Friday the 13? How many people swim in the sea on Christmas Day? The most interesting traditions are the ones you make up yourself in my opinion. Not many of the people I stayed with had their own ones, but then it’s hard to define what a tradition is. Many people have rituals they’re not even aware of themselves, but a ritual isn’t necessarily a tradition, it might be a practise of sorts.

Some people mentioned watching a certain TV-programme on a certain day or having a nice meal on a Friday night, but I’d call that a habit rather than a tradition. However I found it hard to exclude Sunday roast… I’ve tried to group the answers in order of popularity.

Traditions that People in England Celebrate

Christmas (“whether you want to or not”, “when getting together for Christmas, Mum will get everyone to stand around toasting with champagne, it’s a bit more formal than I’d like it to be”)

New Year (“dad shoots a cannon so loud it breaks windows”)

The Summer and Winter Solstice, Beltane, pagan stuff, celebrating the seasonal changes (“I used to go to Stonehenge as a pagan holiday”, “we marked the solstice by setting off lanterns on the seafront”)

Having Sunday roast (“I’m very English in that way , to the point it annoys my partner, but I don’t want anything but Sunday roast on a Sunday”)

Pancake day (“I’m not necessarily celebrating it on Pancake day. Before it was associated with lent or Passover, a way of putting all leftovers in a pancake, so not to be tempted to have leftover food when fasting, but I don’t do it for that reason”)



Burn’s night

Bonfire night

Valentine’s day

Mother’s day            

My birthday (“On my birthday I do what I want, I have never worked on my birthday, I wouldn’t lift a finger”)

Going to the beach on the Summer Bank Holiday

Sea-swimming on Christmas Day

St Patrick’s day (said by a person with Irish blood)

My Saint’s day (a Polish tradition)

Traditions that People in Sweden Celebrate

Christmas (“we always write rhymes on the presents”, “we put a fir-tree mat on the kitchen floor”, “we open one present at a time, nobody is allowed to open anything before everyone has had a present”, ”it has become a thing to outdo last year’s vegan smörgåsbord, to show the meat eaters that I can make even better food than them”)

Lucia (a tradition with pagan and Christian origins, people dress up in long white shirts, put candles in the hair and sing carols)

Midsummer (“A snaps and herring is a must for me, if I was abroad I’d make sure to bring it with me”. Dancing around the maypole is also obligatory!)

Cray-fish party (People eat a lot of crayfish at the end of summer, wear silly hats, drink snaps, just an extention of Midsummer really...)

New Year


Going to the grave on All Saint’s Eve (putting candles on ancestors’ graves, hanging round graveyards, what people used to do before Halloween hit Sweden)

Friday the 13 (” you can have bad luck without it being a problem, if something bad happens you can think it’s Friday the 13, it’s an excuse in a way”)

My wedding day. Panacotta on anniversaries and Valentine’s Day

Camping on the beach in summer. Going to Öland once a year with the family to do certain things. Sleeping on the porch when the children were little to celebrate it was the summer holidays

My thoughts: I prefer the Solstice to Midsummer

Everyone I stayed with celebrated Christmas in one way or another. Even though some were very reluctant, they often got invited to a Christmas dinner of some sort. Even the people who came from different religious backgrounds. I’ve blogged about the differences between English and Swedish Christmas here.

Easter just means a couple of days off for most people. Pancake day is much more popular in England than in Sweden.

The English people seemed more interested in pagan rituals than Swedish people, but that’s not a very fair comment as Midsummer, originally a pagan ritual, is almost as holy as Christmas for Swedish people. And that a majority of the English people I stayed with live in Brighton also explains the interest in celebrating the solstice.

When I grew up I never liked Midsummer because I found it too stressful trying to find a party and people were likely to get too loud and drunk. So after all my years in England I prefer celebrating the Summer Solstice and to do something more spiritual like meditating even though I often have a drink as well. Last year, as I was in Sweden, I made my family celebrate the Winter Solstice by going out in the forest when it was dark to drink glögg and do a scream.

Best & Worst

A tradition that comes from my family is that when we’re gathered for different holidays and celebrations we always get together at the end of each day and share our worst and best moment of the day. This was a tradition that I brought to all the people I stayed with during the Swenglish project.

Worst yesterday: finding my mum and dad and brother boring for watching telly when I wanted to hang around and chat after dinner

Best yesterday: my brother making me laugh about a bag of old music cassettes I’d asked him to sort out

This study is by no means scientific, the answers are based on interviewing fifteen people in England and fifteen people in Sweden, aged 22-59. Look out for the next question: What do the Swedes think of England and what to the English think of Sweden?

The Stonehenge photo is my own, the Maypole and the pancake are taken from:
photo credit: <a href="">Håkan Dahlström</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>
photo credit: <a href="">Lynne Hand</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>