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The headaches of an expat

The headaches of an expat can be surprisingly heavy

My head felt heavy as I woke up. For once it wasn´t the tck baby but a throbbing headache that was calling for my attention.  Bright light found its way through the a bit uneven blinds in our American apartment, giving away that it was already morning. I felt as if I hadn´t slept at all.

It was really something else that had forced me out of my sleep. The smell. A heavy odor that shouldn´t have been there. It was all over our new expat home. Like sulfur; gas; a bit like rubber. For an instant I was tossed back to Swedish high school where the boys constantly opened the gas taps in chemistry class to upset the girls. Or should I say to impress them, speaking boys’ language.

The apartment was on ground level and raising the blinds I was welcomed by the sight of the lush green foliage outside our master bedroom, and – immediately to the left – the natural gas cabinet. It didn´t take long to make the connection smell and gas leak. Impressively fast, considering the condition my head was in.

I called the natural gas company and explained – a little bit cautious as Swedes tend to, not wanting to be such a hassle in case there was nothing to it. Apparently the smell was not good at all. Someone was to be sent over immediately. “Gas leaks are not to be taken lightly. Right, and that´s why I made the call in the first place.

Before long there was a service minded maintenance worker on the patio. He wore sturdy shoes and had a dark blue overall on, as well as a concerned look. It didn´t take long though before he burst out into laughter.

“Seriously??” he said. ”Have you never ever smelled a skunk before??”

What? No, I hadn´t. His reaction left me feeling relieved yet a bit wronged. There are no skunks in Sweden.

I thanked the highly amused man and made a mental note. My list of new experiences, ever growing from living in another country and being exposed to cultural differences, had been added to. Again.

Share your story! I know there are many situations out there that deserve to be shared! We all have problems and headaches as an expat. Surviving expatriate life is a lot easier if we´re able to laugh at ourselves. And believe me; it´s not as if there’s a lack of situations where things can be misunderstood …

This post has also been published in Swedish, go here if you´d like to read that version and the comments!

Merry Christmas!

Merry christmas!

Wishing you all a joyful and relaxing christmas! Friends and family, food and good times. Experiencing a new culture? This could range from a new continent to simply meeting the in-laws – open up to new experiences! Accept that we all might have different traditions and values, and embrace it!

Cultural awareness even for the young

Presenting some photos from the playgroup activity a few weeks back! The children made a gingerbread creation for the annual exhibition/competition at Kulturhuset Fyren in Kungsbacka. Concentration and creativity, colors and craft! Multiculture and everyone being different was decided on to be the theme – as you can surely see! Teaching children about different cultures is key to tolerance and understanding. We all need to be aware of that people are different, and that that is ok! We do not have to accept their point of views, but understand that there are different views. And look at the picture below – amazing result!

different people, different nationalities, different cultures
we´re all different!

 more pictures

Expat home accessorizing – the unique touch

Living in a foreign country exposes you to new things; food, language, customs and rituals as well as people and sites – in one word; culture. Part of the culture are also items for your home, may it be decorations or gadgets. They might be beautiful or downright ugly, but they fascinate you, intrigue you or you just fall in love with them and purchase them to be part of your multi culture. Often this is done upon returning to your home country, or at least leaving the host country. It might be furniture, art objects, tacky tourist thingamabobs. Or simply items only found in the place you live right now. Like a Dalahorse or a cucko clock.

What have you incorporated when furnishing, decorating and accessorizing your home?

Me?  I have a giant Swiss cow bell hanging by the kitchen window.

Today I visited the Swiss Alps. And Versailles. And Asia.

Today I felt like visiting the Swiss Alps. So I did. It was snowy on Jungfrau-Aletsch, but the impressive view spanned over a green landscape. It was fairly cold up here though so I longed for a warmer place. And wished to experience the beautiful coast of southern Liguria once again. I did. Cinque Terre.

I also took a stroll in the park of Versailles. Since I was already there, nothing could stop me from peeking inside the castle.

One word of hint: googleworldwondersproject

Alright, four words: Google World Wonders Project

If you haven´t been – GO!

Tomorrow perhaps I will take my family on a trip to Yellowstone. Or Stonehenge. Possibly both.

Nothing beats real life. But if you can´t go, right when you want to, this project takes you. I find it fascinating, as I do with the Google Art Project.


Coming/going back home … “home”??


Returning to your passport country. Easier said than done. Harder because you do not expect it to be difficult. Harder because no one else expects it to be difficult. How could it be? It is your country, you are supposed to know everything. You do not receive the understanding and offers of help that you hopefully get when you move to another country; you are just supposed to fit in. I hear tons of stories about people coming home and the alienation they feel. Families, parents, adults, children, teens. And the surprise of it all. Re-entry is usually harder and takes longer than going away in the first place. Things are new but yet not. Things might be different but it is just not exciting. Not exotic at all – after all it is just home. You are not exotic; no longer having the status of an expatriate. And no one really wants to know. I meet people who still after 20 years of re-entry are frustrated by the fact that no one has ever been interested to learn about their time in another culture. So I ask, and listen. And I learn. Society should too. How do we take care of all our global minds that return? How do we make them stay?Imagine the experience wasted from a societal perspective when people do not settle but re-enter the path of constant transition.

What about returning with kids? Think of what “home” is for your children. Lots of parents speak of home, yet their children have almost never lived in their passport countries. To children home is here and now. Think of a teen that has lived his or her life entirely outside the country of the parents´ origin. How is that “coming home”? Imagine trying to fit in. It is hard enough to be a teenager. There is a lot to read and explore on TCKs (third culture kids) on the internet and in the on-line bookstores. It is a great gift to have seen the world but it is also valuable to be aware of the effects hereof, on your child.

Coming home also means start missing things. Things you´d never thought you´d miss. Yep, it´s true! But remember that it is always the good things that stuck. Try once in a while to think about what you did not appreciate – I am sure it was not all that perfect. Nostalgia makes it harder to settle. Go back for a visit after a while, and you will be reminded of details you had forgotten. Things that make you go “oh yeah, glad we escaped that one!”.

Coming/going back home should be properly addressed. Raising the awarness of the potential issues connected to repatriation is key. Just being aware of them makes it easier for you!


National Day of Sweden & shoelaces

“6 juni”. This used to be Swedish Flag Day. At school, as a teen, we celebrated with parade and flags. I remember once wearing shoelaces in yellow and blue. I don´t think I have celebrated since. Not in Sweden, but as a Swedish expat for sure. That´s what happens when you move abroad. The heritage you always took for granted becomes important.

June 6 was renamed National Day in 1983. Only made a public holiday seven years ago I guess not enough time has passed to establish any traditions. Why not start now? Consider the fact that we actually are able to celebrate – not a sure thing everywhere. Think about generations to come – traditions have to start somewhere! Do it for the children! Involve them.

Who is most likely to celebrate? Swedes abroad? Expats in Sweden? Hemvändare/repats? New Swedes? How will you celebrate?  Any suggestions where to go or what to do?

Jordgubbstårta (strawberry cake) will be part of my new traditional National Day of Sweden. I might go for the shoelace-thing too.

#nationaldayofSweden on twitter


Easter Craft Workshop in English

Looking forward to the Easter Craft Workshop in English for kids this week, arranged by Globatris. Conversation, singing, storytime and some serious craft!

Påskpyssel på engelska – ett roligt sätt att öva engelska för alla; denna vecka är det dock mindre barn som får chansen! Vi sjunger, pratar, pysslar och läser saga plus lite andra godbitar.

Glad påsk!

Moving/returning to Sweden? Flytta till Sverige?

Cultural awareness – a great way to start improving our perception of different cultures is to actually be aware of our own culture. We think we are, but posing that question might not give instant replies. Think about it – what is typical in your culture?

Here is a link to an article on Swedish culture – 20 Swedish things you are bound to encounter in Sweden! Good to know if you are planning to move here, if you already live here as a foreigner/expat/new immigrant, or if you are planning to repatriate to Sweden. Or if you are Swedish, living abroad and want a good laugh or reminder, or even just Swedish in Sweden (if you are – make a test: before you open the article; list 20). Feel free to leave a comment if you want to add to the list! Swedish things!)

Att vara medveten om olika kulturer är värdefullt; både för oss själva som för andra. Är man kulturellt kompetent besitter man förmågan att interagera med människor från olika kulturer. Ett bra sätt att öka sin kompetens är att fundera över sin egen kultur. Vad är det som är svenskt egentligen? Frågan är inte alltid lätt; ofta är det så självklart att vi inte ens reflekterar över det. Det finns några givna som alltid dyker upp men försök komma på fler. Nedan följer en länk till en artikel, på engelska, som listar 20 typiskt svenska företeelser. Hur många prickade du in på din egen lista? Har du några fler förslag så kommentera gärna!

Om du ska flytta utomlands kan det vara kul att ha en liknande lista dels att jämföra med den nya kulturen, dels att dela med sig av då folk undrar hur det är i Sverige!