Tag Archives: cultural difference

Cultural parenting – of course! But which cultures?

Parenting styles can vary from family to family. But there are also differences between countries, or should I say cultures. We appreciate different values, which are likely to impact our upbringing of the children. Sometimes they are easily spotted, sometimes they are not. Concept of time for instance is a good example. Coming from a culture where being on time is considered important and a courtesy, I found it annoying at times as a foreign student working in groups with others that were happily an hour late for study meetings. No surprise that we soon found out that Germans and Swedes worked well together!

As always, awareness of the values and set of rules can lead to a better understanding, and less annoyance; tolerance. In the case of time, I simply learnt to agree on another time with the students I knew would be – in my world – an hour late.

Being a parent or not; moving into a new culture you will be exposed to the impact of cultural differences. As a parent a playground is a perfect location for observation and “study”. It´s fascinating that you often can tell from the parents’ responses to their children’s behavior from which country they are. I have encountered societies where one believes that adults should not interfere when children are “playing”. In the beginning I just assumed they did not care; now I hope they care but still want the kids to solve problems on their own. I have also experienced children being constantly corrected and taught. Swedes are normally somewhere in between these two parenting styles; of course, I would like to add with a touch of irony– after all we are the land of “lagom” (just enough) and “mellan” (in the middle).

There are also differences when it comes to physical punishment (illegal in Sweden) and scolding in public. Some people want other parents to know they are dealing with the matter, and some don´t.

Another, always hot, topic is whether it is considered acceptable for a parent to deal with someone else’s child.

I do believe that the culture you are currently living in influences your parenting. It is a way of fitting in, of accepting the hosting society but also grabbing the good stuff!

It is interesting once you start thinking in terms of cultural parenting. What are the cornerstones of your culture/-s when it comes to raising children? Which are the strengths? Have you added anything from your host culture?

Perhaps you are even a slightly different parent in another location! And by that I am not referring to the newly relocated, stressed and culture shocked parent …

Who turned the light off? DIY for winter blues.

So we´re here; right in the middle of it. I´m talking about the cold and dark time of the year. Tiredness, low mood and not being as social as you usually are – not uncommon at all. Not surprising at all. Personally I feel  as if the days were shorter which of course gives less room for being social; it is not likely that I would say “hey, let´s meet up in the park after work “. The day is already over.

Luckily we have the tradition of fika in Sweden. Always works. Ask someone over for coffee and a chat. The smell of freshly baked (works with the cinnamon rolls from the gas station too) goodies is sure to lift your mood. Yes, I think cocooning is trending winter time.

Lack of daylight might contribute to a chemical imbalance in the brain, affecting us negatively; some more than others. There is even such a thing as winter depression – SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Apparently it is not even heard of around the equatorial line. Go figure.

What can we do about it? GET DAYLIGHT. Preferably real, but there are also artificial lights. There are day light lamps, wake up lamps and even facilities with beaches, sun chairs and bright light.  I have to try that. Wonder if you can get a colorful cocktail with a straw too?

In Umeå, 600 km north of Stockholm, the energy company decided to treat bus commuters to some benevolent bright light. Bus stops were lit up by ultra-violet light therapy for a few weeks last fall. Bus drivers complained; they were blinded by the light … But all in all I´m sure it was a success, not at least PR wise.

Try to get some daylight every day, even if it´s overcast. If you can squeeze in at least the shortest of walks you will most probably benefit from it. If you can´t – open the curtains, position yourself by a window.  I did exactly this writing this text. May I suggest you drink some water too, avoiding headache. Just saying.

Turn the lights on; candle lights are nice for the soul and mind too, but won´t fill your need for light. Alternate!

It´s cold. Yes. Dress accordingly, go out and enjoy the weather and landscape on a nice day. Try ice skating, skiing or tobogganing. Or just fika in the snow; watching the others. Nothing beats hot cocoa and an energy bar. Don´t forget the lambskin to sit on. Or fake fur.

Go for light colors. You might not want to redecorate your home (admit it´s a good reason though ;)), but accessorize with pillows, blankets as well as curtains in pale, pastel shades, or whites.

Buy flowers, tulips are great and affordable – buy every week! Spring flowers like crocuses and snow drops look pretty on the windowsill and make me happy too. At least when I remember to water them.

Perhaps you could even consider dressing differently? Skip the black for a week; dare to try something new – lemon, pistachio, baby pink? These are not my colors at all, so I´ll go with beige. Again, accessories might do (half) the trick. People must have been happier in the 80´s right?

Needless to say, if you suffer deep from winter blues and are depressed you should contact your doctor/vårdcentral.

Swedish children’s songs

Having moved to Sweden with children your family might want to listen to Swedish children’s music. Kid’s music is very much part of the cultural context, and apart from having fun a few bonuses to listening to it include

  • learning the classic Swedish tunes
  • following what they are singing at preschool (dagis) and school
  • improving your Swedish while singing along
  • acquiring intonation and pronunciation of Swedish

Barnplaneten (Children’s planet) provides lists in Spotify such as lists for classics, nap time, animals, play and dance as well as a teacher’s list.

Link to one of the song lists



Forget about the past – or?

Is the future more important to Swedes than the past? We make plans and dream about what we will do in the future. Travel, new house … The past however is … in the past. What do we know about precedent generations for example? How much can the general Swede tell about the great grandparents – their maiden names, where they were born, which schools they attended; what a day in their young lives looked like? In other cultures this might be unthinkable. It´s not that we don´t care about family; we do; but we might not necessarily spend a lot of time together. It could be the distance, but also I think full time working mothers and fathers leave less time to share with extended family. Another possible reason is that many families have lived in Sweden for numerous generations – it´s not a big deal; no need to search for the roots.

I can only hope that we are all also taking time to enjoy the present. Are you?

A real cheesy dish if you ask me.

Cheese fondue was something my parents made in the 70s. I assume. At least there was an old artifact from the era in one of the kitchen cabinets – a fondue pot. I hadn’t tried the dish many times – it was more or less extinct in Sweden and had been replaced by more modern dishes. But here we were; New Year’s Eve in Switzerland and we had decided to abandon our tradition of fireworks and fresh seafood in the middle of the night and honor our newest home country by proudly making our own cheese fondue. We consulted our classic Swedish cookbook; and yes there was a recipe and yes it seemed doable. So we went ahead. Maybe that´s where we went wrong. A Swedish cookbook. I mean, this wasn’t exactly in the age before Internet and Google but … you know; sometimes you just don´t think twice. Or maybe we did and just decided not to involve the mysterious Swiss-German in our culinary experiment.

Let´s just say it was a disappointment. Did not rock my boat at all. Happy New Year. And no fireworks either.

Half a year later, in the summer, we had guests from Sweden. We drove to the picturesque little town of Vevey by Lake Geneva and spent a few days. For lunch we visited a restaurant my family had tried earlier – we knew they had fondue on the menu as well as great entertainment for the kids consisting of empty pizza boxes with crayons and small surprises. We sat down and began to order. Lots of food and as a starter we decided to share a small cheese fondue – our guests had never had it and were eager to try. And we wanted to give it another go. The waiter said “Non.” We insisted and found ourselves dragged into a discussion, or rather argument, of why and why not we could have the fondue. Our arguments were in the lines of

  • It´s on the menu
  • We would like to have it
  • We would like to sample a local dish
  • Our guests are here from Sweden for 10 days only– not coming back in the winter!
  • Other guests at the restaurant are having it

The waiter´s argument was simply “you don´t eat cheese fondue in the summer. It is too hot.” Period.

Well, he finally took our orders – including the fondue – and we set out to enjoy a tasty meal in the glorious summer weather. Blue sky, an abundance of flowers, steam wheelers on the lake – you get the picture.  Vevey is truly a beautiful place to visit.

The kids’ dishes arrived, and a little bit later so did ours – with one exception; the fondue. This was clearly not a case of customers know best, or even of us being customers.  The waiter had taken upon himself to save us from the, in his eyes, horrible mistake of having cheese fondue in summer.

During our years to follow in the Zurich area we had fondue – both cheese, fish and meat – several times, both in our home and at restaurants. We even tried it again at New Year; this time at a rustic bistro where they served a special champagne fondue menu. But it wasn’t until our last year in Switzerland that we got to enjoy the true soul of cheese fondue. Along with a few other expat families we were invited to dear Swiss-Swedish friends, permanently residing in Switzerland on a farm. Together we prepared the fondue and the rest of the meal in a separate area on the farm dedicated to festivities. It was a furnished barn with large wooden tables and benches, a small kitchen and even a bathroom. Perfect for parties, even more perfect for cheese fondue parties. Because one thing we have learnt; it smells. And as good as it smells when you eat it, it is not very appealing the next day.

Here is the recipe we use nowadays when we prepare cheese fondue.  It´s a plain simple recipe, yet the best – we skip the Kirsch. It was passed on to us from very good expatriate friends in Switzerland. Cheese fondue has very much enjoyed a renaissance in our home; even more since moving from Switzerland. We all know this phenomenon.

Makes 4 yummy servings:

3 dl dry white wine – chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc works well; save some for the glass too!

3 tsp cornstarch

1-2 garlic cloves

800 g of shredded Swiss cheese (try a blend of Gruyère, Emmentaler and Appenzeller, or just two of them.)

It´s nice to use a fondue pot or a ceramic pot if you have one. I have to confess for a quick meal I just use normal cooking ware; heat the fondue on the stove and transfer the whole pan to the table. Easy! It´s gone in an instant so no need to worry about the fondue cooling off … We call it fast food in our family. And TCK food. A table top burner is useful if you want to sit longer.

Rub the inside of the pot with the garlic. Carefully heat wine and starch (you might want to dissolve it in some wine first). Add the rest of the garlic; crushed. Stir in the cheese and let it melt while continuing to stir carefully. Black pepper it with love!

Serve by dipping diced day old peasant bread in the fondue. There are special fondue sticks but you can use forks too. The gourmet who drops a piece of bread in the fondue gets to clean the pot afterwards. That´s the worst part.

En Guete!

Swedish small talk – or big. #14

Want to adopt Swedish culture? Talk about the weather.
Want to adopt Swedish culture? Talk about the weather.

What about it?  – read on here!

Poems and the importance of interpretation #13

A year after repatriation I took an on-line course on creative writing. As an expat I had embarked on the e-learning journey and I enjoyed – and still do – partaking in classes from the comfort of my own home. In the middle of the night. One of the tasks was to write an engaging poem. I had never written such a thing in my life; it´s not really my cup of tea, or at least so I thought. But I knew exactly from where to get the inspiration – the first cold and wet, dark, months back in Sweden. So I wrote. And I cried. The words flowed and at the same time evoked such strong feelings. Apparently in the teacher too. I received high praise. She commented it might be about suicide though – referring to darkness, cold and that it didn’t have to be. Eh … no. Only about the weather. ;/

Umbrellas are not for mothers #12

Being back. A repatriate getting reacquainted with the Swedish winter.

I hated it. Constant rain. Wind. The dark. You couldn´t walk from the house to the car without being soaked. Had it only been snow.

Being a mom you know you might as well throw your umbrella away. There are never any hands left to hold one anyway. Besides, umbrellas doesn´t really work here on the windy west coast where the rain actually comes down sideways.

I was so frustrated I could scream. Thinking of it I most probably did. Once.

It rained to the extent that the front door of our house was ruined. It rained so much I discovered a product called “rain cover for infant car seats”. Great.

The timing of repatriation #11

I had always said that if we were to move back to Sweden it must not be during the dark and cold season. To me the climate was one of the best things about having expatriated from Sweden. I knew it would be tough moving back, and I had also not forgotten the long, dark winters in Scandinavia – they wouldn’t exactly be helpful. Hence repatriating in the late spring sounded like a plan. Now my dear readers, do you think it worked out? Nope. Mid-December we left to resettle on the Swedish west coast. Yes, you heard me – December. As far as I could possibly get from late spring. December was pretty exciting though – the novelty of being in a “new” place, Christmas with family, old friends. Swedish food, shops. Lights and comfort, no need to spend much time outdoors. But after that … re-entry shock set in, largely due to the worst winter weather I can recall. Ever.