Sunday, 23 December 2012

The Difference between Swedish and English Christmas

Normally I get the best (or worst!) of both English and Swedish Christmas. Usually I spend most of December in England and get to eat mince pies and drink mulled wine until I'm fed up with it. Then I go to Sweden just in time for Christmas to enjoy gingerbread snaps and "glögg" (The Swedish version of mulled wine served with raisins and almonds).

This year I've been in Sweden for the whole month and therefore I've missed out on all the English Christmas parties. To me it seems like the English Christmas is louder and merrier especially with the crackers and silly little hats. Swedish Christmas feels quieter and more holy. Already on the 13th we get a bit of holiness through Lucia, people dressing up in white,  putting candles in their hair and singing carols.*

I'm not going to talk much about the food as I'm a vegetarian and both Swedish and English Christmas is very meat based, but to simplify it: Swedes eat ham and the English eat turkey (and perhaps roasted swede, but parsnip is more likely!). In England people usually get a plate with all the food while people in Sweden help themselves from a buffé known as a smörgåsbord.

Maybe the biggest difference is that Swedish Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve, and Santa knocks on the door and enters the house to deliver the presents. (In the picture last year's Santa knocks on the window.) In England Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Day and Santa usually leaves the presents in a stocking.

So what do I prefer?
Mince pies or gingerbread snaps (pepparkakor)?
Mulled wine or glögg?
Merry or holy?
Xmas Eve or Xmas Day?
Santa himself or a stocking?

The answer is of course ... I want all of it! I want a Swenglish Christmas
and therefore I got my brother to buy crackers from The English Shop in Stockholm.


*I'm aware that I'm generalising and what I'm writing is just personal observation. There are some Swedes that get very merry indeed after a few "snaps" (shots of spiced vodka). And there are some English people that have holy nights too.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Week 30: Last Week - Creations in the Countryside of Småland

I only had three hours sleep after the Stockholm drama last week,
but there's no rest for the wicked ...
When I arrived at my last host's place I had to participate in making cheese cake.
Swedish cheese cake is nothing like English cheese cake.
The biggest difference is that the Swedish version doesn't have a crumbly base
and it contains lots of almond, both sweet and bitter.
The milk we used came from local cows that had been milked that very morning.

Making cheese cake wasn't half as difficult as making Christmas cards though.
It took me two hours to make one single card at my host's work place.

Luckily I could join the staff Christmas party the day after, including a great SPA.

And I relaxed even more taking a walk around Flisby in the county of Småland.

Minus sixteen degrees when driving to town one morning!
The Swedish winter tyres with studs were much needed.

One of the tasks my host gave me was to feed the birds.
We had some "Lussekatter" - Swedish Lucia saffron buns - left over and the birds loved them!

One Saturday morning we went out in  nightie and pajamas and made snow angels!

As a grand final I made a painting as my host is a super cool artist and she often makes art with an abundance of glitter - Christmas or not.

Now I've arrived at my parents' place. It feels unreal that I've completed my thirty weeks of staying with thirty different people. So the big question is what's next?
The most important thing is of course to write my Swenglish book based on these thirty weeks, but first I need some rest. I have some ideas about where to go and what to do ...
However I still don't know whether to settle in England or Sweden. My ultimate dream is to have a flat in Brighton and a house in the countryside of Sweden.
A journalist who interviewed me this week suggested that I marry a Swedish farmer ... no way!
I was going to milk a cow the other day though. Unfortunately it was cancelled due to illness, but I'm going to do it next week perhaps. To be continued ...

I will still update this blog weekly, so see you later dear readers.


Sunday, 9 December 2012

Week29: Stockholm Drama

Last night I had to call the police. My host was trying to stop a fight at a tube station in Stockholm and was protecting a guy who was bleeding. The police turned up very quickly and we could go home, but I still feel a bit shocked.

Sometimes it feels like Stockholm and Sweden are two different countries. I've spent four weeks in Stockholm with four different people during Swenglish, and what they have in common is that at least three of them are stressed, more stressed than people living in other cities.

Stockholm is where it all happens. Both good and bad stuff. This week I've been to the opera for the first time in my life and I've been to a PR event for a new magazine and I've been to a bar/club where only selected people got a stamp and an entry to the "secret" dance floor. I've seen two very good authors, Karl Ove Knausgård and Nina Björk. I've also been to McDonald's for the first time in twelve years, a place I would never have entered if it wasn't for this project and the fact that I have to shadow the person I'm staying with.

Now I'm on the train on my way South to Småland where I'll spend my last Swenglish week in Flisby, the village where my dad grew up. Hopefully it should be quiet, but I've learnt to expect the unexpected ...


Thursday, 6 December 2012

Week29: Winter Worryland

When I first saw snow back in October I was excited and felt very English – or perhaps childish – for pointing at the flakes saying ”Look it’s snowing!” as if I’d never seen snow before. Now when there’s winter for real in Sweden the novelty is gone.

And I’m worried. Will I survive the Swedish winter? I haven’t spent a whole winter in Sweden since 2002/2003. The snow is like an unexpected the guest that you are happy to see briefly in October and can put up with in December, but when that guest is overstaying until April you’re very fed up. Perhaps this white guest will leave for a few weeks and you’ll feel the vibes of spring, but just as you put your winter coat in the cupboard you can be sure that Ms White returns once again ...

At least the Swedes are better prepared for winter than the English. For a start: it is very warm indoors! No one is saving on the heating as most people who live in flats whether they’re are renting or owning have the heating included in the rent or fees. The traffic doesn't stop even though there are delays.The schools and shops and libraries don’t close. People don’t panic buy food in the supermarket. In a way I miss the days of occasional snow in Brighton when I could leave work at 3pm because there was no public transport ... (Ironically my host this week couldn't leave work because they were removing snow from the roof outside her office.)

And I’m not just worried about the snow. I've only got two weeks left of Swenglish, two weeks of deciding whether the live in Sweden or England. The snow is definitely going against Sweden, but the standard of housing is a big big plus.

PS. If you wonder about the skull on my coat pocket, it's not a Christmas tree decoration as an English friend once thought. They are ”reflectors” and a majority of people wear them in Sweden so they can be seen by cars in the dark. 

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Week28: It's Me or the Cats!

”I’ll be surprised if you make it to 30 weeks. Do you realise how tough it is?” That’s what a friend said when I told him about Swenglish. I've had a couple of moments (like week8 when I was sick and staying in a caravan) when I've thought ”I’ll never make it to the end”, but I've never been as worried as I am now.

With only two and a half weeks to go things are starting to go a bit wrong. Last week’s host cancelled with a day’s notice because her child was sick and I had to call a person on the waiting list who luckily said yes to hosting me. This week I've had a cat problem.

My host lives in a one bedroom flat with three cats. I’m aware that I’m a bit allergic, but thought I’d give it a try. I lasted two days. Then I got fed up with not being able to breathe properly because of my asthma, so we had two options: moving me or moving  the cats. As you might know, dogs have masters and cats have staff. And it would have been a matter of removing all the hair as well, so it was easier to move me.

Now I’m back with last week’s host who was kind enough to let me crash at his place, even though he’s annoyed with me for leaving sock fluff everywhere and splashing water all over the bathroom. To his relief I’ll still follow the cat mummy around in the daytime as I've promised to help her organise a birthday party. Her 40th. (I doubt I’ll have to make cucumber sandwiches as was the case for the birthdays during week5.)

God knows what I’m doing in 10 years time ... all I can concentrate on is completing Swenglish. Let’s hope I last another 2 weeks! I just got a text from host number 29: ”Eat garlic so you don’t get sick for our mad week! :D”. Who said Swedes were boring?

PS. I really love cats, it's so unfair that they make me sneeze and itch and of course I can't help cuddling them even though I shouldn 't ...

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Week27: Leading English Park & Winning Bandy Team

I had no idea that one of the most English parks in the world is situated in Sweden. I’m back in Stockholm and my host recommended that I walk through Haga Park near his work place. On an information board it said ”one of the world’s leading English parks”. Apparently an English style park consists of view points, lawns, bushes, trees and winding paths. How original. I must admit I didn't see all of the park, but I came across a ”Turkish Pavilion” – which reminded me a bit of the the Royal Pavilion in Brighton.

Last week I tried my luck on the ice, this week I ended up by the side as a spectator, drinking beer. Bandy is a winter sport similar to ice-hockey, but instead of using a flat black puck, the game is played with an orange ball, a bit smaller than a tennis ball. The playing area is bigger than in an ice-hockey and usually the game is held outdoors. 

My host is a fan of the south Stockholm team Hammarby and they won the game against GAIS from Gothenburg with 8-1. Even though I think it’s quite an artful sport to watch, I lost interested after 4-1, feeling sorry for the losing team. I also felt a bit restless because I wanted to be on the ice myself, I quite liked bandy when I was little, as my hometown Nässjö is a ”bandy town”.

After doing so much sport last week I kind of got addicted to the endorphin kick. I’m not interested in competing or running faster or longer, but every time I've stayed with people who exercise a lot I've felt very happy and energetic, and I hope I can keep up with it after Swenglish is completed. One person I stayed with even used the gym as a substitute for anti-depressants. Normally my host goes running three times a week, but he’s having a period of rest at the moment, so I’m climbing on the walls! (Not literally this time ...)

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Week26: Lou on Ice

It wasn't my first time on skates, but it was the first time I did ice-skating properly, i.e. trying out jumps and gliding with my leg in the air. My host this week is a professional ice-skater and I joined the class she is teaching.

I'm proud to say that I only fell over once. However another lady in the group was proud that she had fallen twice: before she had been afraid of falling, and to learn you have to be willing to take risks and be prepared to fall, so perhaps I’ll fall over more next time ... If there’s a next time! I think I prefer ice-hockey, because at least then you’re allowed to wear proper equipment like elbow- and and knee pads.

I’m staying on the West Coast of Sweden in Halmstad which is a summer city, but no matter where you are in Sweden there’s always an ice-rink where people do sports like ice-hockey, bandy or ice-skating. Before we went on the ice we had been running on the beach – including some cross fit exercises – so my legs were already a bit sore. And on Friday night I've been promised zumba dancing. This is the most sporty week since Swenglish Week 11 when I stayed with a girl who took me running and climbing. But she also took me to the pub after we’d been exercising. Here I get protein shakes and vitamin smoothies! The Swedes win when it comes to being healthy ...

Anyway, I’m very grateful that I got to try ice-skating. Through Swenglish I've realised that I feel the most alive when I try something new and challenge myself - no matter how scary it is. 

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Week25: A Vegetarian's Nightmare

I had feared this week for ages. As a part of Swenglish I shadow my hosts at their workplace when possible. My childhood friend and current host spends her days cutting up pigs and making mince out of cows. Luckily I just had to observe rather than take part, but that was sickening enough.

In Sweden there are hardly any proper butcher’s shops left. The closest you get to a butchers’ is the ”fresh” meat area of a supermarket, but even so that kind of business is dying down in favour of pre-packed meat.

The small supermarket where my friend works is situated in a village near my hometown where the local dialect is very strong. I found it amusing to listen to the customers who sounded very rude, even if they didn't mean to. There aren't any pleases and not too many thank yous in Sweden.

At the end of the day I helped with the washing up, rinsing off corpse parts from the trays and pouring bloody water down the sink. And I was close to puking when I was shown the ox tongue. My friend thought I would get used to it, but I declined her offer to spend another day at her workplace ... To me, eating pigs and cows and sheep is the same as eating cats and dogs and other pets, so that's why I find it so hard to handle meat.

I’m pretty convinced I’ll remain a vegetarian for the rest of my life. It’s better for the animals, the environment and the health. Even though it was a small supermarket, I was happy to find a few vegetarian and vegan products like oat ice-cream and soya sausages. In general I think there are more and better veggie options in English shops, and the labeling in Britain is great: you don’t have to read the ingredients, just look for the wording ”suitable for vegetarians” which doesn't exist in Sweden.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Week24: Subtle Differences - Size Matters?

So what have you found? What are the differences between England and Sweden? People keep asking me, but the further I get into my Swenglish project the harder it gets to answer the question.

Apart from the obvious differences like the climate (it snowed last night in Stockholm!) there are the more subtle differences that I find interesting. They can be hard to discover, but last night I found out that size matters - or not.

I was at a film/poetry/music event with my host and I was going to order wine at the bar. ’Would you like a small or large glass?’ I asked. My host looked at me, not quite understanding. In Sweden there’s only one size when you order wine, generally large. Whereas in England you have a choice between 125/175ml or 250ml in most places.

It’s the same with beer. I was out in a bar when I stayed in Malmö and my host asked if I wanted another beer. ’I don’t know,’ I said. ’Perhaps a half.’ My host looked confused. In Sweden there’s only one size: ”en stor stark” which means ”a big strong one”. (Although in some places, like British or Irish themed pubs you can get different measurements.)

So what does this say about the cultures then? That the English are more nuanced with their difference sizes? And that Swedes just want to get more drunk? Or perhaps the English are just more fuzzy, bothering about size? Personally, I miss being able to order a small glass of wine or half a pint, because sometimes a big glass or a pint is too much, especially at the end of the night.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Week23: Community Life

This week I’m staying in the first and only community during my Swenglish journey. Four adults (five with me), two kids, one cat and one horse are part of the household. The house is from the 1850s and is located in the countryside outside Umeå. The forest is everywhere and it’s quite close to the sea. Every day vegan food is served. Some days they eat together, sometimes they don't. There’s a ”cleaning spinner” to share the chores, but it’s not in use anymore. Despite that it’s as tidy as it can be with small children in the house. It’s not at all as chaotic as in Lukas Moodyson’s film ”Together” ...

In England I stayed in some households with four or five people, but that didn't make it into a community. Just because you live with more than one other person who is not family or close friend it doesn't automatically become a community. In England, at least in Brighton and other bigger cities, people live together because they have to. Not only when they are students but also when they get to their 40s or 50s. It’s common that people who don’t know each other at all put their names on a contract and move in together.

In Sweden it’s much more common that people live on their own and if you live together with someone you often choose to do so, and then it’s not for economical reasons as was my experience in England. There are communities in England as well of course, and like in Sweden they are often based around  political or spiritual beliefs. But what I’m trying to say is that in Sweden it’s not as common to live with several other people if it’s not a community and people here readily call a household with more than two people a community even if it’s not. (In Sweden we don't even have any words for "housemate" or "flatmate".)

So what makes a community into a community? Why isn't it enough just to live with several other people? I haven’t yet got a good answer, but the thing about having the same ideology and values seems to be a criteria. My host who is a "leftie" could not imagine living with people who are right-wing even if she has good discussions with them when meeting them out. She wouldn't be able to live with people who eat meat at home either. Why is it that it’s almost always left-wing people and very often vegetarians that live in communities then? Why have conservatives and meet eaters not discovered community living?

I’m now well into my twenty-third Swenglish-week and have lived with so many different people in so many different places that I think I need to live completely on my own for six months just to find out what my own life-style and my own habits are. All my life I've adjusted myself so much to the people I've lived with that I don’t know if I’m tidy or messy, if I’m an owl or a lark. Although after I've tried living on my own I’m not against the idea of a community. If only I've got a room where I can lock the door and write, things usually work out. It’s quite nice having people around, being able to choose if you want to have company or be on your own. And if people have kids there are extra baby-sitters. (In Sweden the word for baby-sitter is "child guard" ... to guard someone doesn't sound quite right!)

This week I don’t have a room of my own. But I've got a partition wall so I can have some privacy as people pass my sleeping space to go to the toilet. All in all it has been a very varied week. Yesterday I was up on the horseback and the other day I first went to an ”open nursery school” and then watched my hosts when they rehearsed with their punk band. Tomorrow I’m going to a design market and I've also discovered that they sell very good vegan sausages at the Pressbyrån newsagent

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Week22: Up North

If someone had told me a year ago, when I had not yet come up with the Swenglish idea, that in a years time I would be in Umeå following an archaeologist for a week, I would have laughed.

I was stupid enough to go to the City of Birches without a winter coat and with boots that leek, so the first thing I did was to go shopping for welly boots with fleece soles. The seasons are more distinct in Sweden compared to England, maybe because there are more trees. I've never been so fascinated by autumn before; I can’t stop looking at the leaves that shimmer in yellow, orange and red. The seasons is something many of the people I have stayed with would miss if they lived abroad, but last week’s host said it would be enough to have winter every other year ...

If it wasn't for this project I would probably never have ended up so far North. Already when I changed trains in Sundsvall the air on the platform was like a curtain of ice. A bit like travelling from the South of England to Scotland. And it feels like I’m as far from my hometown as when I’m in England. In fact it takes the same amount of time to travel from Nässjö to Umeå as it takes travelling from Nässjö to Brighton.

The pace is more peaceful here. People speak more slowly and says ”fara” (”journey”) instead of ”åka” (go). Every time they’re going to visit a friend it sounds as if they were going travelling. Probably because of the distances up here. I've also learnt a new word: ”he” that does’t mean ”he” as in English: it’s a word for ”put” – a word that doesn't exist in the South.

What is it like following an archaeologist then? Well, a bit like hanging out with a living history book. I've followed my host to places where she’s been digging and they've found cooking spots from the iron age. But next week, when the frost comes it will be hard to dig. Now we’re going to journey out in the swamplands to pick cranberries!

PS. I'm up North for a bit longer, next week I'll be staying in a community a bit outside Umeå.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Week21: God = Aliens?

I spent the weekend at a conference with the Raelian movement as last week’s host is a Raelian. What is a Raelian? They look like you and me and they want to make the world a better place through technical development that will free society from work. They believe that we were created by people on another planet that is 25 000 years ahead of us.

Apart from meditating, watching video clips about future technology and UFO sightings we had a lot of fun as you can see in the picture. Competing in the Swedish national sport ”throwing the welly boot” isn't very high-tech, but the Raelians are so peaceful they forgot to count the scores ...

At night we went up the ski slope (no snow yet!) to watch the sky. I was happy to see a shooting star (my first ever!), and my host said that for him it’s not important to see an UFO; he believes they’re out there anyway, but that the aliens have better things to do than flying by the earth all the time.

The Raelians believe that it will be possible for us, human beings, to create life both here on earth and even on other planets, in a not too distant future. Perhaps I should go and live on another planet so I don’t have to choose between Sweden and England!

PS. Simplified life forms have already been artificially created on earth. In 2010 a group of researchers at the J Craig Venter Institute created a new functioning DNA-code that was introduced in a cell.


Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Week21: Elks and Xbox

During Week10 of Swenglish I made fun of the fact that the English family I stayed with took me to a British Wildlife centre, but the wildest English animals we saw were otters and badgers. At the moment  I’m staying in Lilla Edet, just an hour outside Gothenburg and on the forest walk my host took me on we saw two elks! (A mother and a baby.)

This is Week21 in total and the sixth week of my Swedish part of the journey: just like Week6 in England I got to try something new: gaming. But whereas my English host let me try a shooting game on the computer, my Swedish host let me have a go at an Xbox game where I rafted down a river, using my whole body. My host uses this activity as a substitute for exercise in winter when it’s too cold and too much snow to go running in the forest.

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 ...


Friday, 24 August 2012

Week16: Swedish moral gone too far

This week I’ve been to work with my host who is a librarian. Apart from being a bit more organised (even the picture books are in alphabetical order), her library wasn’t that different to the libraries I’ve worked at in England. What surprised me more was an official sign on the notice board informing me that smoking was banned during work hours.

I’m not a smoker and I’m by no means supporting smoking as I know people who have died painful deaths because of it. It’s fair enough to ban smoking inside work places and perhaps stretch it to outside the work building if it irritates other people, but to ban it altogether? I’d call that discrimination. One reason for the ban is that ”no customer or citizen should be exposed to people smoking or smelling of smoke during work hours”. What’s next? Will garlic be banned as well? And what if someone gets exposed to a member of staff chewing gum or sucking on a cough sweet? Isn’t it your own responsibility if you want to ruin your lungs or teeth?

When I asked my host what she would not miss about Sweden if she lived abroad she said ”It can be a bit too moralising sometimes, but it’s not only bad, it depends on how much I agree”. She’s right. I think the smoking ban in pubs that came into force in Sweden in 2005 and in England in 2007 is great, but I don’t mind if someone wants to smoke outside - whether it’s during work or party hours doesn’t matter.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Swenglish so far, a Poem

Swenglish - so far

I've been a fly on the wall,
a spy in the everyday life
of my friends

The walls between
me and other people
have become thin
like five-pound notes

I’ve shared their
fry-ups and Sunday roasts
their fish ‘n’ chips
and Marmite toast

I’ve read stories to little brats
and battled with wild cats
I’ve cleared up domestic mess
God bless the English
- keep calm and carry on!

I’ve met fussy tea drinkers
and heavy deep thinkers
Mediation and dance
Taking a chance
when quizzing in a pub
surviving the greasy grub

Bubbling and squeaking
I’m sick of toilets
that don’t flush and I blush
like the Setting Sun
when I think of all the fun
conversations I’ve had
in bedrooms and bathrooms

I’ve slept in a caravan
in kitchens and public houses
Cheers! Another pint,
I feel frail after all the real ale
Beer Festivals and Red Tents
I’ve been up on the Downs
for countryside strolls
and lost control
of weeds in gardens

I’ve climbed walls
and I’ve painted walls
I’ve been off the wall
and driven my friends up the wall

One woman nearly slapped me
but I felt more numb
when this guy rubbed my bum

Breaking down the wall
between Sweden and England
I’m  not Swedish, I’m not English
I’m Swenglish!

©Lou Ice 2012

I wrote this poem, looking back on the fifteen weeks I spent with fifteen different people in England this spring and early summer. I've only got a couple of days left of my break that I've spent in and around my hometown Nässjö. On Sunday I move in with the first person in Sweden who lives in Malmö in the South, and later on this autumn I'll go all the way up to Umeå in the North. I'm excited and ready to hit the road again! 

If you want to know more about my project please subscribe to my blog posts by typing in your email address in the box to the right below the "about me" picture. You can read more about my Swenglish project here.

Photo by Adriana Pusha who works for Brighton and Hove TV that are making a documentary about Swenglish.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

WeekX: Make a Wish - but Not for Vegetarians

The woman I stayed with during week 3  asked me if I wanted to make a wish. Sure, I said. But when I found out that the wish involved chicken bones I changed my mind ... It's an old English tradition to break off one part each of a chicken bone - whoever gets the biggest piece is allowed to make a wish. I haven't seen this tradition in Sweden, perhaps because I'm too young or because I mainly hang out with other vegetarians.

My host put all the chicken bones together and made a star. She called this piece of art "Unfulfilled" ...


Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Week X: The Freedom to Roam - Allemansrätten

In Sweden it's legal to put up a tent anywhere in nature for one night without asking for permission. This "right" is part of something called Allemansrätten ("Everyman's Right") and basically means that you've got the freedom to roam in nature.  Allemansrätten is not a law but is inscribed into one of Sweden's four constitutions and is unique for the Nordic countries.

Over the weekend I went camping with my friends on Öland - a Swedish island in the Baltic sea. We took a chance and followed a dirt track down to the sea and put up our tent. It stank of cowpat and seaweed, but I experienced a real sense of freedom and the sunset was a beauty. Some of us also had a (naked) bath in the sea. The cows left us alone, although some birdwatchers woke us up in the morning ...

(I've camped in "the wild" in England too, so it's possible. Now I almost missed the excitement of the risk that a farmer would come by with his gun ... )


Saturday, 21 July 2012

Week X: Takeaway Pints

I've been in Sweden for ten days and I haven't yet been anywhere near a pub. I've been hiding in my parents basement working on my Swenglish book. In my hometown Nässjö there's only one pub, in an English town of the same size - 16 000 people - there would be about twenty pubs.

Once when I was in the Evening Star in Brighton, a friend said he was about to leave, but that he'd get some takeaway beer. I thought he was going to pop to the off licence - instead he went up to the bar and got takeaway pints of ale in old milk bottles! I've never seen anything like it in Sweden - it would be impossible anyway as the milk bottles here are all tetra pack.