Friday, May 9, 2014

Adjusting to Swedish life

Klarastrandsleden  |  The first few days in Hammarby Sjöstad on afeathery*nest  |
My Virginia childhood didn't do much to prepare me for 6°C / 43°F days in May. Nor did it prepare my for a sky that lightens at 4:30AM and doesn’t darken until 10PM (and we’re not even in full-on summer yet!).

It did, however, prepare me for living on the waterfront and hearing the clanging of boat bells and horns, which is lucky, since we now live in a “port city”. I could hear the call of the water the last few days but hadn’t done much exploring, at least not physically (naturally I Googled and YouTubed the area to no end before we moved) since it was raining and cold and R was sick at home (his body didn’t transition so well from the heat of Sicily to the icicles of Stockholm).

But the other day while R was taking an afternoon nap, I ventured out alone to putter around my new neighborhood and buy some groceries to make him soup and detergent to do laundry.

While many people here speak good, if not perfect, English, I’m hesitant to get into the groove of conversing in my native language because some expats never learn Swedish since they don't really have to to survive. But after trying to go grocery shopping on my own, I have no idea how they manage that.

Buying spinach or onions is one thing—those are straightforward items. Trying to figure out which of the 17 types of eggs or chicken or laundry detergent to buy is another beast entirely and was exhausting and frustrating. I stood to the side of the narrow aisles, maniacally photographing labels and using Google Translate’s image feature to figure out if I was buying some crazily perfumed detergent or some inhumanely raised chicken.

After my harrowing, hour-long trip to buy a handful of things, I stopped at Sytembolaget, the state-run liquor store (similar to an ABC store). I’d read about how people hate Systembolaget mainly because you can only buy alcohol during the week (fine by me) and apparently it’s a madhouse before closing time on Friday (I’m good at planning ahead so no worries there), but because of what I'd read I was expecting an unpleasant situation. Turns out, it was so pretty and clean and nicely laid out and labeled (not that I could read anything). But anyway, I had my wine, so off to the house I went to make R some chicken soup while I had a glass (or two) of my hard-won wine.

I walked in the door and rattled off to R in Italian how frustrated I was, and he wisely said, "did you think you’d be able to speak Swedish in a day?". And I was thinking back to my last month in Italy, where for the first time I felt 100% comfortable being out on my own to run errands or go to the Samsung Service Center and explain what happened to my phone or sit through a marathon lunch or dinner—and that feels so far from where I am today with a new language.

This summer marks 9 years since R and I met, so I definitely didn't learn Italian in a day. And true, the first few years don’t count since before R moved to the US to marry me I wasn’t really too focused on speaking Italian, but it took a number of years before I hit that comfort level (and I'm nowhere near fluent now, but at least I can manage for a day). I know I’ll probably get to a reasonable comfort level with Swedish faster since we’re living in the country, versus R and I speaking in Italian only half (if that) of the time in New York with yearly or every other year trips back to Italy.

Still. I was discouraged and had a headache when I returned from my solo expedition.

But like many things, everything seemed brighter the next day, as my personnumer arrived—the number that’s like an American Social Security Number which makes me an official, registered resident (my resident card came while I was in Italy) of Sweden. It gives me access to healthcare and means I can now look for a language school! (Whew.)

We celebrated by heading out to a bakery for a fika complete with a coconut-rolled chocolate ball. Delicious.

Chokladboll from Magnus Johanssons Bageri & Konditori in Hammarby Sjöstad |  The first few days in Hammarby Sjöstad on afeathery*nest  |
The only two administrative / bureaucratic things left to do now is request my Swedish ID card, which will give me a Swedish / EU-approved form of ID, since my New York State Driver's License doesn’t count, and who wants to carry a passport around every day? Besides, the latter doesn’t include my perssonnumer, which is essential. If I had a Swedish Driver's License, I wouldn’t need an ID (neither R or his mom have one, because he has an Italian Driver's License and she a Swedish one), but since I have a year to use my NYS License and in any case, I have to study for and take a driving/written exam, no way will I be getting that anytime soon.

And, now that we’re officially registered as living here, we can inform the Italian Consulate, so they know where to find me when my citizenship request is approved.

But even before doing those two approved, legal, benefit-filled Swedish life can officially begin!

One year ago: Playing with pauses


  1. im so proud of you for venturing out and getting wine for yourself! way to go dear :)

    1. There are some thing worth braving all things foreign for! ;)

  2. I can *so* relate to this! I often feel I never would have survived (especially at the beginning) without a smart phone. And congrats on getting your personnummer!

    1. Seriously, thank goodness for that, and thanks! I just registered today for school so hopefully I'll be having an easier time of it soon! Xx.


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