The Värmland region of Sweden is a place that seems to fill its residents with a considerable amount of regional pride. People who don’t live in or aren’t from Värmland often echo the feeling that Värmland is the most amazing place, that it would be “like a dream” to live there, and that it embodies what many consider to be “the real Sweden”. Sort of smack in the middle of everything, Värmland is mostly rural, its largest city – the virtually unheard-of (outside Sweden) Karlstad (except for IKEA furniture named after the city) is uniquely placed at a near-equidistance from the Nordic holy trinity of Stockholm, Oslo and Gothenburg. Värmland is not known for city life, of course. It’s the landsbygd – truly rural and in many ways untouched. For those who love nature, Värmland is it.
And it seems to me (in my very few years as a Värmlander myself) that Värmlanders (current and former) bond with each other – in a similar way to how people who come from a small town and meet somewhere else, far away, do. Even though Värmland is a big place and coming from the eastern edge is not totally the same as coming from the far west on the border with Norway (life there, which is where I call home, has been affected by an influx of both Norwegians and their massive border shopping centers) people connected to Värmland do seem to consider it home forever – long after they leave to put down permanent roots elsewhere. There is a sense of pride and identification with the place that people from Värmland adopt – and transplants, like me, fiercely take on. I feel protective and proud about Värmland for some really inexplicable reason. Maybe just because living here has given me the kind of inner peace that I did not really imagine ever having. I never felt at home anywhere, but Värmland is home. As exotic and wonderful as my “native stomping grounds” – Hawaii – is, Värmland is home. I spent most of my formative years in the lovely and diverse Seattle and surrounding environs. But Värmland is home. Yes, Sweden is home, but more than that, Värmland is home. When you meet Swedes, they may tell you they came from “some small town but now live in Stockholm” or will introduce themselves using the city they currently live in. But when you meet a Värmlander, it’s almost a guarantee that s/he will self-identify as a Värmlander (if their värmlandska language does not give them away! Even those who have long left Värmland still consider themselves proud Värmlanders – you can take the Värmlander out of Värmland but not Värmland from the Värmlander). The regional identity assumes almost equal importance to the national identity, and I have not noticed this anywhere in Sweden as I have among Värmlanders.
Heading into the long Easter weekend, I drove home and felt a growing sense of relief, contentment and pride once I crossed into Värmland. Happy.