Tourist Season in Western Sweden

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Tourist season has begun. Hordes of Germans and Dutch and their cars usually flood into western Sweden when May/June starts, but today I even got behind a slow-driving, confused and ugly French car. Worse than any actual French car (Renault, Citroen or Peugeot) is a Nissan Juke. I think this is one of the ugliest cars with THE dumbest car name possible. Who chose “Juke” and what is it even supposed to mean? (“Please meet not only our least favorite car of 2012, but our least favorite car of our quarter century lives.“)

It’s also a time of year when people decide to put giant, handmade, ugly neon signs that read: “VÄRNING! ÄLG!” (“WARNING! MOOSE!”) everywhere.

Elg Norwegian warning sign

Elg Norwegian warning sign

In most places in Norway and Sweden there are actual signs that warn of moose – but here in this rural area it is all a DIY effort. The Norwegian signs (the real ones) look like real moose, but the Swedish signs, if you don’t look carefully, look a bit like panthers. Haha. Beware all those wild Swedish panthers.

Swedish älg warning signs

Swedish älg warning signs

The earlier cited article about Dutch people in Sweden actually made me think of a point that I sometimes question (and it’s not why someone writes the word “assassinate” as “assinate” and posts it on their blog): immigrants (those who have moved completely by choice, like the Dutch woman cited in the article, often report the following feeling: ““In the Netherlands, everyone is always in a hurry. When I went back there recently, I kept thinking: ‘Do you ever take the time to live a little?’.”

This made me wonder whether immigrants (again, by choice) are just by nature more “slowed down” in many cases than those born in a certain place. That is, it is easier to opt out of (or never join in the first place) things that are sort of like family and social obligations that one is often subject to at “home”. My life for example was always full of obligations, greater speed and involvement and integration where I came from – and no matter how I aimed to integrate and ingratiate (haha), I still was kind of “apart”, which naturally slows me down. Did I entirely choose to take the time to live a little or is it a matter more of circumstance because I am not totally integrated and also don’t feel like I have to fit into some preconceived idea about what I have to do and what is expected of me? I hear this “moving abroad helped me take time to live a little” – and immigrants often credit the “slower, more appreciative culture” to which they have moved – but I doubt very much that it is wholly or even appreciably attributable to the adopted country’s culture (in many cases) as much as it is the immigrant’s interpretation and place in that culture.

Sound du jour: John Grant – “That’s the Good News

You cannot trust me/I will stab you in the back/I’ll sell your grandma on the street to buy some crack/if crack is not available, I’ll buy gelato/you have to take things as they come that is my motto…

I have been fucked over a thousand times or two, and now I feel that I must take it out on you…

The Lone(ly) Immigrant

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The roughest part of moving to a new country on your own – without a real reason, going somewhere without a support network – is the making connections and friends. You do not often meet the kind of immigrant who moved to a new country just because he or she wanted to. If not following love/the heart, following a career path or deciding to study abroad (which is its own protected cocoon that barely counts as “living abroad”), you are just out there somewhere, on your own, adrift in this new place with no inside track on how to meet people or interact. The whole thing is a wild ride, a learning curve, negotiating the place between who and where you are and who and where everyone else is… finding a comfortable place in between.

I am too headstrong and naturally weird (other people’s assessment more than my own) to “fit in” anywhere I go so have never been one of those zombies who moves somewhere and professes love for a place without reservation. I don’t go native. I am who I am – and I won’t impose me on others, but I don’t want to be too changed by them either.

Long ago when I volunteered (oh, the sense of adventure) to be an immigrant, I struggled with the whole maze of bureaucracy and adjusting to the little things that make up a new place. You never really think about how things operate elsewhere. Things that seemed like second nature where you came from are often done in a completely different way elsewhere. The mind is conditioned to think that the way it’s done wherever you came from is “the right way” – but part of adjusting and assimilating is not just finding out how these things work but also acknowledging that perhaps the new way is better or more efficient.

All of that is easy enough to accomplish – it is a matter of changing the way you think. But making genuine connections with people – locals or other foreigners – is so much more difficult than that. Moving to Scandinavia especially (not the warmest or most social place), it’s hard to break into the already formed social circles and make even acquaintances (although forming lasting friendships does mean something when you finally get there). I have never been a really outgoing or friendly person, so making friends has always been difficult.

At one point almost ten years ago I decided I had nothing to lose by attending a course for immigrants who wanted to start businesses in Iceland. It was a three-weekend course, quite inexpensive and perhaps would lead me to forming a business (I was already actively freelancing). The course was a bit of a joke; designed and run by Icelanders, they automatically assumed all the immigrant attendees wanted to open restaurants. That’s right –that is all we’re good for. Food service. People from all over the world took the course – people who were highly educated, had been working in professional fields in their home countries – but yeah, we all want to open a food cart.

What I had not banked on was meeting three people who actually changed – and elevated – my quality of life. Two Australians and an Italian – people who became my best friends and who still are.

It happens – but the life of an immigrant can be a lonely one.