Pieces of Sweden

  

neighborhoods draped in traditional Christmas lights • strawberry cheesecake at Ikea • a stunning view of lake Vättern • well-dressed men • tacos on New Year’s Eve • so much snow upon landing at Stockholm Skavsta • my friend’s homemade apple cake with apricot jam • gravel on icy roads • free wi-fi on Swebus buses • total dark at 3pm • chicken tikka masala at a friend’s new Indian restaurant • skiing at night • a guy from Uzbekistan who spent sixteen years of his life studying German • orange chocolate ice cream • small sailboats near the pier at dusk • discussing Russian movies from the 70s • fika, fike, fika • two former flatmates now doing their PhDs • carrot cake at Wayne’s Coffee • Hej! • familiar streets filled with memories of a semester abroad and many visits since

My trip to Sweden was absolutely wonderful, and I couldn’t imagine a better way to ring in 2013. I hope your start into the new year was just as lovely!

I am in Sweden and nothing hurts


I’m in Sweden! WHAT. Hello love, I have missed you so! The moment I saw the endless forests and countless lakes and all the snow as the plane dipped through the clouds, I got teary-eyed. Stepping off the plane into the cold, clean air did the rest. This feels like home. It has for a while, and it most certainly does right now. I’m sitting at the airport as I type this, waiting for the long-distance bus that will take me to my final destination… There’s sports news on one of the TVs, and naturally it’s all skiing and ice hockey. And the weather map is, well, first of all, of Sweden – I mean, OF COURSE it is, but it makes me so happy – and the forecast’s all cold and snowy, too.

This country, you guys. I don’t know. I don’t know how I wasn’t born here. I love how reserved but kind and helpful the people are, I love the language, I love the typical Swedish pastries you can get on every corner.

Right now, I don’t know yet what it’s going to be like to see my friends again, whether we’ll just be bored, whether I’ll have to sleep on the floor and won’t be able to. But it’s already been worth it: all the money, all the organizational pitfalls, the distance traveled – everything for this moment of recognition, of feeling like I belong here.

PS – Update now that I’m at my friend’s: Her place is so perfect for New Year’s fireworks with a view over the lake, and the entire neighborhood is still decorated in tasteful Christmas lights, and I have a comfy place to sleep, and we have already made some lovely plans. THIS YEAR COULD NOT POSSIBLY END ON A BETTER NOTE.

A merry little Christmas


I’ve been home for a while now, and it’s been (mostly) perfect. No matter how little I miss home when I’m not here and how few traditions or memories I connect with this place, Christmas always feels more like Christmas when I’m with my family at my parents’ house.

This & that
We had a single day of snow over the past couple of weeks so Christmas here most certainly was not white. It was rainy and warm. We spent Christmas Eve as we always do, though: setting up the tree and decorating it in classic red and white, doing a long walk at the widlife sanctuary in the (relative) cold at dusk, and then coming back to a warm and cozy home to exchange gifts and eat good food. Instead of lamb, which we usually eat on Christmas Eve, my dad made duck and deer this year (photos to come) which was delicious!

Over the holidays we also read in our old children’s Christmas books that our parents used to read to us throughout December when we were little. We had Glühwein and fresh mint tea. We met the extended family at restaurants to eat more and promise to see each other more regularly next year (which we never do). I tried the Toffee Nut Latte at Starbucks and decided it must be their best pretentious Christmas novelty drink yet. I spent many evenings playing cards with my mom.

Material Christmas
I got some lovely Christmas presents, some of which I had mentioned to “Santa”, some of which were a wonderful surprise. I got Stephen Fry’s book “Moab is My Washpot”. It’s his autobiography and I’ve been meaning to read it ever since I got obsessed with his television show “QI”. I also got a gift card to a bookstore, and a couple other gift cards. My mom gave me my favorite perfume (“Glow” by J.Lo) (don’t judge, it smells really fresh and light and soapy). And my brother, sweet guy that he is, somehow remembered that I mentioned this particular H&M sweater a couple months ago and got it for me. Oh, and San sent me a lovely handmade Christmas card that made me so happy! I love getting regular mail – thank you, San!

Meeting old friends
On Thursday I went to a breakfast meet-up at a small local café with a bunch of old girlfriends from high school. We don’t usually see each other during the year because we’re never in the same country, much less the same town. But we always meet on the day after the holidays (December 25 and 26 are Christmas holidays in Germany), when everyone is here to visit their families back in this little town that we came from. By now, our group has grown to include two husbands and a little baby girl who tag along, and it’s just- lovely. We don’t talk about the negative stuff; we skip right over all the everyday complexities of growing up and creating a life because we don’t see each other often enough to fill everyone in on the details. And so it’s nothing but old memories and jokes and banalities. Just the right thing after a Christmas spent with extended families who excel at asking exactly the wrong questions about How Your Year Has Been and Your Plans For The Future.

We did a short trip to Holland yesterday (is it odd that I mainly miss the Dutch supermarkets? I loved them most when I lived there, their selection and quality of food somehow is so much better) and hit the Christmas market again. I just made a last batch of Christmas cookies and will pack for my trip to Sweden later. Am trying really hard to enjoy all of this as much as possible!

If you celebrated, I hope your Christmas was wonderful!

I’m going to Sweden, again


So guess what. I’m going to Sweden for New Year’s, after all! My friend actually very happily changed her plans so we could make this happen, and the tickets are already booked, and I just can’t with how sweet she is. Then Facebook messages of two other friends still in Jönköping came in, saying how much they look forward to seeing me. And so it looks like the kind of New Year’s I had in mind – quiet and relaxed, in Sweden, in the freezing cold, among loved ones – is indeed happening.

I took the cell phone shot above on my first return visit to Sweden. It was the first time I flew into Stockholm Skavsta airport, a small airport outside Stockholm. Upon landing you see nothing but snow and lakes and trees and the frayed coastline, and it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. It was beautiful every single time I’ve come back since.

This will be me fifth trip to Sweden. There’s a sign at the side of the road as you drive away from Skavsta airport into the empty Swedish countryside, it says: Välkommen tillbaka. Welcome back.

And every time I pass it, I feel like I’ve come back home.

Being an introvert

My stomach is in knots over New Year’s plans right now, and I hate that. I just want to enjoy Christmas and then deal with the inevitable depression I (and many others, it seems) go through every January but not have to deal with worrying about what to do on New Year’s Eve on top of that. As things stand, I’ll be at my parents’ who will be celebrating with my aunt and uncle at home. I will tag along awkwardly, 24 years old, a party scrooge who’d rather just read or watch a movie or walk the never-ending online world every single night than socialize and get drunk. It’s just who I am. I understand the benefits of getting together with a bunch of people to ring in the new year and that it can be fun; I’m just not comfortable at typical New Year’s parties. More to the point: I don’t know any people in my hometown (not anymore) or in Cologne that I would enjoy socializing with. People who like what I like, who understand where I’m coming from when I say “I don’t like parties” without judging or patronizing me or finding it weird or different or boring. And of course that’s a huge part of why I’m upset right now. The realization that you don’t really have people around you that you want to spend time with, who get you, is sad. Painful even.

I have friends like that. But they are nowhere near me, geographically. It normally doesn’t bother me as much but right now it would be damn nice to have a couple people here at home, or even anywhere in the same country as me, that would think it’s a great idea to get together on New Year’s and cook and watch a movie and chat and have champagne and count down to 2013 and be in bed before 6am. I considered escaping to Sweden, where I have several friends who would enjoy an evening like this and where I already saw myself greeting the new year with a long early morning walk through the fresh snow, but since the idea was so last-minute, said friends already had plans. I would just hang out in my Cologne apartment but I had agreed last month that my roommate could “rent it out” to her dad and his girlfriend because I didn’t expect to be in Cologne for New Year’s.

And so mostly, I think, I’m just upset that I didn’t make plans earlier – plans I would look forward to because they’re not just What People Do On New Year’s but what I like doing. I’m upset that I actually care what my parents and aunt and uncle think when I end up spending New Year’s with them, that I already feel embarrassed about not knowing what to say when they will ask the inevitable question: “How come you’re not partying with your friends tonight?” I so badly need to work on these ridiculous insecurities, and work towards creating a life that makes me happy, rather than trying to fit whatever only acceptable mold I think exists.

From aboard this train


I’m on a train speeding through a snow storm, the first I’m witnessing this season, and everything is white and the train, for once, is warm and quiet and cozy and comfortable, and I’m reading some beautiful writing by a dear friend, and I’m on my way home, to my mom who will be picking me up from the station. What more could a person ever really ask for?

Generational differences

Conversation a friend of mine who is currently in Ireland had with some lady there:

Irish woman: Where are you from?
Her: From the Netherlands.
Irish woman: How long are you staying in Dublin?
Her: Actually, I’m going to live here!
Irish woman: Oh, are you marrying an Irish guy?
Her: Haha, no, I’m gonna work at Google.

BOOM.

This made me happy.

A whole lotta love

So much love on Facebook today. Reconnecting with old friends from high school. Which- isn’t that what they built Facebook for in the first place? We do this every time around Christmas. We ask around: Will you be back home for Christmas? I’ll get there the 22nd. Alright. Let’s figure out where to meet, what to do, who else will be there. It’s nice. I like friends who are good with only actually physically meeting up once or twice a year and still don’t feel like strangers.

Have also been planning when to send Christmas cards and who to send them to. I’m not a very social, out-going person. I like being by myself, I’m more comfortable that way, but sometimes it can feel lonely. Making my list of people I’ll be sending cards to, I realized I could never really be lonely at all and that there would always be someone there with a kind word or a helping hand if I needed it.

Got an email from an old friend from high school who lives in Brussels now so I don’t get to see her enough. It’s the invitation to her wedding (in court, the big blow-out will be next year) and at the bottom – seriously, tucked away at the very bottom, in small letters – it says: Pssst, we are expecting a tiny German-Moroccan! I read that about five times to understand that, yes, they’re having a baby. Emailed back. OVERJOYED. They are the best people, you guys, and they will make the best parents. I don’t say this lightly or often – I have very strict, broken, unreasonable views on who should get married or start a family that I mostly keep to myself – but these two are made to raise a family. The little one is due in May, right on time for the big church wedding.

And more roommate love today as well. Went for a long walk to the nearest city park and talked and laughed. Mostly planned her moving out early next year; what we need to think of, what stuff she will take with her, when I need to start looking for a new roommate. It was lovely. Just- Nike sweatpants, infinity scarfs, ponytails, windbreakers. Cold air, dry leaves, setting sun. So much beauty in these little details, little moments, it’s almost too much.