In celebration of Cinnamon Bun Day, I grabbed some kanelbullar and vanilla ice-cream, my friend Anja baked a yummy apple pie, and we convened at our mutual friend’s, Laura’s place to fika our hearts out.
One of the biggest contrasts that I noticed about Sweden was the difference in diet. I found that people are much more conscious and even knowledgeable about the food they eat everyday. It is important that every meal fulfills all nutritional requirements. While it is without a doubt Swedes enjoy their candy, I feel they are much more concerned about having a balanced diet with the occasional sweet treat.
The same can be said for school lunches. Any other school I have been to has had a cafeteria full of fried or microwaved food, something you would not find in Sweden. I had to always bring a lunch because the school cafeteria was full of junk.
One of the best things about studying in Sweden is definitely the school lunches. I would buy my lunch everyday at school if I could afford it. The lunches are made fresh and there are always lots of options to choose from. The hot and fresh meals are a much welcome change from the fried, unhealthy options I had before.
There are usually many typical household Swedish food to choose from, even some delicious Thai options. The best way to try some real Swedish household food is to buy a few lunches in the school cafeteria. Homemade pannbiff (hamburger steak) with lingonberry jam or pyttipanna (potatoes, onions and ham, chopped and fried together) are just some of the options.
And of course, you cannot forget about Thursdays ärtsoppa (pea soup) and pannkakor (pancakes). This traditional yellow pea soup usually includes pork and is served with mustard, hard bread and salad. To follow this hearty soup, thin pancakes are usually served with jam and whipped cream. Take a trip to any cafeteria or restaurant on a Thursday and you will be sure to find this on the menu.
These healthy hot lunches are even served free in primary and elementary schools. The nutritious meals cover all food groups and contribute to an overall healthy lifestyle. In addition, much research shows that children who eat healthy balanced meals also improve their behavior and focus in the afternoon. This can also have a great impact on a future healthy lifestyle.
You will never find a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, pizza or some frozen unknown concoction in a Swedish school. And, unlike most of the meals served in my old schools for lunch, you can surely pronounce all the ingredients. Instead what you get is freshly cooked, healthy, hot and delicious meals.
I also happened to attend a school closing ceremony (skolavslutning) in a tiny village (population – 200) located in Northern Sweden where a bunch of kindergarteners along with their families gathered in a small church to sing summer songs and hymns. Skolavslutning is a Swedish tradition where, to prepare for the long summer holidays, students gather at the end of their Spring terms or semesters with their families to celebrate.
We’ve been blogging about Midsummer all week; a national holiday with deep traditional roots. Today, I headed over to Farsta Gård, just outside of Stockholm to check out the Midsummer festivities which included dancing (and hopping) around the maypole (midsommarstång) singing folk songs to finding your own patch of grass to spread out a picnic in what I call the largest picnic party ever.
You’re in Sweden. Lost. Alone. Don’t know a word of the language.
What are you to do? Get back on the plane? Call your parents? Head to the nearest singles bar?
How about call your host family? You know, the people who volunteered to show you Swedish culture and provide support when you emailed the international office at Linnaeus University saying you were interested in participating in the “Friend Family” program.
It’s an idea, isn’t it? They’ll be glad you called them.
You’ll have a lot of fun. I know I have. Heck, I’ve had more strange adventures with them than Indiana Jones in any of George Lucas’ movies.
Let me tell you about my host family, the Nordmarks. They’re an average, middle-class Swedish family that lives in Växjö. They have three children, and like many Swedish families own a summer house which they share with my host father Lennart’s brothers. They’re both school teachers, and have lived in Växjö their whole lives.
Sounds rather bland doesn’t it? Well read on, Einstein.
I’ve had a lot of fun with this “typical” family. I’ve spoken several times to students at both the schools my host parents teach at, showing Powerpoint presentations about the U.S. and answering the kind of questions most teenagers have when encountering a visitor from a foreign country, especially the U.S. Seriously, the knowledge these students have of hip-hop music and the Twilight series is extraordinary.
With them, I’ve also survived multiple encounters with soccer hooligans, failed to catch a fish in three attempts, helped repair a lawnmower, successfully navigated a fika with a 97-year-old woman who has been to 37 U.S. states and five continents, dropped by unannounced for waffles, and consumed more sausages than any previous human in history. Oh, and I’ve also jumped into a frozen lake in the middle of February, spent multiple hours attempting to pick up a drill out of said lake with a magnet and string, and watched prepubescent girls march around with candles in their hair in a show of pageantry and pain tolerance known as Lucia.
Forget trying to keep up with the Joneses. Try keeping up with this family.
But really, having a host family is about more than random adventures and going on more side trips than the guys in The Hangover. It’s about cultural exchange, sharing your own culture while learning about Swedish culture in an environment other than just an on-campus pub or from your Swedish classmates who are as equally broke as you are.
While with the Nordmarks, I’ve learned about Swedish cuisine, how Swedish families interact, and of course what life is like in Sweden when you’re not just a student. And through that, I’ve been able to examine my own culture, and realized that – in the end – we’re all human and share the same values and beliefs.
And if it wasn’t for them, I’d never have realized pickled herring is absolutely delicious, despite the odor.
So, what are you waiting for? Pick up that phone and make that call. You made the effort to be paired up with a host family, so why not meet them? At the very worst you’ll be getting a free meal.
At the very best you’ll be meeting people you’ll hopefully stay in close contact with for the rest of your life.
Sure makes that 20 kronor phone call worth it.
If you happen to be in Stockholm and/or traveling through various cities around the country this week, you’ll most likely be passed by numerous dump trucks blasting loud music and filled with screaming teenagers wearing white caps and randomly waving at passers-by.
Don’t be alarmed – They’re just celebrating graduation from high school.
Swedish flags were lowered and moved out of the way as Skansen’s massive bonfire was lit on Saturday, April 30 around 9:10pm. Spring songs were sung, banishing winter for the next 6 months. Thousands of faces were tainted orange by the fire’s warm glow.
Despite the cool wind that required jackets, caps, and gloves here in Stockholm, this was Walpurgis Night (Valborg) and spring was officially welcomed.
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