Monthly archives: September 2011

The Low Down on the Love Visa, Part 2

When I first told my family about the existence of the sambo visa, they were pretty amused and immediately started calling it “the loooooooove visa.” Of course, I cleared up any misunderstandings they might have by showing them this video.

Everyone who is granted a sambo visa is required to enroll immediately in samba lessons and travel in a roving samba-sambo pack. Obviously. Then you have to wrestle a drunken elk. (The winner gets to stay in Sweden.)

Now, I’m no immigration expert, but I get a lot of questions on my other blog, Transatlantic Sketches, about the visa process and what my experiences were. So here goes:

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The Skinny on the Sambo Visa, Part 1

If you or someone you love has been in a serious relationship with someone from another country, you are well aware of the dreaded V word: v-, v-, v-, VISA!!!!

I don’t know what kinds of conversations people from the same country have about the future, but the conversations between my boyfriend and I were dominated by questions like, When will we see each other next? When will we be able to live in the same place again? And where in the world will that be?

Enter the answer to all of your location-based problems: the sambo visa. Bless you, Sweden, for this contribution to international migration policy. May all countries take this as an example. (cough *USA!* cough)

Finally together and happy about it! Thank you Sweden for the sambo visa! Photos: Kate Wiseman

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5 Lessons Expats Can Learn from Modern-Day Vikings

A little while ago, my stalwart companion in all potentially corny Swedish adventures (Steve) and I went to the Viking Reserve in Southern Sweden, and I keep thinking about the Vikings we met there.

When they spoke about living as the Vikings did, the passion they have for their lifestyle was clear in every word, and I found myself thinking about the lessons that expats could learn from the way they embrace the constant newness and discovery that comes with their lives as Vikings. Read more » >>

Mean Mr. Mushroom

I have a confession to make. Even though last year’s mushroom picking adventure (my first time!) was awesome, just unbelievably fun and relaxing, it could have been better in one small way. We could have found more mushrooms.

Last year, we hunted in three different forests over a span of two and a half days, and while I had a great time learning about the different mushrooms and trying to find them, we really didn’t have that much to show for ourselves at the end of the day—just a little half-full bag of chanterelle and “brown soup” mushrooms, plus one giant Porcini (which is called a “Karl Johan” mushroom here).

Not that I’m complaining or anything, obviously, because we had such a great time. It was one of the highlights of my year, I swear. This time around, however, I really wanted a big haul, a huge sack of mushrooms so big it’s worth posting on Facebook and calling your mother six time zones away.

Now that's what I'm talking about. This year's haul of "forest gold," or chanterelle mushrooms. Photo: Kate Wiseman

I had already seen some status updates on Facebook bragging about mushroom hunting expeditions that had resulted in several kilos of freshly-picked chanterelles. It’s with some shame that I have to admit that I was not happy for them. I was jealous, jealous to the point of being resentful, jealous to the point of making several threats against them in my head. If there aren’t any mushrooms left by the time we get around to making our trip out to the woods, I’m going to…

It wasn’t pretty. I’m shocked and appalled by my own vileness when faced with a limited supply of some natural resource. That’s how important the mushroom picking is, though. (Or maybe it’s just me.) In any case, it was making me seriously worried that the evil Kate Wiseman would rear her ugly head and behave inappropriately in front of unsuspecting friends.

God bless Sweden, though, and the ridiculously rainy summer we had, because as it turns out, there’s no rain without a mushroom rainbow. Apparently Skåne had one of the rainiest summers of the last 50 years, with the corollary effect of a multitude of mushrooms in the forests. Phew.  (I am getting a little sick of the extreme weather, though. I would take a regular winter and a regular summer with great pleasure at this point. Stop testing my love, Sweden.)

So this past weekend, finally, my boyfriend and I and four other friends went mushroom picking in Österlen, the southeastern part of Skåne known for its rolling green hills, its apples, and its artists. The second we stepped out of the car, I knew we were in for a good time: the air smelled of forest and mushrooms. That night, the men made dinner for us and we all went to bed early, eager to get an early start on the mushroom picking the next day.

Of course that sounds really romantic, and it was a nice idea, but what really happened is that we woke up fairly early for a Saturday and then proceeded to have a two hour breakfast, followed by brewing a little extra coffee for a mid-mushroom hunting fika and packing up supplies for the dogs and then finally getting on our way around noon. Typical.

Lots of nature... not so many edible mushrooms. Photos: Kate Wiseman

The first half of the day was fairly unsuccessful. We saw a lot of mushrooms (and blackberries… yum!), but not many of the chanterelles we were looking for. Adam suggested that we take a strategic fika break and start again in a new section of the forest, which turned out to be a great idea.

Seriously, I love Swedish people. There's no such thing as a bad time for coffee. That's all I'm going to say. Coffee and cinnamon buns in the forest. Life is good. Photos: Kate Wiseman

An hour or so later, our designated mushroom bag was legitimately heavy. Score! Major happiness. At that point, we were all ready to head back to the cabin and relax from our extremely taxing day in nature.

Mushroom hunters! Photos: Kate Wiseman

This is the other really great part of mushroom hunting. Once you’re done, you’re in a cabin in the woods with your friends. It’s a lot like the atmosphere after a day of skiing. Everyone’s a little tired and smells funny, but everyone’s happy about the day and ready to hang out.

The smartphone addicts in the house played Wordfeud, a few tired souls took naps, and I continued with the book I’m reading, Broderna Lejonhjärta (The Brothers Lionheart) by Astrid Lindgren, and took advantage of the assembled Swedes by asking for translations every paragraph or so.

Then it was time for dinner, for chanterelles cooked in butter, for a giant bowl of chili, for wine and a long night of Trivial Pursuit from 1984. The outdated Trivial Pursuit made answering certain geography questions much easier… the USSR and Yugoslavia are so much easier to guess than the parts they’re broken into today! And yet, as always, it was generally impossible to answer the majority of the questions.

In the end, though, the best part of the weekend turned out to be something other than the mushrooms—it was the feelings of familiarity, of comfort, of “this is easy.” Those are the first things to go when you move to another country and everything is a little bit different, and those feelings have always been the first things I’ve noticed when I go home to my family in the States. Little by little, however, I’m feeling that way here.

Last year was new and fun and exciting, but this year is better in a different way. We’re building traditions, and I’m feeling more and more confident speaking Swedish. I’m even slowly but surely starting to understand jokes and cultural references. I don’t feel like I’m worrying about first impressions anymore or struggling to take part in conversations or just be myself. It’s taken a while to find that sense of comfort, and it feels good.

September 11, 2011

I had a blog post prepared for today, but in the end I switched it out.

I always listen to American public radio while doing the dishes. It’s one way of staying in touch with what’s happening in my country while living so far away. Over the past month, there have been a number of pieces commemorating the events of 9/11. Every time I hear one of these pieces, I cry. In part because I’m a human waterworks machine, and in part because the pain and the sorrow of the people who lived through that day is still so raw, immediate, and relatable.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I didn’t lose a family member or close friend. I was more than 700 miles away from Manhattan in East Grand Rapids, Michigan; 650 miles away from the Pentagon, 500 miles away from Shanksville, Pennsylvania. I was a freshman in high school,14 years old and sitting in my first hour Spanish class when my teacher turned on the television.

Since then, war. Since then, fear. Since then, a heightened awareness of the never-ending tangle of global politics and their effects.

I imagine that it has always been easy to both love and hate Americans; thanks to McDonalds and Hollywood movies, our popular culture is everywhere. So are agents of our government, whether or not they reveal themselves as such. That’s the way it is in our increasingly globalized world.

As an expat, you feel the hard edge of another nation’s perception of your country more sharply than you do when you’re home, surrounded by your own. I’ve lived abroad in three different countries now, and every time I’ve been called upon to answer for the actions of my country.

Having to defend the United States while out at a bar gets annoying after awhile, but I would never trade in my citizenship. I, too, am frustrated by my country at times. I, too, can see problems and areas for improvement. At different times, I have felt my Americanness both as a source of pride and of embarrassment. At the end of the day, though, it’s where I come from. It’s who I am.

It’s easy living in Sweden as an American, though. In general, people here have a positive view of Americans. I’ve never felt more welcome as a foreign national living abroad and have never been less suspected or accused of wrongdoing. Many Swedes have traveled and lived in the United States, and they go out of their way to make me feel comfortable by speaking English. Thank you, Sweden, for making me feel so welcome.

On this day of both mourning and remembrance, I am reminded how lucky I am to be alive, to be healthy, to live in a country where I feel safe and secure. How lucky it is that my family and friends are safe and healthy, and that even while I miss them, I don’t have to worry for their safety. How lucky I am to be in love and to have experienced so much love throughout my life.

Leaving aside all fears of being called cheesy, my wish for the next ten years is that we all do what we can as individuals, as communities, and as nations to change the world for the better. To do what we can to alleviate physical suffering, and to inspire hope and action where there has been fear and despair. To shift the balance at least a little towards love. To live the lives we wish all those who died ten years ago and in the aftermath of 9/11 could have lived.

Photo by jpellgen (CC BY-NC-ND)