Tag archives for Family

As precious and unique as a snowflake… I think.

When I was young, my mom told me that I was as precious and unique as a snowflake. Or at least she probably would have if she had been into sentimental platitudes, which (thank goodness) she’s not. My mom likes to keep it real.

As it turns out, however, I am as unique as a snowflake in one particular way. A few weeks ago, I got the official notice from the Swedish government that my name change had gone into effect, and I am now officially Katherine Gabriella Reuterswärd… and as far as I can tell, I’m the only Katherine Gabriella Reuterswärd, or Kate Reuterswärd for that matter, IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD.

That’s, like, 1 in 7 billion kazillion holy moly lot of people. Drumroll, please! I’m going to start playing the lottery. Read more » >>

You’re Celebrating on the Wrong Day!—and other things you didn’t know about Christmas in Sweden

It’s the night before Christmas, and all through the mouse, not a beach chair is stirring, not even a louse.

Wait, what!?!

Celebrating Christmas abroad can make you feel like things are, well, a little topsy-turvy.

You may have read about the way people celebrate in the country you’re living in, or you might be going into the day free of any knowledge or misconceptions. Regardless of which category you fall under, there will come a point in the day when you look around you and think to yourself:

Now what exactly is going on here?

Last week, I was invited to be on a radio show with two Swedish comedians to talk about the differences between American and Swedish Christmas traditions as I perceived them. I had some thoughts at that time, but now that I’ve actually experienced my first Christmas in Sweden, I’m ready to tell it like it is.

You’re celebrating on the wrong day Read more » >>

35 Essential Swedish Words for Christmas

Celebrating Christmas in a foreign country is tough, right? You miss your family. You have no idea what’s going on. To top it off, Swedes can’t even figure out what day they’re supposed to celebrate on. The whole thing is cockamamie.

Fortunately, even though this is my first Christmas in Sweden, I’ve had some practice with Sweden’s other holidays, namely Springtime Christmas (Easter), Summertime Christmas (Midsummer), and Patriotic Christmas (National Day).

These holidays have been wonderfully rich experiences, yielding both memories that I’ll treasure forever and valuable coping strategies for situations in which the rules of play are unknown and running away is not an option.

Coping strategy number one: Focus on the food.

Coping strategy number two:  Do not be afraid of the wine.

Coping strategy number three: Study the relevant holiday vocabulary in advance.

Seriously. It doesn’t matter how lovely and wonderful your significant other is or how unafraid you are of asking for explanations, by the time you interrupt a conversation mid-flow for the tenth time to ask what a word means, you will feel like an idiot and want to slink off to a corner to hide for the rest of the day.

Either that, or you and I do not react to this kind of stress in the same way, in which case, you probably do not these coping strategies in the first place.

In any case, how you handle the day once it’s upon you is out of my hands. What I can help you with, though, are the words. Read more » >>

A Very Expat Thanksgiving

In my opinion, it’s all about the stuffing.

Actually, it’s all about the stuffing in most Americans’ opinions and yet, paradoxically, the stuffing is the part that is least appreciated and/or understood by the Swedes I’ve shared Thanksgiving with.

You put it where? Really?! Why? Read more » >>

SHOW ME THE MONEY! Sweden’s social welfare system and families

When people talk about Sweden’s social welfare system, they often talk in terms of quantifiable statistics: the distribution of fathers and mothers on parental leave, infant mortality rates, and the number of entrepreneurs per capita, to name a few. It’s more difficult to trace the social welfare system’s effects on Swedish culture and families—effects that are just as important, but to which it is almost impossible to assign numbers and figures.

When I first came to Sweden, one of the most startling differences I saw between here and anywhere else I’ve lived—multiple regions in the United States, Italy, Austria—is the way that parents and children interact with each other as a family. It took me a while to understand why these differences exist, but I think they originate in large part with the far greater independence that young adults enjoy at an earlier age in Sweden than in most other parts of the world.

The biggest difference for me as a young adult and an American is that from what I’ve seen, the large majority of Swedish 20-somethings are completely financially independent from their parents. In the United States, young adults frequently have their finances interwoven with their parents’ to a much greater degree through, for example,  student loans, health insurance plans, and family cell phone contracts.

My Swedish family! (almost everyone)

It’s impossible to generalize about the behavior of parents and children in the United States versus in Sweden without stereotyping. It seems to me, however, that the safety net and the opportunities provided by the social welfare system makes a profound difference on how (in)dependent young adults are on their parents. Because young adults in Sweden have such a greater degree of economic freedom than in other parts of the world, a greater degree of self-agency at a younger age comes hand-in-hand.

Swedish parents seem just as willing as any others to help their kids out with money if they need to make a down payment on an apartment or buy a car, but barring large expenditures, young adults in Sweden don’t need their parents to underwrite the costs of their everyday lives. Because of this, the relationship seems to move beyond parenting into a more adult friendship mode at an earlier age than in other countries.

One giant difference is the cost of higher education. In the United States, parents often start saving for their child’s college tuition before the child is even born. In Sweden, it’s free to go to university, and full-time students get a monthly subsidy from the state to support them during their studies. They can also apply for a loan from the same governmental agency with lower interest rates than competing banks.

It’s also common for Swedes to take time off from studying for a couple of years after finishing gymnasium (something between high school and the first two years of college) and work or travel. This is the time when they’re expected to become adults, and once they’ve gotten a clearer idea of what they want to do, they’ll start studying at a university. Until their studies start, though, Swedes are relatively free to try things out, to travel, and to seek out life experiences rather than move quickly towards economic security.

There may be some Swedish families that are affected by the social welfare system less than others. Both photos CC from Flickr, esther1616 (l) and hellojenuine (r).

The strength of the health care system in Sweden also allows young adults to have incredible economic freedom from an early age. Having access to high quality, efficient health care that also happens to be provided at a low cost to the patient gives everyone in Sweden the luxury of not worrying. For young adults in the United States, the difference is even greater. Before you get the fancy full-time job with benefits included, your health insurance comes from your parents’ job and their willingness to include you as a dependent.

All this security comes at a cost, of course, and that’s where Sweden’s high tax rates come into play. Sweden’s social welfare system is a safety net sustained by the strong economy and the tax-paying population, and you’ll see a hefty chunk of your paycheck allocated to the system before it makes its way into your pocket. The tradeoff is that your contribution lets parents off the hook for taking care of their adult children and puts it on the government instead. In the end, I’ve got to say—they don’t do a half bad job. And then parents can just enjoy being parents.