Tag archives for Sweden

A Christmas Treat: Interview with “Repat” Kate

Kate works in Washington D.C. at the Swedish Embassy… a chance to continue her relationship with Sweden. Photo: Kate Reuterswärd


Since Christmas is a time to greet friends and family, I thought we should catch up with previous Expat Blogger Extraordinaire, Kate Reutersvärd, and see what life is like now that she and her Swedish husband have moved to the United States.

What’s the biggest thing that surprised you when you moved back?

The biggest thing that surprised me when I moved back was the lack of culture shock. I was prepared for some sort of traumatic cultural adjustment in my transition back to the US, but it really just felt so normal. So normal and so easy.

I think when you live abroad you tend to get used to a certain amount of friction in your everyday life — not knowing what to say when the cashier jokes with you, struggling to read the fine print on the transit system, looking at the root vegetable section in the grocery store and thinking to yourself Now what on earth is THAT? Now that I’m back in the US, everyday interactions with people and with organizations just feel very easy.

One thing that’s sort of funny is that before we moved, I tried to speak Swedish all the time, with everyone, to really solidify my language skills. Now that I’m back and speaking English all the time, sometimes I’ll catch myself translating to Swedish in my head or thinking, “Oh, you’re cheating now by speaking English…” and then realize that actually, I have to speak English because my mom, for example, doesn’t speak Swedish.

What do you miss most about Sweden?

Family and friends, of course. That’s a given. I miss them every day. I wasn’t very good at keeping in touch with my American friends while I was in Sweden, but I’m trying to turn that around now that I’m older and wiser.

Besides that, believe it or not, I miss LAGOM! I used to think that the idea of lagom was something I didn’t like in Sweden–that it represented a tendency to stay within safe, expected norms. Now I think I see it as a deep appreciation for balance, and balance is not something I would consider a strong point in mainstream American culture.

Stupidly enough, I also miss some of the TV shows that I followed in Sweden (why that, of all things? I don’t know), and in case anyone’s feeling particularly generous, I also miss kanelbullar and Swedish candy, so please feel free to mail me some.

What do you do at the House of Sweden? What sort of people visit there?

The House of Sweden is a mixed-use building that comprises the Embassy of Sweden, corporate offices for companies with a connection to Scandinavia, public exhibition spaces, private residences, conference rooms, and more.

I work as a tour guide in the public exhibition spaces, providing information about our two exhibitions, and I also give tours of the building. The House of Sweden is really a stunning building, full of references to Swedish history and the national landscape, and I love working there.

I would say that the visitors are a fairly even mix of local families, local adults, tourists interested in architecture, and visiting Swedes. I greet them, provide some context for what they’re looking at, and answer any questions they might have. Next spring, I’ll be taking on a marketing role for the new exhibits as well and working more with giving in-depth tours to special groups. It’s a pretty awesome “next step” from working as the Expat Blogger here at Sweden.se.

How often do you use your Swedish in DC?

I use my Swedish at the House of Sweden (I even did my interview in Swedish!), at home, and in my work at Kate Reuterswärd Consulting. As a consultant, I teach Business English to international business people (mostly Swedes) and I translate from Swedish to English.

Before we moved to the United States, my husband and I decided to only speak Swedish to each other so that we would get in the habit before being in a predominantly English environment. We were really good during the last four to six months in Sweden, but now that we’ve moved here, it’s more difficult. We still try to speak in Swedish but it can be hard to move from one language to another mid-conversation. I’d say now it’s about 50/50.

I asked Kate to tell us about myriad other topics. Here’s what she had to say:

When I first moved to Sweden and realized that my initial unemployment would last longer than I had originally anticipated, I was very negative and was looking at the move in terms of “what I was sacrificing” — what jobs my friends had in the US that I could have… the financial hardship… the lack of a social or professional network… etc. As people who followed the Expat blog while I was writing know, my pitiful employment situation turned itself around as I got first a part-time job, then a full-time job, then a couple of freelance jobs in addition, and then ended up starting my own company. Not so bad.

Coming back to the States, those work experiences abroad have more than paid off in a very short time frame. Not only have I gotten a job with the Swedish Embassy, but in casual networking, I’ve found that my international work experiences make me very attractive to U.S. employers. My Swedish skills are impressive to Swedes, but to other people, it shows how quickly I learn and the depth of commitment I have to all areas of my life.

Work-wise, I would say that an international transition will probably set you back in your career in the short term, but in the long term, it will set you up for a lot of amazing opportunities.

Something that’s interesting about being in Washington D.C., which is such an international city, is that my experiences abroad and my international relationship with Simon are the rule rather than the exception. There are so many families that come to visit the exhibits at the House of Sweden that are Italian/Spanish, Indonesian/American, Armenian/American, Nigerian/British, and more. I also went to a Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce holiday event this past week, and let me tell you… Swedish-American marriages and cross-cultural work experiences are not in short supply either.

I know that when Simon and I first start dating and then later, when I was considering whether or not to move to Sweden, everything on the Internet made it seem like these multicultural relationships are doomed to crash and burn once the novelty wears off. That doesn’t have to be the case: as in any other relationship, some will succeed beautifully and some will come to an end. The only thing that might be different is how high the stakes seem. My friend Cecile once said something along the lines of “Being in a relationship with someone in your own city is like playing poker at the $25 table. Being in a relationship with someone in another country is like playing poker at the $2500 table. The farther you go, the more you have to lose.” And I think that’s true, with the added caveat that there’s also potential for great gains.


Thanks, Kate, for sharing your life with us! You can follow Kate’s life in DC on her personal blog transatlanticsketches.com. You can find her consulting company at katereutersward.com, where she teaches Business English, translates from Swedish to English, and provides a range of writing services, like proofreading, copywriting, and social media management. She’s also on Twitter: @kwise321.

Kate Reutersvärd

Kate Reutersvärd

Swedish Emergency Shows and a Segue into Why You Shouldn’t Cuss in a Foreign Language


Swedish Ambulance. Photo by: Henrik Sendelbach (CC BY 3.0)


Life and Death on TV
It seems like every time I turn on the TV in Stockholm, a show called “112 På Liv och Död” (“112 On Life and Death”) is on. I only get 4 or 5 channels—the ones that come without a subscription. I rent a room in a large flat and the owner of the flat pays the TV license (which I’ve blogged about before) and subscribes to more channels but his subscription only allows 4 televisions  to get the channels (and the other rooms all have TVs). But even when I lived in an apartment with one TV and a subscription to lots of channels, this same show always seemed to be on. Read more » >>

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas!

Kulturhuset i Stockholm, Jul i fontŠnen.

Sergeltoget is decorated for Christmas The seasonal decorations surround a lighted, glass sculpture by Edvin Öhrström. Photo by: Cecilia Larsson/imagebank.sweden.se


We’ve had a ton of snow and it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Swedish Christmas celebrations and decorations have a flavor all their own and it doesn’t feel like it’s just like Christmas in any other equivalent country. Sure there are customs adopted from other lands but the result is a uniquely Swedish–feeling holiday celebration.

By the time that Advent starts, Sweden is experiencing very little daylight and everyone looks forward to the coming of Christmas lights, snow, celebrations—anything to make it seem lighter. People remind each other that the Winter Solstice is not that far off and then the days will start getting longer again. On the first Sunday of advent (the four weeks before Christmas), many people light the first of four special candles—one for each week of Advent. Each week, another candle is lit.

Simple Advent candles

Simple Advent candles, marking the 4 weeks of Advent.


On the 13th of December, Sweden celebrates Lucia, one of the few saint days observed. There’s been plenty posts about this day (use the Search field above), so I won’t give you the history. The short version is that girls wear white robes with a head wreath with lights (not usually candles any more—ouch!) Boys wear white robes as well and have a pointed hat. They’re called Star Boys. Some boys dress up as gingerbread boys or as elves. Nearly everyone carries a battery-operated or a real candle. Only one girl gets to be Lucia herself and she leads the procession in the school auditorium or elderly home or wherever the procession takes place. Then there’s the singing that accompanies nearly any Swedish gathering.

Like Midsummer, the Lucia celebration remembers the agrarian life of Sweden’s recent past and the contrast between light and dark, warmth and cold.

Lucia means it’s time to eat again. Lucia buns, made with saffron, are called “lussekatter” (saffron cats) because they look like curled up cats with raisin eyes. They are eaten with glögg or coffee. There’s always lots of gingerbread cookies made and enjoyed as well.


Christmas & New Year’s (more to come as we get closer)
Christmas presents are exchanged on Christmas Eve with a feast the next day on Christmas. But I’ll write more about that as it gets closer. Christmas is actually drawn out over several days and a lot of people take off the week after New Year’s as well.



Hanging Advent stars in windows is very popular. The star is a paper star with electric lighting that is hung up on the first Sunday in Advent as a reminder of the Star of Bethlehem. Sometime the stars are on a little stand instead of suspended. The stars are typically red, yellow, or white but I’ve seen other colors as well.

jul star

An Advent star in a window where I work. Note all the snow on the outdoor table!


Here’s another Advent star…


Fošnster, julstjarna, Stockholm

Photo by: Helena Wahlman/imagebank.sweden.se


Christmas Tree
Every family decorates its tree differently but strings of lights, tinsel, paper garlands, and small Swedish flags are common. Many people also decorate their tree with straw figures. Many of my Swedish friends wait till Christmas Eve to put up their tree and it stays there through much of January. Some families make sure to put out a special hanging seed arrangement for wild birds at Christmas time.


Photo by: Helena Wahlman/imagebank.sweden.se


Christmas Goat (Julbock)
The Christmas goat is one of the very oldest Christmas symbols in Sweden and is often placed near the Christmas tree. Why a goat? Is Kristin pulling our leg? No, I swear ther eis a Christmas goat! The explanation is complicated. You can read more here.

julbock with  flowers

Here’s a Christmas goat (Julbock) set out with some cheerful Christmas plants at my workplace. Isn’t it nice that someone decorates the office?


Angel Tree
I’ve always loved Swedish Angel Trees and I grew up loving them without ever knowing they were Swedish. They used to only have angels that went round and round powered by the heat from the candles. Nowadays you can find them with little mooses and other shapes.


A candle-powered Angel Tree. The angels rotate when the candles burn hot enough.


Lighted Arches
Lighted arches are also common. Sometimes they have candles, sometime lightbulbs. Here’s one from my office…


Lighted arch


Miniature Figures
It’s common to see all sorts of Christmas elves and trolls in store windows and decorating people’s homes. The penguin is not so common but I couldn’t help taking this photo of one.



“Jultomten” or Christmas trolls…



There are penguins all over the streets of Sweden…not!


Stay tuned for more on Swedish Christmas!

Time for the Christmas Calendar on TV

The Christmas market in The Old Town

The Christmas market in Stockholm’s Old Town. Photo by: Ola Ericson/imagebank.sweden.se


The Swedish Christmas television traditions have begun in 2012. (Believe me, there are some unusual televsion shows “traditionally” watched around Christmas. I’ll write more about those another time.) But Christmas Calendar is made every year and is kinda cool. I’m keeping up this year and as I write this, two episodes have aired.

Christmas calendar (Julkalendern) is a children’s TV series that used to be called Advent Calendar (Adventskalendern ) has been broadcast by Sweden’s Television (Sveriges Television) since 1960. It is definitely a much-loved Swedish holiday tradition and i know many people who look forward to watching it every year. The show is in Swedish and you can turn on Swedish subtitles but there is no English text. Read more » >>

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Dogs in Sweden But Were Afraid to Ask…

cute dog

Rabbit’s first few days in Sweden. Looking a bit jet-lagged…Photo by K.Lund.


My dog, Rabbit joined me in Sweden around eight months after I moved here. She had numerous veterinary visits right before she left the US and then when she entered Sweden so she did not need to see a doctor for the first four months. She needed a Rabies booster shot recently so I found a good vet not far from where we live.

In addition to the necessary booster, Rabbit also got her FIRST EVER passport. Yup, you read right, Rabbit is now free to move around Europe.

But first, let me tell you about the Swedish Dog Registry. Read more » >>