Tag archives for United States

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:

Work:
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.

Relationships:
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

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 » >>

True or False: Sweden is the most Americanized country in the world?

I have to admit, before I came in contact with the Swedish population studying at the same university as me in Perugia, Italy, I didn’t have that many thoughts about Sweden. When I went home to the United States five months later with the news that I was officially “in a relationship” with a Swede, my grandmother was unfazed.

“Oh, that’s wonderful. And you know, Sweden’s not that different from the United States anyway. It’s just like the 51st state, you know. Everyone says that.” Read more » >>

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)

Nostalgia, Hybridity, and the Zen of an American Brunch in Sweden

In Sweden, my friend groups are predominantly Swedish instead of being made up of fellow expats. There are, however, a few notable exceptions, including my friend Steve from Michigan.

Steve is a special kind of American expat, because he is the most crazy mix of integrated and not integrated that I have ever seen or heard of in my life. Swedish friends, Swedish job, Swedish roommates—but until earlier this summer, he could hardly speak a word of Swedish. And thank goodness he’s that way, because while we love our lives in the midst of the Swedish masses, sometimes we need to join forces for a little Americana.

Have Bisquick, will travel. NOTHING CAN STOP ME NOW.

Enter the American brunch.

To celebrate summer, to celebrate glorious travel plans, to celebrate a treasured weekend tradition, we (plus one of Steve’s Swedish roommates, M-Lou) threw ourselves a brunch to be proud of.

Elderflower mimosas make work go more quickly.

While a love of brunch is obviously not limited to Americans (see: Brunch Stockholm), I would argue that our particular brunch traditions  have elevated it beyond its basic definition as a half-breakfast, half-lunch meal around mid-day. Firstly, the range of options is staggering. Secondly, the amount of food is staggering. (Both of which are reasons why most people stagger home from a successful brunch outing.)

What did we have at our brunch? All the American classics, but with a Swedish twist.

Bloody Mary with a Chilean-Swedish-Barcelonan touch = very happy brunchers.

American pancakes two ways: with lingonberry jam and with honey and fresh fruit! Mimosas with elderflower cordial! Super-crispy bacon made from Swedish pigs! A pitcher of Bloody Mary, made spicy and with orange juice by a Chilean-Swede-Barcelonan transplant! Coffee brewed to Swedish levels of intensity! And then a few favorites we didn’t mess with: hash browns a la Kate, scrambled eggs a la Steve, fruit salad a la M-Lou.

Holy moly, Captain America in Sweden.

Brunch was delicious. We ate and drank and listened to music, watched the cats play, talked about summer travel plans and enjoyed the sunshine coming in through the window. Post-brunch staggering ensued. We tried to ease the strain of our overstretched stomachs by drinking coffee and listening to Motown. For some reason, it seemed appropriate at the time.

A SMORGASBORD, I TELL YOU!! Groaning tables, over-full plates, and a Michigan-shaped pancake for Steve and me. (I'm from the West side, he's from the East side.) YUM!

As I slowly made my home, I thought about all the brunches I have been to at my house in the States or at restaurants, with family and with friends, to celebrate special moments and to commiserate about our hangovers. Our brunch may not have been the typical American fare you’d find in the United States, but it satisfied our need to be nostalgic for home. Even better, by becoming an American-Swedish hybrid, it reflected the state we find ourselves in today: a little of this, a little of that, a mix of all the places and people we love.