To all you world travellers checking in from Strange Shores(and everyone else) – welcome!
Before you come in, please remember to take off your shoes and leave them right there, by the front door. Because now you’re in Sweden, and no one wears shoes indoors. (Don’t worry if your socks have holes in: I won’t look!) After all, we wouldn’t want all those lovely wooden floors to get ruined! Don’t worry though – I’ve got underfloor heating to keep your toes nice and cozy.
I’m not Swedish myself – but British, although I have lived here for nearly 12 years now. And this is a bit strange in fact … because about 13 years ago, something like this happened…
Back then, I was a teacher of English as a Foreign Language in England, and had lots of Swedish students in my classes. Oh – how they loved to regale me with tales of their home country, where everything was quieter, cleaner, bigger and brighter.
They enthralled me with stories about how their mother’s meatballs were the best in the world; how it was normal to celebrate Christmas a day before everyone else; how appalled they were by the mere presence of carpets in British houses; and, more than anything else, they told me how dark and cold it was back home with nothing but enormous expanses of forests and snow for company.
A year later I visited Sweden for a three-month sabbatical. And I’ve been here ever since.
Yes – it is cold and dark in the winter. But it is also cozy to snuggle up in front of a fire with a string of candles lighting up the room with a soft glow. And nothing can beat going out on a crisp winter’s day, with the snow crunching underfoot and the sun shining from a gloriously blue sky.
Or wandering down to the lake where we live and watching all the skaters waltzing around on the ice.
And, sometimes, when it is very cold and clear at nights – so cold that your breath follows you like a veil of fog and your eyelashes and nostril hairs freeze (me – have hairs in my nose? Surely not!) – you might be lucky enough to see the Northern Lights (even as far south as Stockholm, where I live).
Believe me, it is an exhilarating experience! I once woke up my parents who were visiting us from England and made them come outside in their pajamas, dressing gowns, thick coats and winter shoes to catch their first glimpse of these mysterious and dazzling displays of wonderful-ness.
So, I’m grateful to escape the grey drizzle that is a southern English winter … although it is still hard to get up in the dark, go to work in the dark and come home – in the dark.
There are summers here (and often whole days of sun, too!), and then it never gets dark except for a slight twilight somewhere around two in the morning. My first year here I was driven nearly crazy (what do you mean ‘nearly’ – I hear you say) by these white nights. I couldn’t sleep at all and found myself up nearly all night long. This went on for weeks until I was exhausted and wild with sleep deprivation.
And then I fell asleep in the bright evening sunshine at 6 pm and slept right through until late the next morning. After that, I was cured!
So, what is it that keeps me here (apart from the husband, kids and dog)? It can’t be having some of the highest taxes in the world! Perhaps it has something to do with equality of the sexes and the fact that both parents are paid to stay at home with their kids.
Or could it be the rather bizarre fact that everyone watches cartoons at 3 pm on Christmas Eve (which is the Swedish equivalent of Christmas Day)?
Or do I just plain adore dancing around a maypole in June when it’s midsummer and pretending to be a little frog?
Yes, all these factors have their charm. As does the stunning countryside, which is mainly – but not completely – made up of vast expanses of snowy forests.
And if this really is going to be the last place on earth that I live (I’m not promising anything, mind you!) – then I guess that this is OK with me. Because when I step outside my front door, I see this:
And if you walk just a bit further around the lake on a cold, frosty morning, you might be lucky enough to enjoy the last place on earth.