Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Starting Again; Part 2

I am frequently asked to report upon the various smaller details about living in Sweden, so I've chosen a just a few subjects and will do my best in this entry to give a little flavour of some of the smaller experiences so far.

Malmö is home to the 3rd largest IKEA Store in the world. After the Christmas break Henrik and I booked a date in our diaries to take a bus to IKEA and "make a day of it", which might sound crazy but, as I'm sure many of you will agree, once you really get stuck in to IKEA it's very hard to move on to the next section of the store, let alone make it out of the store within just a couple of hours! And don't forget the restaurant, which is an important part of any IKEA trip. Just out of interest, has anyone ever had anything other than the meatballs? I always swear I will choose something else, and then I never do!
Henrik and I arrived at IKEA with the usual promise that we wouldn't buy anything unless it was really necessary and we definitely wanted it. That promise flew out of the large glass entrance doors as we walked in. Because of the layout of IKEA, as you walk through you imagine yourself living in so many different homes. I would not advise going to IKEA with your significant other unless you are very secure in your relationship, or already living together. Because if you didn't already feel very serious about this person, a trip to IKEA can change all of that, which is not necessarily a good thing! You suddenly see your sweetie in amongst the sofas, cushions and throws, televisions and perfect kitchens, and your imagination goes haywire. Suddenly you picture your whole yet-to-be-created family together, in this custom built IKEA house that exists only in stores and in your mind. Any previous annoyances, compromises or little niggling doubts are thrown out with the promises not to purchase anything, as you find yourself in a world of style and convenience. You start to picture yourself inviting friends over for dinner in your new IKEA dining room, before you get everyone to gather around for a DVD on the huge television, relaxing on your deluxe corner-settee, with a huge IKEA Popcorn bowl, while you serve wine in neat IKEA glasses. Even those of you who are the most sceptical about your own relationship, or relationships in general, IKEA can arouse the most surprising feelings inside you. After all that, and scribbling down notes for every item to make sure you don't forget to check it out later on, it's no wonder people need a break in the restaurant! And the restaurant is a great place to be brought back to reality after your little trip to wonderland. I think it's essential to visit the restaurant, even if only for a quick fika. It gives you a chance to remember who you are, and also where you are both physically (an IKEA store) and emotionally within your relationship. You get the time to realise that the imaginary party, or family, or whatever your IKEA dream consists of is just that: a dream. For now anyway...(!) After our visit to the restaurant we went back into the main part of the store and bought a few nice items with our Christmas money, just to make the apartment a bit more cosy.

Princess Cake (Prinsesstårta)
How many of you have been in to the IKEA restaurant and seen the strange-looking "princess cake". This delicious green oddity is not always green, but that does seem to be the most common colour. I promised my cousin that I would sample one on her behalf (well, really, it's my pleasure!) and decided that the next fika would include princess cake. So why is it that, as soon as a decision like that is made, Malmö suddenly became devoid of princess cake? I had so many fika's while on the search and it simply wasn't on offer. I wonder if it had anything to do with the season, as it does seem to be a rather summery dessert. I noticed it was available in the freezer section at Willy:s, to be defrosted and enjoyed at home, but as I was doing this for other people, not just myself, I thought it should be freshly made. It turns out that Princess Cake is Henrik's favourite dessert, and as his birthday was coming up I put in extra effort to buy a princess cake, rather than just ordering a slice with my coffee. My sister was staying at the time, so there was extra reason to buy a full sized cake, as there was another person to eat it. In the end I went to Mormors Bageri (Grandma's Bakery), and bought a roulade princess cake, rather than the traditional dome, which wasn't available. The cake was white and red in colour, rather than green. I think it was a Christmas theme, as those were the only colours to choose from. Check the picture at the top of this post to see Henrik and I tucking in. Princess Cake consists of a vanilla sponge, with a jam and cream filling, much like a victoria sponge. Then more cream is piled on top of the cake, and finally a layer of marzipan completes the design, resulting in a very neat and stylish dessert. I've included a photo of a traditional princess cake. We really enjoyed eating it, and my final judgement - everyone should try it. The fact that it is green should not put anyone off!

The Swedish Language
Lastly, for those with a slightly more immature sense of humour, I'd like to invite you down to my level for a moment while I share with you a few funny little things I've experienced with the Swedish language. For the rest of you, I make no apology, but if you're not interested, then now is the time to stop reading!

OK, how would you feel, if when ever you go outside you continually see the word "fart"? How long would it take before you manage to stop laughing each time you see it? I'm just about there now. But why the word "fart"? Well, in Swedish "fart" means "speed". As a result, it is constantly appearing on road signs. A "farthinder" is a speed bump. "Infart" means "entrance", and "Utfart" means "exit". A driveway is an "Uppfart"... you get the picture. This word is everywhere!

Another word, slightly ruder this time, is the word "Tvätt". If you're not already laughing then it must just be me... but come on. "Tvätt". It's like a camp european way of saying tw*t. Oh and it means "wash", as in doing the laundry. So you might see "Tvätt" on a sign for a laundrette, and most apartment blocks have a "Tvättstuga" or "Tvättrum", meaning "laundry room".

Just one more, although I could go on! This one is related to music. The Swedish have a very literal term for the instrumental introduction to a piece of music. It is, simply, "förspel". Translated literally it means "foreplay". You have to be very careful in rehearsals when using that phrase, believe me!

I'd like to leave you with a link to a funny video on youtube, of an advert that has been showing on Swedish Television. It is a pretty good representation of how I feel when attempting to speak Swedish, especially when Henrik works so hard to correct my mistakes. Enjoy!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Starting Again; Part 1

Welcome back to my blog!

I'll go straight in with some confessions, to get things started:

1) I have found continuing my blog difficult, after a period of feeling uninspired.

2) Winter was hard for me at times, with a couple of low points.

3) Winter was also one of the most amazing times of my life. Talk about highs and lows!

4) I am trying to continue my blog. Really trying.

Let's pick up where I left off. October 9th, in our apartment at last. Since then I've spent a huge amount of time settling in, making my own space, unpacking, procrastinating and beginning to feel like I really belong here. Getting everything unpacked and put away was very important to me. I always try to maintain order in my living space, and make things as comfortable as possible. However, for the first time ever I was facing a huge obstacle: someone already lives in this apartment! And that someone is my boyfriend. I was really excited about moving in with Henrik (and that excitement hasn't faded!) but I couldn't have predicted how hard it would be to move myself in to his home, and make it 'our home'. In the past I have always had my own space, either in the home I was raised in, or house sharing at Music College. This time, instead of moving in from scratch, I was fitting myself around someone who already lived there. Henrik was also moving back in, after a year in England. We tried to work together, but essentially we were working against each other - Henrik trying to put things back where they belonged before, and me trying to move new things in to an already established home. Henrik was incredibly anxious for me to feel settled and welcome, and worked very hard to help me move everything in and find a space for all my things. Finally, we're about finished! 3 months later, and the flat is starting to truly feel like a home.We still have too much stuff between us, and my parents are STILL storing some of our things for us, but we're moving in the right direction.

The Swedish winter was harsh this year. Rather like in England, the Swedes were subjected to a winter much colder than usual. I live in the South, where the weather is much milder. It normally wouldn't snow too heavily in Skåne, but this year there was so much snow that leaving the house became a very undesirable prospect. Temperatures were averaging minus 6, which is certainly bearable with the right clothing, but not pleasant! I know my Canadian audience will think I'm a wimp, but if you're not used to such cold then it then it can be quite a shock.

Another shock to my system was the daylight hours during the winter. I started to notice it getting dark as early as 2.30pm in the afternoon. It would be fully dark by 4pm- and wasn't getting light in the mornings until 8.30 or 9am. That equals about 7 hours of daylight, which isn't a great deal. This was the first time I really felt any sort of struggle about being in Sweden. I spent a great deal of my time at home, while Henrik was out rehearsing with the Opera Company. His schedule was very busy, while mine was more independent. It was a great opportunity to work on my new website and give a lot of my time to practising and developing myself as a performer. I also had plenty of time to network, complete a lot of admin and really work on furthering myself for employment in Sweden. However, I found myself struggling to do any of those things. Being home alone was becoming difficult, and with the limited daylight hours, which were getting shorter day by day, I was starting to feel really homesick for the first time. But more than anything else, I was ashamed of my inability to motivate myself. In a way I was disappearing into myself. I became my own worst enemy, lacking any desire to leave the house (especially into the cold!) and at the same time longing to get out and just DO something. It was a very strange time, and looking back on it, I'm amazed that I found myself in that position. Henrik was obviously worried about me, and I found it hard at the time to open up to him and tell him how I was feeling. In the end I got through it by finding activities for myself to do, with Henrik's help. I started making things, such as Christmas Tree decorations and other gift ideas. I also got stuck in to my website and found that I had lots of things to be very positive about and proud of. I hope to be online very soon!

Before getting back into this blog, I was considering how open I should be about how hard it was at times in the winter. I want to give a true picture to how it can feel to move abroad. It's not always easy, and sometimes you long for the familiarity of your home country. But I also have no regrets for moving to Sweden, in fact I love it here. Not only that but the positives by far outweigh the negatives!

So, on to the positives! Christmas in Sweden was incredible. I felt so welcomed into Henrik's family, and celebrating Christmas in a different culture was a fantastic experience. The run up to Christmas is full of excitement, much like anywhere else in the world. But there are some celebrations specific to Sweden, that I really loved. December 13th is the festival of St Lucia. Early in the morning, the youngest in the household (or the children collectively, as it tends to be!) will dress up as St Lucia (girl in white, wearing a crown of candles), or her attendants. They make coffee and serve it with saffron buns to the others in the house, waking them up with their singing of the traditional "Santa Lucia" carol. Towns tend to organise a Lucia Tåg (Lucia Train) early in the morning, with a procession of Lucia and her attendants, carring candles and singing carols. I went to such an event at the Malmö Opera, early on the morning of Friday 10th Dec. I was treated to beautiful singing, free coffee and saffron buns, pepparkakor and glögg (mulled wine!). The glögg was the strong variety too...which I was not aware of. You couldn't really tell because the flavour is so strong anyway. But after 3 small rounds of glögg I started to notice!

Sweden puts a lot of emphasis on lighting their cities and towns during the Christmas period. I think because so much of the time is spent in darkness, there is a real need for cosy lights and Christmas spirit, or everyone would suffer from severe depression! The lights in Malmö were stunning this year. I loved walking around town and soaking up the festive feeling. There were lots of opportunities to visit friends and share glögg and pepparkakor. Everyone was getting into the spirit of the season, and people were very friendy and welcoming.

Christmas Dinner in Sweden is different, as you might expect! Instead of Turkey, the Swedes favour ham. Dinner is more like a buffet, only everyone sits together around the table. There is sill (pickled fish), köttbullar (meatballs), potatoes, lots of vegetables, the ham of course, hard bread and preserved salmon. There are also lots of other items to pick from, it can vary depending on different family traditions! I decided to try and cook a Christmas dinner myself, for some friends. Henrik helped of course, and we decided to do it while my sister was visiting us from England, so that she could try it too. In the end Henrik and I made so much food that we were eating it for the rest of the week, much like ay other Christmas dinner! The typical Swedish Christmas dessert is something called Risgrynsgröt, which is basically rice pudding. It is often flavoured with cinammon, and traditionally the chef puts in an almond too. Whoever finds the almond in their dessert is said to get married in the following year. Unfortunately one of our guests has a nut allergy, so rather than forcing him to play russian roulette with his dessert, I used a raisin instead. It wasn't so discreet, but did the job none the less!

I spent the actual Christmas celebration in Stockholm, with Henrik's mother, where we were during the summer. Henrik's brother, sister-in-law and their children were there too. It was so special to be included in their family celebrations, and I loved seeing the differences between our traditions. The Swedish celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, or Julafton, and then spend Christmas Day recovering and enjoying their gifts.

December also meant the end of term show for the school I have been teaching in since arriving in Sweden. It was a huge success, and everyone performed to a very high standard. We have started our new term now, and have got stuck in to some brilliant pieces from the Glee show. I am having so much fun working on the music with my groups, and feel really positive about the term ahead.

I have to sign off now, as I am going in to town, but I will update again soon, with more information on my time in Sweden so far. Stay tuned for: Princess Cake, IKEA and more!