Sunday, July 31, 2011

Finding Friendly Swedish People

I found them! I finally found the open and social Swedes! They're all staying at the Hällestrand Resort on Sweden's west coast!

If you're an expat living in Sweden, you are already packing your bags to go have a look and experience it for yourself. You know what I'm talking about.

For those of you that are shaking your heads in wonderment, it goes a little something like this. One of the most difficult things for us 'foreigners' moving to Sweden is the absence of an 'open arms' welcome wagon. In fact, breaking through the Swedish social network proves to be one of the most challenging tests of 'making it' in Sweden. I've been here 10 1/2 years and still can't say that I've made it.

Now don't get me wrong, I've made friends who are Swedish - mostly through work or my immediate neighbors. But I'm talking about the kind of socializing where you don't have to know someone to smile and say 'hi' as you pass them on the street. Or the kind of socializing where you can strike up a conversation about nothing with someone you don't know while standing in line at the grocery store / bank / bus stop. It's the kind of socializing where you don't have to schedule 2 weeks in advance to stop by a friend's house for tea or coffee. The kind of socializing where you invite your neighbor over for an impromptu BBQ and they head over within minutes (without feeling obligated to bring a gift!). Neighborhood garage sales? Forget it! Garage sales don't exist over here.

In the beginning, the closed vibe of the Swedish society and the lack of social interaction just feels rude. But eventually you come to learn that it isn't rudeness, it's just a cultural thing. A culture that is composed and slow to show emotion. It's a guarded culture - a culture where you have a few really close friends that you grow up with...and that's really all you need for life. Where does that leave us foreigners? On the outside!

Now, back to where this post started. I found the open and social Swedish people (ok, some were Norwegian, but nevertheless!)! We took a mini-vacation to a small seaside resort up the west coast of Sweden. We'd never heard of Hällestrand Resort, and ended up there on a whim decision, taking advantage of a special offer. I'll never again be able to say that Swedish people aren't social. I experienced open hospitality there like I've never experienced it before in my 10 1/2 years in Sweden! Everyone was happy. Everyone was smiling. Everyone talked with each other. Kids were running back and forth between the different cabins. Ice cream was bought for our kids by others. Plans were made to meet for activities like crab fishing. S'mores were shared with others on the beach. We enjoyed great conversation and next thing we know there's dinner set down in front of us.

For my friends back in the U.S. who are reading this, you're probably thinking, "What's the big deal? Sounds like a normal weekend here." But trust me, this is a BIG DEAL! I feel like I've experienced a revelation - a new hope for socialized living in Sweden. Of course if it only comes once a year, and we have to go to Hällestrand each year to get it - then so be it! It will be well worth it.

I want to give a special thanks to two families for breaking the mold and providing us with the most welcoming hospitality:
Thomas - Katarina - Hugo - Filippa
Märtha - Glenn - Olivia

You don't know how much your openness and friendliness meant to me. For once, I actually felt like I was 'on the inside' in Sweden. And for that, I thank you!

Until next time...

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Medieval Festival at Bohusfästning

You know you've been living in Sweden too long when the 750-year-old fortress on the hill by your house just becomes another building on the landscape.

We are lucky enough to live on the hill 'nextdoor' to Bohusfästning - The Bohus Fortress - that stands majestically above the convergence of two rivers and a historical strategic defense site (Sweden was perpetually at war with Denmark and Norway and whoever else wanted to have a go at the time). Each year the fortress hosts Medeltidsdagarna - Medieval Days - and my clan made our way over this year to enjoy the sights and sounds, despite the rain and chilly weather (not so uncommon for a Swedish summer).

Get ready for our H Clan at the Medieval Days pictorial - starting with shots from the fortress, looking down over our town of Kungälv (King River).

I love the 'old town' area of Kungälv. There are the most simple and beautiful old buildings, many that are now homes, and a couple that you have to see to believe - the outer walls of the homes are slanted. Really slanted! I'll try to get some good shots of them up one day.

The fortress recently celebrated 750 years as a fortress, prison, and abandoned rock pile. Incidentally, you'll find rock foundations on some of those homes in the 'old town' that exactly match those from the fortress...hmmm.

One of the best things about the festival were the 'characters'. While we didn't talk with each and every one of them, we did run across two American guys and one Scottish woman (all fellow transplants in Sweden) who seemed to be enjoying their life as medieval actors or craftsmen and travel to various festivals around Sweden and Europe.

If I were called to the 'mission of medieval', I would most certainly have a stylish black and white cloak like that one at the top left. But I absolutely LOVE the look of the girl in the middle. The sweet little girl with the red cape was playing hide and seek behind a sign when she saw me trying to get her photo from a distance (something that doesn't creep out people here like it might in other countries - more on that in another post one day). She finally stepped out for a pose.

These are some of my favorite shots of the day...the wares of the middle ages! Armour - rustic scissors (which I like to think were for some kind of medieval crafting if you know anything about my other blog, Blue Velvet Chair) - real and authentic swords - leather and furs - and gorgeous wool clothes in the most vibrant colors.

Here's my 10-year old H Clan family at the 750-year-old Bohus Fortress.

The original spice girls were there, but they haven't made it big yet. One of them didn't even have shoes on! And check out the 'package protector' on that character in the bottom (middle) photo! Had I not been on my best behavior today, I would have asked for a side view photo so you could see how hilarious that fabric cup protector was - it went out and up! I should've gone for it! Life's little regrets.

Clockwise from upper left:  One of the best signs of the day...the Medieval Bus Stop. Hilarious!  My middle-aged man at the middle ages festival. Little-big-man K having a go with a real sword (yes, I am that kind of mother that lets her son play with swords). Medieval photo props. And finally, Medieval Days also means people walking around the streets of Kungälv for 3 days all kitted out in their woolen capes and cloaks. Yes, that's possible in the Swedish summers!

More characters from the festival included the adorable baby with his little knitted knight hood - the medieval photographer sitting on a 1604 stone marker (something I'd never seen in the U.S.) - the guy who embodied what a Swedish king might have looked like - mother and child in brilliant colors - and bare feet...lots of bare feet! When we asked the king-looking guy if his feet were cold, he said the mud was like a natural sock to keep them warm...ok, never thought of it that way.

From upper left:  I don't know what they called it, but I call it the 'original babysitter'! Of course the women still had to do all the work (said with a smirk and a smile)! A witch/magic booth, a fun water drop game if you hit the target (little big man K did his part to hit the target!), a treasure hunt (that's our divine little miss M in the red jacket) where they disappeared with our children for like 30 minutes around the fortress (again, something you could only do in Sweden), and other fun medieval games for the kids.

As we were leaving the event, we were reminded of the loss of our fellow Scandinavian neighbor, Norway, and the terrible loss of lives at the hands of one of their own (flag flying at half-mast)

It was a really fun day, despite the gloomy Swedish summer weather. But as they say in Sweden, "There's no such thing as bad weather...only bad clothing!"

Until next time...

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