Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cultural Differences in Reverse

Some of our culturally diverse Family
Represented are Mexicans, Swedes, Icelandic, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Irish, English and German Americans.
My apologies if I missed anyone.

There is much to get used to when one moves from one culture to another.  Somehow I did not think it would be as hard "in reverse" as it was going the "other way".  But it is and perhaps this time around it is even harder.  By this I mean that going to America when I was 17 was hard and a big adjustment.  But, now after 40 plus years going back to Sweden is a much bigger adjustment and more difficult. It is with much gratitude I look back at all those years away.  Grateful to have learned to be an independent self thinking individual totally responsible for my own life. Being back here, back to my roots, I am becoming increasingly aware that here you are NOT your own keeper......... for better or for worse and the jury is out on that one.  Pondering.  Am not so absolutely sure that I am pleased with that situation the way it seems.  So much is so good here.  I am grateful to have this opportunity, but I would also like to continue to be my own boss, to "God forbid" coin a phrase, I want to be the DECIDER!

The lines at the grocery store where everyone stares steadily at some inanimate object, never looking at the person next to them in line and close to NEVER striking up a conversation never mind a HELLO.

The NUMBER TAGS!  You come to a store and or a counter and if you are not Swedish you would never know to look for a "number dispenser".  These are little tags with numbers that give the person working on the other side of the counter a reason to "serve" you.  The dispensers are often very hard to find and do not think that anyone is going to guide you to it unless you actually are a foreigner and you ask for or act like you are in need of help.  Early on, when I was still not back in the KNOW I would go into a store, no one else is in there so I would think that I would be the next one to be waited on.  Absolutely NOT!  In comes another customer, he/she knows where that treasured number dispenser is and BINGO he gets to place his order before me and I will go and get that  stupid tag and start waiting all over again.  How did it ever come to be like that??  Can not but wonder??   How can it be that most of the rest of the world where I have been  can have order and civility in their shops and stores without this strange "system".  As I said, just wondering???

I have just suffered an allergic reaction to SOMETHING?  Had purchased a new shampoo and conditioner at a shop claiming no bad stuff no animal testing no this no that.  Actually I purchase a lot of my body and skin care products in these shops and did so in California as well.  Washed my hair a couple of times, no problem other than perhaps a strange "tingling" sensation.  Third time WHAM!  Scalp itch, skin crawl, swollen eyes, blistered skin, puffy face, a mess!  Never before.. ....  No, not true a long time ago I had colored my hair at a salon and I had a similar itchy situation.  Anyway, my messed up face this time around, rather severe has not been a nice thing to deal with, hard on ego and self confidence is one thing, uncomfortable to no end, no not fun at all.  Again dealing with culture differences can be unnerving.  Here I am looking like the "Hunchback of Notre Dame" a la Charles Laughton ok less the hunched back.  Swollen eyes, weird blistered forehead with something similar to horns forming, bad ugly face to say the least.  Well here in Sweden I think people try to be polite.  NO ONE in Sweden looks strange, no matter how strange they look.  It is something they teach and there is good in that I suppose.  So here I am looking rather grotesque and for me abnormal.  Everyone I meet act as if I am perfectly NORMAL, including friends and neighbors.  This makes me feel like they don't care.  Had I gone to Raileys in Oakhurst looking this way people I knew would have burst out OH MY GOD WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU!?!?  Right or wrong it is just darned hard sometimes learning how different people think and act.  Not to misunderstand the "Swedish  Way" I full well realize that they are brought up as polite people and being polite means one avoids mentioning such things as someone looking weird.  Yet after forty some years in another mode it is hard to get used to the one I was born into, the culture I thought I knew so well.

The sad part, for what ever reasons or well intentions, this lack of human contact or acknowledgment of your existence is not a pleasant one.  It makes for people living in their own little bubbles.  I think that human interaction is essential to being human and feeling alive.  Human emotions, like happiness, sadness, crying, and talking about your inner feelings is a positive good thing.  I fear Swedes, in general,  think this is somehow a weakness in a person and is to be avoided.

David and I have each other which gives us strength.  And we need to try not to get upset with people here and know that they are well intentioned and we are culturally different.  We are considering opening up a small photo cafe shop in our storage room.  We will try and make it a happy gathering place for people to enjoy each others company.  I think that many other people here in Sweden are also longing for the human touch.  I know we need it.
Foreign born Swedes, foreigners, and local swedes looking for a different human experience.
We may become known as the place where the Crazy Swedish American woman and her Crazy Mexican American husband live.  Which is just fine by me.

I am reminded of a cute story about my cousin Margaretha, the most adorable girl with soft curly bright red hair, she was around five and on a trolly or bus with her Mother.  Not far from them sat a woman with a very different look (large nose and a very strange hat if I recall correctly).  As all well brought up children even fifty years ago she knew not to point and gawk so she taps her Mother on the arm and says in a rather loud voice:  "Mother when we get home can we talk about the lady with the big nose and the weird hat!

By the way, my beautiful cousin Margaretha is the owner and proprietor of a delightful antique shop located in the old part of Stockholm called Gamla Stan. The name of it is Tillys Kuriosa if interested you can see it here.   And yes, she still has that incredible red hair!!!   The woman in the window is Margaretha.

For those of you who are Playing For Change enthusiasts I want to  say that I was thrilled to see that there was a concert in Skeppsholmskyrkan in Stockholm.  It was going to be televised on TV3.  Check out Playing for Change here.  Great music.

Marlena Ernman,  Måns Zelmerlöw, Rasmus Seebach and the choir One Voice under the direction of Gabriel Forss were some of the participants.  They are doing just that!  Playing For Change, I am so happy!

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