After visiting Oslo, I was off to Stockholm (& Uppsala), with my main goal to visit one of my best friends from college, Svea. Svea is an au pair in Stockholm now and it was so so good to see her! My time in Stockholm was really nice because I stayed with her and got to do more normal life things than a hostel/tourist type experience.
Everyone in Sweden is highly proficient in English. The kids she nannys (granted the parents lived in the US for several years) are really good at English, and all the adults can speak it very well. To me, this is really interesting because I have always felt hesitant to just jump into speaking English with people who have a different native language. In the States, there is fear of being an egotistical American (at least for me) by assuming everyone speaks English, but what I have observed in Europe is that it is the most common language spoken. Yes, French/Spanish/German/Swedish etc. are spoken in their respective countries, but English has the most crossover for various countries. I was talking to some Swedes about how well everyone spoke and they basically said it is necessary to learn English, because Swedish is limited to such a small area, and most places people speak at least some English. I feel very lucky to have English as my native language, but I still feel a bit uneasy about just jumping into English if I don’t speak the regional language – I feel a bit rude/entitled.
The first day was spent helping the kids do artwork and catching up with Svea. I was a novelty, so they were well behaved! Later that evening we went to a viking bar (Aifur’s)! Definitely touristy but very fun nonetheless. We drank mead and beer and enjoyed the decor. I want a viking drinking horn!
This was the main day to explore Stockholm. We started the day by going to the Vasa museum. To get there, we took a ferry. I really lucked out with the weather when I was in Sweden, the ferry ride was beautiful and a great way to have a view of the city.
The Vasa is an ornate, extravagent warship from the 1600s that was built in Sweden and sailed for about 15 minutes before sinking. In the mid 1900s, she was pulled up from the sea and work on preservation/archaeological analysis began. The museum was huge, with tons of different things to see and fairly well organized. Unlike most museums I visit, I actually watched the film and did the guided tour and I thought it was worthwhile.
We did a few more things in Stockholm that afternoon, and headed to Uppsala for the rest of the weekend. Uppsala is a student town just north of Stockholm. There is this thing called the Nations. They are kind of like student unions, and historically were gathering places for people from each region in Sweden (hence the name Nations). They are cheap bars/restaurants and put on various events. We got guest passes thanks to Svea’s boyfriend and went to a Halloween party. It was really fun, and I was happy to have a little Halloween celebration this year. The French don’t really understand Halloween.
This was probably the best day of all! We got up earlyish (felt early after the night before 😉 ) and went with Svea’s boyfriend’s parents to their summer house on an island on the east coast of Sweden. This was great! The area the house is in felt kind of like Bend in Oregon, but with an ocean. The parents are really nice, welcoming people. The dad is a professor at the university in Uppsala and has his PhD in medicine. I really enjoyed talking to him about his research, and what academia is like in Europe (i.e. funding sources, international research collaborations, etc.).
Sweden has this great thing called fika. It is basically a coffee break, but more social and can last for quite a while. You drink coffee, and eat a little (baked) something. I had fika most days I was in Sweden, but the best was at the summer house. We bought fresh bread and pastries on the way to the house, so they were top notch.
We helped the parents out with a few work projects, and explored the area by bike and foot. Very beautiful, and kind of woodsy. Its the most nature-y place I’ve been since I left the States and it was refreshing. I need to be outdoors.
Day 4 consisted of visiting Uppsala’s sights. With a Nations pass, you can go to most/all of the museums for free, so we went to a couple and the old church. I also bought the best red rubber boots! Fleece lined!! There is a large botanical garden in Uppsala, so of course, we went there. We biked around, had fika, and spent time chatting.
It was so good to spend time with Svea. To speak English, to reminisce over college stories, and to just be with someone who I know and knows me. It felt very home-y and comfortable. The thing about moving abroad is its really hard to build good friendships. Not only are you moving somewhere where you know anybody, but there is a huge cultural and language divide between you and 95% of the people who live there. I am lucky in that I get along well with my roommates and have a few assistant friends in Lille. Nevertheless, it is hard to have friends. In terms of cultural exchange, many people are interested in American culture, and I am interested in French culture, but that is more of a novelty sort of interest than a community-building interest. It takes time to build that network in the States, and it is even harder here. In light of that, it was nice to be with a close friend for a few days.
On a lighter note, the Swedish word for speed is ‘fart’. This word is on many signs, and since Svea and I are 10 year old boys, we found it hilarious. A speed bump is farthinder. Because we all need to hinder our farts 😀