A newly minted Swede

Hello readers!

I have some big and exciting news! As of October 3, 2013, your dear blogger is an official Swede!  That’s right – I am a naturalized citizen of this country!  Don’t worry, I didn’t give up my American citizenship – nope, all I did was add to it.  I even managed to get my Swedish passport – it only took 3 days.

Being SwedishMost people congratulated me this week and asked how it felt.  My friend Victoria gave me a little “Welcome to Sweden” goodie bag filled with nostalgia-triggering items that apparently all Swedes of my generation owned at some point.  It’s been a week, so I figured I would try to put into words the emotions that have been coursing through my veins these last few days.

I was born in the US, grew up there, spent a few of my childhood years in Taiwan (and attended an American school), went back to the US when I was about 11, and stayed there until I moved to Stockholm over 6 years ago.  As a result, it’s no surprise that my life experiences have a definite American character about them.  I moved to Sweden and started to immerse myself in a new culture.  At the surface, it wasn’t really that different.  In fact, some things were just happy coincidences in that they were things I really liked:

  • Swedes take off their shoes when they’re at home.  Asian-American families did the same. My friends always gave me so much shit for it, but hey, I didn’t want to track mud into the house.  Sweden: 1, America: 0.
  • Swedes don’t mind waiting their turn in line. These number machines (nummerlapp) are incredible.  When I was studying at my university, I used to mail stuff all the time.  The local post office had one of those so we could sit down and wait our turn.  I never understood why more places didn’t use them. Sweden: 2, America: 0.
  • Swedes are crazy about getting good deals. People used to call me cheap in the US because I always hunted for good deals.  Swedes think it’s a virtue.  Vilken FYND! Sweden: 3, America: 0
  • Swedes love traveling. Almost all of the Swedes I know were born with an innate need to travel and explore the world.  Maybe part of the Viking heritage?  Many Americans travel too, but just as many have no desire to leave the US.  However, to be fair, I’m going to call this one a tie. Sweden: 4, America: 1.

That was just scratching the surface, though. As I started getting more integrated into the culture, you start finding out the “real deal” about being Swedish.  Jantelagen, for example, which is one of the most frustrating concepts I have ever faced.  It’s a concept that “de-emphasizes individual effort and places all emphasis on the collective, while discouraging those who stand out as achievers.”

That is completely opposite than how we’re raised in the US.  That’s also completely opposite to how my parents were raised in Taiwan.  In fact, growing up, the only thing my parents wanted me to do was to kick butt in school and be better than all of my classmates.  So you can imagine how much I struggle with that concept.  Sweden: 4, America: 2.  (Side note: this concept doesn’t seem to apply in the world of sports!)

Another example is the need for consensus in the decision-making process.  I guess it’s tied back to the jantelagen concept because you don’t want to stick out as the decision maker and want to make sure that everyone’s on-board before you execute on the decision.  But as the hilarious Swedishness video from Eurovision 2013 illustrates, the inability to make a decision can handicap you and, worse, put you in harm’s way.  American work culture rewards those that have the ability to make both quick and correct decisions, especially in periods of high intensity.  Naturally, you should gather input from those around you before making the decision, but that ability to make the decision is a good thing.

With all these incompatibilities, how does it feel to be Swedish?  (Hur känns det, egentligen?)

Although I don’t think I will ever subscribe to concepts like Jantelagen, I have such respect for the history and culture here, the quality of life (everything just works!), the universal healthcare, the well-behaved people, and all of the other good in this country that I am positively thrilled to be Swedish.  This social welfare state was built on the concept of Jantelagen (and high taxes), so could it really be that bad?

The people I have the honor of calling my friends and colleagues are some of the best people I know.  They are high-quality people: hard-working, fun, and smart.  They are creative, well-traveled, and have incredible taste in fashion and interior design. Swedes are some of the most entrepreneurial people in the world: IKEA, Spotify, and Skype, to name a few companies, all come from Sweden. Most importantly, they’ve tolerated having the loud and obnoxious American (me) in their lives, always patiently providing me with feedback to help me be more Swedish.

And for that, I love and respect them, and am proud to be one of them! I can finally say that I am #trulyswedish!

3 thoughts on “A newly minted Swede

  1. Carolyn Westeröd

    Great post Kenneth! Congrats again! And for the record, not embracing the Jantelag is what makes us Swedish-Americans so special. Or as an American would put it, that’s what makes us so awesome!

    Reply

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