Editorial: Enough Lucias!

Think. You are a Swede living in the USA. Look around at everything written about your homeland in the American press (and in the Swedish-American press, for that matter). What do they tell you about Sweden? St. Lucia with a head full of candles, tomtar, a lot of dancing around the maypole, Dalahästar, Carl Larsson, Viking horns on football helmets, Carl Gustaf, Silvia and the kids, those darn Ace of Base people, the midnight sun and Lappland, wooden butter knives, accordion music, "How Swede It Is" t-shirts.

Now you are an American, living in Sweden. What do your friends and family there learn about the USA? Gun-toting grandmothers, hamburgers and Coke, big cars, crazy political conventions, big mouths, weird table manners, tasteless blueberries, clueless demagogues for politicians, sex sex sex, prudes, orange cheese (pre-sliced and packaged), raging imperialists, Michael Jackson.

What, you ask, does any of this have to do with me or my life? Nothing. Zip. You live your life surrounded by stereotypes and misconceptions, none of which have any relation to the real challenges and problems of living in the other culture.

You find yourself in another place, and you realize that it's pretty much like the other place, except that it is wildly different. Just when you start to feel at home you commit some hideous faux pas, like sipping your wine before the Skål, or dressing up when you should dress down and vice-versa.

You find yourself in the curious position of living in two cultures and being defensive about both. When you are in your new home you criticize everything, but if someone from your old home should make some snippy remark about it, you are the first one to speak up and say, well, no, it's not really that simple, it's not as bad as all that...

If you recognize yourself in the above, then this e-zine is for you.

The idea for this journal came from the dozens of electronic messages that cross my desk every day on the various electronic forums devoted to things Swedish and Nordic, such as the Internet's SWEDE-L mailing list, the usenet group soc.culture.nordic, and the Nordic section of the European Forum on Compuserve. The people occupying these electronic spaces seem to have something in common: a sense of belonging to two places. Many live in the other culture now; many have lived there before and just can't let it go. People discuss politics, food, movies, escalators. With almost any topic one finds a disagreement. Some participants register their complete disgust with one country or the other. But they always come back for more. I figure it is because they have a stake in both places. It's not a question of "love it or leave it" because for various reasons, none of us can leave it.

What's missing in the media's picture of Sweden or the United States? A realistic picture of what it is like to live in a place that is familiar on the surface, but strange and exotic when you dig a little deeper. And a glimpse of the little details of life as an expatriate that you have to live through to understand.

Recently, a discussion about the escalators in the Stockholm subways raged on SWEDE-L. An American returning to Stockholm pointed out that they are programmed to stop after a time, and re-start as soon as someone steps onto them. This is a great detail, something only an outsider would even pay attention to. Then some other wise guy (me) suggested that the system of signage over the escalators (one saying "UP" and the other saying "NOT UP") was a little silly. Several others chimed in to explain that there was indeed a good reason for this.

Now, that is the kind of discussion that you would only have on SWEDE-L, conducted by people who are passionate about figuring out the insignificant mysteries of life on the other side of the planet. These people had been where I had been, and it had nothing to do with Lucia or Carl Larsson!!

I hope this journal will help unlock some of those mysteries. Read on!

copyright ©