It’s after midnight. An inflatable mattress – the solitary item left in my otherwise empty house – beckons from the floor. I am about to fall asleep for the last time in my Montreal home, and a container bound for Sweden now contains everything else my family owns. In a few days, we will be moving to Stockholm.
Not too long after our first child was born, my husband – who was born and raised in the US to Swedish parents – started talking about living in Sweden one day. There were a number of reasons why. Firstly, he feels a strong enough sense of Swedish identity to want to impart the same to our kids, who both possess Swedish passports. In order to keep these passports beyond the age of 18, they need to demonstrate a close connection to the country and we figured that living in Sweden is the best possible proof of connection. Plus, we really like the country, having spent numerous summers there on holiday. The decision therefore to live in Sweden one day was a no-brainer. The timing was an entirely different matter.
Then one day a door literally opened and we took it as a sign. The house that my father-in-law grew up in became available for us to rent. It was built by my husband’s grandparents in 1947 and has been in the family ever since. Stockholm is notorious for its acute housing shortage so when we discovered that we could rent a house with a yard, within walking distance of a great school and only 25 minutes by bike or public transport to the centre of the city, we started to give the move some serious thought. What better way could there be to imbue the kids with a sense of Swedish identity than to raise them in their ancestral home? They will be surrounded by the very fact of their Swedish-ness by sleeping, eating and playing between the same walls their grandfather did as a child.
Six months after making the house discovery and here we are, days away from departure. In spite of all our reasons to make the move, it was not an easy decision, at least for me. It meant leaving behind family and friends to move to a country that I like and admire, but do not know very well. What I do know of my new home-to-be, I have learned from idyllic summer holidays picking wild strawberries by the Baltic Sea, time spent with my Swedish in-laws, and tidbits of advice passed on from friends who have lived there before (both local and foreign). And of course from articles, such as these, these and these. Suffice to say, it may not be an entirely accurate impression.
In fact, everything I know is based on a fuzzy set of notions. Ditto the other members of my family. My husband spent all of his childhood summers in Sweden, attended high school in Stockholm for two years and was raised overseas by Swedish expats. Culturally, his values are what he perceives to be fundamentally Swedish. He passes his perceptions on to our kids who are also developing their own set of notions as a result of summer holidays spent in Sweden most of their young lives. To give you an example, they have told me that all Swedish kids have a dog and a trampoline, and that they too require the same in order to fit in.
This blog is an exploration of our perceptions and how they match – or don’t match, as the case may be – the reality of our new lives in Sweden.