Settling back into Scandinavia

Setting off from San Francisco

I’m at the midway point of jet-lag readjustment, on the assumption that it takes a day to recover for every hour of time difference. With California’s 9-hour offset, that means I’ve been home for almost 5 days. I’m still exhausted.

The abrupt shift — in weather, time zone, language, lifestyles — has kept me contemplating my split existence, a continuation of the expat ruminations of the past few weeks while I was “at home.” I thought last night about how much I missed Matt while I was in California, and how out of sorts I felt on my arrival in Sweden.

The first day I was back, I could feel how much Swedish I had lost, even as remnants of understanding and vocabulary remain in my poor taxed brain.  The second day, I felt a stab of disappointment at the ICA supermarket, as I searched for something to eat for lunch — the overwhelming bounty of Safeway and Raley’s in the U.S. makes Swedish groceries pale in comparison. And the idea of going out to eat made me blanch — dammit, 48 hours, and already I miss cheap, delicious Mexican food!

And yet, I was relieved to see fewer signs of economic distress:  Fewer homeless folks on Södermalm’s streets versus downtown San Francisco’s. Fewer sales for Christmas in Stockholm, than the seemingly desperate and universal markdowns in Sacramento. And more signs of the social democratic society in which I now live: Much less traffic on Swedish streets than California’s freeways, and more comfortable public transit. More old façades in fine repair in old Stockholm (though some of the houses in San Francisco are so gingerbread-lovely!).

Salvia in southern California. My favorite plant, I first fell in love with it in Berkeley, over a decade ago. I believe it grows here in Sweden as well.

How did our human brains evolve to contain these contradictory longings for places regularly met and regularly left behind? This bifurcation makes my modern chest tighten:  There are things about living here in Stockholm that could make me really happy, and do!  And while I might miss fresh fruit and vegetables, grown locally year round, while I miss my family tremendously, I will see them again and soon.

Still, there’s the distinct possibility that I am setting myself up for disappointment in my lingering homesickness for my old “original” homeland.  I may think of California as home, but if I were actually living there, I most certainly would see more of the negative side of things, and forget to focus on those things that give me joy — for example, would I really go to Napa, as I did last Saturday, in the course of every day life in California?  Would my friends have as much time to spare for me as they did during this visit, knowing that I had traveled thousands of miles to be there, than if I had come from across the Bay?  Would I see the changes there that distress me now? The slow creep of suburbs into wildlands and farmlands, the inexorable increase of traffic, and the rise of other weird cultural phenomena — say, the ubiquity of Ugg boots, not to mention the crazy politics!  Sweden has its own slow avalanches that will catch me, but it retains its gloss of the new, the unexpected, the unknown. My outsider status keeps this both a frustrating and an exciting place to be.

Perhaps, one could argue, the fabric of where I was born and bred retains a deeper hold on my psyche than anywhere else ever could.  On the other hand, what of the platitude that one can never go home again?  Who knows!  And these things are unknowable… I have to live in one place or the other, and will end up longing for bits of both, wherever I end up.

Further Reading:

Searching for “Home,” Edgar Albert Guest (1881–1959):

The flipside, searching for a destination, is Cavafy’s poem, “Ithaka”:

This entry was posted in Expat, Personal musings, Sweden, Travel and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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