I’ve been on hiatus the last few weeks due to travel, fatigue, not feeling the greatest, studying, and just trying to reflect on our trip to Europe. The trip itself was not bad. A couple of our flights were fine, two others a little stressful. Since we flew out of Miami, we had an 11 hour drive on either end of the trip too, so we were also more exhausted from this! We aren’t exactly spring chickens anymore, and we do get more tired than when we were 20 or 30! We had plans every single day we were there, and I wasn’t feeling well several of those days, but kept going as much as I physically could.
We were able to stay in Al’s old apartment, where he lived for 17 years, so that saved us a ton of money! We could cook our meals and not eat out all the time! Plus, we stayed in shape by climbing the 53 steps each day! We were also able to borrow a friend’s car for part of the time, and took public transportation (trains, trains, and more trains), and walked a lot. Any time you are in a city, you will spend a good deal of time walking, and I love that about any metropolitan area.
We didn’t see as much of the country and tourist areas as we wanted, but that was ok, because we got to spend time with people. Since Al lived there for 30 years, there were a lot of friends who wanted to see him. We squeezed in a little bit of sight seeing the last couple of days, and the sun came out, so that was nice! We toured the Nordic Museum, which is housed in a beautiful building, and we were treated to a free boat tour through the canals around Stockholm. We tried to tour the Vasa Museum, but the lines were way too long, and we had a short time frame due to plans later that night. We also spent the day with friends at their house on the water (a finger of the Baltic Sea), and it was gorgeous! So much of the landscape, countryside, and customs reminded me of living in Northern Iowa on the Minnesota border. I understand now why so many Scandinavians settled in that area. The weather, food, customs, foliage, scenery….even the people felt very familiar. While living in the upper Midwest, I remember many times having to wear jackets in June! Brrrr! A lot of people think I’m from Florida, and can’t handle cold weather. I handled cold weather (blizzards, white outs, ice storms, -80 windchills) my whole life until the last few years. I handle it just fine. I just don’t like it.
I didn’t meet many Swedish people. Most of Al’s friends are American, Australian, British, etc. However, the wives of his friends were Swedish, and they were all very kind to me. If you’ve ever been in a foreign country, and don’t speak the language, you can understand how excluded and isolated you can feel. It’s understandable to speak your language in your country, so I didn’t mind….I was a guest in their country, after all. It just felt awkward a few times. On two separate occasions, there were friends who announced that they would be speaking only English for my sake. I really appreciated that! It really made me feel accepted and respected. I thought that was very kind of them. Another thing I loved was that Sweden is a very dog friendly country! I usually enjoy dogs more than most people, so it was great to see dogs EVERYWHERE. They are treated extremely well!
There were a few misconceptions on both sides, I think, about how America/Americans are perceived, and how Sweden/Swedes are perceived. I had heard that Stockholm is very clean, and knowing what I know about the descendants of Scandinavians, I was expecting very well manicured landscapes, no litter, no graffiti, no weeds, etc. However, I felt that it was like a lot of cities in America, with those same issues. Definitely cleaner than New York, but very comparable to Kansas City, Minneapolis, Denver, etc. I had also been told that there aren’t overweight people in Sweden. Well, there were. Also, I was told that Swedes don’t eat a lot of fast food…..maybe not like America, but there were plenty of fast food restaurants, and many of the meals we were served had fried food and a lot of pork and sweet items. This may be a more recent trend, as corporations become more global, and everyone seeks convenience…a sign of the times. I had also expected no racism, but one evening in a train station, we experienced a bit of that. There are also homeless people, and drug addicts…..very common in American cities as well.
A few misconceptions I had to clarify were that all Americans are not on “Obamacare,” not all Americans voted for the current president, we do have vacation time and sick leave, and we are not all stupid, ignorant, or racist (even those of us residing in the South). Actually, defending my country got a little old. I didn’t mind explaining the health care situation, and that I have my summers off (plus sick leave, personal leave, two weeks at Christmas, a week at Thanksgiving, a week at Spring Break, Good Friday, Veterans Day, President’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Labor Day, and Memorial Day….plenty of time off!). They seemed to think we are all working our fingers to the bone with no time off, and no benefits. I have pretty decent benefits through my job. But defending myself, my intellectual abilities, and that of my friends and family was frustrating. Hearing some of the jokes and comments made about Americans was at times, hurtful. I realize this is the information they receive, but thanks to reality TV, Jerry Springer, and the Kardashians, many Europeans think that is the way all Americans are. Those are the images that are put out there, and speak the loudest, unfortunately. It made me sad and embarrassed. Mind you, not everyone was like this, but I heard these comments enough to get tired of them.
I know that the United States has its problems. It always has, and always will. It’s a very vast country, very diverse, and has a huge population. It has a violent past. But it’s truly fascinating! There are very intelligent people here (even in the South….), and a ton of good things happen to be “All American.” In fact, for all of the mean or negative things I heard about my country, I noticed just as many NY ball caps, and a lot of American brand clothing. They may not like us, but they want to be like us! As much as this country struggles, it is still my home, and I do have pride for the good people and good things that go on here. I also love the vast landscapes, and all it has to offer. I love the wide open spaces. I love the promise of the “American Dream.” I love our fascinating (yet violent) history, and how my family played a part in it. I love the friendliness and acceptance I feel here. I love the beach that is 10 minutes from my house. I love that I can go to the mountains, desert, beach, forest, or prairie, and still be in my country. I love the accessibility to affordable housing (housing, or lack of available/affordable housing, was a topic of conversation in nearly every circle we were in). I love our movies and television shows. I love our music. I love the accessibility to affordable groceries and retail items, and a variety of places to shop for these things. I love that even if my neighbor and I don’t agree on religion or politics, we will be there for each other, any time we need each other….trusting each other to keep an eye on our houses, pets, or plants, or to help with a project or a car that won’t start. I love the helping hands that are there in times of need…..sometimes from complete strangers.
Sweden was a nice, beautiful country, and it is home to approximately 10 million people. Most of the people were beautiful, and asked educated questions about our lives here, looking for informed answers. The United States is home to approximately 320 million people. Naturally, with more people, there will be more (or different) problems. We do have a few ignorant people here (as every country does). I do wish we had the healthcare system Sweden has. I loved the open air markets with all of the produce and flowers. I loved the history and the architecture of Old Town in Stockholm. But America is my home. I am proud of it for so many reasons, even with all of it’s problems and divisiveness right now. I have had so many opportunities in my life here. My parents raised five children, who are all college graduates and beyond. I’ve been able to travel to 40 states and now 6 countries.
Everyone should be just as proud of their country, but have respect for other countries and their citizens as well. It’s great to explore and learn new things about other countries, their citizens, their history, and their culture, and I can’t wait to do it again. It broadens our minds, and helps us to understand each other better. Traveling and learning about each other, and having mutual respect for each other could solve so many problems we face today. Education, travel, broadening our horizons, and embracing our differences can only make this world a better place.
Be proud of your country. Be proud of your roots (my roots are mostly European). Be proud of your flag…..and respect all others. We love to travel, but as Al said the night before we headed home, “It will be nice to be back on the other side of the Atlantic again.” Home is home. To honor my 26 years spent in Kansas, I will end with this…..”There’s no place like home!”