‘Memory… is the diary that we all carry about with us.’
Oscar Wilde in “The Importance of Being Earnest”
This fabulous scenery – taken by me – is a small town called, Öregrund, which is situated in the archipelago that lies in the Baltic Sea between Finland and Sweden. This gives you an idea how and where Sweden is and what it is like. I have not yet really lately talked about my time in Sweden but tis now.
The relationship between the Finns and Swedes is very much one of love-hate. Rather like the Brits and the Irish – the master and the mastered, I think. There is in both nations’ dependency on the other that even now, though severed years ago, is still so very strong and hence resented by the underdog, mastered nation. “Du Gamla, Du Fria, Du Fjällhöga Nord“…! The national anthem of the Swedes. The nation was a super power in the Baltic region in the times past. Not that terribly long ago, really. It is quite like a child saying to the mother: “I am big now.” Yet always looking for the mother’s approval and being in a kind of competition with her; to outdo her and everything that she stood for. Complex, but intriguing. How it pops up to the surface every now and then is, when the Finns meet the Swedes in ice-hockey or the Irish play against the Brits in rugby. NO MERCY GIVEN – NO MERCY ASKED. It is: Let the best nation win. More often than not, it is not the best nation that wins as far as ability and skill are concerned but the one with the greatest will to win.
I did what thousands upon thousands of the Finns then did: we took the ferry to our neighbour’s across the Gulf of Bothnia to work and for me it meant at first to be an au pair in the Stockholm area. It is rather amusing that the French phrase that describes this word means: ‘equal to’. Funny, because the au pair, in most cases, is anything but equal to any other thing than a cheap labour at the whim of the employers who themselves know very little about children and child rearing. This was my case, too. I am afraid my au pairing memories of Sweden are not great but my social life memories are first class, though!
My first impressions of the Swedes and Sweden in this region – as I am familiar with the Lapland Swedish variety since childhood – was that they are much more open and, also, have a more positive outlook on life in all its aspects than the Finns do. I found it much more relaxed and easier to breath in every way. Even the weather was milder than what I had been experiencing in Finland. The coldest I have been in Lapland was all of -44 C!! I know, insane! At that stage I did not know that my family roots go to Sweden, I just felt so at home from the word go! Only the last few years have we been aware that this is where some of the roots go quite far back there as well to other countries on my mother’s-mother’s side.
My time in Sweden was such a brilliant and blessed time. A time for healing and a time for good friendships that are, even today, extremely strong, close and vibrant! The hospitality of the Swedes, that I experienced, was most extraordinary and warm during all my years living over there. Did we drink coffee, tea; also, hot chocolate! Rivers, it must have been when the total amounts are all added up together. Even these days when I do pop over there, it is still ever the same.
We used to arrange these great parties where everybody was told to come to them dressed up to the nines. The lads were told very firmly that if they appeared at our do’s in their usual jeans & t-shirts -ensemble, we girls would not talk to them again. It worked, as they always came well turned out. The parties themselves were sometimes, as in mid August in the summers, the Crayfish Parties when we would have beautifully set out long tables in the garden. Cook gorgeous food and take our time eating and have great time together. Different teams of us in the gang would do the cooking and another team would do the clearing and tidying up. One of us was and is a qualified chef but after feeding the hungry beasts for a few times on his own, he got wiser as the time and feeding went on; hence, the teams came into being! Other times it was somebody’s birthday or another like occasion. Food, again, played a large role in them as it is the best means of getting people to enjoy and relax in one another’s company in any and every culture!
One among other marvellous things, I must say, to my parents credit is that they did not try to stop one doing this thing or that thing but quite the opposite; they encouraged me to go and do whatever was on my mind. Also, they had such confidence in me and my ability for survival that it was with a bushy tail and a positive outlook that I left, every time.
When young one really is not bothered about things like: not knowing anybody or how to arrange this or that, one just trusts that it will be fine. And so it is many a time, actually. Could it not be said of the people as well; that we begin our life, our walk with a whole but tight bundle of various shades like a rosebud not opened yet? Then maturing, opening to the full bloom like a rose, we have maybe one or two colours that are more prominent than the rest. With colours I mean, traits and that which is so typical for and to us that it is us. And these things essentially make you, you and me, me!
All in all the years in Sweden for me were exceptionally good and the years that I still have great memories of. The times that were like an investment for the years to follow. I go to Sweden at regular intervals to visit and to feel at home again!!
Tis for now until the next posting. Riihele xx