Today I had Irish coffee with my Farmor (father’s mother). We talked about all sorts of random things and I felt like I made a lot of progress speaking in Swedish but the best part was what happened on facebook afterwards:
In the US we open our presents on Christmas morning after Santa has come on Christmas eve. However in Sweden the big Christmas celebration is Christmas Eve. After eating a Julbord , presents are opened in the evening. I can see how at first glance this seems better that opening them on Christmas morning because you get them earlier. However I think in the end the Christmas Day model is better. First, you get to open your presents first thing in the morning, no waiting. Second, because you open presents in the morning, you get to play with them or use them all day. Some of my favorite Christmas memories were doing legos and puzzles while watching a movie that my brother or I got for Christmas. Third, there is a better defined time to open presents. By having present opening as “Christmas Eve” it is hard to define when that starts…right after dinner? when the sun goes down? what if you eat dinner in the middle of the afternoon?
Thus I think I will stick with my Christmas morning Christmas celebration and leave Christmas Eve for baking cookies (Scottish shortbread was only made on Christmas Eve in my parents house).
A week or so before I came to Sweden my aunt sent me a very nice email letting me know that the family had talked and they had all “reserved a couple of dates” in their calendars for family dinners. Some were related to the upcoming holiday season and some to family birthdays. I put this list of dates into my electronic calendar like everything else and hoped I would be able to make the one on November 10th, which was to be a celebration of my farmor’s birthday, the fact that my cousin sold his house/his sambo (which translates directly to attached, but means girlfriend/fiancée/significant romantic partner…one of my favorite Swedish words) sold her house/they got a bigger house together, and my PhD graduation. One of my favorite things about visiting my family in Sweden is they have these big family dinners with good food, lots of wine, and exciting conversation. When I lived here a for a summer in college my Swedish was quite good and these dinners were a real test, many people talking at the same time, talking over each other, some people have fairly strong accents (and more so with alcohol) but right now my Swedish is not so good…
Growing up many friends would say “your going on vacation to Sweden…cool!” While going to Sweden was cool: my parents often gave us a treat on the plane ride over and we always did something fun an touristy, looking back my mother worked really hard to make going to Sweden fun, because honestly it was going to your grandparent’s house and sitting around all day and bonus they didn’t even speak the same language….so is it any wonder that my cousins often remind me how I was so “bored” all the time.
First, I would like to dis-spell the common American myth that everyone in Sweden speaks English and especially the myth that everyone in Sweden likes to speak English…it is my experience that everyone in Sweden understands English, normally very well via listening (they don’t dub their movies or TV but instead use subtitles) but just like all other European countries lots of Swedes are self concious about their English, or like me right now with Swedish, they don’t use it that often and therefore it is rusty and they have a hard time making whole sentences. What to play a trick on an unsuspecting everyday Swede? walk into a random store (not in Stockholm) or in a tourist museum and speak to them in English…9 times out of 10 they get flustered…now this is decreasing as the workers are younger and spend more time interacting online in English. So if you are traveling to common travel areas in Sweden, yes everyone will speak English and all of the tourist sites with have information in English; if however you are riding the bus between two small kommunen in Sweden…ask the high school or college kids riding the bus to help you if you need something.
Now when my whole family was in Sweden lots of the conversation at family dinners was in English. My cousins liked to practice their English (plus it was all my brother and I spoke) and my aunt used English often in her job and while my uncle always is a little uncomfortable speaking in English (and as he told me a this most recent family dinner at some point someone told him he wasn’t that good in English…which honestly compared to my cousin’s and my aunt his English isn’t as perfect…but I make fun of one of my cousins about when he mixes up good and well (like all the stupid Americans) …these are people who speak and pronounce English like native speakers…so really not as good as them is better than most others) his English is very good and the only errors he makes often are common non-native pronunciation (or pro-nounce-ciation) issues. Then I lived in Sweden and was trying to practice my Swedish. I would go out to dinner with my aunt and uncle and only speak Swedish for practice. The last few times my whole family was here I noticed that they spoke much more often in Swedish at the dinner table, switching from English to Swedish when the opportunity arose I spent a lot of meals trying to translate what was going on to my brother who still doesn’t speak any Swedish. So how do you get through a whole day of family activities where 90% is in another language you don’t totally understand? You use your brain resources wisely!
That’s right: you can’t translate everything, you can’t follow every conversation, you can’t ask them to translate everything you don’t hear or don’t understand…So I used my most clean uncluttered brain to have 20min with my farmor before the masses arrived. Just the two of us talking about everyday things where I could talk in broken Swedish and talk around the words I couldn’t remember….I told her about how I was, my new job, my new desk at my new job, how my family in the states was, I asked her about how she was feeling about her upcoming birthday…It was great…then came everyone else. I listened for the most part, I participated somewhat, I nodded my head when I wanted to agree, and I sat quietly and ate my food. A few times they switched to English deliberately when asking me a direct question or describing the food, or one person would turn to me and give a break by having a private conversation in English for a few minutes. Trust me it was all appreciated. But sometimes after a long conversation in Swedish a cousin would asked me if I had understood the conversation or not…probably not…probably I wasn’t listening because you were talking too quickly or too loudly or too many people were talking…honestly, probably I was making a list of what of the night I should blog about :). But I wasn’t not listening because I don’t like you or don’t care…I was just saving my resources for when the conversation was important or when they would be most useful.
So big family dinner number 1 down, my cousin (actually my cousin’s husband=my cousin) cooked an interesting meal that was really fabulous and I got to see everyone and give them all hugs..I officially feel like I am in Sweden. Goal for next dinner…speak up in Swedish more, don’t always switch back to English when responding.
Like most I bought my plane tickets based on timing and cost. After discussing arrival times with my family in Sweden and deciding that I would stay in Chicago for the first weekend in Nov to say goodbye to some friends I picked the flight that was cheapest and most convenient (also the shortest trip that was not a direct flight). After excitedly forwarding my itinerary to the parents, my aunt in Sweden, and my best friends I got a cute email back from a friend asking what I was going to do in Dublin during my layover.
Now you never want too little time between flights so that you miss your connection but 7.5 hrs is a long time. I began researching what I could do if I left the airport. Note: Dublin airport is a 30min drive from downtown Dublin City. So I found a bus that took you to Dublin or one that took you to a smaller near by town. I hadn’t really decided what to do or if I would even leave the airport but after some encouraging from my neighbor on the plane who told me some no fuss, easy, relaxing places to go I decided to just go for it…4 hours in a new country I had never been to! it is an adventure!
After leaving the airport and easily finding the bus to downtown (aircoach-12€ for round trip), I arrived at Grafton Street (Trinity College stop on the bus). Grafton Street is a famous shopping street and as it was just 10am the stores were beginning to open but there were very few people other than the locals cutting through on their way to downtown. I meandered slowly enjoying the wonderful Christmas window displays (barring the fact it is the first week in November and that the Christmas season is already in full swing is ridiculous, they were very pretty and fun to see) and drooling over all of the amazing shoes in the windows (shoes are my biggest weakness which is difficult because you feel guilty packing more shoes and less underwear when moving around the world ;). I was slowly making my way to St. Stevens Green at the end of Grafton Street which I had been told was really beautiful and very peaceful in the mornings.
Using my powerful deduction skills (i.e., following the local girls with good shoes) I found a cute little local quick coffee shop off the main street with no seating but a long line of locals getting morning commute coffee. With my cappuccino (no foam) I approached St. Stevens Green:
INVASION!!! However with no food to share I decided to walk on. I had a wonderful ramble through the park, randomly picking many benches to sit on for a few minutes at time. The best was one I found in the SUN! Warming up from the sun and my coffee, I did some people watching and enjoyed the many shades of green:
After thoroughly chilling my self by staying outside and not moving, in my probably inappropriate sweatshirt (all my winter coats are already in Sweden because I was supposed to move 2 months ago), I decided it was time for more coffee and maybe some internet. I tried to find a local cafe with internet but found a Starbucks first and decided that a Gingerbread latte sounded good. Sitting in the warm cafe with a cranberry orange muffin, I logged on to post the two blog posts: one I had finished just before the cab came in Chicago (and not had time to post) and the one I had written at the O’hare airport.
After this fortification I headed back out into Dublin…I had decided I wasn’t going to try to go to any museums but just get a feel for the city. I started in the direction of the other major downtown bus pick up and just started wandering, letting myself be pulled in what ever direction I felt like. In the back of my mind I knew I wanted to get a Christmas ornament (I collect things I can make into Christmas ornaments from the places I travel) and maybe even birthday gifts for two of my best friends with birthdays in November. As I wondered of course I got lost but it didn’t feel that way because I had decided to not pre-decide and therefore there were no “wrong” directions…when it got to after noon I decided to look at the little map I had gotten from the bus company (which was missing lots of streets) and begin moving toward the bus stop more directly while looking for a pub for lunch.
Because where else can you eat in Dublin but a pub?
Sitting in the upstairs window, looking out onto the corner of O’Connel Street, this Victorian Pub was a great find for lunch. The menu was full of traditional cuisine but the fish and chips caught my eye. I have eaten my french fries with lots of salt and mayo since having them this way on the streets of London in 2002.
It was an amazing choice! So yummy even the greens salad with homemade spicy mustard vinaigrette was great. With a glass of cider (I couldn’t bring myself to be up for Guinness which I normally love but didn’t sound exciting in my by this time extremely tired state), I ate slowly, savoring the wonderful food and atmosphere. After I caught myself falling asleep at the table I new it was time to head back to the airport.
A quick stop in few shops on O’Connell Street and I found presents for the birthday girls, my Christmas ornament, and a necklace for myself. As I waited to take the bus back to the airport I watched the line of cabbies across the street try to talk airport bus riders into skipping out on the wait for the bus. After I had waited 13 min for the bus I felt compelled to tell the others that the bus was supposed to come every 15 min and it had already been 13. The nice eastern European couple who’s language I had been trying to place as they talked to each other piped in that they just lied to the cabbies and said they had a return ticket already so as not to get bothered 😉 Less than a minute later the bus arrived and the group who had been debating on taking a cab were grateful for our noisiness 😉
A wonderfully relaxing day in Dublin City and one quick bus ride back to airport and no line at security I was on my way to Sweden!