When we moved to Sweden, I didn’t get the churning, butterfly sensation in my stomach that my first move away from the UK gave me, but I did experience the excitement of the “honeymoon period”. We arrived here after I’d been in Denmark for almost seven years, and it was thrilling, but also daunting, to start all over again in a new country. Because I knew, from all that time in Copenhagen, just what I was facing.
You’ve probably seen that chart with the u-curve of cultural adjustment when moving to a new land. You might have read Jill’s post about it. The curve starts up high, in the “honeymoon period”, then drops right down into “culture shock”, picks back up with the “adjustment phase” (said to be about one year in) and then moves on to “mastery” in the subsequent years.
There will always be things that you will miss from home. Or ways of doing things that just make more sense to you. But hopefully you also begin to see other things that work better in your new country. This is the make-or-break “adjustment” phase. This is time when you’ll either start to adapt to your host country or reject it, longing for home*.
I think it’s rare to reach a complete state of zen with the habits and culture of your new home though. Even after eleven years here in Sweden, I have days when my frustration with being told ‘But that is the way we do it here’ is almost overwhelming.
But where is home now?
That said, a strange thing seems to happen when you’ve been away from home for more than a certain number of years. I can’t say exactly when my disconnect with “home” began, but probably around the 13th or 14th year abroad.
Time had moved on but my memories of the UK – and, more importantly, of how I thought the place should be – were caught in a vacuum. When visiting, it didn’t feel like home in quite the same way as it had. Everything felt just that little bit different. It had changed, and so had I, but in different directions.
Much of this has to do with just how many years I’ve been away (now long enough that I’ve even broken my long-held habit of converting krona into pounds in my head with every purchase). However, there is also the impending impact of Brexit for us from the UK, and its effect on the country already.
Certainly our first trip back after the 2016 referendum didn’t help matters. There we were in the park of the town where I had grown up, having fun with our boys in the playground. On hearing us speaking Swedish to each other, a guy decided that it was the perfect time to come over and say, in front of his children and ours, that now it was time for us to go home.
There’s nothing like being verbally insulted in your home country and told you don’t belong to reinforce that growing feeling you already have. Perhaps I’ve just been lucky here in Sweden that no one has ever shouted at me to go home.
An added factor to this “where is home?” conundrum came after Christmas with the UK’s announcement that (non-British) EU citizens wanting to reside in the UK will need to apply for the right to do so after June 2020. There’s nothing so welcoming as being made to feel that not all of your family will actually be made welcome.
So, here I am, seemingly in the “mastery” phase but feeling pushed and pulled in two directions.
I will always be British and some part of me will always feel like a Brit. I love Marmite, I am partial to any knick-knacks with a Union Jack or a red double-decker bus on them, and I cry every time I watch The Last Night of the Proms or when England loses at football (so, quite frequently). However, I don’t understand my nation’s preoccupation with Strictly Come Dancing, my knowledge of the London underground is almost non-existent, and I now prefer coffee to a good old British cup of tea.
On the other hand, I’ve grown to love Janssons Frestelse, I now feel uneasy queuing without a nummerlapp in my hand, and I understand the importance of a good fikapaus. But I will never understand the Swedes’ obsession with watching Kalle Anka at Christmas, I am the person who takes the last helping of food, rather than politely leaving it for someone else, and I find eating crayfish and lobster more hassle than it’s worth (all that work for so little food).
So, where does that leave me? Probably on the path to becoming a Swedish Brit. It’s a bit of a strange blend, but aren’t we all a bit mixed up and messed up? And now I just need to embrace my new cultural personality and perfect a Jansson Frestelse recipe that includes Marmite.
* Some expat facts
- Research suggests that around 10% of expats assimilate so much into their host country’s culture so much that they lose their original cultural identity.
- 30% of expats manage to walk the fine line between such total assimilation and rejecting their host country totally, and are able to blend cultural aspects from their home and host countries.
- Those who cannot settle into live in their new country are called rejectors, and ironically, they are also those who struggle the most to re-integrate on returning home.