I always bump into Americans who want to know what it's like to be Swedish in a foreign country. Isn't the U.S. so different, with excitement and more freedom than anywhere else in the world? they ask.
My answer, usually, is "no."
We have McDonald's, Seinfeld, Friends and David Letterman in Sweden. There are Volvos, Saabs, H&M and IKEAs here. The United State is less different than one might think.
When I first came to this country nine years ago, I looked around critically, judging things. There are so many things we do better in Sweden, I thought. But despite the differences that stem from too many religious conservatives in power, it is easy to find a little bit of Sweden in the United States.
Not counting California and Minnesota, where there are more people claiming to be Swedes than in Sweden, there is plenty of Sweden here to make me feel at home.
The first college I went to - Westchester Community College - was located in a little town called Valhalla, N.Y. Now, those of you who know your Nordic mythology know that Valhalla is a place where slain vikings go to party. I was therefore not surprised to see the name of the school newspaper: The Viking News. It took a while before people realized the irony of it all when I became the editor, but it later became a great topic of conversation during job interviews.
One summer I walked into the giant bookseller Barnes & Noble to pick up a book or two. When I passed the rows of new books in paperback, Liza Marklund's "The Bomber" (Sprängaren) caught my eye. It had a hand-written label next to it, and I walked closer to the shelf to see what the note said. "Our staff strongly recommends this book." Since it is one of my favorites, I quickly grabbed it and decided it would make a great gift for someone.
A Thursday afternoon in 2003 I sat down on the couch to skim through the local newspaper and came across a brief that said "Swedish spring concert this Saturday." Not only were three Scandinavian choruses set to perform; the performance was in Hamden, where I was living at the time, less than five minutes from my apartment. Two days later I went to the concert and realized none of the singers knew Swedish. But I got to hear "Sköna maj" and "Studentsången."
After that, I signed up to join them for the next year. I have now been singing with the Scandinavian Women's Chorus of Connecticut for four years, and I am one of two people who speak Swedish.
A few years ago, IKEA opened a store in New Haven, about half an hour from where I live. I addition to furniture and accessories, all foreign IKEA stores have a Swedish food shop where you can buy Kalles Kaviar, Dajm and knäckebröd. Of course, you can buy Wasa knäckebröd and Ballerina cookies in the regular supermarket now. And what Swede could live without them?
Another famous thing here is Swedish Fish. It's made by Swedish candy company Malaco, I think, but in Sweden we actually have several different flavors and colors. Here, the fish is just red.
Often, you can hear Robyn, Ace of Base, ABBA or Roxette on the radio. Another hit, if you listen to the right station, is Björn Skifs' "Hooked on a Feeling." At some New York Yankee games, they play the country-Eurodance hit "Cotton-Eye Joe" by Rednex.
Sometimes the Swedish things are temporary, and sometimes they are here to stay. One this is for certain: It is nice to be a Swede in a country where Annika Sörenstam has made history. At one point, she was compared to Jackie Robinson.
If Annika can, I can. Or at least, I can try.