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THE ONLY WAY TO HAVE A FRIEND IS TO BE ONE*
Half an hour south from us, the leaves on the chestnut trees are singed with brown around the edges; autumn in the hems. The lights are on in the sugar beet factory although the chimneys are not yet pouring sugar-smoke into the darkening evenings. It's dark when I arrive for choir practice, or nearly, and the lights in the fountains of Pildammsparken glow unearthly across the water. It's dark when I drive home, the choral-aid CD for the concert plunking out an alto harmony in monochromatic style. It's dark when I drag my reluctant self out of bed in the mornings now; not full dark, but dark enough. The body knows. It's time to sleep.

One of my good friends here in Sweden is a Swede. That seems like it ought to be an obvious sort of statement to make, but in fact, for most expats, making and keeping Swedish friends is not as easy as it sounds. Swedes are stereotypically known for being reserved and withdrawn, and they don't have the culture of spontaneity and extroverted-ness that Americans tend to. That's not to say that there aren't spontaneous and extroverted Swedes, there are, it's just that COMPARED with Americans, and GENERALLY speaking, it takes more work and more time to really become friends with Swedes than most unsuspecting expats realize.** I've read, and heard, and seen myself, that most people in Sweden make their friends young, and keep them forever. They already have a full circle of support and friends when they grow up and trying to break into it to get to know someone takes more patience and more subtle pressure than notoriously impatient and superficial Americans have time for. There are all kinds of stereotypes at work when it comes to the way we perceive people from a different culture, not to mention the way we perceive ourselves, and I sometimes think it's far too easy for us, as humans, to dismiss anything that is different or strange.

If someone doesn't react to your overtures of friendship the way you expect them too, it might not be YOU at fault. It might not be THEM at fault. There might simply be no fault at all, but rather a simple failure to connect, a culture gap that leaves you both standing on opposite sides wondering what that was all about. It may be disheartening, but it doesn't mean you should give up the whole idea, with that person or with others.

I'm friends with a lot of Swedes, actually, but they came as part of a package deal, since they were all childhood friends of my husband, or attached to the childhood friends in question. But there is a fundamental difference in the way I interact with them that is especially noticeable when I compare those friendships with the friendships I have with other expats. Our Swedish friends, for the most part, are NOT spontaneous, but they CAN be, and they are genuinely delighted when we are, with them.

When I started writing this I was meaning to talk about a specific friend, not the subtle differences involved in cultivating friendships with people from another culture. I'll try to grab on to my rapidly receding point. What strikes me most about my friend Camilla, the Swede in question, is how spontaneous and extroverted she is. She says herself that she is unusual in Swedish society, and while that may be true, and while it may be one of the reasons WHY she is a good friend to ME, it's really nothing to do with the fact that she is Swedish. I'm not friends with her because she's Swedish, in fact, her being Swedish often comes as a surprise to me at certain points in our conversations when I suddenly realize that DESPITE our similarities, there is still a fundamental difference in the planes of reference from which we come.

Regardless, to have a friend, Swedish or expat or otherwise, that spends an evening with me where both of us can talk animatedly about books, about reading, about why I don't watch TV news and whether I come across as ignorant because of it, about the subtle differences between English and Swedish word usage and whether varm in Swedish translates to "warm" or "hot" or both, about the pain and pleasure of teaching language, about the injustice of certain situations at work, and ways to remedy them, about her plans to quit her job and travel, and my fear that she won't return, and whether or not the environment really is going to hell in a handbasket and what we can personally do about it, and about well...everything and anything, is something special. I need more friends like her in my life. And you know what? I've found some here with this journal.

***

In the morning, I'm driving to Oslo with 2 other members of our AWC to spend a weekend carousing with a large group of expats (which probably means no posts from me after this until Sunday night). It's the Regional Meeting for all the AWC's in Scandinavia, and there are 10 clubs, most of whom will be sending representatives, and many of whom I've met at previous meetings. I'm really looking forward to it, not least because I haven't been back to Norway in over 20 years and it is in my personal Top 5 Favorite & Most Beautiful Places on Earth list. I'm going to meet new LJ friend kachunknorge, who knows cottontimer, a little circle of it's-a-small-world-friendship that delights me to my very core.

One of my bestest friends in all the world who lurks on this blog is on her way here, and will be landing in Malmö in November. Our husbands say we were separated at birth, and I can't wait to reconnect with her. She and her husband lived in Sweden for 3 years and then moved to Sydney, Australia 4 years ago. They are traveling all around the world for 4 months, and just landed in Singapore on their way to Japan, China, and Mongolia, then taking the Trans-Siberian railway through Russia before coming to Sweden. After that, they'll be jaunting down to Switzerland, Greece and Spain before flying across the Atlantic to several stops across the U.S. and finally home again in JANUARY. This isn't their first round-the-world trip, but this time, most of the way, they'll be staying with friends. They have friends all over the world, just like I do. How cool is that?!

Old friends in far-off places, now friends in nearby spaces, new friends just around the corner!

Really Great Writing Out There Right Now: A Dreamer of Dreams

LOTS of Really Great Writing Out There Right Now!: Mosaic Minds Just A Little Issue. It might sound like a bit of weird theme, but it inspired some GREAT writing. :)

*Ralph Waldo Emerson
**ROMANCE with a Swede, on the other hand, goes quick like a bunny! :P
 happy
mood: happy
music: Alison Krauss—Down to the River to Pray


Comments

It smells pretty nasty, actually :)

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