09 June 2009


Swedish -- of course -- for 'homesickness'

How is it possible to be homesick for someplace that isn't your home? I don't know. The way I feel about Sweden is NOT the same way that someone would feel about a favorite vacation spot...like on a bad day, you wish you were there instead of wherever "here" happens to be. No, this is more than that. Sweden isn't my home, and really, I can't honestly say it was my home when I was an exchange student, either. Home then, just as now....Ohio, USA.

I got an e-mail last weekend from a Swede, showing a picture of his new sailboat and his faithful canine companion, a pug, in a harbor near Jonstorp, Skåne. As the picture opened on my browser, it showed the harbor in the background first, and then the boat and puppy appeared. The first house that came clear, a yellow 2-story with what must be a stellar view of the water, hit me like a shot to the gut.

Swedish houses out in the country, summer cottages, usually, or old farmsteads, tend to be one of two colors, red or yellow. A very distinctive red, and a particular shade of yellow. When I was 17, someone in Sweden told me a story of why, exactly, those two shades of those two colors were used, but I don't remember the details. It probably had something to do with class status, once upon a time, nobility vs. non-nobility, but these days, even though Sweden still has both royalty and nobility, they're pretty egalitarian.

That yellow two-story house in the picture my friend sent to me says "SWEDEN!" at the top of its lungs. I can imagine how the place is furnished. Light blonde wood. White walls. Light-colored window coverings. No attached garage. Sparse furniture. The windows have latches that require downward pressure to close. The kitchen is large, but the appliances are small. Everything is orderly. Bookshelves line the walls in every available space, and the books are mingled with small curiosities from all over the world. There's an orange or blue Dala Häst on a shelf, along with a few small pieces of crystal from Orrefors. Every wall has artwork. Family pictures from the recent past are small. Pictures from the early days of photography, or paintings of ancestors are large. Light is abundant, each room has big windows. There is no air conditioning, because until the very recent past, it has not been necessary. (Sweden has felt the realities of global warming.) Rooms that have been redone (at least the bathroom, if not the entire house) have radiant heat in the floors, and you never place a foot on an ice cold floor on chilly mornings. Places near the water, be it the ocean or one of the many inland lakes, have a breeze that cools the house when the windows are open.

I suppose that it is only natural to be thinking a lot more about Sweden than usual, having only recently returned from there. In the normal course of life, I did/do think about Sweden nearly daily, so it isn't that this line of thought is unheard of. I often wish I lived there. I often wish I could spend more time there. I often wish that I could see my host family more frequently, and I don't care which side of the pond that happens. (I've been trying to convince them for years that we should meet up in Florida in the winter, with no success. Of course, they've been trying to get me to Croatia, where they have a second home, for nearly two decades, with no success there, either.)

I wish I could say that I remember what I felt like when I came home from Sweden in 1992, but I can't quantify that other than by saying I was miserable, and an incredible brat to everyone in my life, I do remember that. I had wanted to stay so badly, and Mama wanted me to stay too. She in fact encouraged me to stay after my visa expired, enraging my mother a little. Ooops. At 17, I didn't know how hurtful me saying I didn't want to come back to America was for her. That was never my intention. On the other hand, I know that I could have done much more to attempt to stay, including the very easy step of having a conversation with the immigration authorities, but I never did.

I hate to say this, because it feels fiercely disloyal to the region where I lived as an exchange student, but I thought that Skåne was incredibly beautiful, even prettier in parts than Västmanland is. They're radically different, and so I treasure them each in their own way, but were someone to offer me a choice of job & apartment in Stockholm or Malmö, I'd have a hell of a time picking one over the other. (n.b., we ain't talking about reality here, folks.)

Hemlängtan means literally 'to long for home'. An accurate descriptor of how I feel about Sweden. It is with wistful longing that I look to the north and east, wondering when I will get to go back.


Lora said...

There is a Portuguese word, "saudade" that might describe what you are feeling. I love that word, I'm so glad they invented it. It loosely means that your heart just aches for something that you used to have but is now very far away or impossible to get back.

Lucy Arin said...

love that! How do you pronounce it?