An Anniversary – First Year
Next month will mark my first year here in Sweden. The transition has been neither hard, or easy- somewhere in between. Having a Swedish wife has been a huge advantage, at the same time my dependence on her to negotiate has been uncomfortable . . . the loss of independence.
Most definitions of culture shock list four stages taking from six months to a year. I suspect I’m a little slower than normal. I also suspect changing countries at seventy-five is not so normal. I see myself as being midway in the adjustment phase as defined below.
Stage Three – Adjustment Phase:
After some time (usually 6 to 12 months), one grows accustomed to the new culture and develops routines. One knows what to expect in most situations and the host country no longer feels all that new. One becomes concerned with basic living again, and things become more “normal”. One starts to develop problem-solving skills for dealing with the culture and begins to accept the culture’s ways with a positive attitude. The culture begins to make sense, and negative reactions and responses to the culture are reduced.
My biggest problem has been language. Most Swedes speak English, so routine activity is possible, but loss of tongue has been significant, to say the least. The inability to read a newspaper, or magazines . . . to use the library. To know the context of overheard conversations. I’m still driving illegally on my U.S, license, and despair of ever passing the Swedish written test required.
But things are looking up. Last week I attended my first language class. There are only four students so far. The teacher is from Finland. Other students are from Greece and Italy. Class is described as Swedish for people who speak English, but I’m the only one, so far, with English as first language. It’s felt good to begin this class, although I don’t expect it to be easy. My short term memory is something long forgotten, if it ever existed. I’ve taken classes (more than one) in Italian, Spanish, German, and Japanese with very limited results. I can order sushi, and ask for the check in Japanese, order a beer and ask what time it is in Spanish. I know a few swearwords in each of the above, and all the basic Swedish curses. Odd how those stick with me without effort.
The final stage of culture shock is listed as, “Feeling At Home.” I am not there yet . . . hard to imagine feeling that. I would describe my feeling now as one of being homeless, a sort of mental no man’s land, but not in a bad way, not depressing. Simply a feeling of not really belonging, or having connection . . . anywhere. Hard to describe. Stage Four is described as functioning well in the culture. Preferring certain cultural traits of the new culture over one’s own. Adapting cultural behaviors from the new cultures. I can’t think of any of theses I have achieved . . . well, maybe not complaining so much. Swedes tend not to complain. Bitching as has always been second nature to me, but I notice I am holding my tongue more often.
Things are becoming more familiar, small things that used to drive me crazy are less frequent now. Light switches were frustrating. The location of switches in relation to where the lights are located in the room seemed illogical. Lamp switches are on the cord, rather than on the lamp. I was just reading some problems described by immigrants coming to America. One was the way light switches worked. We flip up to turn the lights on in the States. In this person’s country switches were flipped down to turn them on. I understand this man’s frustration. It’s the little things that drive you nuts.
I think I’m still about as sane as ever, here in Sweden. And this winter has been good. I think perhaps another year, I might be feeling I’m at home.