Weather-wise, it has been a glorious week in Jönköping. Although it’s still too cool to go without a jacket at night, the sun has shone beautifully and everyone in the town has been out and about. The fact that the high school prom and Jönköping’s annual market was this weekend also increased the bustle about town. I live right in the middle of it all, so my daily commute to work is always interesting.
The high school prom here is so much cooler than back home. The prom couples all somehow find really nice cars and get dropped off at the hotel where the prom is held. The line of cars is half convoy, half parade. I saw many old American cars, luxury Porsches and Audis, and even a 1950s perfect condition pickup truck with couples dressed to the nines riding in the backseats. Apparently parents try to save quite a bit money so their daughters can buy beautiful prom dresses. Speaking of cars, this region of Sweden has a lot of car collectors in the area; they specifically collect vintage American cars. I have seen the bright, long bumpers of several old Pontiacs and Chevrolets driving around town. Jönköping has a big car show every year around Easter. I’ve seen more old American cars driving in Jönköping than I ever see in the U.S.! Funny how that happens.
The reason I was walking in downtown Jonkoping during the prom parade was because I participated in the Student Services Summer Fest. Anyone working in Student Services got to leave work early on Thursday at 2:30, have a fika, and then participate in a scavenger hunt that took us all around town. At the end of the scavenger hunt we were treated to a scrumptious dinner of salad, lax (salmon), mashed potatoes with Swedish cheese, and a creme brûlée type of dessert. I had an amazing time because I got the chance to explore Jönköping with people who knew where they were going and I got to know my coworkers. I also thought it was so lovely that the office treated their employees to such a fun event. One of my scavenger hunt group members, Einav, is from Israel but now lives in Sweden with her Swedish husband and three children. She has a fascinating life, and the fact that she’s from Israel is incredible, so I enjoyed learning more about her. Marrying a Swede and moving here seems to be a trend: at least three coworkers have this type of story. Whether it’s the charm of the Swedes or the free healthcare, education, and relatively easygoing work lifestyle that brings non-Swedes here, I’m not sure.
All working Swedes get 25 state-mandated vacation days each year. Some workplaces offer more, and an employ can also extend his or her vacation by working extra hours throughout the year and so on. During the summer Sweden tends to be less work-focused because the weather is finally warm and many people choose to take their 5-week vacations then and go traveling, often to Southern Europe. Also, Midsummer Festival occurs in June and people get very excited about it. On the longest day of the year, people dance and drink schnapps and wear flowers and celebrate the summer and the light. The winters are long and within those winters the days are short, so the Swedish people relish any warmth and light that comes their way.
Maybe I’m becoming more of a Swede in that way, because I was outside almost every day this past week. On Tuesday Monika and I went to her apartment and made dinner. We then made a little picnic and took it down to the lakeshore, which Monika just happens to have across the street from her. The weather was a bit chilly and windy, but catching a glimpse of the waning sun shining through the trees with a light that glimmered on the surface of the massive lake was worth being a little wind-chilled. On Wednesday evening I joined some friends at the pier, and I could have easily stayed there all night. The sun was beginning to set, but the light was that perfect toasty shade that makes everything seem more beautiful. It was a little chilly, but we had a tall heater next to our table and that combined with the cool lake air felt lovely. Experiencing the joy that Swedes feel about nice weather makes me more appreciative of the bountiful sunshine and warm weather in the South, even if sometimes the weather is more sticky and steamy and miserable than anything.
After we sat at the pier for a couple of hours, my friend/coworker Camilla and I made our way to Akademien, the student club in Jönköping. Since I’m not a student, Camilla got me on the guest list and we made our way into the large club. The first thing I hear is Spice Girls music blaring and the first thing I see is a ton of students dancing the night away in their college overalls. These college overalls are very interesting–each school at Jönköping University, (Health Sciences, Education and Communication, Business, and Engingeering), has a different color pair of overalls. These overalls are a thick, bright material with multiple patches from various student activities covering them. No one wears the overall straps: they wear them just as pants with the straps tucked. Some students wore regular clothing, but about half were representing their schools. Many people were celebrating the end of their exams, so the club was chaotic; other than the overalls, it could have been a bar in downtown Columbia.
On Friday I experienced Jönköping’s market. Every year the city sets up a carnival in the city center next to all the shops. The kids enjoy the rides and the food and the adults get to browse the great deals that all the stores offer. Monika and I went on Friday evening and I bought a great pair of Lee jeans for 500 crowns ($75)–half price! Usually Lee and Levis go for about $150 here. Along with the shopping deals and rides, there are performers and activities. I saw some Native American musical performers while walking down the street and had to do a double-take.
After being here for two weeks, I’m starting to get a feel for what Swedish people tend to think about the U.S. Surprisingly enough for me, I get a lot of positive reactions when people hear that I’m from the States. Since Swedish people usually learn American English in schools and through watching Hollywood movies, they seem to enjoy speaking English with Americans. I’ve had several conversations with the random acquaintances one meets about everything from gay marriage to Mccarthyism. But when it comes to forming a consensus on what Swedish people think about the U.S., it’s impossible. Because as much as I make generalizations through writing about my experiences, the truth is that everyone I meet here is so incredibly different with their own opinions and beliefs, as it is in the States and in any country. That’s the beautiful thing about this world and its people–no two people are ever the same. But on the other hand, even when one travels across the ocean and goes to a foreign place, it is possible to discover kindred spirits in the people you meet, no matter how disparate their cultures.
1. Monika and me eating pizza on a Friday night
2. A lovely boat on the pier
3. Some of my group members taking a photo for the scavenger hunt
4. The lakeshore
5. Native American performers
6. The pier
7. Prom parade