As of writing this, we have been home in Sweden for one and a half month. Now I feel acclimatized to the Swedish ways, the Swedish life, but in the beginning it all felt very strange. To summarize reflections from the third of June until now, the key words are “material abundance”, “cleanliness”, and “control” . The memories of our travel are fading away every day, and there is no point to try live in the past. But we will keep the best of the cultures and the ways one can live, and try to implement it in our Swedish lifestyle. Growing up, I’ve heard multiple times how lucky I am to have been born in Sweden. It’s true, of course. I will live on average 13 years longer than a person born in India. It’s 97,7 procent less likely that I would die in childbirth compared to a woman in India. But it’s all a matter of perspective.
Leaving Bankok early in the morning on the third of June, was easy, yet difficult. Stepping on the plane was easy, sleeping on the plane was easy, mechanical one could say, but the hard part was accepting the reality we were in. Going back home. We’ve had so many mixed feelings about the place where we came from, both being terribly homesick and loathing how uneventful the Sweden we remembered is.
Flying in over Malmö, the third biggest city in Sweden with 300 000 people, we laughed a little. It’s tiny! We have seen Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta and Bangkok, HUGE cities that stretch faaaar beyond the horizon. In all of Sweden, there are 10 million people. The country is 450,295 km2(173,860 sq mi) , compared to Indias 3,287,263 km2 (1,269,219 sq mi), meaning Sweden can fit in India 7 times, but population wise…. 10 million in Sweden, 1,4 billion people in India.
The first contact we had with Europe was in the passport check, arriving at Copenhagen Airport. “Velkommen” said the man in the glass box. August parents were waiting for us when we stepped out with our luggage collected, and they drove us home across the bridge. Sweden is so green. I have been in jungles partly during our 8 month trip, but I have not seen this much greenery in any place we have visited. My country is beautiful, and all the fear I felt on the plane, over going home disappeared. My country is beautiful. We stopped in a small town called Höör on the way back home, and stepping into the supermarket felt really strange. What is my food culture built upon? Oil and vinegar, chips, chocolate, bread, yoghurt, butter, cheese, canned sauces, minced meat and sausages, pasta, baking stuff, and tacos. There is always an “international” section, with chinese, japanese and indian stuff. In Swedish supermarkets all corners of the world are represented, you can get mangoes and bananas (even though they grow nowhere near Sweden) Pakistani rice, sauces from Mexico, American sauces and your very own suchi kit. Everything in one place! Abundance.
Reversed Culture shock
Reversed culture shock is the emotional and psychological distress suffered by some people when they return home after being abroad for a longer period of time. It has to do with readjusting to social norms and values of the home country. Neither of us has experienced this before. But it’s like when you are put in a place where completely different things are important for your survival on a daily basis, basic stuff that you’ve always known gets sorted out of your memory. Like where this item always have been, the directions in the town I’ve lived most of my life, names of acquaintances’ and recipes, locations of stores and restaurants etc.
What shocked us the most was this: Material abundance. Economical abundance. Resource Abundance. Abundance around every corner. We arrived in Sweden during the time where high school students graduate, and towns in Sweden are filled with well dressed people and fancy cars and picnics in the park. Everyone were so clean! Pastel coloured shirts and shorts, blazers and shiny shoes, summer dresses and high heals. Here we were in clothes that hadn’t seen a washing machine in eight months, patched together by novice tailors (ourselves), with materials that were available at the time of reparation. All our stuff had a yellow or brownish tone and August’s mom was deeply concerned about the state of his shoes. We felt the pressure to comply, to wear clean clothes and wash off the brownish tones that our favorite clothes had acquired, and to wash our hair every three days, be well groomed and at least wear whole shoes or no shoes at all, rather than broken ones. Another thing that was strange was that everyone speaks our language. During our travel, we’ve had a secret language, we’ve been able to discuss in private with twenty people in the room, and now all of a sudden, I felt like everyone were listening to what we were saying. I still miss having a secret language.
Another thing that was new to me, again, was the topics of the conversations. There were many words that can be used on a daily basis in newspapers or in different groups, that not even once popped in to my head during our travels, like “heteronormativity”, “climate anxiety” or “paternalism”.
When I’ve spoken about Swedish people abroad, I used to say that they are very reserved, even cold, but now I feel like people are generally nice. People are helpful and polite and smile if you smile to them. Coming back to my own home town in the north of Sweden was especially rewarding, being able to use my local dialect and phrases no one in the south understand. Taking the 12 hour long train, one week after we arrived in Sweden, from south to north felts strangely natural. The standards of public transportation in Sweden is extremely high compared to India, Myanmar and Thailand, so we greatly enjoyed the luxurious comfort of a normal state owned train (although the service and quality of the food is a lot better on Indian trains). Being in the north of Sweden, things came back to “normal” fairly quickly. People are even nicer in the north than in the south and they are more “real”. The pressure to be clean and whole isn’t as strong up there. Life is generally tougher, and so are the people.
Best things about coming home
The absolute best thing about coming home, was seeing friends and family. We have received an amazing welcome and people take care of us and really show how happy they are to see us, and we feel very loved. Our friends and family have given us food and shelter, and we are eternally grateful for having these amazing people in our lives.
The best thing about coming home, apart from seeing family and friends, was the fresh air and the cold, clean water. Our lungs feel fully recovered after months in highly polluted areas and we’ve all but forgotten the struggle to find drinking water to refill our water containers with. It’s illegal to have non drinkable water in Sweden, without having a warning sign that states this. The only place I’ve seen it is in trains.
In Asia, we feared the sun, trying to avoid it, not being able to be outside mid day. In Sweden, we adore the sun, mid day is the best time to be in it, and when ever it shines the entire country light up with friendly greetings and smiling children. You see, the sun doesn’t shine as frequently as in south Asia, and as soon as it goes away behind the clouds, the temperature drops with ten degrees. During our time in the north, we had between 4 – 15 degrees celcius, and it rained every day. A cold rain, but rain is precious and after seeing the drought stricken, burned fields and forests of Myanmar and Thailand, and after last summers’ freak heat and the water crisis in India, I am happy that it rains. But it kind of ruined our plans of camping and hiking while in the north. Perhaps that is why every home in Sweden has at least one TV, at least one computer, one tablet and at least one shelf full of books…
To wrap it all up; The abundance of water, nature and greenery as well as the apparent lack of people in Sweden allows for the economical abundance, and hence the material abundance.
The material abundance is the one thing we will try to combat. As I mentioned earlier, climate anxiety in Sweden is high and as a result people people are eating less meat, more and more money is invested in electric vehicles and solar power, and there is a new, green wave in Sweden, where people are increasingly interested in growing their own food, recycling and reusing products that cannot be recycled. But at the same time, consumption increases, people are borrowing money to buy toys, and clothes and the cosmetics industry is booming. In the name of economic growth, production increases every year. The swedish government will ban all single use plastic, as well as some plastic “that are commonly washed up on the sea shore” in 2021. It’s not enough. A lesson that we learned during our asia trip was that you need very little to survive. The total weight of all the stuff me and August brought with us was 20 kg. And yet, this was too much! Clothes, technological devices, furniture, decorations are all unnecessary. You need perhaps three outfits (plus some winter clothes), you do need a phone, but you don’t need to buy a new phone as soon as the old one goes out of style, you don’t need a car (unless you live in the middle of nowhere), and you don’t need all the things that we fill out living spaces with. Every single thing we purchase has an environmental cost. So buy less things! And if you do buy things, buy it second hand. Repair! Reuse! Reduce!
Mine and August’s dream is to live completely self sufficient lives, with everything that is entails; to have our own well, or at least only use the local village water, grow all our own food, produce our own electricity, make all clothes, furniture, hygiene products and decorations by ourselves. I wish to one day learn how to build my own car and computer, buy hey, you need to put your goals just within reach, someone once told me. But most of all, we don’t want to work for anyone other than ourselves, our friends, family and community. The only reason to why people work, is to be able to have things, to have a house, a car, a TV, all the comforts that a modern Swedish life require. And yet, most people never get rich. They only get 4 weeks of vacation a year! And the worst thing is, in the west this is a high number of vacation days.
We will also keep all the amazing friendships we have made during our travels. Not there will be the test of time. As a general rule, I say that if you meet someone, and then within two years see that person again, a life long friendship has been estanlished. We have already met two of the wonderful people we met during our travels, Hank and Melissa. You can read about them in our post River tales: Stories from Pai, Thailand .
Sweden is still pretty uneventful, the media is still fear mongering, the wellfare system is failing and the poison that has infected the human mind is spreading rapidly even here, or perhaps especially here, but still… it’s good to be home.
Our plans for the immediate future is to keep travelling in Europe until Christmas, and after Christmas we want to work a little, with things we enjoy, for me that means not a desk job, and do a few courses in farming and read all the literature on the subject. We will save money and do one final, big adventure across the Atlantic to South America.
After that I think it’s time to find a place where we can live long lives, free from Babylon to the greatest extent and live happily ever after.
Follow this blog to follow our journey.
Lots of Love
Linnea & August.