Friday, November 20, 2015

Reverse Culture Shock & How We Feel About Being Back

About six months before we moved back to the US I read a blog post about reverse culture shock and it was pretty spot on to what we've experienced except I feel like ours was on a smaller scale.  Sweden and the US aren't that different but they are different enough that the first few weeks back in the US were weird.  We made a list of things that we noticed and I thought I'd share it so that I remember and because maybe you'll think it is interesting. (At the end of this post I shared a few other thoughts about how I feel now that we are back.  Remember I don't sugar coat well :).)
Jake came up with best analogy to compare the US and Sweden from our my box of Fruit Loops with Marshmallows.  I found one box of fruit loops without marshmallows in Stockholm once and bought it.  The difference in the boxes pretty much sums up the differences in the countries.  In the US the box is bigger, cheaper, has more sugar and artificial colors.  People in the US are bigger than the people in Sweden (in general). Things are more expensive in Sweden but they also tend to last longer and are higher quality (not necessarily when it comes to fruit loops but you get the point).  Swedes value natural colors and flavors and things being organic and healthy.  Americans might be starting to go that way more but we are nowhere near where Swedish standards are on food.  We've also noticed that baby clothes and toys in Sweden are more subtle and in the US they are very loud.  Just like the people buying them :).

Our first morning back in the US we went to Hy-Vee to do a little grocery shopping because we were up :) and we needed a few things but also because I loved going to grocery stores in different counties and now I wanted to see how ones in the US felt compared to Sweden.  Here is what we noticed:

*The coffee selection was very small but the bbq sauce and salsa selection was huge! 
We found a salsa bar!
*No rolling small carts at stores.  I really miss this.  Big carts are hard to push and I often don't need that much space but carrying a basket can get heavy.  They need small rolling carts you pull with a handle.
*Not having to bag our own groceries.  Before moving to Sweden I read that you bag your own groceries there which was helpful to know before actually having to do it.  We got pretty good at bagging our own groceries.  The first trip to the store after moving back I actually bagged our groceries while the guy was still scanning things.  The first time we remembered our reusable bags I told Jake to put them on the belt and he couldn't figure out why and then it dawned on him that we didn't have to bag our own groceries.
*You don't have to pay for plastic bags to put your groceries in at the stores in the US.  This is kind of nice but I also think paying for bags would cut down on the people that use them and then throw them away.
*I had a hard time going grocery shopping the first few times because I couldn't remember what brands of things I used to buy and what I liked or didn't like.  I've already had a few trial and error situations.  The stores here are also a lot bigger which is overwhelming.
*I used to get frustrated that in Sweden you had to go to so many individual stores to get all of our weekly shopping done.  Before we moved I would go to Walmart every 2 weeks to do our main grocery shopping and then I'd go to Price Chopper to get fresh produce every few days.  It was nice having all we would need in one store.  I went to Walmart Neighborhood Market by our house last week to pick up a few things and decided to look in the baby aisle for the bigger bottle size that we needed and they had it.  I was planning on driving about 20 minutes each way to go to Babies R Us to get it because I forgot that in the US grocery stores carry more than just groceries.

Random Things We've Noticed in the US:
*Everything is big (except for strollers).  We had bigger knives and skillets than we remembered at our house.
*Crappy cars and clunkers
*People speaking English - kind of a duh statement but it is weird being around it again (and being able to eavesdrop.)
*People yelling to each other in stores.  Stores here are loud.  The music is loud, the customers are loud and the store decor is also loud :).  Things are much more muted in Stockholm.
*Bathroom stalls with shorts walls.  In Sweden bathrooms have individual rooms with walls and a door that goes from the floor to the ceiling.  Bathrooms are also co-ed in most places and individual stalls also have sinks so you can wash your hands in the stall even before coming out.
*In Sweden everything is free choice - a phrase we heard often during our prenatal care - but the selection is smaller.  It used to bother me that the store in Sweden didn't have as many choices for things as I was used to but now when I go shopping I'm overwhelmed.  I wish there were fewer choices :).
*We went to a Jersey Mike's (a sandwich shop) a few days after being back and after we finished paying for our sandwiches the guys said, "What's up today guys?" We both looked at each other and weren't sure what to say.  At first we just said "oh nothing" and then he said something else that made me think he was actually curious and that is when I said we had just moved back from Sweden.  We made small talk for a few more minutes before leaving.  When we got in the car Jake said he missed our "Stockholm Bubble" where no one would talk to you.  I just smiled and laughed and told him it was nice to talk to someone and that he would be okay it would just take some time getting used to the small talk.
*While shopping for a new dishwasher at Nebraska Furniture Mart we had 8 different sales guys that worked there stopped and asked if we needed help in about a 20 minute time frame.  Sometimes the offers were less than a minute apart.  We had a hard time not laughing.  No one offers you help in Sweden.  You have to ask.
*One of the sales guys at Nebraska Furniture Mart was talking to us about dishwashers and said we wouldn't want the one we were looking at (and the one we drove 30 minutes to see) because it was a European style dishwasher.  He said that like it was a negative thing.  That is when I informed him that we had just moved back from Sweden and actually loved the dishwasher we had there :).
*A sign on the Macy's Department store door said "No Soliciting, Photography or Handguns."  You don't see signs about handguns in Sweden.
*Our cell phone service has dropped several times on the way to and from Manhattan and Wichita, Kansas.  We always had great cell service in Sweden.  I'm sure this sounds weird but Sweden is a well connected country when it comes to Internet.  We had 100 megabits per second which was their standard Internet speed.  Before we moved I think we had 12 mbps.  Even in the Stockholm Archipelago (the 30,000 islands located off of Stockholm) we always had cell phone service and data.
*Along those lines our cell phone plans were cheaper in Sweden.  (Probably the only thing cheaper than the US.)  I had unlimited calling and texting to anyone in Sweden plus 6 GB of data for about $23 per month.  This wasn't on a contract either so I could quit at anytime.

How Do We Feel About Being Back?
I should probably warn you that I'm feeling all the feelings about this.  You've been warned. (Aka please don't be offended by what I'm about to say.)

That is such a loaded question.  It feels good in some ways and so strange in other ways being back.  Some days we miss Stockholm a little bit and some days we miss it a lot.  I don't think there has been a day that we haven't missed it at all.  That is a hard realization.

The biggest surprise after we moved back was the sudden urge to rewind and just go back. I think the amount of work we have to do in our house to get it organized and decluttered was enough to send us packing without a second thought.  But then we realized moving back won't fix the problem of having way too much stuff.  So for now we will clean out our house, get rid of stuff we shouldn't have held on to for this long and be thankful that we had the experience of living in Stockholm.  We are thankful that living in a one bedroom apartment with 6 suitcases of stuff to show us that we don't need as much stuff as we have.  There is something truly freeing in having less stuff.  We are ready to be free again :).  (We do kind of miss the ignorance of not realizing how much stuff we had.  But I know having it all decluttered and organized will feel really good!)

I'm curious to see how we feel about our house after it is organized.  Will we still want to go back to Stockholm as much as we do now?  How much do we miss the city of Stockholm versus the simplicity of living there?  Regardless, I think both of us will still miss our little apartment.  It was so cozy and just perfect for us.

Feeling all the Feelings . . .
Sometimes it is hard to talk about Stockholm.  We don't want to come across snobby when we talk about it but has become a big part of our life.  I just wish we could convey to others that it is possible for them to experience something like this too.  In Stockholm most people we met were in a similar situation.  They had moved from somewhere else (most of the time the US) to work in Stockholm for a certain period of time.  So we had lots of things in common that we could talk about.  There was a need to make connections and friendships quickly in adulthood which isn't common when you've lived in a city your whole life.  Now when we talk to people it is hard for them to relate to what we went through (or are going through) so then it feels like we can't talk about it.  Not talking about it makes it kind of feel like it didn't happen and that is hard.  I feel like Jake is in an even more awkward position at work because he is around a lot of people who weren't given the opportunity he was so why would they want to hear about how great it was?

I was the one that pushed for us to move back.   Moving to Stockholm was supposed to be a one year deal and then we extended it to two years.  So when we were making plans to move back we I just went through the steps of getting ready to move back because that is what we said we would do.  Part of me wishes I would have thought about it harder.  Did we move back because we wanted to and were ready? Or because I had it in my head that it would happen after 2 years and when Linnea was still little?  How would I feel if we were still in Stockholm and staying for another year?

Living in Stockholm often felt like a dream or a long vacation.  Every time we did things that were really different than living in Olathe (riding public transportation, walking around downtown Stockholm, etc) it didn't feel normal.  It didn't feel like home.  I think that feeling made me think that "if this doesn't feel like home and Olathe does then we should move home."  After moving back to Olathe my thinking has shifted to . . . "just because riding the metro or walking around downtown Stockholm didn't feel familiar or like home didn't mean it didn't feel good."  I wish I would have realized that before.  I didn't realize how much of the Stockholm life we really enjoyed and valued until getting back to Olathe and realizing we don't have those things here.

This isn't all to say we haven't really enjoyed our time in the States because we have.  We've been taking full advantage of being around family and friends again.  Our goal is to hang out with friends or family at least once a week and we have been doing way more than that.  It has been so great and every time we do something with friends or family I think about how we wouldn't be able to do that if we were still in Stockholm.  I went to a Thanksgiving lunch at my niece's school this week with my sister in law and it was great.  I would have missed that in Stockholm.  I had a play date with one of my best friends a few days ago and I would have missed that in Stockholm.

With all the recent news about refugees and Governor's banning refugees I had a strange thought.  I was thinking about all the posts I had read on Facebook and at one point I thought "I wonder what it is like for people in Kansas and other states.  Have they seen refugees?  Are some kids coming to school?  What would that be like?"  And then I realized I'm in Kansas.  Over the last two years I've been reading posts on Facebook about Brownback cutting school funding and other current events and I've wondered what it felt like to live through that instead of just read about it.  Then it dawned on me that I was living through this instead of just reading about it.  Our minds can definitely play tricks on us.

I am so thankful for this little blog and that I can be honest about my feelings.  It really helps me be able to process things and hopefully you guys have learned a few things along the way as well.

Next week is Thanksgiving and I could not be more excited.  Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  No presents and hardly any stress since my mom and uncle do all the cooking.  I get to see my aunt, uncle and cousins and they are so much fun!  I can't wait to introduce Linnea to several family members who haven't met her yet!  Eek!  Plus, my mom always makes fudge and I eat as much Blue Bell Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream as I can :).  Got to keep up my milk supply, right?  TMI?  Sorry!

Happy Thanksgiving!


  1. I found your blog when I was interested in the Finnish Baby Box for my daughter's baby (born July 27.) We also lived in Sweden (Gothenburg, before kids in 1980-81) and then in Switzerland with kids (1990 - 1993.) Your blog brought back such memories of times I'm so glad of and I echo whole heartedly how you feel upon moving back. Good luck to you, and I hope more Out of Kansas experiences are in your future. I thank you for writing it all down.

    1. Thanks Gayle! If you don't mind me asking, how was your experience living abroad different with kids than without kids? How old were your kids when you lived in Switzerland and are you glad you did it? We loved Switzerland and have talked about going back there in the future to visit or possibly live depending on how things go. Congrats on your new grandchild. Did you end up getting a Finnish Baby Box? Thanks again for your comment. Most of the people who read the blog are family and friends so it is interesting hearing from someone new.

    2. You wrote back! I never saw this until today! All I can say is, if you have the opportunity to live in Switzerland (or Sweden again for an extended period, or basically anywhere!), go for it! Our son was 6 – 9 and our daughter 3 years younger when we lived in a small farming town 12 miles outside of Bern. The kids picked up German easily and Swiss life was great for all of us. We always meant to have another out-of-Seattle experience, but aging parents and then high school rigors intervened. Our daughter did get her baby box delivered to Nome, Alaska and the cold weather gear was mighty useful. Our son is now considering an adventure away from his home in LA, which led me to bring up your pictures of Stockholm and see your response. We loved Switzerland but more of my heart was left in Sweden. Hej då!


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