After almost a year here in Sweden, I feel like I have finally adapted into my life here pretty well and act reasonably Swedish. But occasionally there are American things that I just find hard to break away from. And these are similar for all expats in a new country, no matter how long they have been away from their original country, because they are things we grew up with–they are ingrained into us. One of these things is holidays.
So, when my first Halloween in Sweden approached, I felt like I needed to celebrate it even though Swedes are only just barely starting to celebrate it here, and even though I haven’t really celebrated it for a number of years (since I have been out of school age for a while and I don’t have kids of my own yet). I decided to be very un-Swedish and both decorate our apartment door with Halloween decorations, and also to invite the building to come over to trick-or-treat. Granted, we have very few kids in our building. But I hoped for the best anyway. I put a sign up to invite everyone (in Swedish. It said there’s an American living on the 2nd floor and she wants to invite everyone over for the American tradition of trick-or-treat). Much to the horror of my Swedish boyfriend (“This sign is horrible!” “Why?” “Because it’s too inviting–people will actually come!”). I knew the sign was great just from that, but the neighbors confirmed it by writing a lovely “Trevligt!”(Nice!) on my sign!
As a side note, in case you don’t already know–it is VERY un-Swedish to talk to your neighbors randomly. You never say more than “hej” to them in the hallway, and it is not uncommon for people to wait to leave their apartment if they hear neighbors in the hall already so that you won’t need to even acknowledge them. Of course, on the other hand, you do make sure to respect them by leaving apology notes if there’s some reason you might be making noise, such as a birthday party or home improvements.
So, Halloween night came, and the door area of our house was decorated fun (including carved pumpkins!). Candy was ready, and I had a very simple costume (not over-the-top, so I wouldn’t look too crazy to the Swedes!). I had said the time frame for trick-or-treating started at 17:00 (5:00pm), and (most of) the extremely punctual Swedes showed up precisely at 17:00!
But, it wasn’t just people with children–it was also old ladies coming to say hi and welcome me to Sweden/the building! And then something unexpected happened–they had a “welcome to the building” plant for me!
And even more crazy–they invited themselves into my apartment (“can we come in?”), and they stayed to talk for over half an hour (almost an hour!).
And now, when I see these people in the hall, they actually talk to me more than just “hej”!
So, I’ve learned that even though you should try to act “Swedish” so you don’t freak out the Swedish neighbors by being too in-their-face, they can appreciate it when you do non-Swedish things like inviting them to your event. And that can help you to feel more integrated into their society.