Wednesday, August 12, 2009

From Famous to FU

I miss being famous. Not the autograph, sex tape, Oprah Winfrey, serial killer kind of famous. But the notoriety that came from being one of the first North American immigrant families in a small seaside town called Herceg Novi in Montenegro. I think we were numbers 6,7 and 8 for Canadians in the entire country.

When we landed, the fame was instant. Though I didn't quite realize it at the time largely due to the fact that I couldn't speak or understand the language and thus, failed to notice the grumblings in the community.

But when, after 4 months or so in the country, we magically hooked up with another family of quasi-Canadian immigrants (fled for Canada during the Balkan Wars and returned) who became the dearest of friends, I found out just how much we were the talk of the town.

Here's the story: While I was back home in Canada recovering with my newborn, hubby and his son flew back early to set up our new apartment. Hubby was bent on having a jacuzzi tub. There was nowhere to put it so he opted for our bedroom. Having it installed was a nightmare as at this point the Russian invasion hadn't hit with its full magnitude (meaning wealth) and noone in the town seemed to know how to install the bloody thing.

Our new friends eventually told us that word on the street was we had a hot tub smack dab in our living room. What?! The first evening we invited them over for drinks, they were anxious and excited to see this living room spa we apparently had going on. They also spilled some additional gossip. We were rich, very rich, evidenced by the fact that we had a nanny for our son. Ok, by Montenegrin standards, I guess you could say we were well-off.

We were a mystery. Noone could understand why sane people would leave the comforts of the Western world for the rough of a country picking itself up after a decade-long war. One of the most exquisitely beautiful countries in the world.

But the people embraced us. They took us under their wing. From boutique and local produce market workers to artists and lawyers and other prominent citizens, not to mention fellow expats from other countries, primarily the UK. They were helpful and kind and generous. They invited us over to their tiny apartments for lavish meals. They treated us like family. They included us in the most sacred family celebrations. We were humbled and grateful and honoured by each and every gesture, no matter how small.

They knew our son. They watched him grow. They loved him as one of their own.

And now we're here, in Sweden. Just a few more immigrants, another set of numbers. With the obvious exception of our dearest friends, we're alone. No friendly waves, smiles and jokes. No candy for my boy. No dinner or coffee invitations. Noone noticing if I've gained or lost weight. Noone overcharging us because they think we're rich.

Just a few more immigrants is all. Nothing to see here.


Maelle said...

Despite this lack of friendly signs around you, do you like it here ? Do you think you'll need more time or are you just pessimistic about it all ? I hope you'll meet other nice people, 'cause it's quite desperating to read Sweden is such a cold country ! I never was in Sweden, but intend to spend a few months there for an internship, when I'm able to mumble a few words in swedish !
And what about the expats ? Do you feel something like solidarity among expats ?

Maelle said...

Just forgot to say i've discovered your blog a few days ago and that i really enjoy reading it !

SwedishJenn said...

Hi Maelle and thanks for the comments! Glad you're enjoying my rants ;-). We are blessed to have some dear friends here, who treat us like family. That said, it would be nice to meet others with kids our son's age. I am not completely disheartened yet. As a matter of fact, I was just about ready to give up but have decided to fight. I will continue to be my friendly, outgoing self as opposed to caving into the pressure of a cold society. Hey, maybe I can thaw some of the ice around here? ha! As for your question about solidarity among expats, there is none. Well, not in my brief experience anyway. I think there is among expats originating from Middle Eastern countries but that excludes those of us who "blend in" more. You can't believe the sense of community and solidarity among expats in Montenegro, from Russia to the UK to Australia, the US and Canada...there was such a wonderful support system. I really miss it.

And as for your earlier questions, I think I may need some more time. And yes, Sweden is a beautiful country Maelle and I am certainly you will enjoy your internship here. Where are you from?

Maelle said...

I'm glad to read you haven't given up despite this hard beginning. Do you go to any club or association (isn't there something like a parents association at school which organizes events for families ? there are tons of them around here. But apart from this, I dunno which activity is most appreciated by parents of kids your son's age ;o)), are Swedes cold too when they share an activity with someone ? I find it very strange that people at school don't chat with you, I live in France and I have a younger sister whom I sometimes fetched at school, and I remember that there used to be spontaneous conversations... And according to my mother's experience, yes, it seems normal to hope to become acquainted with other parents ! But well France is not Sweden. It really is a sad point for the latter, i guess...

Maybe your son is too young to have a birthday party... It would surely assure him plenty of invitations, as kids invite those who've invited them (Well, as long as their parents tell them to do so. I remember having "friends" I didn't really like coming each year for my birthday 'coz I had invited them once, they had done the same and so one...), and you could have coffee with parents. Is it something common in Sweden to invite one of your kid's friends so they can play together an afternoon ? Would his or her parents be offended if you told them that you believe your kids get on well, blablabla ?

Well, these are not fantastic tips, I think your smiling and not giving up will be the most important elements. I really believe your staying friendly will help you, there MUST be nice parents around you ;o)

What a pity expats don't help each other, I guess you're not the only one facing those intricacies of life in Sweden.

Good luck !!

Mon said...

lol! I didn't know that there was gossip about you! In the living room?! Hilarious.

Yes, we ARE rich by comparison.

I dislike being noticed. Not because I'm shy, as you know. Just prefer being in the shadows. This small town life can be unsettling at times. When I carried the baby in a wrap, I was 'famous'. eek!

SwedishJenn said...

Mon, I think the funniest expat story I heard was from Hay. She, like many others in the UK, had a harness for her son and was parading him around town in it. The looks, nevermind looks, the public outcry from townspeople was unbelievable. One woman came up to her and said disgustingly, "Your child is NOT an animal and does NOT need a leash". She tried to explain it was for his safety but it didn't go over so well. God Bless her!

SwedishJenn said...

Maelle, all wonderful suggestions. I would have tried some of them earlier but I decided months ago to change Joe's preschool and during the summer months, he went to an entirely different summer school where he was the only child there constantly for the entire six weeks.

But once he starts his new preschool next week, I will be on the lookout for potential "play dates" and keep you posted :-)

SwedishJenn said...

Oh and as for his birthday this year, I brought a birthday cake to his school!