I wrote this piece in what seems like a long time ago. So much have happened since and a few of those things are the reason it never reached the published state before it became outdated. I want to publish it anyway, it’s filled with fond memories that I want to keep close at this moment. It’s like a nice flashback to when there was still hope, warmth and proper daylight.
I’m just back from a visit to USA. The timing couldn’t have been better as we were able to celebrate Halloween in the states! Halloween isn’t a big thing here in Sweden, it was first introduced in the 90s by retailers. Swedish kids dress up, sing songs and receive candy at Easter and Lucia (December 13) already and even though costumes are not as diverse as they are for Halloween, this new tradition hasn’t caught on yet. A few families celebrate Halloween and go trick or treating, but most people celebrating Halloween are teenagers throwing Halloween-parties, taking this as a great excuse to dress up, make “haunted houses” and get drunk.
The thing is that you never know when to celebrate Halloween and when to expect trick-or-treaters here. In the rest of the world it’s easy – October 31, the day before All Saints Day. All Saints Day do exist in the Swedish calendar on November 1, but we don’t celebrate it. We have “Allsaintsday” instead and it’s always placed on a Saturday October 31-November 6. But being a Lutheran country we don’t like to celebrate saints, so the celebration really takes place on All Souls’ Day, the Sunday after “Allsaintsday”. That’s when people go out to decorate family members graves.
However we traditionally celebrate our beloved ones and decorate their graves during Christmas (Yule) so the whole celebration in October/November is utterly confusing and somewhat redundant. Some people decorate graves on All Souls’ Day, but others do it on Christmas Day. Some do it on both occasions, but I think most people view that as overdoing it.
When it comes to the trick-or-treaters you have some of them knocking on your door on October 31, some of them come on Friday before “Allsaintsday” and sometimes some even come on “Allsaintsday”. But mostly they don’t come at all. In total we get 0-3 visits by dressed up kids per year and their year most people stayed at home due to stupid people running around dressed up like clowns scaring people (apparently it’s a “thing”).
Being able to participate in “real” Halloween celebrations this year was really, really fun! We walked in a Halloween-parade as Pippi Longstocking accompanied by one of the sailors from her fathers ship. Our daughter LOVED IT and loved all the attention the bystanders gave her. She even acted out like Pippi, jumping and climbing all over the place. After the judging he was thrilled to receive her very first lollipop!
On Halloween we went trick or treating in a neighborhood that really takes this celebration serious, even for American standards. We brought a trick-or-treat bag with us from home for the occasion but apparently it was the smallest bag our friends had ever seen. They laughed out loud when they saw it, but I was still amazed that we actually had to empty the bag in the stroller half way. Especially considering we only went down one street and only stopped at 1/4 of the houses.
Our daughter sat in the stroller with a very serious face the whole time and I was concerned it was too much for her, but every time I asked her if she had fun she nodded quickly, still with an expressionless face. We drank apple cider, hot chocolate and finished the evening with ice cream and one exhausted daughter. Apparently she thought it was real fun because the very next day she pulled out her little bag, took my hand and walked towards the door with a smile on her face…
I’m utterly fascinated by USA, the culture is so different from ours and I often have a hard time understanding it. I know not all people in USA are extrovert, but there sure are plenty of them! An introvert like me was exhausted after just a few days of involuntary interactions with people commenting on how adorable my daughter is, wondering where I’m from, what I think of the upcoming election and wondering of the status of stem-cell research in Sweden?!? Everyone is so outgoing it left me feeling rude whenever I was unable to contribute to the conversation with anything else than short answers to their questions.
I also felt like a horrible parent for not paying enough attention to my child. Everyone is so attentive to kids, giving them a lot of attention in different ways. They encourage them, talk to them, play with them and so on. For Swedish standards we are very attentive parents, but in the states I often felt guilty when I realized I hadn’t spoken to or interacted with my daughter for over an hour.
I think this might be a reason why so many people in USA are outgoing, they learn to be so from the beginning interacting with a lot of different people.
Swedish parents don’t like it when strangers interact with their children and everyone is relieved when the child’s outgoing phase, when they interact with anyone they get eye-contact with, is over. Swedes are trained to leave other people alone from the very beginning, creating a nation of introverts.
We’re so introvert we really like the concept of drive-through. Not necessary all kinds of drive-through, but all that means you don’t have to interact with people. At any fast food restaurant you will see long cues by the drive-through and hardly none standing by the counter. They’re not opting for the drive-through because it’s quicker, or more efficient. It’s not because the restaurant is noisy or uninviting, not because the parking is full, inconvenient or because it’s a long distance to walk. Neither is it because we’re in a hurry. We simply prefer making our order to a machine (albeit a human speaking through it), pay for it in silence, park the car at the parking lot in front of the restaurant and eat our food in solitude. Yeah, we’re really that introvert.
A few fun fact about our journey:
Our daughter was swabbed in the security check at the airport and tested positive for something (drugs or explosives, they never told us).
At the airport a dude stopped in the doorway to the men’s room and did a double-take when he saw me before entering. Otherwise I was “sir-ed” the whole time.
The only thing our daughter ate on the 8 hour flight was the Brie cheese.
American men’s rooms lack changing tables, leaving me no other choice than to sneak into the women’s.
Everything is big in America. Everything. Like, for real, everything.
All foods are sweeter. Including bread, apple juice and bran flakes.
The area we visited is so beautiful with all the leaves changing colors and we had such nice weather the whole time. Maybe to make up for last times visit when we arrived to New York at the same time Sandy did.
New York felt more like home than the countryside. I still don’t know why, we live in the countryside and I don’t like cities.
Shopping food is fun in America, the choices are endless, surprising and wonderfully weird.
Our daughter was confused by the string cheese we bought for her. She was like “you say it’s cheese, but they have images of the Frozen characters like a toy. Do I eat them or play with them?”
Our hosts live in an old mill, with a pond and draw-bridge indoors among other things.
My wife managed to get some big bug on her way back home resulting in the worst case of pneumonia she’s ever had. Two weeks later on the third version of antibiotics she’s finally getting better.
We had a great time, but there’s no place like home. Especially not for introverts like us.