Monday morning Phil informed me that we would be driving him to work. We hustled around to be ready. Hunter, still waking us up in the wee hours, bounced off the walls. I was bleary-eyed and a bit nervous about dropping Phil off and being on my own in the city (it feels a lot like Seattle with a dark side). We endured car-creeping through construction on the highway, the impatient traffic (much more aggressive than the weekend traffic we had encountered thus far—a semi snaked back and forth in both lanes to keep cars from passing him to get ahead in the merger), and the difficulty of the GPS saying “turn right, turn right” ad. infinitum, while we waited for pedestrians and bicyclists at every quarter block interval in the city.
Inside Securitas, it was another sheltered environment like the church. Everyone spoke English in the business setting (though they spoke multiple other languages into their “mobiles”). Phil introduced me to his team of coworkers, among whom was Häkum, who had met us at the airport. They didn’t have a place for Phil to set up his equipment or sit, yet, so during this strange time, he would sit in one desk for a few moments until the occupant arrived, then he would take the next empty chair. It happened so rapidly that Phil finally mentioned the musical chair game from the US!
Lars, a man in another office, called our Landlord for us so we could inquire about paying rent and other details. He made an appointment for the Landlord to meet us at the house on Tuesday.
Hunter and I left Phil and bothered Ashley, the American receptionist, about directions to the nearest thrift store to look at better coats, a scarf, a hat and gloves for Hunter. She urged us to leave the car in the parking garage and take a bus, printed off a map for us, then accompanied us to our car (which she informed us we were borrowing from her father, Fred, to whom Phil reports). She gave me the number to call her in case we were lost and accompanied us to the bus stop. I was grateful for this because my sense of direction was seriously challenged. On the way to the bus stop, I wondered aloud if I had actually locked the car doors and realized that I had not paid for another hour for parking. Ashley, being familiar with the car and the method of paying, was kind enough to go back and take care of both for me on the way back to the office. What a kindness! I am eternally grateful to her for such gifts that day.
Hunter looked forward to the bus ride and strode confidently to the back where the seats were raised enough for him to peer out of the windows. I didn’t realize how purposeful this was when I followed him until we rode the bus back and I chose a lower seat. He complained about being unable to see what was going on out the windows. When we got off of the bus, we headed the wrong way down the block, circled around into some dense apartment or dormitory areas. I was nervous about what Phil had told me that if I was not careful to stay out of certain parts of town, I might be met with Muslims who thought me a “woman of ill repute” with no headdress.
The only person we encountered was of Middle Eastern descent, but head dress-less, carrying bags of groceries. We were able to ask where the thrift store was and there it was in plain sight! It was somehow comforting for me to find a thrift store, since I frequent them so often in the U.S. Unfortunately, the items were fairly expensive (unless I was overreacting to the high krona numbers, so we found an orange hat for Hunter (the tassles of which he has since removed) and a few little Christmassy things to make the house homey for Christmas.
It may seem silly to purchase Christmas decorations. Monday, after less than 48 hours in Sweden, Christmas seemed the only familiar event in the world. Which it is!
I did not feel comfortable enough in that section of town to wander down the streets to see other things, especially with a very active boy who felt no fear at all, so we got on the next bus. The driver had to nod to me when we had reached our destination, which was a broad square, surrounded by gardens and canals and filled with little tents of goods. I could not find my bearings, immediately and Hunter said he was hungry right now! so we slowed down to get a snack of spring rolls from a Vietnamese man who mentioned that most of his family live in California.
If I’ve heard one thing most often from the friendly folk here in Southern Sweden, it is that they have family in California. And it doesn’t matter their nationality, either.
We sat on the outside table under little umbrellas and watched the world go by while we dipped the spring rolls in sauce and ate. During this relaxing moment, when my brain could relax enough to figure things out, I noticed a fruit and vegetable stand where I eventually bought greens and fruit for the week. I felt a sense of possibly being “taken” in an open market like that, but the grocer was gracious and helpful telling me what things were especially expensive for this time of year and what things were more fresh and closer to season (much like farm fresh goods at home, actually). He did not, however, apologize for the lettuce having a few black and slimy leaves because that was all we could expect for this time of year. Since I was still figuring out the Swedish coins and paper money, I accidentally gave him an inordinate amount of cash to change so that he had to get more change from a nearby tent, but it was the correct change.
I took photos of some of the square and called Ashley, admitting that I wasn’t sure where to go from the square. That Hunter was running around a rock sculpture. She knew exactly where we were and directed me back to the parking garage in no time. I decided my brain was fried enough for one day, asked Phil to catch the bus home so I wouldn’t have to spend another round trip of gas. He agreed to do so and we headed out past calming farms and fields, back to our new home.
Hunter was asleep before we were out of the city limits. I put Hunter in his bed, did some laundry, checked e-mail, arranged a few more things, then succumbed to a short nap, myself.
It is exhausting to be immersed into a language one cannot even use much common Latin to decipher. I must have puzzled over the washer and dryer settings for a half and hour and revisited them often to make sure the machine was doing what I wanted even if I didn’t know how to tell it. There are so many buttons and knobs with various icons and words that one cannot just turn and pull the knob to start. What is torkening? And what is the difference between one squiggly water symbol over another with the same intervals of degrees Celsius? The oven and dishwasher were no different and the manuals in the laundry room drawer were no help (because they were only in Swedish).
By the time Phil arrived home from work, my brain was a frustrated jumble. He did inform me that we had an invitation to an American Thanksgiving. It was something I understood, at least, but then I realized I had nothing to bring and not nearly the ingredients one would need to put something together. Being one to process things like invitations with connecting ideas and the need to implement them, this strange helplessness felt like a short circuit.
Short circuit or no, we had to eat quickly because the Landlord and lady arrived to discuss everything. I had already tidied the house and swept the floors in anticipation of their coming. But our unfinished dinner sat on the table during their visit.
Tove and Eva P. seemed personable enough. Tove is a very tall man and obviously industrious. He bustled around the house setting things up that hadn’t yet been finished before we arrived (that we didn’t know were unfinished). Phil followed him around and showed him what changes we had made for putting the office upstairs.
Eva, whose English was not as versatile as Tove’s, followed me around the house to help me understand the knobs and buttons on the appliances. She was pleased to tell me that she had washed every window in the house, herself, and that it should be easy enough for me to vacuum, sweep, mop and clean with the things she had left me in the broom closet.
“What is Torkening?” I asked her.
“Torkening. Yes! That’s right. Torkening!” she said as if saying the word repeatedly would help its meaning suddenly dawn on me. Whatever its meaning (I admit, I’ve not looked it up, yet, because I’m enjoying the first week of my ignorance), she showed me what settings she used and I’ve used them, since.
The stovetop? No problem. This sixty-something, brunette-bobbed woman in a plaid suit and overcoat (like a Babushka with style) whooshed into the kitchen and took up one of my new kitchen towels. “Your fingers have something on them, see?” She takes the towel and presses the places painted on the glass and the red lights come on for her, no problem, indeed. That’s right, we are unable to use the stovetop without a towel.
The most wonderful thing Eva told me was that I could call the church (there is only one?) in Höllviken to make arrangements for school or childcare for Hunter. She would call me with the church number in the morning.
All that done, we talk about their four-year old grandson and how we can get him together with Hunter. They tell us their daughter is marrying a man from New York at their home this weekend and that they are very busy. That after the wedding, they will have more bedding to share for any company we might have. We learn that Tove is a grain farmer. We feel endeared to them by the time they leave, even if we finish our meal an hour later.
Not long after the dinner dishes are finished, I join the boys in the upstairs den where they are happy building their domains. I plop on a couch to simply be near them. But I can’t keep my eyes open long enough to hear a question or even answer one. It is a relief to realize I can start the bedtime routine for Hunter and soon be off to sleep, myself!