Friday, September 4, 2009
Learning the Language (or not)
Before the drenching and our failed attempt at reaching the island. Boat-seclusion from Swedish (though the two behind me speak or are Swedish). Phil took this photo with my camera.
The Swedish romance is gone. I mean, it’s still there, but we’re experiencing a restlessness, a do-or-die, a feeling of belonging here but not quite. It’s like being ill and reaching that point where you’re sick of lying in bed, so you decide to change the furniture, the curtains, the oil in the car—something!—but your head still hurts and now you have a bigger mess on your hands (I use this example because I've been laid up the last two days with a touch of the flu. Don't worry, I have all they symptoms of Swine flu just as every flu does. I've already rearranged the furniture).
The grocery store is the same grocery store, selling the exact items I purchased last spring. I know because I’ve been back to fill the refrigerator twice since we left the U.S. August 8th (only twice because we have done as much leaching as possible…). But I find that I’m having to learn all over again. I mean, it seems to me they want $100 (but it’s really kronor per kilogram—still!) for a cut of beef, but I can’t tell if it’s really beef because they sell it by the cut in Swedish or French, neither of which I understand.
I still get lost in the dairy/non dairy section. I now calculate when I’m finished grocery shopping not by ticking off everything from the grocery list, but by how HEAVY my cart-load is and how difficult it will be to pack it all up at the cash register while my food piles on top of itself, torturing the bread, lettuce and eggs. Last time, I nearly ran out of there in a confused, overwhelmed frenzy (this won’t surprise my children—they know I am easily befuddled while shopping).
Really, should I be made to decide between the weight of milk or of a small bag of potatoes? Either or, not both? Must I really decide to come back tomorrow for what I left behind today? Yet another trip to the foreign grocery store????
Similarly, we went back to our beloved Pentecostal Church. The International Congregation has been fazed out except to enjoy a sermon in English now and then AFTER the shaking of hands at “intermission.” Only, that week’s English speaker was ill. Sunday school was not yet “open” for the year, and the translator--for whom we wear the ridiculous orange sponge covered earphones--accidentally turned off her microphone for a large section of the service. Hunter begged to escape to the upper tier of the theatre-style seats or to be allowed to run up and down the hall outside the sanctuary—that or torture Mom and Dad with every misbehaving antic in the book. All because Swedish is not yet dawning on us and it was again sweeping over our heads like the sheets of water from our failed boating attempt in Alingsas.
Phil’s company conducts all of its internal business in English. Hunter attends an English International School, we speak English at home and with our international friends, even our Swedish friends. But we’ve all had enough. It’s time to tune our ears and forks (er, tongues) for the Swedish language.
True, my adopted brother from Finland tells me, Swedish is understood, even if only loosely, in six countries compared to only one Finnish-speaking country—it would be a good choice if you’re going to hang around much longer. My friend from Poland just got into Swedish classes after a year-long waiting list. For this great privilege, she had to become a temporary citizen, fill out miles of applications, wait in long lines, and nail-bite during waits for rejections, approvals, and permits. And she was already a citizen in the European Union! We’re trying NOT to become ex-patriot's—we just need to speak the language, that’s all!
No matter how often I force myself to listen to Swedish phrases on cd’s, the radio (only to find out it’s really Danish), Swedish television, or listen patiently to native speakers converse easily among themselves, Swedish just isn’t dawning on me. I keep waiting for that Aha! moment when the language has finally soaked into my understanding without my having to take grammar classes and flip through vocabulary index cards in my copious spare time.
Instead, I answer in Spanish, or relax into understanding every 10th word, then have a panic attack when it is my turn to reply. This has even affected my Spanish! One of Hunter’s classmates is enjoying a visit from his Mexican grandmother. She and I tried to converse in her language, but she soon reverted back to English for my sake. Sigh.
When we attended church in Alingsas, I could tell the preacher was telling the truth, grounding his admonishments in the Scriptures. I could decipher between words (this is an achievement for me!), but I could not understand! How I wished the Holy Spirit would help me hear the sermon in my own language as thousands did while Peter spoke at Pentecost.
My Skanian friends have also decided it is time. They’ve begun not only speaking to me in Swedish, but writing e-mails of same, leaving me to my own (inadequate) devices/despair!
Yes, it’s definitely time to learn the language of Sweden. If only I could learn it by eating one Swedish pastry at a time. Then, I think the language would stick—-even if to my bones.