Expat Adventures · Life in General


A shelf on our multi-lingual bookcase.

In the midst of all this uncertainty and unease, one thing in my life actually became more certain. A couple weeks ago, I received a letter from the Swedish Migration Board accepting my request for permanent residency.

This doesn’t change too much. I’m still not a citizen. My visa is still determined by my relationship with my husband. I still need to “let Sweden know” if I’ll be away from the country for six consecutive months or longer. But I no longer have to reapply every two years. And, best of all, I get access to certain social services such as student loans that aren’t available to temporary residents. 

Regardless of the advantages or disadvantages, reading the acceptance letter sent a little shock of pride through me (even if the only “accomplishments” it signifies are not getting arrested and not getting divorced from my husband). It also got me thinking about our little family, and how multicultural it is.  

Having been raised in America, I think I understand to a certain extent what multiculturalism is. My family is a mixture of European heritage, with some ancestors being among the first Europeans that emigrated to America back in the 1600s, and other ancestors coming recently enough that we still maintain some of their cultural traditions. Living in New York showed me what a wonderful (and difficult) mixed up world it can be, though I found the city to be more of a fruit salad than a melting pot, with pockets of cultures living more or less harmoniously with each other, picking up some of each other’s flavor while maintaining their own identity.

But having moved to Sweden, I can start to see through a Swede’s eyes, and all of that richness and diversity is concentrated into a single culture of “American.” When I was in the States I told others I am Polish, and Scottish, and German, and a list of others in diminishing percentages. Here, when asked, I am American. Who is married to a Macedonian, who grew up in Sweden.

It is not easy to create a multicultural home, I can tell you that. I can also tell you how romantic it can seem at first. I had friends as a kid whose parents or grandparents were first generation American. They spoke multiple languages at home and ate food I had never heard of and celebrated holidays I had only read about. It seemed so cool, so exotic, I’ll admit I was a little jealous . Then I had a dalliance with a hot European man my friend introduced me to, and I fantasized about getting serious with him, about a life that spans an ocean, experiencing a new culture as an insider rather than a tourist. 

But then reality and logistics set in. And though there is a lot of adventure, I can honestly say my first two years in Sweden were incredibly challenging. In addition to the challenges that all new couples face, such as how to live with another person, we faced all new cultural challenges, and we learned just how wide that ocean can be.

A Swedish flag and an American flag fly side by side.

Honestly, language is probably the biggest one. It takes a lot of time to work out, especially when one or both people have to learn a completely new language. Eventually you kind of ease your way into a usually complicated, always elaborate, pattern of which languages are spoken in which instances.

For example, Hubby and I speak English at home, though more and more Swedish words and phrases have been creeping into our vernacular. We obviously speak English with my own family, and when Hubby talks to his family alone, or on the phone, they speak a virtually seamless mixture of Macedonian and Swedish.

However, when we are with his family together, we speak Swedish, as that is the common tongue, more or less (his grandmother speaks about as much English as I speak Macedonian). Additionally, when we are with Hubby’s friends, they generally speak Swedish, and I speak English, so that we are all able to express ourselves fully. 

Got all that? Good, because guess what? Throw a baby into this mixture and it becomes even more confusing.

I, for one, am really excited that Darling Daughter has this opportunity to grow up with multiple languages. My husband was raised in a multilingual home and now has an amazing grasp on languages, even ones he doesn’t technically know (He once translated a film in Russian for me, just based on the similarities between Russian and Macedonian. He didn’t realize at first that there were actually English subtitles, so I was understanding just fine). 

From what I’ve read about multilingual homes, the biggest suggestion for raising a child is consistency. Multilingual children may be slightly delayed in speaking, but they will pick up what languages to use at which time. Research has even shown that ” code-switching” (switching between languages) is beneficial for keeping brain tissue in shape, and may delay the development of Alzheimers or dementia. We therefore have decided that I will speak English with her, Hubby will speak Swedish, and she’ll get Macedonian from Hubby’s grandmother.

This is not as easy as it sounds. Because Hubby speaks English to me, he often slips up and speaks English to DD. And what about books? Do I read her the Swedish books? Do I translate them? And how will it be in the future when my daughter can speak a language that I know little of (guess I’ll have to learn Macedonian…)?

Even DD has started a multilingual library!

And that’s just with language. How will we navigate Christmas when Santa comes on the 24th in Sweden, but the 25th in the US? Can we afford to alternate Christmases in America and Sweden? Should I host a yearly Thanksgiving like I did last year, sharing the unfamiliar tastes of roast turkey and cranberry sauce in this land of meatballs and lingonberry jam?

The truth is, there are no right answers and all these little questions will get solved eventually, in the best way for our family. Right now it is enough to see DD beginning to understand words in all three languages. (She responds correctly whenever someone says “Clap!”, “Klappa!”, or “Katz!”). I look around, and I realized that we will be the family who speaks multiple languages at home, eats exotic food and celebrates weird customs, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I look forward to all the joys (and challenges) to come in creating our little Swacedorican (Swedish Macedonian American) family.

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