foreign fika tales III: You have to make a place your home.
May 6, 2019
Since I moved to Gothenburg, I've met many women who find themselves in a situation that is similar to mine. Most of us are in their thirties or forties, highly educated, fairly cosmopolitan, multilingual, very ambitious. Most of us are also so-called "love immigrants" and came to Sweden to be with our partners, which means that we put our relationships before our own goals and careers. While our partners usually have well-paid positions in their respective professional field, we enjoy a lot of freedom and leisure time but also frequently struggle with feelings of inferiority, isolation, alienation, and a lacking sense of purpose and self-worth. Therefore, my friend Haydee, a Mexican photographer and communications person, and I, decided to portrait some of these women. We want to give voice to their stories, create an understanding for a particular female experience, and raise awareness for how much potential we think is wasted due to the difficult job market. Last but not least, we love to discover new places and people in Gothenburg and love the Swedish tradition of fika - a sacred ritual of shared caffeine and sugar intake at any time of the day.
For the third interview in our series, I asked Haydee if I could interview her, and she kindly agreed. We met at a lovely little place called Foren where we sat for hours chatting, laughing, and eating their delicious Lebanese food. When I listened to the recording, I had to skip big sections where we talked about nothing but food and made blissful chewing noises.
Haydee and I met during our Sfi course in 2017. She sat in the back row with the cool people and I was too shy to join them. The first thing I noticed about her was her humor. She and her Uruguayan neighbor were both amazing story tellers and simple anecdotes from their lives made me laugh until I cried. It is so common that the funny, silly ones are always guys, so it made me extra-happy that both of them were grown, beautiful women. At some point, she changed to another course and we lost track of each other for almost one and a half years. But then, somehow, we started talking again and I asked her if she would want to do a joint creative project to which she said yes immediately. Since then, we have become good friends and I am very excited and slightly nervous about interviewing her.
Like most of my other non-Swedish women friends, Haydee came to Sweden because of her partner who is from the UK. Born in Mexico, she moved to London to be with him and lived there for almost a decade before they suddenly got the chance to move to Sweden. She was always intrigued by this country in the North and remembers how fascinated she was about its progressive politics and the notion that everything “worked so well here”. But it always seemed like an unrealistic dream to become part of this “amazing society” herself. And there it was, the chance to do precisely that, as her husband got a very good job offer from a company in Gothenburg. “He actually got headhunted”, Haydee tells me, and we as sociel science and culture&communications people shake our heads in disbelief that that actually happens to real people in real life. “The transition phase was pretty smooth for us”, she says, “my husband’s company helped us to get an apartment, sorted out all the paperwork etc. So it was fairly easy and for the entire first year, I was in this blissful honeymoon state, completely oblivious of how difficult things might get.” The honeymoon phase is the first phase of cultural adaption. The website “Swedish for Professionals” describes it as follows:
The first stage is usually characterized by an extremely positive feeling, almost euphoric. Everything is new and exciting! You might be thinking “This is the best decision I’ve ever made! Sweden is great and everything is really well organized! I can even find stores where I can buy local products from my country!”.
In general, Haydee says, she has always felt much more aligned with Northern European culture and values which certainly added to the ease of her adaptation process. “It’s not that I haven’t gotten anything Mexican in me”, she says, “of course I do, but culturally, from the way I look at the world and things, I just fit in so well here. It never was a struggle to adapt to life in Europe.” I ask her if they have ever considered moving back to Mexico an option. She shakes her head: “No, THAT would be a struggle! I would feel all the responsibility for my husband. When we’re in Mexico, it is as if he as this huge sign on his forehead: I am a foreigner, please take advantage of me! Everything is so different and I can deal with it because I grew up there but he… I don’t go back often and every time I am there I think that it is just so different. Not different as in Oh I miss this but different as in It’s nice to visit but now I wanna go home. This side of the Atlantic is home for me. I’ve been very open to change all of my life and since I can remember, I’ve been dreaming about moving away, living in a different place. So moving first to England and then to Sweden was literally my dreams coming true."
After the honeymoon, the foreigner moves on to the next, less pleasant phase. That’s when the frustration sets in and we realize that things might not be as perfect and amazing as they first seemed. “I knew about that honeymoon phase theory, but I thought Nah, it won’t happen to me!”, she says and laughs. “And then it happened to me!”
[During the second stage of cultural adaptation], a strong feeling of dissatisfaction kicks in and the excitement quickly starts turning into discomfort. Impatience, anger, and sadness are all characteristics of this stage. Miscommunication and failure to understand gestures are a source of frustration, and even the simplest thing might be able to trigger you! For example “why is everyone so obsessed with the weather?” or “why do people use passive-aggressive notes instead of talking to each other?”
Throughout the interview, Haydee emphasizes repeatedly how grateful she is for having the opportunity to live in Sweden and how comparatively easy she has had it here. A lot of things other foreigners struggle with haven’t been major challenges to her. The London weather is similarly grey and rainy, the cultural differences are, compared to Mexico, not that significant, and she and her partner as rather introvert personalities actually enjoy the Swedish way of being very private and reserved ("Finally, there are no random strangers talking to me on the streets!"). For her, the major issue which kicked off that second adaptation phase has been about work. And interestingly, that coincided with her 40th birthday last year. “It has a lot to do with age, which I hate to admit”, she takes a sip of her coffee and looks out of the window into the grey winter morning. “You have this idea in your mind that once you’ve reached a certain age, you should have achieved certain things. But when I turned 40, I realized that I was at the exact same place that I was at 20 years ago and I wasn’t really able to move forward from there because I couldn’t find a job. And that really gets to you. I can apply for as many jobs as I want and don’t get any response.” She has been working different jobs in London, mostly content creation for various companies and publications. But her Swedish is not yet good enough for her to find that kind of job in Sweden; fluent English is a given for any young well-educated Swede, so that is not a way to stand out either. And for Spanish, there is simply no market here. “Not having a job just paralyzes you”, she says, shaking her head, “even with all the time at my hands now, I am not as creative as I would be if I had work and an active life. Not having a job works against me, it makes me feel depressed and that blocks my creativity. I know it goes the opposite way for some people, they become more creative when they feel down, but for me, it doesn’t work like that. I need to be happy. I need to be fulfilled.” Realizing how important some sort of professional career is for her and that she won’t get anywhere near that despite of her education and skills, she decided to go back to university and get a Swedish degree. “But even that is complicated”, she sighs. “The fixation on papers and documents here is so bizarre. You need to work your way through years of Swedish classes even though some people still don’t speak the language after that. Also, I worked and lived in the UK for eight years and yet, I have to do an English exam to prove my English proficiency which costs like 220 Euro.”
"I usually get this response of 'OMG you do not look at all like 40!' but for some reason, that stopped feeling nice."
During our conversation, the issue of age comes up again and again. It is something I ponder about a lot and I know thouse cloudy doubts of Shouldn’t I be at another stage in my life? more than well. I ask her how she feels now compared to ten years ago. Did she also have a 30s crisis? She shakes her head. “I never felt any of that before my 40th birthday. And I think that’s why it hit me so much harder, that whole mini-drama I’ve been creating for myself. I was blissfully unaware of time! These last ten years went by so fast, and I enjoyed all of it. We don’t have kids, we don’t own a house, we do whatever we want, we act and think very much like we did when we were thirty. And when we were twenty! In that sense, my husband and I are still pretty… un-adult. I dropped out of university one year before I finished because I got a really nice job offer that involved a lot of traveling. And I have always prioritized traveling above anything else. But now I think, maybe I should have stuck with my studies and finish them just to get this stupid piece of paper. I could study a Master instead of starting from scratch. So when I turned forty, it was like all these little slaps in my face. Hey! You are forty now! You should have figured this out by now! I guess if I still lived in London, things would be very different. I could have stayed in my blissful state of unawareness. It’s not that you wake up and suddenly feel old and your body aches. Not at all. I probably could be 50 and still feel the same. Again, it’s more that perspective on life, all these expectations of things you should have achieved or acquired at a certain age.”
“I know”, I say, “but most likely other people your age who have worked the same boring job for 15 years would look at you and be like Wow, she has such a free life and does all these amazing things!” . “Maybe”, Haydee replies and adds, half-jokingly: “Or they would be like She is totally wasting her life! She’s gonna be fifty and have no roof over her head!”
I wonder if she is afraid of aging visibly because this is also something that is secretly worrying me. “Well I am now, thank you very much for adding another weight onto my 40s shoulders!” she says sarcastically and laughs. Turning serious, she adds: “No, now that you mention it, it is something that also has just started to bother me. I realized that I say my age less. I usually get this response of OMG you do not look at all like 40! but for some reason, that stopped feeling nice. It’s not that I want to hear the opposite but somehow I started thinking that what if in a few years, everything falls apart and I suddenly do look my age? For that reason I love going to Systembolaget by myself because they always ask me for my ID and I am like (she fakes a super-excited voice): YESSS of COURSE you can see my ID! And I rub it into their faces. At the same time I am also like Shit, it’s not gonna be like this for much longer anymore." In that comical, self-ironic manner that I like so much about her, she tells me about an incident in London a few years back when she went to a corner shop to buy alcohol. “As usual I was asked for my ID”, she recalls. “The guy looked at it and burst out OMG, you are THIRTYEIGHT??? There was this long queue of people behind me and of course everyone craned their necks to see who this person is that does not look 38. I am very shy, so I felt extremely embarrassed and was like Heeheehee, yeah, thank you, but can you stop now, please? But he just couldn’t wrap his mind around it and kept on shouting for like a minute I can’t believe you’re 38! You don’t look like you’re 38! And he himself was a kid, I am sure that he was not older than 20!”
Coming back to my question, she admits that she does have thoughts like: Oh god, how am I gonna look? How am I gonna dress? “There is so much pressure on women when it comes to this.” She sounds frustrated. “Same with kids. I never felt pressured by my family or partner to have kids, but of course you have second thoughts. You think: what if this is actually really amazing and I am just not doing it because I am immature? I also feel guilt. What if it is this amazing thing to be a grandfather and I am taking this chance away from my dad just because I don’t feel like it? Is that selfish? You have all these sorts of questions.”
And of course she also gets frequent questions from others. The one that is particularly difficult at this point in her life is: Are you going to have kids? Because what is implied is: you are running out of time. Like a constant, nagging reminder. So she has questioned herself again and again: Are you really damn sure? To her, this is another extra weight to her age. “I find it so unfair that we as women have a biological expiration date. I once read an article pointing out that this doesn't really make sense socially. When you get older, you are more mature, you are ready to take this responsibility, to be a mother. And still, the age when you get pregnant most easily is when you are very young and immature still. It’s almost like nature got it wrong.”
We talk about Sweden and its amazing family laws. Parents are entitled to 480 days of paid parental leave, 390 of which they get 80% of their previous salary. Even as an unemployed person, you still get the benefit of paid leave. I remember my amazement during my first trip to Sweden, not only about the high number of men with prams but also because of the child-friendliness of all public spaces. It is very rare for people to not have kids, and that seems only logical, considering that the whole society seems to be structured around the family. Haydee knows the downsides of it, although she perceives it rather as a broader societal problem than an issue specific to Sweden. “When I talk to other women and I say I don’t have kids and I don’t want kids, there is always this kind of silence, like ……. Aaaah, OK.... and you can tell, they are not happy at all with that answer. They think Oh, maybe she can’t have kids or Maybe she’s trying but it doesn’t work. It’s this very female thing that we put so much value on motherhood and family and are oftentimes so judgmental about it! There is so many factors related to womanhood that add to… I hate to say difficult time because I have been very lucky, I live a very comfortable, happy life, and maybe that is why this 'hiccup' along the road threw me off to that extent. If it hadn’t been for me turning 40 along with the adaptation process to a new life and being unemployed, I probably would have struggled much less.”
This makes me think of a book I read a couple of years ago. It is called “A Perfect Moral Storm – the ethical tragedy of climate change”. The framework the author develops seems transferrable to her situation: three separate storms, i.e. problems, occur together and thus form a huge obstacle to our ability to behave and act in the right way. Each of these three factors is highly challenging per se but only their joint power creates the destructive paralyzing force that leads the world into the climate catastrophe. In Haydee's case, the first storm is turning 40 and all the inner and outer expectations that come along with that number. The second storm is moving to a new country and hitting the second stage of the cultural adaptation process. And the third storm is the ongoing struggle of being unemployed and unable to find work in one’s professional field. All of these storms would be difficult but manageable on their own but occurring all at the same time, they pushed Haydee into a phase of doubts, anxiety, depression, and alienation.
"People here place so much value on what you 'do'. It doesn’t even matter what that is, you can be a waitress, but you have to have a job."
I remember how she previously told me that she feels judged for having come to Sweden as a 'love immigrant' or 'trailing wife' who stays at home and doesn’t have a job. I ask her if that is still the case, and she nods: “Oh yes! People here place so much value on what you 'do'. It doesn’t even matter what that is, you can be a waitress, but you have to have a job. On the one hand, I find that very positive because I see everyone working in their jobs with pride, but if you don’t do anything, it’s like: Oh, so you are just a stay-at-home mom, or not even a mum, but just a stay-at-home … wife…?” This unfair judgement doesn't only fail to take into account how difficult access to the job market is for most immigrants, but also ignores all the things she engages in. As both of my previous interview partners, she does a lot of unpaid, voluntary work but struggles to find recognition and validation through that. She has been writing and editing for a website that provides useful information and advice for immigrants. “That really helped simply by keeping me busy and active.”, she says. “If that position was paid, it would be my dream job”. But it isn't, so at the end of the day, it doesn’t really count. And of course it is impossible to free oneself from this narrative. She recounts weeks of work for school and the website, long busy days of studying and writing, but when her husband came home and asked about her day, she would be like Oh, I didn’t do anything, really. “And this is very wrong!” she says angrily, “I never never never just sleep in and have a lazy morning. Every morning when my husband gets up, I also get out of bed and start my day. The moment he leaves for work, I start working on my things. Otherwise I would feel terribly guilty! I never watch TV without him unless it’s a Swedish program that I use for my practice. I am not this person, to stay at home and do nothing while the man is working. I hate it so much. I want to work but I can’t. And that is very hard to deal with.”
We were the first guests in the morning but now the place is slowly filling up with people having lunch. The most delicious smells waver out from the kitchen and because all the talking has made us hungry, we decide to order some food. From this point on, the conversation gets both more scattered and more intimate, in that beautiful way that only a shared and enjoyed meal can create. Ever so often we trail off and get carried away by food-related enthusiasm. Haydee as a true foodie can’t stop commenting on the delicious meal and the recording is riddled with little sounds of culinary pleasure. We marvel at the beautiful arrangement of Lebanese-style vegetables, salads, dips, and breads on our plates. “This is my favorite kind of food.”, Haydee says, “I don’t think you can ever compare anything to your own food…” “Well, unless you’re German...” I interject, and she laughs and continues, “…like, nothing can be compared to Mexican food, but from all the other cuisines, this is the best.”
After a brief discussion about vegetarianism and opening a taco stand as a back-up career option, we take up our previous conversation. Because I am a pesky anthropologist, I ask her about cultural differences in judgement regarding her status as a “stay-at-home-wife”. How is the discourse in Mexico? She snorts: “Oh it’s totally different! It is not uncommon for women to actually STRIVE for this kind of life. It is something like a dream scenario, a jackpot: having a husband who works and provides for you. Oh my, this is so delicious. Have you tried this one? So I am sometimes talking to friends and they don’t understand what I am complaining about. It is definitely a cultural thing.” Interestingly, she sees the women not as much as victims of a patriarchal society that keeps them from living an autonomous, free life, but more as agents that choose a certain lifestyle. “There is this fake feminism, this emancipated façade of Oh I am so empowered, I can go out by myself and party and be independent but that is a double standard as behind that, you still have the old thinking of the guy as the provider and protector, this desire of being taken care of, even if you consider yourself very progressive.”
She has a lot of empathy for the situation that men find themselves in: “They have a lot of weight on their shoulders!” She tells me about her brother who decided to dedicate his life to his artistic career, moved back in with their parents to save money, and now works exclusively on his art. “He does illustrations, he is a very talented, interesting guy.” I can hear that she is upset when she continues: “But with that background, it can be really hard to find a partner! Because as the man, you are expected to provide. He could have some kind of dead-end job, ticking the box, but not being happy at all! But he would be considered a better catch. There is really so much pressure on men in that respect.” I mention the gift-culture because I know that in Latin America, many women expect expensive gifts from their partners and the guy usually has to pay for everything. “I HATE that!!!”, she says emphatically, “I hate that with passion. But it’s like: if a man doesn’t do that, he is not really into you. So if you as a man don’t have the financial means, you can’t even really go on a date because you wouldn’t be able to pay for the whole thing. This is still deeply rooted in Latin American thinking, although it is slowly changing. It is of course different in the UK but I have NEVER been to any place like Sweden, where women are so independent. So yeah, these cultural differences are real. You have to grab more! Of everything! Please! Mmmmh. I could eat this every day.”
I want to ask her about something she mentioned before that I found highly interesting. Part of the 'welcome package' she and her husband got from his company was a cultural introduction course for newly arrived employees. It dealt with simple practical things, as well as more complex cultural phenomena and coping mechanisms for foreigners. Haydee is still impressed and delighted by it. She recalls: “They talked a lot about traditions, from fika to Lucia, but also about adaptation to the weather, the Swedish mentality, language issues, the laundry system… Yes, you laugh, but you know that’s a thing here! People plan their entire week around it!”
Most likely, nobody outside of Sweden has ever heard about the Swedish laundry system but as soon as you merely say the word 'laundry', every immigrant will roll their eyes and laugh. If you find yourself in a tiresome meeting or want to avoid socializing with your boring colleagues, “I have to go, I booked the laundry room” is a commonly accepted excuse. This is because most apartment buildings have a shared laundry room in the basement (sometimes, several buildings share one, so that you have to take your dirty laundry down the road in order to wash it, and on a hungover Sunday, you might drop a couple of dirty panties on the pavement, only noticing it on your way back to the apartment, which might or might not have happened to me). Due to the limited amount of washing machines and tumble dryers, the tenants need to sign up in a laundry list beforehand. Obviously, certain times are completely impossible to get (mostly weekend times) whereas others are usually available on rather short notice (Monday morning, because people have jobs, and even if they don’t, who wants to start their week by doing three hours of laundry). There are several conflicts arising frequently in every laundry room in this country. The solution to these problems are: notes. Which is another Swedish peculiarity: the passive-aggressive notes they like to write for their fellow human beings. Haydee tells me about the lively exchange of notes in their laundry room. “They are hilarious!”, she chuckles, “WHOEVER used the laundry room at 4pm on Sunday the 3rd of December, you did NOT clean, you MUST be reminded that everyone needs to clean after themselves! Obviously, they know exactly who that person was because they can simply look it up in the list but no, leaving a note is like a public slap in the face without having to look into the other person’s eyes. I’ve never seen this habit anywhere else. Why am I still eating and you are not eating?” She asks me whether these passive-aggressive notes are a thing in Germany. “Oh yeah, we do that, too”, I assure her, “especially in big cities where people don’t really know their neighbors. Maybe not as much because Germans also like to shout directly at one another.”
Did she find the things they were taught in that course to be true? “Oh, absolutely!” she nods. “What else did they teach us.. Oh yeah, if you see someone on the street trip and fall, you mustn’t react! It would be terrible for a Swedish person to get assistance or help from someone else because it would acknowledge their embarrassing situation. So if you witness that, unless it is a life-or-death situation, just ignore it, just keep going!” We laugh and shake our heads. “I saw a guy once who ran towards the tram and he tried to jump over the barrier in the middle of the street and fell. There were like ten people close by but nobody even acknowledged the fact that there was a man rolling on the streets in pain. I couldn’t believe it. Nobody did anything, and eventually he got up and walked on as if nothing had happened. I found it hilarious and shocking at the same time.”
I tell her about my little incident last year when I had an allergic shock after swimming in the sea. It was then I realized that I had developed a cold allergy that makes my skin react quite extremely as soon as the temperatures fall below 10 or so degrees Celsius. I got out of the water and then lay shivering and half-conscious on the rocks by the sea, my body swollen and red and covered in hives and rashes. It was a busy day and there were lots of people around but not a single one came over to ask if I needed help. I eventually managed to pick up my phone and call a friend but even when she came and called an ambulance, everyone around kept ignoring us.
Haydee is honestly shocked. “Oh my god, Anni, I am so sorry, that’s so sad!”, she cries. “When precisely did that happen?” “In August”, I say. For a long moment, she stares at me in silence before we both burst out into laughter. “That is the saddest part!”, she gasps eventually, catching her breath, “I am sorry you almost died but that is the saddest part!”
"Swedish people do not interact much but they STARE at you. It's bizarre."
We keep on exchanging funny and embarrassing incidents we have witnessed or experienced ourselves in various public spaces. People in Sweden just don’t like social interaction with strangers, we conclude (which is by no means a new insight). We agree that the opposite can be equally irritating, people who ignore your personal boundaries and just keep on talking to you, if you want it or not. The American way, for instance, is annoying and disturbing in the eyes of many Northern Europeans, the constant How are you and the small-talk and the fake friendliness even if you don’t actually like a person. But I would really appreciate some of that here because it at least holds the potential for meaningful encounters. Haydee agrees: “I find this way of talking so incredibly annoying and intrusive but I also saw many times how people would start chatting and then be like Hey, do you wanna grab a coffee? That just doesn’t happen if you try to avoid social interaction whenever possible.”
She goes on telling me about how she learnt during the course that Swedes actively try to avoid their neighbors in the staircase. Before they leave their apartment, they would check through the peephole if the coast is clear before they walk out the door. So you can be sure that there is people listening and watching when you go up or down the stairs, even though you won’t ever get to see them. Haydee rolls her eyes and tells me about a TV series called Welcome to Sweden that she watched for the sake of improving her Swedish. Her verdict: “Really bad but still fun to watch sometimes.” The series follows the life of an American guy who moves to Sweden to live with his Swedish girlfriend in Stockholm. That door situation is like a re-occurring joke. He is this stereotypical super-open, friendly and slightly annoying American and watches in disbelief how his girlfriend hovers by the door every morning before she leaves for work to make sure she is not running into any of the neighbors. I join in her laughter and tell her about my sweet friend Grazzia from Honduras who stubbornly keeps on being friendly with her neighbors even though she rarely gets any response and her Swedish husband always tells her to stop.
“But the bizarre thing is” Haydee adds, “that people may not interact but they STARE. They stare at you and stare at you and I sometimes just smile at them when I notice, and then they almost jump and immediately look away, as in Oh no, she caught me!, and I am like How can I NOT have caught you, you have been staring at me for like a whole minute! You know this emoji, one eye is tiny and the other one huge, the confused emoji. They look like that! Like, something goes off.” We laugh and I tell her how much better that makes me feel. I grew up being constantly stared at, so I hate it but am used to it at the same time. Now that she tells me that even her blond and blue-eyed husband gets very irritated by people’s stares, I feel somewhat relieved.
The lunch rush is long over and again, we are the only guests in the room. I start to dread the transcription of the recorded material. My phone tells me that we have been talking for two and a half hours straight. I did much more talking than I intended. Haydee has as much of a curious mind as I do and has asked me lots of questions during the interview. This is also a reflection of her supportive, thoughtful, and generally lovely attitude towards people she likes. She is not the person to ramble on for hours, instead, she would always ask me for my thoughts and experiences after she shared hers’. Now she emphasizes once more how grateful she is for her life here: “When we started talking about this project, I made a point that I don’t want to make a drama out of it. I don’t want to victimize us. In my case, it has been very very easy. But I understand that this is not the same for everyone. Whatever struggle I have been having is really personal. To a point where I think that the trouble I’ve had are only because I am at this particular point in my life. It would be unfair to blame it on Sweden.” I agree with her but also point out that that is actually what I find so interesting. Of course, we all came with our own baggage, and our histories shape the way we experience and live the present. And yet, although we all come from entirely different places, literally as figuratively, so many of us seem to face similar struggles. Which is one of the main reasons I came up with the Foreign Fika Tales.
I ask her how she communicates her Swedish life to her loved ones in Mexico. She thinks for a while before she answers. “I don’t talk a lot about my experiences here. As I said, I feel incredibly lucky and blessed to live the life I have, so I fear that if I talk about it honestly, I might come across as braggy. I feel immensely grateful but there is always this sense of guilt. I am not special, I am not here because of my talent, I am not here because of my career. At the end of the day, I am here because of my husband. I am making the most of what is available to me but in the end, I could not have any of this if it wasn’t for him. And that seems so terribly unfair. Because I know how many people would like to have this experience, this sort of life, but they can’t. And it all comes down to one single decision, to one lucky coincidence. That's why I largely stopped talking about my life here; I only do it when asked directly. I remember when I moved to the UK, all the social media were quite new, and I wanted to share everything. OMG, today I did this, I saw this, wow wow wow!!! And the thing is… This is still how I feel! The tiniest little things bring me so much joy and excitement. But I realized that these posts make others feel miserable about their own lives. So I only share very little on social media. Sometimes, that feels unfair towards me. What if I want to share and talk about my life? My parents and my friends all do relatively well but still. But let’s face it, being born on this side of the Atlantic just brings you more. Of everything. It is not only about communicating the positive things though. I struggle even more when I am having a hard time because it feels like I don’t deserve to complain or feel bad. But what about that thing I am feeling? Is it not real?” Again, this is something that resonates with me although I have been raised in a far more privileged country and context. But I know the meta-guilt of feeling guilty for feeling bad - because what is it that you are actually complaining about, you lucky ungrateful brat?!
My last question is, as usual, about home. Where is home for you? Haydee smiles: “I get this question all the time and for me the answer is: My home is where I am with my husband. In a way, I feel as much home here as I feel in London and that is because we are together. Not to say that my happiness depends on him, it’s more about what we do and how we can be ourselves. And that could be in many different places. We could also make a home for us in Mexico but it wouldn’t be the same. We love to go out, to wander around town, to walk across the fields when night falls, and we can do that here because we feel perfectly safe. But in Mexico, as in many other parts of the world, that wouldn’t be possible. The thing is, at the end of the day, you have to make a home for yourself. It’s both a decision and an attitude.” In many things she has said during the interview, I recognize something that I rarely hear from white foreigners: the deep gratitude and appreciation about the high living standard in Sweden. The health care, the functioning democracy, the civil rights, the education, the safety. All these things people like me tend to take for granted because we grow up with them as natural part of our surroundings. Many of my friends from less privileged countries remind me of their utter importance and for that, I am incredibly thankful. I also like Haydee’s equally practical as romantic view on the concept of home. Why does it have to be either a complicated abstract concept, or imply a dozen factors that need to be fulfilled? Home is where I can be with my loved one, where we can be ourselves and do the things we enjoy doing. In all its apparent simplicity, this is an incredibly beautiful definition of what it means to be home. While I am musing about that, Haydee leans over towards my telephone which is recording our conversation and says very loudly: “I just want to say it for the record one more time: This. Was. Delicious.”