Category Archives: Sweden

What non-Swedes should know about Sweden – according to ABBA

Agnetha Faltskog of ABBA

Since I work at the Embassy of Sweden as a tour guide, I get a lot of questions about what I thought of the country and my experiences living there. I tell them the truth — that I had a great 2.5 years there, had a satisfying job, really amazing friends, and a very comfortable, good life.

Most people leave it there, but there are always a few who press me for further information: yeah, but what about the winters? Isn’t it really cold and dark there? 

I struggled to find a diplomatic answer for awhile because honestly, yes, it is really cold and dark during the winters, but the summer — once it arrives — is like paradise. I don’t want to sound too negative and scare people off, but I also don’t want to lie. My stock response now is that if I were to make a list of the positives and negatives of living in Sweden, the list of positives would be very long and encompass nearly all aspects of my life there, while the list of negatives would have just one big item on it (weather).

With all my efforts to put the impact of Swedish weather in perspective, it made me really laugh to read “A Dancing Queen Extends Her Reign” in the New York Times today. It’s an interview with Agnetha Faltskog of the legendary ABBA, talking about her new album, A. This is the first exchange in the interview:

David Itzkoff: Everything I know about Sweden, I learned from your songs and from Stieg Larsson novels. What else should I be aware of?

Agnetha Faltskog: To start with, the climate. It’s awful. We’ve still got snow here, and winter, and we’re waiting for spring. It’s getting on our nerves right now, really.

HA! So there you have it… even ABBA gets tired of Swedish weather! Although I probably won’t be incorporating this comment into my tours.

Nonstop excitement at the Embassy of Sweden

For the last two weeks, it has been nonstop excitement for me at the Embassy of Sweden. Right now, the Kennedy Center is hosting a gigantic festival called Nordic Cool focused on Scandinavian culture: theater, dance, music, visual arts, literature, design, and film from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden as well as the territories of Greenland, the Faroe Islands, and the Åland Islands.

At the same time, the Embassy of Sweden has planned a jam-packed schedule of events in conjunction with Nordic Cool to support the Swedish cultural offerings and to tie into this year’s theme for public diplomacy, which is Globalization and Migration. So awesome. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve gotten to work with the Embassy’s cultural department on public outreach to connect with people who would be interested in our events.

Monday was the grand opening for the Embassy of Sweden’s public diplomacy theme, so the day was spent finalizing the installation of the exhibits and preparing for the gala party later that evening.

This is one section of the Dressing Swedish exhibit, which was being installed and finalized on Monday. So exciting!

Dressing Swedish is an amazing exhibit about folk costumes in Sweden: how they create and express different visions of Swedish identity, how the folk traditions are being incorporated into modern fashion, and how they are re-imagined by descendants of Swedish immigrants in the United States. I had seen sketches of the exhibition layout earlier, but seeing it set up was a totally different thing.

One of my favorite parts of the Dressing Swedish exhibit: an example of the Swedish national dress, and an image of an updated version with hijab on the display. So cool!

There are four exhibits in total: Dressing Swedish, The Enduring Designs of Josef Frank (a furniture and textiles showcase), Memories of Stone (a drop-dead gorgeous photography exhibit), and The Third Room: a Sound Walk (an interactive radio theater program for children).  Last fall, we had only two exhibits, so as a tour guide, it’s exciting to have so much more to present from Sweden, especially since the exhibits cover such different areas of culture.

Just a little taste of the items on display in The Enduring Designs of Josef Frank.

The Josef Frank exhibit was probably my favorite to research ahead of time since there are so many amazing images on the internet of different rooms decorated with Josef Frank’s furniture and textiles. I am sadly now filled with lust for very expensive interior design.

Finally it was time for the opening party. After one last job — escorting a journalist through the Josef Frank exhibit — I got to slow down, relax, and enjoy the party. Our welcome drinks were oh-so-Swedish (elderflower and Absolut vodka) and very Nordic Cool with the glowing ice cubes.

Glowing ice cubes made our welcome drinks so beautiful – and maybe even more delicious.

I didn’t think to take pictures of the food, but I should have. The Ambassador’s personal chef was responsible for the buffet, and it was delicious. I think my favorites were the wild game meatballs, the pâté with pear chutney toasts, and the lobster soup. There was also an ice cream bar outside, but I didn’t get to try it, thanks to my Lenten resolution to give up sugar.

If you’re in DC, you should come on by!

You can find details and sign up for all of our events on Eventbrite at We also have open hours on Thursday evenings, 5:30-9 pm, and on weekends, 11-4 on Saturdays and 12-5 on Sundays. I’ll be your lovely tour guide and do my best to answer all your questions!


The Expat Blog Strikes Again… Interview on

And just when the Expat Blog at thought it was finally free of me… foiled again! 



I had the opportunity to talk a little about my experiences as a “re-pat” in the United States with Kristin Lund, who took over the reins of the Expat Blog this past fall. You can check it out below:

A Christmas Treat: Interview with “Repat” Kate

Topics covered include:

  • What surprised you most when you moved back?
  • What do you miss most about Sweden?
  • What do you do at the House of Sweden?
  • How often do you use your Swedish in DC?
  • What was it like trying to find work in the United States again?
  • and MORE (actually not that much more… that’s about it.)

Happy first Friday in 2013! Woot woot!

Julmarknad at the House of Sweden

I had my first day off from my weekend job at the House of Sweden, so of course Simon and I made the most of every minute of it… at the House of Sweden.

Thanks to the julmarknad (Christmas bazaar) being hosted in the normal exhibition space, I was off the hook for working, but let’s be serious. The Swede in my life could not resist the call of a whole day of Swedish-themed Christmas festivities (and neither could I, really).

I narrowly avoided impulse buying an entire range of small jultomtar to decorate our apartment.

Small booths lined the inside of the building, displacing the “Education and Innovation” exhibit on the ground floor and the tables and chairs from a conference room on the floor below. Giant tables laden with bread, pastries, herring, and cheese were lined up along the main hall leading into the Alfred Nobel Hall like a gauntlet in dieting hell, and photos from the “Image of Strindberg” exhibit glowered at families and couples digging into princesstårta (princess cake) and mackor (open-faced sandwiches).

This cake was such a big deal today.

I don’t know how long we intended to stay at the House of Sweden’s Christmas Bazaar, but we ended up being there all day long. The weather was balmy for the last day in November, and after the sugar rush from our princesstårta subsided, we sat outside on the steps with a Dixie cup of glögg each, basking in the sun and watching children roughhousing on the steps.

An assortment of Lucias singing (mostly) Swedish Christmas carols outside the House of Sweden.

At 5 pm, the sun was headed down behind the Rosslyn skyscrapers on the other side of the Potomac and it was finally starting to get chilly. Having just been herded out of the House of Sweden, the remaining visitors were waiting — not quietly — for something to happen. Then the Lucia girls came marching out in single file, singing the traditional entrance processional for Lucia Day.

They sang for about half an hour, mostly in Swedish but with a few English-language songs as well. At times it was hard to hear over the crying of exhausted children or the chatter of adults running into friends, and the star boys were noticeably absent. All the same, for a moment there, it felt like we were back in Sweden again.

Swedish in DC… and that one time the Queen saw my butt

So far, my DC life has been much more a Maryland and Sweden life. Even though we’re still living out at the Eastern Shore with my parents, we’ve been in DC every single week for the last month or so. Now we’re exactly one week away from moving in to our new apartment, and as sick as it sounds, I am really, really looking forward to being curled up in one unbroken ball of pain on our new sofa after having lifted several times my body weight up a million stairs.

And as for my Swedish life… I got the world’s best part-time job at the Swedish Embassy as a tour guide on the weekends. There are two exhibits: an interactive display on Education and Innovation and a photography exhibit on Images of Strindberg. It’s kind of amazing to me that all the hard work I put into learning Swedish and understanding Swedish culture is still paying dividends, and this time in the United States! I did my interview in Swedish, which was a first for me, and I’ve had a really fun time walking and taking with visitors.

My "first day of school" picture for starting work at the Swedish Embassy.

Here’s a great story i have so far from my first time at the Embassy since interviewing for my visa. I go in, have a pretty good interview except I was blushing terribly out of nervousness and panicking about my inability to stop blushing, and then I go outside to join Simon, who was waiting for me on a park bench.

At that point, I decided that I absolutely needed to take off my tights because it was a million degrees out. I do that with what I believe is minimal midday mooning and collect myself, turning to see Simon looking at the building.

Oh, there are people up there on the balcony! he said, pointing. Were any of them the ones interviewing you? 

Then, as I’m still trying to focus on the faces, he says, “Oh my God, it’s Silvia!” 

As in Queen Silvia, Queen of Sweden, who was in town for a charitable event and was probably the only one in any position to see my under-dressed butt as I took off my tights. She looked relatively unperturbed, though, so she must have missed it.

The early crowd assembling for a regatta outside the Embassy.

Both of my first days of work were totally beautiful, and on Sunday there was even a rowing regatta on the Potomac right outside the Embassy windows. The weather was perfect, and I got to take a lot of guests up to the rooftop deck to take in the view. Here are a few things I learned in my first days:

  • Running in heels to catch a bus on your way to work will render those formerly-comfortable shoes into instruments of torture.
  • Standing in heels for five hours kills your whole body, not just your feet.
  • If you are blonde and standing in the Swedish Embassy, people will assume that you are Swedish.

Some people have questions that are totally unrelated to the exhibits (read: taxes) so I really appreciate having the knowledge necessary to be able to respond to them in a thoughtful and comprehensive way. The Strindberg exhibit is more of a challenge for me, so I had to cram in a whole bunch of information in the two days leading up to my first tour. It reminded me of taking a foreign language class again… Now all I have to do is remember 7 of 10 irregular past tenses and I’m golden! Thankfully, there’s a sponsored lecture on him next Tuesday, so hopefully I’ll be able to shore up my knowledge pretty quickly.

Besides that, my business is still on and still trucking! After completing just four full months (including our trip to Italy and the transatlantic move), I’m in the black. SWEET! Hopefully the new website will be up soon because I think that will help me promote my services even more. It looks like a couple of new projects are in the works, and I have a freelance writing project keeping me more than busy until then.

All in all, life is treating is verrry well in Amurrica. We shall say what happens when we depart from our residence at the spa (aka my parents’ house) and enter into the real world… a world in which we pay for groceries and are actually responsible for cooking our own food. Let’s be serious: these past six weeks of total pampering have rendered me totally incapable of taking care of myself anymore. Catch you all on the flip side (I will be an unwashed miscreant).

Goodbye for now… | the Expat Blog

I just hit “Publish” on my last blog post at It’s a very bittersweet moment — sad to be leaving behind an amazing period in my life, happy and excited about the adventures that lie ahead.

You can read the post by following the link: “Goodbye for now.”

If you’re coming here from the Expat Blog at, welcome to transatlantic sketches, my own personal “expat blog” that predates the one I had at the Swedish Institute. I’ve always used this space to write about my experiences as an expat — in Italy, in Austria, and in Sweden — and now I’m going to try to continue this blog on this side of the pond to write about my experiences in my home country, the United States.

If you’re curious about some of the stuff that didn’t make it onto the Expat Blog at, you might want to check out some of the following posts:

IS YOUR SNUGGIE SAFE? OnePiece: The Scandinavian challenger to the Snuggie

Mushrooms for Nybörjare: Part One, Le Chanterelle

Into the Woods in Vittskövle

Frank the Sheep Speaks Swedish

The only Swedish Hasbeens I want to be associated with will go on my feet.

Visiting the Fish Church (Feskekörka) in Gothenburg

Photo Essay: Out in Gothenburg’s Harbor

Ben Schott’s Pluviocabulary: A list of words for rain

ICA Maxi: The Walmart solution to all of your European problems

From Påssjuka to Paris… a week of swelling and love

DECEIT! DESPAIR! And other totally normal emotions to feel during a bachelorette party!

24 Hours in Paris, and the conclusion to the world’s most excellent bachelorette party

In the meantime, rest assured that I am being taken care of here in the United States. I’ve already contracted two fatal diseases, which is normal (see the From Påssjuka to Paris blog post if that comment is unclear to you), and my husband and I are staying at my parents’ house until we move in to our new apartment in Washington, D.C.

Thanks for joining me here!

It's just us and the crabs now!


Upcoming Events at Vollsjö Mill

Last Easter, I took a trip out to Vollsjö Mill with Simon to see the mill’s grand opening and meet Cecilia, the owner and one of my Twitter friends. Her husband, Tobias, gave us a tour of the mill beyond the seed magazine that was incredibly interesting. They also had an art exhibition with Danish artist Richard Winter and a cafe selling local goods on the premises.

Here’s the blog post if you’re interested: Adventure to Vollsjö Mill.

I can highly recommend a trip out there, and there will be two good occasions to go in August and September.

On August 26 from 11 am-4 pm, there will be a flea market (or “loppis,” in Swedish). If you are interested in selling your curious and antiquities, the cost of a space is 100 kr.

On the weekend of September 15-16, Vollsjö Mill is hosting a community event with an art exhibition, various demonstrations, and possibly some different workshops. If you’re interested in participating as a performer or exhibiting your artwork, the cost is 300 kr  for the two days.

To get in touch with Cecilia, the Mistress of Ceremonies, you can visit Vollsjö Mill’s Facebook site, find her on Twitter @VollsjoMill, or call 0416-30880.

Visa större karta

Celebrating the 4th of July with the American Women’s Club

This is an excerpt from the Expat Blog at Follow the link to read “Celebrating the 4th of July with the American Women’s Club.”

4th of July can be a strange holiday to celebrate abroad. Without the fireworks and the nationwide patriotic euphoria, there’s not much that distinguishes a 4th of July party from any other summer evening spent drinking and barbecuing with friends.

All the same, in past few years as an expat, I’ve given it an honest try. This year, I decided to give up the evangelization efforts and take it easy. Thank goodness for the American Women’s Club in Malmö. I joined their celebration for the first time and it was exactly what I was hoping for.

Picnic blankets covered the host and hostess’s yard in a blanket of red, white, and blue, and our white cardboard plates were overloaded with hamburgers, hotdogs, multiple varieties of potato salad of both American and Scandinavian persuasion. Later, the owner of a new cupcakery in town arrived with several dozen much-awaited cupcakes.

This is an excerpt from the Expat Blog at Follow the link to read “Celebrating the 4th of July with the American Women’s Club.”

Train ride to and from Stockholm

Even though all of southern Sweden had terrible rain throughout Midsummer weekend, Stockholm was bright and sunny, as was the trip there. Thanks to Facebook, we got to witness the misery of our friends fending off the predictable Midsummer deluge from a distance.

Those poor guys, we said, clucking and shaking our heads.

The train ride back was equally beautiful until we reached Hässleholm, where Skåne welcomed us back with driving wind and rain. As usual.

Oh well.

For tips on how to save money while traveling in Sweden, check out my Top 5 Money-Saving Tips for Traveling in Sweden from the Expat Blog at The weather might be extreme, but your budget doesn’t have to be.

Fika with Farmor and Midsummer in Stockholm

Our Midsummer in Stockholm was really fun and far from the typical! I’m still working on the post for my blog at, but you can get a little advance peek at the Photo Blog because we met up with Lola and her family for a picnic just outside of Skansen!

Follow the link to see Scenes from Midsummer at Skansen.

Besides Simon’s successful interview at the US Embassy and a lovely Midsummer at Skansen, we had the chance to really spend time with Simon’s relatives in Stockholm, most of whom I’ve only met a few times. We stayed with Simon’s aunt and his grandmother came over twice while we were there to spend time with us over a fika.

Simon and his farmor (grandmother).

Simon’s grandmother is the kindest and most loving person I’ve ever met. No matter what we told her, her reaction was to praise us for how smart and capable we were, or how brave, or how exciting, or how wonderful… She would interrupt a thought to look at one of us and send us a kiss.

Simon said it best when he said that she is an Astrid Lindgren mother and grandmother.

Internationally, Astrid Lindgren is best known as the author of Pippi Longstocking and other children’s books, but she was also an activist for children’s rights and animal rights as well as against corporeal punishment and nuclear energy, plus an active participant in social critique through stories she published in prominent Swedish newspapers.

In Sweden, Astrid Lindgren is revered as the paradigm of unconditional motherly love. This particular quotation seems like a pretty good encapsulation of both her philosophy and Simon’s grandmother’s:

“Give the children love, more love and still more love – and the common sense will come by itself.”

Astrid Lindgren’s comment in a debate concerning children’s rights

I think we’ll get to see Simon’s grandmother again soon at the family’s summer cottage, and I’m really glad. I’ve married into a fantastic family, and the opportunities to hang out with the Stockholm residents come too far and few between.

rain and cold
are not conducive to fun.