Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Home is where you speak the language

I often get the question: so is Zoe trilingual? when explaining our situation. I laugh and say no, she is bilingual, her first language is English, second is Danish. She is in an English speaking group at her trilingual daycare (the third language is French) so she is not around much Swedish. But fact is that she is learning. A couple of her good friends there are Swedish speaking and she understands a lot and uses a great tactic: She holds her breath for a second and thinks, then she says the thing in Danish with Swedish intonation and Swedish words if she knows them. It's adorable. Except I hate it. I hate that she is learning Swedish because of my own rejection of it and my own aversion against living here.

It was a close friend of mine who pointed out the problem last night during a long phone call where I had expressed my grief about yet another matter (because if my life wasn't complicated enough, my love life sucks as well*). Fact is that Zoe likes Sweden because it is her home. She needs to learn Swedish if she is here so she can integrate other than just in daycare. I have seen her joy when we are in Denmark or the US and she can speak to people in public. She doesn't shut up, she tells everyone in a shop that it's her birthday and that she got a present, or that she is going to the playground. Here in Sweden she uses her best listening skills before turning to me asking "Mom, what does the lady say?" and I have to translate.

Zoe likes Sweden and if I express any dissonance in relation to her home, she will only get confused and sad. I tell her things like "we don't speak Swedish at home" if she ever utters a single Swedish word but it only reflects my own grief, it does not help Zoe in her understanding of her home and identity as Danish/Scottish/American/Swedish. My friend also told me to stop complaining, because I can't change the things I don't like about Sweden, and instead make a decision to stay or go. So that's what I'm trying to do. Trying to make that decision.

*As in being in love with someone who doesn't want you, having an affair with someone who also then doesn't want you and really just wanting to be back with someone who definitely doesn't want you. 


  1. As a stranger reading your blog for a long time and with similar interests, (being an expat, lived in Stockholm, flying with kids, etc.) it sounds pretty obvious what you want to do.

    Your post a long time ago about Zoe feeling at home walking on the sidewalk at Cornell said it all, I think. Children don't have all of the filters and expectations put upon us as adults. They see things more clearly. She would be happy to live elsewhere, and feels it.

    Life is too short to be miserable living in a place you really hate. In the end, I did not enjoy my time Stockholm for many of the same reasons as you. Very cold, literally and figuratively. It was hard to leave for professional reasons, but I am now glad to be free.

    As they would say in Sweden, lycka till with your decision. May it make you and Zoe fully happy.

  2. Thank you so much for your comment, it made a significant impression on me, so much that I have been thinking about it several times a day since. I'm reconsidering places I didn't think of for a long time and thinking about consequences. It's not a very simple decision to make though since there are several people involved. But thanks for the support, it really got to me.