Advent Calendar 2017: 8 - Making Friends
Dec 8th – Making Friends
I tried so hard to write last night. I even got most of a post written but all was for naught. We were on a boat in the middle of the Baltic and the internet promised was barely functional. I couldn’t even send the email I wrote to tell you I couldn’t send a post last night. And I’m not surprised because the Viking Line Ferry/Cruise was being tossed by the wind and waves. We could feel the boat as it crashed hard after each wave. I am shocked none of us puked before the weather calmed down after Mariehamn in Åland.
Freja is sick too, so she woke up at 4am for about an hour and a half. Taking care of her on the rocking boat was nauseating to say the least, and I was mostly curled in a ball singing or shushing to try to help Cora, who was doing the harder work. She was my hero last night. I’m very grateful she gets less seasick than I do! I’m still swaying as I write this, on land, 8 hours after getting off the boat (while sitting in the Laundry trying to game the system. Edit... I failed and left when the lights were cut off!). At breakfast, almost no one looked haggard like we did. Some were commenting that the night may have given some people trouble. Some people like us! Judging from the “presents” left in a few places around the elevators, I’m pretty sure the bar/disco was a bit of a mess, and that some people regretted that last drink or 5. But I set out to write two posts today, so let’s get to it!
Making friends was one of the bigger concerns I had in our big transition. I knew the language would be an issue. I knew the culture was not known for welcoming new-comers, per se. I was planning for a veritable long winter’s social nap where I would spend my long nights making Christmas crafts and practicing my guitar/banjo. I learned from “Welcome to Sweden” that you say “Hej, Hej!” to your neighbors and never another word. Unless it’s an emergency. Only then can you also say... "Please help?".
We chose our apartment with the hope that it’s location and community would help us meet people. Even though you aren’t supposed to talk to your neighbors, maybe there would be a kid thing we could participate in? And then one day, a few weeks after we moved, a little girl playing in the courtyard said “hello!” She and her little sister were playing and speaking a little bit of English with their Swedish and the girl said “We have only girls in our family… do you have only girls in your family, too?” We came to find out they have 5 girls, 3 daughters (4,7, and 9) and 2 mamas, one is Irish and one is Swedish. And that they speak English (as well as Swedish and Finnish, of course. We’re a bit behind here!!). Felix was over the moon and we were excited to have at least one neighbor to say more than “hej, hej” to. Within a couple more weeks they were singing happy birthday to Felix at our house to celebrate. They single-handedly saved his birthday celebration. He still missed his old friends, but felt like he had a real birthday with his new friends. I was very chocked up when thanking them! A few weeks after that, Freja agreed to spend a couple of hours at their place while we unpacked boxes. She LOVES them. She talks about them all the time and lets them babysit her with no fussing at all! They are some of the kindest people we know, with a healthy dose of sarcasm and wit to make them fun.
And then they introduced us to another English-speaking, lesbian family. And they’re awesome too! And I met another very nice woman at the English-speaking playgroup with a daughter similarly aged to Freja who is on the same page with alternative medicine that we are. How fantastic!
We’ve even made some Swedish-speaking friends! Another super nice family, you guessed it, a lesbian family, this time with two boys the same age as Felix and Freja. We met them at the LGBTQ play group and one of the mamas was so very kind to have us over. They’ve been incredibly patient with my Swedish and only clarify in English once in a while. And a dad in my neighborhood who has similarly aged kids and was super eager to recruit me for the Steering Committee for the housing association has also offered to get together with the kids one of these days, I’m guessing after the holidays. Sadly, I can’t join the steering committee because we’re renting and don’t own our place. Would have been a great way to practice my Swedish AND my Robert’s Rules of Order.
So now I’m pleased to say that instead of spending all of our nights hibernating in our apartment, we are already trying to figure out who to meet when and what else we can plan around our social calendar. And that’s before we work in trips to Finland to see the cousins. And before I figure out when to get to the next Christmas Market! I also need some time for Christmas crafts. #retired30somethingsproblems #goodproblemstohave
I don’t think most of this would have happened if we hadn’t been a queer family with kids. The kids part is key number one. No matter where you are, from what I’ve seen, having kids allows you to make friends with people who otherwise wouldn’t be open to expanding their community or who you simply wouldn't get to talking to. It’s a great time to meet other people with kids who get along with yours, and if you are neighbors, maybe your kid can go play at the other kids’ house for a bit and give you a chance to breathe. There are so many kids in our apartment complex and it’s nice to see that they run back and forth between the houses. It is still true that your kids have to be compatible in age and interests, just as it often is in the US. For an old friend, having kids of different ages is something you manage. New friends… often just isn’t worth it yet. And then there’s the English speaking bit. All in all, we’re circulating in micro-communities of people who want to know other people like us. And that is what makes big, cosmopolitan Stockholm feel smaller and more manageable. Sigh of relief. And taking a deep breath, we’ve got a lot of socializing to do before the weekend is out! Play date at our place, Christmas dinner at another’s…thank god most of these people work!! We’d never get a break! No but really, we feel lucky and are so happy for this unexpected twist. They don’t replace all of you, AND it’s nice to have some friends.