Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Making of An International Woman of Mystery Part III: Europe

This post is about The Making of an International Woman of Mystery.

Making an International Woman of Mystery is not an easy job. And it's a long process. Therefore, this is a long story. To read Part I: The Early years, click here. To read Part II: Asia, click here.

So, The Company moved me back to Boston and I was happy. And I had some days off between the two jobs so I did what any normal person moving to a new place does: get a car, get an apartment, start to get settled.

And then I started my new job. And on my very first day, my new manager called me into his office. And I took one look at his face and I said "Oh no. You are going to ask me to move again, aren't you?" You see... I was starting to get to know The Company quite well by now, and I knew that "look." I had also been given a small hint that the job in Boston might not be a long term reality. In China, just as all my bags were packed and I was set to get on the plane to Boston, the President of our entire division emailed me and said "International Woman of Mystery, what do you think about Sweden?" And of course, I responded "Sweden sounds like a nice country but I prefer Boston. Thank you very much."

But that email tipped me off and as a result, I knew it would only be a matter of time before I was asked to move again. I just thought I might have a little more time...

So my manager said "We want you to move to Stockholm." And I said "No." And of course, as is The Company's procedure, he refused to take no for an answer and hinted that if I didn't accept the job in Stockholm, I would soon be jobless. So he says "Just fly to Stockholm and meet with the The President and see what you think." Well, who can refuse a free trip to Stockholm? Besides, I had many Swedish friends who I had been wanting to visit anyway.
Now, I must reveal that my The Company is in fact a Swedish company. So, I had spent the last 4 years working with Swedes and therefore had quite a few Swedish acquaintances and one really good friend JT who I worked with in both Boston and China. And while in China, JT's friends and family had come to visit and I got to know them a bit. And her friend F and I really hit it off. And I was a little bit involved with a Swedish man (a story I will NOT get into). And I had been thinking about going on a trip to Stockholm - perhaps at New Year's. But neither them nor I ever imagined that it was even a possibility that I might MOVE to Stockholm!
But somehow just two weeks later (less than a month after leaving China), I found myself on a plane to Stockholm for "a visit." JT had left China at the same time I had and was going to do a bit of a world tour before returning to Sweden, and she was not even back in the country when I visited, but luckily the Swedish man was there to welcome me.
And somehow The Company managed to convince me to move to Stockholm - mostly by going all out to show me a fabulous time during my visit and offering me a spot on the management team and a job totally awesome that I couldn't refuse.
And so just a little over a month after returning to Boston, I packed up again and left my apartment and car (and all my furniture - as my parents refused to pick it up less than two months after dropping it off) behind in Boston and I took of for Stockholm. And this trip that was initially meant to be 5 months, somehow turned into 5 years! But I'm getting ahead of myself.
While JT and friends were very surprised (pleasantly so) to find I was moving to Stockholm, they rolled out the red carpet and welcomed me with open arms and tried to make me feel at home. In fact, I realized later that I was very lucky indeed to have the foundations of a great friend group in place when I arrived. Being a foreigner in Stockholm can be very hard. Swedes are notoriously cold and not very open to meeting new people.* Most foreigners move to Stockholm for love and find it difficult to make friends. Over the years many foreign female "love refugees" struggling to find a friend group, have expressed to me their envy of my large and awesome group of friends.
But still, in the beginning it was hard. for me too - although hard to say just how hard because my perspective has shifted. I now look back through rose tinted lenses - colored by my amazing experiences and the positive people I have met over the years. It's difficult for me to see Stockholm as it was when I first arrived.
But, I do remember that my overwhelming memory of Stockholm when I first arrived is that it was DARK and cold. The winters in Stockholm are not actually as extreme as Boston (they don't get as cold) but they are very very long (while Boston is more short and intense). I had literally gone from laying out in the sun at my parent's pool right to the airport to get on the plane to Stockholm And when I arrived in Stockholm, I was shocked to find that already in early September it was winter. I had packed a suitcase full of summer/autumn clothes expecting Stockholm to have the same warm autumn as Boston. I realized right away that was a big mistake! The first thing I did was go to the store and buy a scarf and a winter jacket!

Living in Stockholm was not easy. It was not like China where the cultural differences are so huge that it made it ok to just do your thing and not really attempt to adapt to the culture. In China, I expected not to fit in. I felt comfortable with my "foreignness." But in Sweden there were so many subtle differences that took me years to learn.

There were just so many small things to master like eating the European way with fork and knife remaining in each hand (not the switching hands shovel-food-in-your-mouth American way), or learning to be humble and to lower my loud American voice, or respecting the very strict rules regarding doing your laundry in the communal apartment laundry machines (seriously, the laundry room is a big source of contention often resulting in huge shouting matches between neighbors), or understanding that if you do not get to the liquor store between 10 and 15:00 on Saturday, that you will not have any alcohol for the weekend (so you had better make it a point to schedule this in), or making sure to always take off my shoes when entering someones home, or bringing my own alcohol with me to a party, or bringing my own bedsheets and towels with me when I'm going to spend the night at a friend's house, or realizing that it's a compliment when your friend buys the exact same dress as you and that if you and 3 of your friends end up wearing the same black H&M dress on the same night, well that's perfectly fine!

But I guess I did ok with mastering some of the subtleties. My friend's mom recently commented that when I first arrived in Sweden I seemed "so American" but now I seem "so Swedish."
While in Stockholm, I truly became an International Woman of Mystery. Sweden was country number 4 for me (5 if you count the US). And in addition to living internationally, my job required a lot of international travel (which I swear sounds a lot more fun than it really is). I traveled for work to such places as: Budapest, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Malta, Miami, Madrid, Barcelona, Milan, Rome, London, Cambridge, Shanghai, Beijing, Bangkok, Paris...

I even had a very crazy 2 years when I first moved to Stockholm where I actually SPLIT MY TIME between Shanghai and Stockholm and had apartments in both places. This was due to my working situation at that time which caused me to need to be constantly back-and-forth, and truthfully I didn't mind because I had the Scottish boy in China and my friends in Sweden and a great job that just happened to be in both places. But eventually I got tired of spending my weekends on airplanes and all the traveling back and forth eventually wore me out. But then my job changed so I started to spend the majority of my time in Sweden (with lots of travel to other places for work of course).

And the longer I stayed in the cold dark cozy city of Stockholm, the more I really started to love it! My girl group expanded from 3 friends to around 10 close friends plus at least 10 other friends who I would regularly go out with. The girls and I partied in Gotland every summer for Stockholm's veckan. We got together on most weekends and often during the week. We went to Latvia together for my 30th birthday. They became great friends to me that I know I will have for life. I got over the fact that eating out at restaurants was not that much fun (and way too expensive) and started to love having people over for dinner or a pre-party or going to another friend's house. I even got into the Eurovision song contest and from time to time would find myself dancing to schlager music without totally hating it. I started to prefer Euro Dance music to hip hop and even learned to dance properly to it. I had a great very central apartment in the city where I hosted lots of epic parties (much to the dismay of my neighbors). I learned to embrace the darkness and light lots of candles to make your home cozy and warm during the winter. I partied at the nightclubs Cafe Opera and Berns. I participated in the fun Friday "after work" culture (in the US I think we call it Happy Hour). I totally loved traditional Swedish foods like herring, salmon, toast skagen, Calle's caviar, pepparkaka. I always felt welcomed home when arriving at Arlanda airport and breathing in the wonderful scent of kanelbulle. I celebrated the long summer days by staying out all night long. I learned to appreciate the cold Baltic sea after a long hot sauna (even in the winter). I never ceased being amused by the Swedish dinner drinking and singing culture, but I learned to sing along to the popular snaps songs. My favorite holiday is now Midsommer (I would trade Thanksgiving for it any old day).

But because I had moved to Stockholm at the whim of The Company and not at my own whim... And because when I moved to Stockholm, I really wanted to live in Boston. And because I had been living abroad for a long time and was a bit curious about what life in the US would be like... Moving back to the US absolutely remained an open question in my mind and therefore I never felt completely settled in Stockholm. I always felt that I was "about to leave". But it never seemed like the right time. I sometimes felt that I was waiting for some kind of clear sign that it was time to go home. But it never came. I would go home and visit (with the increasing sense over the years that I fit into American life less and less) but I was always very glad to return to Stockholm. After awhile, I even stopped being homesick for the US. Without even realizing it, Sweden had become my home.
And then I turned 30 and I started to panic a little bit about my life. 30 is kind of a benchmark isn't it? I mean you start looking back at your life and wondering if it measures up. If you are where you are supposed to be and doing what you are supposed to be doing. Was this international life in Stockholm the life for me? Would it be better if I moved back to the US? Would my career be better? Would I earn more money? Would I be happier? Would I have found the "man of my dreams?" Should I move back and find out? Or do I want to stay in Stockholm forever? And is that even a possibility?

And while up to that point, my international life had been super fabulous and I had no regrets, I realized that maybe there were other things I wanted to do too. And although I always saw myself as an International person, I suppose that I also saw myself as a person who might one day get married and have children. And I sort of began to realize that my exciting international lifestyle wasn't really conducive to a "family life" and if that was something I wanted, I might need to make some changes.

Eventually I managed to calm those thoughts and started to lean toward staying in Stockholm on a more permanent basis. I began to realize that I had a pretty great life right where I was: I was dating the Beautiful Swede, I had a great job, I had great friends...

And of course it was at just this time that The Company announced that we were moving to London.
There was no other choice - the announcement coincided with the worst job market in recent history. It was London or bust.
So, one year ago, I moved to London.**

And although it wasn't exactly what I wanted to do, I tried to take on London and see it as my next new challenge. I oft a fabulous apartment in the fantastic neighborhood of Chelsea. I drank pints at the pub after work on Fridays. I ran a lot in  Battersea Park. I embraced the London clubbing nightlife. I hosted a pub crawl. I went to trendy restaurants. I saw musicals. I loved shopping at Harrod's. I jogged along the Thames. I paid my council tax. I marveled at the amazing cars lining the Chelsea streets. I ate fish and chips. I became addicted to Byron Burgers. I went partied on drunken boat trips on the Thames. I tried to date British men. I started to use British words more than the American ones (it was just easier). I went out to the countryside. I watched a Cricket game. I had Sunday roast at the pub. I drank buck's fizz. I ate full English breakfasts. I got well acquainted with Heathrow...
But I confess that I have not been very happy this year. Not in my job and not in my personal life. And although I have done many great and interesting things this year, my overwhelming feeling is that I spent too much time working too hard and getting too little out of it, too much time feeling homesick for Sweden (and missing the Beautiful Swede) and feeling lonely without my large group of friends, and too much time feeling that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time (a feeling I had never experienced so intensely before). So, I decided it was time for a change.

This is the final installment of "The Making of An International Woman of Mystery." Thanks for reading my wordy story. Please stay tuned for "The Next Chapter" where I reveal to you what's happening next in my life. Big changes are once again on the horizon for this International Woman.

*I have to say that this was not my experience in the least. I found Swedes to be warm and open and welcoming. But my foreign acquaintances had a different story. But again, I had that initial friend group that really helped me settle in. I will say one thing about Swedes though, once you break down the initial barriers and get to know them, they will be your friends for life.

**My blog begins in February although I briefly look back to December and January so this this blog actually captures most of my year in London - although not the painful few first months

1 comment:

Matt79 said...

Sorry to hear that the last year has been a low point, but I hope that the upcoming change brings better times - I look forward to reading the next chapter!