If you met my little blonde mother, it would come as no surprise that she’s half Swedish and half Norwegian. And the holiday photos of the Larson side of the family? Eight little blonde kids (and my adorable Korean sister) all lined up next to the Christmas tree. We grew eating lefse and krumkake and lutefisk at Christmas. Whenever I complain to my mom about someone being late or oversharing or invading my personal space, she laughs and announces that’s just the Scandinavian in me.
In fact, the majority of Minnesotans are of Scandinavian or German descent. I certainly am. We like fishing and skiing and being on time and picking berries. We have names like Krista and Christian and Larson/Hanson/Swanson. We’re helpful and nice but a bit more reserved than the average American. ‘Minnesota Nice’ has it’s own Wikipedia page, forpetessake.
I’d heard that Sweden and Norway are like Minnesota – but way, way better. And for ages I’ve wanted to return to ‘the homeland’ and see what all the fuss was about. I remember traveling through Germany and thinking “Yup, I get it. This is my place.” All the things that people tease Germans about – their directness, their punctuality, their work ethic, their amazing public transportation – I loved every drop of it. I loved the divided sidewalks in Berlin (red for bikes! grey for pedestrians!) and I loved the divided trash cans (separate sections for plastic, paper, glass, and compostibles!)
And Sweden has been a bit like that. I absolutely love it. It’s fascinating to see a version of the culture I grew up in – in it’s ‘real’ form. I’ve been quizzing my Swedish friends endlessly (“How old are people when they get married? Do men ever approach women they don’t know and hit on them? What are cloud berries? What are the most common names here? Do people ever raise their voices in public?”) to compare it to Minnesota and, really, to compare myself to ‘proper’ Swedes.
It brings me a bit of joy to hang on to this other culture that’s been part of my life and my upbringing – to imagine that there’s a whole country (or three) full of people who I sort of understand in a special way. Yup, Swedes, I’m with you. Let’s not yell in public and let’s eat lots of cheese. Yes, Germans, let’s appreciate brown bread with nuts and punctual trains.
Do you know (or care?) about your cultural or ethnic background? How do you celebrate it? Would you ever want to ‘return to your roots’?
original photo (without text on top) by Debra Weisheit, for sale here