Wednesday, 1 February 2017

The Northern Living Series:
Lisa Ferland // Sweden

02 / 01 / 17

In our second interview for The Northern Living Series we talk to author Lisa Ferland, an American who is raising her daughter and son in Sweden. Here she shares her perspectives on work-life balance, holidays, and coping with winter in Scandinavia...

Background: I live with my husband and two children just outside of Stockholm, Sweden in a little town on the Baltic Sea. We have lived in Sweden for the past five years, but before that, I grew up in Upstate New York, which shares a similar, if not more severe, climate.

We moved to Sweden for my husband's career, but we continue to stay and suffer through the dark Swedish winters because of the flexible work-life balance. Who can argue with a nearly mandatory five weeks of vacation in the summer and two weeks in the winter? 

On work-life balance: The benefits of living in Sweden are by far the flexible work-life balance. Everyone mentions it, but I didn't realize how life changing it would be until we moved and experienced it for ourselves. My husband's job brought us here, and we feel incredibly lucky to live in a country with child-rearing practices that align with our own. He is able to be home with the kids before dinner and his job flexibility allows him to leave early to attend their school events. 

On living away from family: Sweden is quite far from our family living in the US, and the language barrier has created some difficulty. Raising a family in a foreign country without a support network is extremely challenging. It is easy to feel isolated and removed from friends and family, which can quickly take a toll on our emotional state. Although we often FaceTime with friends and family to maintain our relationships, we have to make plans to visit them months in advance.

On drastic seasons: Sweden has very distinct markers to the seasons with the exception of spring which never seems to end, but that might be because everyone is tired of the cold weather at that point in the year! Spring is often rainy, gray, with a mix of sunny and warm days to keep you hopeful. Summer, however, is marked with nearly endless sunlight (19 daylight hours), and everyone's blackout blinds are drawn to help people sleep at night, although Swedes who live in the northern regions are used to the never ending daylight and their bodies aren't as affected. Summer temperatures are considered fairly mild 11C to 30C. After living in Atlanta, GA, USA for seven years, I would never say that Stockholm summers are hot!

Autumn is the precipitous slide into darkness and many years the leaves freeze on the trees before they can fall. It's often rainy, and October and November are very gray months. Swedes pull their SADD lamps out of the closets, and everyone goes into hibernation mode. Winter is by far, incredibly dark with the sunrise at 9am and sunset at 2:50pm, if you see the sun at all. There have been weeks where the sun never makes an appearance. If it does, the sun is so far away that it feels very weak against your skin. Temperatures range from -25 C to 10 C.

On hibernation: The climate really dictates how Swedes interact with each other and consequently, affects us as well. Socially, everyone keeps indoors in the winter. Swedes employ "mys" or coziness as a way to combat the winter blues and darkness. They light a lot of candles and go into hibernation mode. As a family, we celebrate "fredagsmys" and turn off our cell phones, eat pizza and chips, and watch a movie on Friday afternoons. It's a nice way to de-stress and unplug after a long week.

You'll see people shovelling their driveways, but neighbours don't hang around outside chatting with you in the winter. I shovelled my elderly neighbour's driveway so we would have a chance to chat, though the quiet of the community isn't really noticeable until the spring when people emerge and the neighbourhood feels alive again.

On playing outdoors: The fact that we live in a location that is cold and dark for half of the year is also both mentally and emotionally challenging. We pay attention to our Vitamin D intake and our kids force us outside regardless of the weather conditions. They need to run and play outside, or they will drive us crazy with all of that pent up energy in the house. We suit up and head outside for sledding, cross-country skiing, or a winter walk.

One snowy day—the type where the snow can't be packed into snowballs because it falls apart as soon as you throw it. The kids thought it would be fun to have a snow fight so I joined it and playfully threw snow at my five and three-year-old kids. I turned around to grab some snow and felt something icy cold and wet running down my neck and between my shoulder blades. I screamed with the cold and turned around to see my three-year-old daughter giggling. She had a good aim and was thrilled to see me yelping and jumping about as the snow melted down my back.

On nature-based celebrations: Swedes have holidays to mark the passing of the seasons and to welcome the daylight or push out the darkness with Pagan/nature-based traditions. Santa Lucia day, in early December, celebrates bringing light into the darkness. Pepparkakor (gingerbread cookies) and lussekatter (saffron buns) are the foods to eat on Santa Lucia, followed by a lot of coffee or glögg (mulled, spiced wine).

We also enjoy exploring the local Christmas markets as a fun way to celebrate the Christmas season. One of our favourite traditions is to head into Stockholm to see the window displays of the large department store, NK (Nordiska Kompaniet). Every year, artists create enchanting moving displays that relate to a particular theme in each window. The end result always gets lots of "wows" and "look at that!" from both kids and parents.

As winter comes to a close, another holiday, ‘Valborg’ is celebrated on April 30th, and huge bonfires are lit to celebrate the coming of spring.

On winter fashion: Swedes are very stylish in winter clothing. All of their jackets are clean and crisp. Scarves and hats match their gloves and mittens. We layer leggings or tights under snow pants, a puffy jacket, and mittens and knit hats. We have discovered that gloves, no matter how insulated, lead to freezing fingers, so we prefer mittens. In general, I opt for warmth and comfort over style, so I end up looking like a puffy marshmallow which is not very Swedish at all!

On “warm” vacations: We typically stay local during the winter months because our budget is recovering from all of the Christmas present purchases. This year we jaunted off for a long weekend to Scotland and enjoyed a bit of a reprieve from the coldness. You know you live in a cold climate when you consider Scotland "warm."  

Thank-you Lisa! You can find more about Lisa and her experiences at and on facebook.

P.S. The Northern Living Series: A Homestead in Nova Scotia 


Jackie said...

An interesting look at another location. And it makes me appreciate our longer hours of daylight in the winter.
It is difficult to move away from friends and family and making friends is rarely easy.

Unknown said...

I live in the USA and here surviving in extreme cold is literally a challenge for me.So,I use instrument to measure wind speed resource to take precautions before it's too cold.