Midsummer, more or less the longest day and I am cowering in my flat away from all kinds of celebration. It’s been a good day where I have worked for a few hours, exercised, cooked after a long gap while travelling. But no celebration.
I’ve never liked community celebrations, which threaten my integrity. The Swedes do a peculiar dance at Midsummer, popularly known as the frog dance, where they imitate the movements of a frog, hut apparently a frog that has ears and tails which no self-respecting frog would dream of having. This is accompanied by a special song.
I learn from Wiki that my countrymen have had a hand in this song. The melody is said to originate from the refrain of a military march at the time of the French Revolution Au pas, camarade au pas camarade / au pas, au pas, au pas!” ”In step, comrade” . And the Brits, reactionary brats, changed the words to “Au pas, grenouilles!” (“In step, little frogs”). The English have long called the French frogs but I suspect it is apocryphal, too good to be true. How this is supposed to have reached Sweden is also lost in the mystery of time.
But at least I now have a good reason for not taking part in the dance apart from my personal distaste – I abstain because the dance mocks the French revolution.
Wikipedia has no sources for the information; I have great respect and admiration for Wiki but occasionally it seems like the mythological equivalent of money laundering. Myths are laundered by Wikipedia and emerge whiter than white as honest facts.
There are, of course, other explanations of the Frog Dance, an ancient tribal dance, among others, It would be interesting to read a record of the mentioning of the practice in written sources.
I feel sad when I see Swedes engaging in this dance. You can’t live with a people for almost a half century without developing some feelings of tenderness towards them. And I prefer my “host folk” to be dignified. I don’t like to see them making fools of themselves. They’re not good at it either – the English do it with more panache.
Midsummer is anyway the real Swedish national day, unlike the establishment’s somewhat anaemic official national day.
Living in another country has been a profound and strange experience for me. I don’t identify myself as a Swede although I know a lot about Sweden and what it’s like to be a Swede. And Sweden isn’t a foreign country for me; I have a feeling of homecoming when I cross the Öresund, returning to a place where I know how things work, have had many significant experiences and lived a large portion of my life.
Being a basket case as far as pronunciation is concerned doesn’t help – my otherness is confirmed when I say a single word and the person I am addressing switches to English.
I’m interested in the different ways in which people deal with changing country. Some people seem to manage it without difficulty, keeping the “old country” in affectionate memory, visiting it from time to time, but essentially identifying with their new surroundings.
I’ve never been hostile to Sweden, and have spent much time getting to know the country but the thought of abandoning my old culture has always been alien to me. This is partly an effect of moving from a large to a small culture but also that my settling in Sweden was something that I let happen for family reasons rather than a conscious choice or desire.
My first few years here were too busy to permit existential brooding – I was fascinated by learning about Sweden, its culture, history and language and becoming established in the Swedish labour market. But then I felt England slipping away and I mobilised to protect it. I felt that the change of country was a sharp break in my life and that I had problems obtaining cultural nourishment in the new environment that was “thin” for me.
Over the years, that feeling has subsided. I have put down roots and I know much better how to obtain “cultural nourishment” but it requires effort – one is less spoon fed in small cultures. I’ve greatly enjoyed moving to Uppsala and finding out what I could about Uppsala and Uppland. It feels important for me to delve deeply into things Swedish to avoid becoming accustomed to living superficially in Sweden, shallow integration.
But, of course, England has not stood still either. I’ve travelled backwards and forwards so often that I’ve followed the changes and don’t suffer from the exile’s shock that everything has changed and the old country has disappeared. But I notice in all sorts of ways that I don’t react in the same way as I would have done had I been monocultural.
I’ve also gained a lot by being bicultural – in terms of language (I now know the meaning of a lot of English place names, which I didn’t know before!) but, more seriously, in terms of thinking about life generally. It feels as if I have another storey to my existential building. The ground floor is English but I have built another storey from which I can see the world from another angle.
Living abroad has its pleasures as well as its pains. It’s given me experiences that I wouldn’t want to be without but also a mild feeling of sadness and loss that I attempt to address through various projects related to England to prevent me becoming a “museum English person” who does the same things, goes to the same places and sees the same people when going back.
It’s important not to exaggerate, not to make personal idiosyncrasy into general rules. Feelings of not belonging can be changed by intervening in society so that having another national culture need not be particularly dramatic. Hobby hermits like me whose life consists of much solitary reading are disadvantaged in this respect.
And I can get tired of existential brooding although I can’t stop myself doing it.
Being able to visit other countries is important for me too (Germany, France, Denmark or Ireland (or other countries I know well). I relish getting away from the dialogue of exile, to be somewhere else than the country I once came from or the country where I now live. Then I can simply be European and forget about Brexit and the Frog Dance.