I first read that quote “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with” after I had moved to Sweden. Husband, check. But given that Swedes guard their personal space about as much as Pinoys don’t, I thought, who are the other four? Mumu (ghosts)?
We’ll loosely define that quote by including my relationships elsewhere, as the Internet seems to have changed the dynamic of relationships. (What no one ever tells you about a long-distance relationship is that it always fosters more long-distance relationships once you move.)
Thanks to an article I did for Rappler, a lot of people began to contact me to offer support. One was my friend D, who had moved to Europe too.
I can’t remember if I’d told D that I hadn’t met a whole lot of Filipinos in Sweden, but one day after that article, she messaged me and a certain Maan Reyes Andersson. “I’ve been meaning to introduce you guys since forever! I think you both are super cool and funny and you would totally get along! And you’re also both married to Swedish papa bears!”
Because I’m chismosa, I clicked on Maan’s name. Her profile photo was a tisoy baby boy – the likes of which reminded me why a friend said Filipino genes were like garlic (add them to any race to improve).
I confessed I had checked out her Facebook. She said she’d checked out my Instagram, so we were even. We began chatting about her bulilit Magnus.
“Carrying him around has proven to be good training for my biceps. Just giving you a heads-up on them gigantor Viking babies. Kidding! Or am I…?”
I knew then that this person and I would be friends.
It’s natural to first turn to the locals when you have questions about a new country. But it still helps to have a female kababayan, who knows exactly where you’re coming from (like how many layers you, as a tropical Asian, should have on your person during winter).
Her tips: buy a sun lamp for the extra-dark days (because seasonal affective disorder really does exist, and is worse for people who are used to a lot of sun). For avoiding dry and itchy winter skin, she told me specifically, “shower with oil, not soap.”
After much enjoyable chatter, we arranged to meet up in Gothenburg. On the day, I stood there, clutching my pasalubong of Flat Tops and polvoron in hand. Before long, a baby carriage pushed itself up to me. A head with a turtle hat popped up. “Therese?”
It was a crocheted beanie with a tiny turtle perched on top. We hugged like we’d known each other for years and I bent down to say hello to Magnus.
I learned that she’d made the hat herself. But that was the tip of this iceberg – specifically, one with a PhD and two master’s degrees.
She met her husband Joachim while doing her master’s in Australia. She found him cute, he found her cuter. He sent her flowers to finally cement intention. She finally moved to Sweden in 2004. After finishing her defense for her PhD at the University of Gothenburg, her end of contract coincided with her pregnancy. After a year or so on maternity leave, she was going back to work this month.
Remembering who you are
“It’s not so much the cold that bothers me about winter, but the darkness. The Swedes I know always say, ‘But it’s so cozy! You get to light candles and cozy up.’ And I think to myself, yeah, keep telling yourselves that!” she said. “Surprisingly, one adapts. Hindi na ako masyadong nilalamig (I don’t get as cold any more). But it’s the dark!”
These days we talk a lot about Jantelagen, herd mentality among the Scandinavians which considers individual success as calling attention to oneself or inappropriate. As a self-proclaimed tiger mom, Maan is concerned how this will affect Magnus’ schooling. “Dahil ako ay hindi sumasang-ayon sa lagom at Jantelagen na iyan.” (Because I don’t agree with that Jantelagen thinking.)
Together we bemoan the lack of fried chicken in this country. We were so happy when the days began to brighten that she sang “You Are My Sunshine,” to Magnus in public, and didn’t care who stared. We shuddered over Freddie Aguilar and his 16-year-old girlfriend together. And she totally gets it when I say things like “Gusto ko siyang bitaying patiwarik (I want to hang him upside down)!”
She is teaching me to remember who you are in a country that treats like you like you’re only fit for making their pizzas and cleaning their bathrooms.
“Masanay ka na to take up cudgels and fight dahil baka akalain nila na pushover ka lang. (Prepare to take up the cudgels and fight because they might think you’re a pushover.) I still get underestimated just based on my country of origin, knowing nothing else about me. It’s frustrating not to be able to use the weapon you’re most skilled at. You’re not alone, kiddo, though it gets easier with time.”
Of our future plans and thoughts that get us through missing home, my favorite is: “Pag-uwi ko, yung sisig ilulusot ko sa ilalim ng balat ng Chickenjoy tapos ilulublob ko sa ramen sabay laklak ng buko juice.” (When I get home, I’ll stuff sisig under Chickenjoy skin, then I’ll dunk it in ramen and I’ll guzzle buko juice.)
Whenever I’m feeling particularly exhausted from life here in general, Maan always seems to know when to message me. She’s been there. She’s been me. I stay hopeful I’ll grow into her. – Rappler.com
Therese Endriga Wigforss lives in Sweden with her husband Axel. She hopes to have her own hybrid football team one day.