A Swede in Fredericksburg VA: Standing out and Building Community

It was great to see so many of you at last week’s Online Gathering. In these days of isolation and anxiety, it was, for me, a healing experience to meet (if only on Zoom) and talk to you. And, speaking of meeting, here’s a chance to meet and get to know a bit, one of our new Board Members, Anette Stjärnhjärta. Anette is a very smart, outgoing, and totally charming person who is the chief energizer and organizer of Fredericksburg’s Rappahannock Rap Story Slam. Here Anette tells us something of her journey adapting to the strange culture of Fredericksburg, VA, USA.

I also need to remind you to submit your thoughts, stories, ideas or shout-outs to this VASA Blog.

Les Schaffer, Board Member and Blog editor


A Swede in Fredericksburg VA: Standing out and Building Community

In 2010, I moved to America to marry a wonderful and amazing American man. I was thrilled and excited and, at the same time, didn’t know what to expect. I thought I knew because I had visited several times. And besides, I had lived in another country before, New Zealand.

But let me tell you it was a big shock. I felt like I landed on another planet.

I will share my experiences, in five parts, and talk about what it is like to be a foreigner in the land of freedom and opportunities.

  1. THE FIRST THING THAT SURPRISED ME IS HOW FRIENDLY AND EASY-GOING AMERICANS ARE.

I walk into a store, restaurant, the Gym, or the dentist, and nine out of 10 times, the employees will smile, greet me with enthusiasm, and make small talk. They know how important it is to make the customer feel good. Even though it’s their job and they probably don’t want to hear my life story.

The episode that stands out the most was when my husband had to go to the ER. It turned out that his colon had twisted and blown up to the size of a football. The Doctor tells him that normally a colon will burst at 8 inches and yours is 11 inches. Then he is joking as the nurse laughs and it seems they are in no hurry at all. I freaked out, “Hurry up this is SERIOUS! BE SERIOUS!” That is how we would be in Sweden. We are so freaking serious.

Afterward, I got it. Oh, to joke and be easy going makes you relax. WOW, I like that.

  1. WHERE IS THE COFFEE AND THE COOKIE?

We have a thing called FIKA. That is usually whenever someone comes over to your house. You offer them coffee and a cookie. And that is FIKA.

My husband and I drove over to visit my father and mother-in-law. We were sitting down and chatted for a couple of hours. I kept wondering in my head are they going to offer us a coffee. Where is the Fika? Where is the Fika?

In the car when we were driving back, I asked my husband, “So Dirk, is it normal that you visit without being offered something to drink and he said, Yes, pretty much.” Hmmm

  1. MY LAST NAME – A PAIN IN THE BUTT TO PRONOUNCE FOR AMERICAN’s

I kept my last name. I knew it is hard to pronounce and spell. I don’t expect anyone to get it right and at the same time, I can make it a problem or take it as an opportunity to be remembered. Every time I get asked, “How do you pronounce your last name?” I appreciate the effort that everyone makes.  I make sure everyone feels at ease by not making a big deal out of it. Sometimes I ask, “Do you want to know what it means?“ And if yes, I say Stjärnhjärtais Starheart in English. Cool name.

  1. ON THIS PLANET CALLED AMERICA YOU CAN’T WALK FREELY IN ANYONE’S FOREST!

I have a habit of walking in the forest or on the beach every day. In Sweden, we have a common right to walk in anyone’s forest. We are allowed to pick berries and mushrooms for our own use. We are all obligated to take good care of the land.

Imagine my disbelief when I understood I had to drive at least 45 minutes, or even several hours, to a National Park, just to be able to walk in the forest or on a beach.

I was miserable until I found out a way to do it. My husband is a great problem solver, so he said “I can talk to one of the neighbors and ask if you can walk on their land”.

YES! I am excited.  We walked over and they said yes, of course, you can walk on our land.

The next day I took a walk and, in horror, discovered, there is a garbage landfill in the back of their property. I did not return.

Luckily after a couple of years, I found Motts Run Reservoir, just a 10 min drive from home. They have awesome trails and it’s free to walk the trails. You can rent a canoe or a boat for use in the lake. I can highly recommend it.

  1. INDIVIDUALITY vs. CONFORMITY AND FITTING IN:

So how did I try to fit in here when it’s not about fitting in?

It finally dawned on me “Oh, it’s about standing out”.

Which is scary for we Swedes because in Sweden that is a no-no!

In Sweden, there is an especially important cultural law called “JANTE Lagen”, which stands for “Don’t think you are something special!”, among other things.

I love being able to stand out, without being judged. Does that mean American’s, or I don’t care? Or are they able to build community? NO

I have found people in Fredericksburg being very supportive. There are a lot of people building community, supporting each other in many different ways.

And I am so happy that I can contribute and provide Fredericksburg with storytelling through Rappahannock Rap.

I can be ME and you can be YOU.

How awesome is that! Thanks for reading my thoughts and experiences.

Anette Stjärnhjärta