Fitting in is something I have been thinking a lot about lately. I just celebrated my arrival anniversary and have now lived in Sweden for five years. Although I love my life in Stockholm, I don’t feel that I truly fit in or belong in this culture. Don’t get me wrong – this does not in any way mean that I am unhappy, however. It’s just more of a reflection of being. On the other hand, Aussie hubby Robert feels that he fits in perfectly and could live here forever. There’s a part of me that wishes I could be more like that. But I have to wonder if it’s a difference between men and women.
In this same vein of thinking, I had a book group meeting at my flat last night for Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth. I chose this book of short stories as Jhumpa is a master at depicting how transplanted Bengalis fit into their new lives in America. While Jhumpa’s characters are Indian, the feelings of alienation that she gives them are universal. So I thought this book would be good conversational fodder for a group of American women who has lived here anywhere from 3 to 35 years. Interestingly, even the woman who has lived in Sweden for 35 years says that she still does not fit in. “The most difficult part is living my life in Swedish,” she said and the other long termers agreed. (All speak fluent Swedish.) One conducts her everyday life in Swedish, but insists that her Swedish husband speak English to her at home. Another speaks English while her husband answers in Swedish. And yet another does live her home life completely in Swedish.
Jhumpa starts her books with a quote from Nathanial Hawthorne’s introduction to The Scarlet Letter: “Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My children … shall strike their roots in unaccustomed earth.”
The quote and the book resonate with me just now. And it seems they did for the rest of this group of transplants felt the same way. As yet another woman commented: “Who would have thought that a book about Indian culture would be so close to home for our semi-diverse group.”