It’s a balmy day by Gothenburg summer standards, 20°C and not too windy. Four of us, two Kiwis and two Finns, pause outside a café on a bustling Gothenburg street, long enough for me to register it’s the first café I’ve been to in Sweden.
“I wonder if they have kanelbular here. The cinnamon buns?’’ I say. I try and fail to recall what other Swedish delicacies I’ve read about.
“We have those in Finland too,” comments Mirja, one of the Finns and my coursemate-to-be. The café does have chokladbollar,, though.
I can’t try a cinnamon roll but there’s coconut-covered chocolate instead. Not bad. My Kiwi friend Anna asks if they eat those in Finland too.
Mirja and her friend order in Swedish. Mirja says her Swedish is rusty, though she studied it for nine years at school. “In Finland, it’s compulsory to provide all services in Finnish and Swedish now,” her friend explains. “Swedish-speaking Finns in Finland are the biggest minority, and vice versa .”
Sweden, it turns out, colonized and ruled Finland for about six centuries, until 1809, and the effects linger. The country, my housemate would later tell me, does not reciprocate by teaching its students finnish.
The next week, my Kiwi friend Anna and I visit Gothenburg’s Museum of World Cultures. In the immigration exhibition, we find a wooden fishing boat, perhaps six metres long, that was used to smuggle 25 people across from Melilla * (a Spanish-controlled city in North Africa) to Almeria, Spain. “the boats,” are guide explains, “are usually burned when they are found.” What is it, I wonder, about removing traces? Our guide says photos of these haven’t been prominent in the media, and he encourages us to take our own.
Later that day, anna and I hunt out the zoo. It’s nestled into a hilly park. We grab cheap ice cream, and head for the petting area. Anna loves the smell of the horses, familiar and comforting. I’m delighted when a baby goat leaps onto my leg and nibbles my jacket enthusiastically, even while I fulfill my human obligation to gently reprimand it. I’ll never take a chance for a tactile encounter for granted, especially not when playing tourist. When the petting area closes, we wander further up the hill and pause beside paddocks of Swedish cows (huge, apparently), elk and at least three kinds of deer. Some reindeer populations, a sign informs us, are still owned by the Sami people, the indigenous people of Scandinavia. I do a bit more googling when I get home and find that reindeer husbandry has traditionally been a key occupation for the Sami people, and that one in eight (2500/20000) of Sweden’s Sami population still live this way. It’s the only mention of Sami I’ve encountered so far since arriving in the country.
I want to dig into these realms of histories, of roots that come into view when you are looking for them. It’s one way of understanding where I am, when I’m in a new place.
Another way of understanding where I am involves mastering routes of an entirely different sort, like the one to my nearest train station, even on one of the town’s frequent rainy days, where the whoosh of the traffic is amplified. Any diversions from the most direct route should be temporary, and only mildly inconvenient rather than disorienting. I’m almost there on that one.
There’s a week to go till classes start and I’m excited. When I finished uni in 2017, I knew I needed a break from studying after five years, despite missing the security of its routines and communities. Now, the prospect of slowing down and focusing in on one overarching subject is inviting, especially in collaboration with classmates from across the world, and a city I have so many questions for.
*I *think* the guide said the boat came from Melilla – somewhere in North Africa, anyway.