On Culture + Family + ‘Returning To Your Roots’

If you met my little blonde mother, it would come as no surprise that she’s half Swedish and half Norwegian.  And the holiday photos of the Larson side of the family?  Eight little blonde kids (and my adorable Korean sister) all lined up next to the Christmas tree.  We grew eating lefse and krumkake and lutefisk at Christmas.  Whenever I complain to my mom about someone being late or oversharing or invading my personal space, she laughs and announces that’s just the Scandinavian in me.

In fact, the majority of Minnesotans are of Scandinavian or German descent
.  I certainly am. We like fishing and skiing and being on time and picking berries.  We have names like Krista and Christian  and Larson/Hanson/Swanson.  We’re helpful and nice but a bit more reserved than the average American.  ‘Minnesota Nice’ has it’s own Wikipedia page, forpetessake.

I’d heard that Sweden and Norway are like Minnesota – but way, way better.  And for ages I’ve wanted to return to ‘the homeland’ and see what all the fuss was about.  I remember traveling through Germany and thinking “Yup, I get it.  This is my place.”  All the things that people tease Germans about – their directness, their punctuality, their work ethic, their amazing public transportation – I loved every drop of it. I loved the divided sidewalks in Berlin (red for bikes! grey for pedestrians!) and I loved the divided trash cans (separate sections for plastic, paper, glass, and compostibles!)

And Sweden has been a bit like that.  I absolutely love it.  It’s fascinating to see a version of the culture I grew up in – in it’s ‘real’ form.  I’ve been quizzing my Swedish friends endlessly (“How old are people when they get married?  Do men ever approach women they don’t know and hit on them?  What are cloud berries?  What are the most common names here?  Do people ever raise their voices in public?”) to compare it to Minnesota and, really, to compare myself to ‘proper’ Swedes.

It brings me a bit of joy to hang on to this other culture that’s been part of my life and my upbringing – to imagine that there’s a whole country (or three) full of people who I sort of understand in a special way.  Yup, Swedes, I’m with you.  Let’s not yell in public and let’s eat lots of cheese.  Yes, Germans, let’s appreciate brown bread with nuts and punctual trains.

Do you know (or care?) about your cultural or ethnic background?  How do you celebrate it?  Would you ever want to ‘return to your roots’?

original photo (without text on top) by Debra Weisheit, for sale here

34 Comments

Myrala

LOL, you really got the top German issue: the bread! Being a German myself I know that while we love being abroad, discovering new cultures and dishes, when it comes to bread, we get very patriotc 🙂

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Anonymous

I grew up in MN, half-raised my Norwegian grandmother. Been living in Norway for nearly six years, and you are so right when you say "like Minnesota, but way, way better."

I remember having one of those "ah, these are my people" moments when I noticed that no one uses those thin sheet sets here. When I was a kid, all I wanted was my fluffy comforter (no twisty sheets, arrgh!) and fluffy duvets over a fitted sheet are the norm here.

When Norwegians ask me about Minnesota, I usually say, "Well, it´s a lot like here, just really really flat." 😉

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Lauren

Both my parents families are originally from Scotland, however I'm like a 5th generation Aussie so we don't have any kind of ties to the Scottish way of life. I guess I could definitely say I live the Aussie way of life though – growing up we had lots of BBQ's, played backyard cricket on Christmas Day, spent a lot of time at the beach & vegemite on toast is a staple breakfast item. 🙂

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Simmm

I'm a German who moved to the US 2 years ago at age 27 and it's hard to be away from my roots. I get frustrated with lack of good bread, scratch thin sheets instead of fluffy duvet, lack of public transportation, lots of people-skills stuff, etc etc. I try not too think about it too much and try to accept everything as it is. Not easy sometimes, but I do my best 🙂 Obviously there are good and bad things anywhere you go. I chose to move here after all, so I try not to rant to my american-raised friends (esp BF) about it too much.

I really enjoyed this post, thank you! Makes me want to visit Minnesota 🙂

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lifebykristen

Love this- as a trained historian, I've made it my mission in life to try to connect people with their family or place history & to realize that their ancestors don't have to be in a major battle or historic event to have an interesting past. I think connecting with your ethnic background can be so interesting & tell you a lot about your personality and family dynamic. I personally will be going with my mother to Holland in Spring 2013- her native country & somewhere she has not been since she was a teenager & a place I've wanted to go since I was 7.

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Isis Red Cloud

So I have two kinds of "homeland" – Brazil, and Boston. Granted, my grandfather was German, but he emigrated to Brazil as a child, so I feel more of a kinship with the Brazilian culture my mother grew up with than with the German culture of her father. So my Brazilian roots involve – a constant craving for fruit, rice & beans, and guaraná, an instinctive fluidity about punctuality, a definitively non-American sense of how to deal with subordinates (like housekeepers, nannies, etc). Meanwhile, my mother's mother was from "Winchestah" (or "Reveah," depending on whom you ask), and my father spent some of his Navy-brat childhood in Chelmsford, so my other homeland is Boston. There's nothing like having a huge group of loud, R-dropping townies in your dining room! So obviously, the accent is one part, but aggressive driving (eep) and jaywalking and bitching about tourists and not getting excited when Matt Damon comes home are some of the others 😉

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Sarah

I don't know much about cultural norms, but my family makes damn good pierogi (that's pierogi, not pierogies) and kruschiki 🙂

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Samantha

When I was in high school I went to Germany with my class. I was in love and so many people thought I was actually German. One stop on the tour was Heidelberg. I was in love with everything and everyone looked like me! I mean everyone. Later I found out that my great-great grandfather was from there!
What I wouldn't give to go back and do some family research

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Nova

Yes! My family is mainly Russian and German, and through work I've made a few German friends and I feel this crazy kinship with them immediately. I wonder if it's because they remind me of my grandmother in some weird way?

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Hobo Siren

I had the most silly little emotional/nostalgic reaction to this. Both sides of my family are genuinely clueless about their heritage. In the end I am most likely English and… English. It was so interesting to move to Minnesota as a nine-year-old and see these people that looked like no people I had seen in the other (Southern) states I'd lived in. There just aren't gaggles of Finns and Swedes down south. I'd love to go to that country and think–Ah yes, these are my people!

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Kat

Our family's Scottish ancestry was so important to my dad that Scottish stuff actually makes me feel closer to him than any sort of ancestral connection. Pretty much the last thing he did before he died was take me on a trip to Scotland and I can't wait to take my future children on the same trip so they can meet their grandfather, at least a little bit.

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Josie

My Mom's family is from Holland (I'm only 3rd generation, My grandparents came to Canada as adults after the war). I went to Holland a few years ago and it felt so natural! I loved it! The dutch have such an odd sense of humor and are very clever. Much like me and all my family.
Also: Until my husband pointed out that it was odd, i never thought eating cold cuts & cheese for breakfast was out of the ordinary. So now we call it "Dutch Breakfast" and it usually happens on Christmas morning.

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Elise Smith

Part of my family is from Sweden too, and it's the cultural background I always felt closest to. A few years ago I was studying abroad in Europe, and my grandparents decided to go visit family in Sweden. We ended up making it a huge reunion, my parents and aunts and uncles came from the US, and we met about 40 more family members from Sweden on the island of Öland.

It was awesome. Sweden is the cleanest and most well-maintained place I've traveled I think!

There's a place called Skansen near Stockholm that is like a recreated historical village…REALLY awesome to visit! I definitely recommend, but I'm also super nerdy about that stuff. 🙂

-Elise
@BlowfishShoes

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Mary

This has really struck a chord with me too!
I live in the American Midwest. Both sides of my family have Germanic blood (German, Austrian, Swiss, Dutch), though I have a Flemish last name. We are orderly, punctual, religious, and fairly disciplined. We love grains, fresh air, and planning.
My boyfriend's parents are Irish immigrants who settled on the NW side of Chicago. His people are hardworking (unbelievably so), disorganized, clannish, and can-do. They love drinking, charity 5Ks, and doing one's own thing.
I'm looking forward to blending our two "cultures" in the future — as well as trips to Ireland and The Continent together one day!

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Caitie

What an interesting piece! This really strikes a chord with me. I'm Irish-Italian with a little WASP thrown in, but to look at me, you'd think I was like, 100%, native Irish (I'm really pale, freckly, dark brown hair and green eyes). I'd grown up with people saying "oh my gosh your colouring is so unusual!" or "yes, you definitely look like a Mick" and went to Ireland when I was in high school. Going to the pub with my host family and meeting their friends, it was like, "I have found my people!".

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KiwiMichelle

Living on an island at the bottom of the South Pacific, I, like most of my compatriots, can count Scandinavian (Norwegian last name), Scots, Irish and English in my ancestry. However, there's a touch of Italian (thanks great-grandad!)…..I don't know if that's what facilitates the ease with which I slide into Italian culture and speaking the language but I'm gonna say it does. After New Zealand, Italy is my country (in particular the region of Emilia-Romagna)

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stacey*

yes!! i know this feeling… i am canadian, with mixed European roots, but the part of my family that I am closest to is predominately british. when i was 21, i had never considered the role my cultural heritage had played in making me who i am. at that age, I visited England for the first time, and was blown away by how 'right' it felt, and how many 'oooooh, so THATs where i get that from' moments i had 🙂

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Lina

I thought it looked like Old Town in Stockholm!

I'm, er, "totally Swedish" and am pretty much living where my roots are. There's a family property that's been in the family since at least 1739 and you would not BELIEVE the stuff that's accumulated there over the years! You walk into the nearest shed and ZOOM, you just travelled 200 years back in time… It's a strange and satisfying sensation to know that those before me were, like, right HERE!

But anyway, if you want to talk Swedish/Scandinavian mentality and normality and stuff, drop me a line. I find that sort of stuff super interesting! (Being together with a German has given me more of a perspective.) I would also be curious to know what your perception of Sweden and the people has been so far. I hope you had a good time here!

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Kristie

My great grandparents on both my mom's side and dad's side were immigrants. On my mom's side, my great grandmother who I'm named after, left her affluent family in Sweden and stowed away on a boat to America in search of adventure. I love that story so much and take pride in the fact that I look like my Swedish ancestors (blonde hair, blue eyes, fair skin).

On my dad's side, my Old Nonno and Nonna who I was close with came from Sicily. I loved listening to their stories and eating their home cooked Italian.

Despite the fact that I'm a mutt, I take pride in my ancestry.

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Anonymous

My Dad is Maori and my Mum is from Liverpool. But my Dad is also a professional bagpipe player and my Mum ran a resteraunt in Corsica! We've always been such a mixture of different cultures and ethnicities and I identify with all of them, I speak a little Maori but still swear like a true Scouser and feel at home in both countries. We've also lived in Wales and attended full emersion Welsh language schools. I really just see my culture as being a member of my family and all the madness that comes with it…

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Merry Alana

When I went to Glasgow four years ago with my Granny, who is from Glasgow, I felt the exact same way. I was astonished at how at home I felt. I just kept thinking, wow, these are my people.

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DaniellaBella

I've often felt disappointed that I don't have a culture. My heritage is English, Irish, German and Ukrainian but my family has been in Canada for so very many years that, really, we are just Canadian. I wish I had delicious special foods (I guess poutine counts for that), dances, and outfits. I guess I consider England the motherland because I've always known that I would be the most me there. And in Ireland people knew immediately how to spell my last name, which has never happened before!

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Amanda

My ancestors (on my maternal grandmother's side) come from Broughshane, a village in Northern Ireland. Since they came over in the late 1760's, it's a bit hard to have a "connection" but I've always wanted to see where I "come from" and I've always felt like that's where I'm supposed to be. I hope to one day visit the "Garden Village of Ulster", as it's called.

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Denver Galea

My mum's side is English and my dad's side is Maltese and we're probably more Maltese than English since I'm only second generation born abroad.

It used to annoy me as a teenager how loud they were and constantly in your face and always trying to feed people and how everything revolves around food! But as I've gotten old I find myself becoming more like them and embracing it.

I'm planning a trip to the 'homeland' (Malta) later next year.

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Sarah Von Bargen

These comments are all so great, you guys! It's so fun to hear about your backgrounds and that universal feeling of belonging and recognition that seems to come with visiting your 'homeland.' Thanks so much for sharing!

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Laura

I have no idea where my ancestors are from! I've researched my family history like six generations back and literally everybody I've discovered has been born in the American South. I grew up eating delicious homemade cornbread, was definitely raised that politeness, friendliness, and respecting your elders are as essential as the Ten Commandments, and my relatives fought in the Civil War.

But I wish I had ties to a country of origin like most of you seem to have! I want a "homeland" to visit and get all verklempt over!

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Mackenzie

"We like fishing and skiing and being on time and picking berries." um, can i be swedish too?! these are all my favorite things. posts like this make me regret that i'm such a mutt of nationalities! i'm pretty sure i have some german in me ( gotta love that dark bread and amazing transit).

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Élan

I've always wished I could immerse myself in my heritage, but where would I begin? Things are clear on my father's side: Polish and Czech. But on my mother's side it's such a mix: Swedish, German, Norwegian, Irish, French, etc etc. I'm definitely what you would call a "Heinz 57" gal. Truthfully, I feel more connected to my husband's "homeland" (where he was born and raised) of Iran than I do with my own heritage since I speak Farsi. I feel like language is definitely the biggest gateway into a culture, but I just don't have time to learn ALL the languages of my homelands. 🙂

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Samantha J. Bird

I'm from New Zealand with predominantly English heritage, there is a little Scottish, Welsh and possibly French as well. My mum's parents immigrated here from southern England in the early '50s so there is a much stronger British connection there. I definitely want to visit the UK to get in touch with my roots, stay in the house that my grandma grew up in (it's a B&B now!), visit where my dad's family came from. It'll be interested to see if I feel a similar connection to England like you do with Sweden. 🙂

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Rachael

On my maternal side there is Prussian/Bavarian/Polish and yes, I'm curious to see what remnants of the Old World ways are left in today's Poland and that area.
However, on my paternal side we're so ingrained in both caucasian and Native roots that we're no longer able to identify with our Rhineland roots (and haven't for several generations); we're as American as American can be, which I am actually quite proud of as I can testify to American culture when people attempt to challenge it.

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Kate

I'm one of those people with a real mixture of heritages, but the two primary ones are German and British (I say British because it's really about equal parts English and Scottish with a dash each of Welsh and Irish mixed in). I've been to England and Ireland (and can't wait to go back!) and they both seemed to speak to a place in my soul – it was like finding a spot you've never been to but you immediately recognize it as home. My family teases me for being an Anglophile – my dad, in particular, has no idea why I'm so obsessed I've decorated my room in a British theme – but it's because there's a part of my soul that felt more at home in the eight days I spent in England and Ireland than it has in the 25 years that I've lived in the United States. I can't wait to go back.

I've also wanted to visit Germany – just as England calls to me, I feel that Germany will too once I go. My grandmother is German, so I'm at least a quarter German (a little more, but I'm not sure how much, on my mother's side). I've grown up eating schnitzel and bratwurst and spatzle, and my father frequently says how much I remind him of his grandmother. Her father was the mayor of a small town in Germany – I think there might still be some cousins there, and I'd love to track them down and meet them.

It's strange though really – although I'm glad to be American, my entire life, it's felt as though I'm being called to Europe. My friends in college teased me about being "European" – like the fact that I can't eat a meal without a knife or the fact that I can pick up an accent almost immediately and without thinking (to the point that one of the Russians in the local European food store asked me where I was from, causing me to blush violently as I realized I'd been speaking with an accent I didn't know I had). It's a truly strange phenomenon that sometimes, home is a place you've never seen in your life.

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Anonymous

I think "returning to your roots" might be a very american thing. I'm half norwegian and half french, but I live in Norway and don't actively try to "be french" Most native Europeans are from different countries and don't really make a big deal about it. As far as I know at least.

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