“What did you do today? Did you go skiing? Did you go ice-fishing? Did you at least see the northern lights?” These questions are shouted down the phoneline by my husband, during my recent visit to see my sister in Sweden. I stare at my sister, where she is sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of tea, reading. I am opposite, doing the same.

Husband is disappointed. I try to explain that I am not really a tourist when I go back to Sweden. Skiing and ice-fishing used to be part of the school curriculum after all. But as we hang up, I wonder whether he is right. Maybe we should do something. Something Swedish. My sister lives relatively close to where we grew up, a city I have not visited since my teens. “How about we drive to Sundsvall tomorrow…?” I ask, and my sister happily agrees, seeing as they have an IKEA and she needs a lamp.

Being back in Sundsvall is weird. It feels bizarre to hear people speaking in my old accent, using vowels I had almost forgotten existed. We stop at a sushi restaurant to acclimatise ourselves, then drive to the bay where we used to live and stare melancholically at the sea for a bit. It is almost a relief to reach IKEA with its universally recognisable maze of meatball-scented showrooms. On the way home, an eerie, green glow illuminates the sky ahead.

I am delighted. Husband will not be impressed with sushi and IKEA, but the northern lights should at least tick one box. This is until we realise that the glow comes from a particularly luminous, suburban Coop shop sign. The following day, we stick to tea and books, having decided that this is a level of Swedishness that we are both perfectly happy with.

TEXT: MARIA SMEDSTAD

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