Published in Hemmets Journal magazine on October 7, 2014. By Johan Rystad. Translated from the original Swedish. Reprinted with permission from Hemmets Journal.
On my next visit to Sweden I’ll know the language
When Katie was a kid tossed on her grandfather’s knee she heard him sing Rida rida ranka. She can still by rote, but it was almost the only memory from the old country. But this summer, there was a change on that.
Americans are curious about their descent, how far back it lies. That applies very much to opera singer Katie Malik, 34, one of this year’s participants in the SVT series Allt för Sverige.
“As long as I can remember I have been aware of my Swedish heritage,” she says from her home in Gig Harbor in Washington State in the USA’s northwestern corner.
Where she lives with her husband Joe and the great American Bulldog Tor named after the mighty Nordic god of thunder. Yet another track from the Swedish roots…
“But I have never visited the country and did not really know much about it. My mother’sfather’sgrandfather and Mother’sfather’sgrandmother came to this part of the United States for a very long time ago, even before the area became one of the states. They were real pioneers.”
Dream come true
Knowledge of the origin countries thinned out naturally through the generations but one Swedish tradition survived all the way to Katie’s childhood. A tradition that millions of Swedes recognize themselves in:
“I remember when I was a little girl sitting in grandpa’s lap and rocked while he rhythmically pronounced chant Rida Ranka. And I can still: Rida rida ranka, hästen heter Blanka.“
This summer Katie’s dream to visit the “old country” came true when she became one of the lucky ones who were selected for this year’s SVT’s hit series Allt för Sverige.
“The very first day we were in Malmö, and it was from the area around Malmö that my mother’s father’s father’s father came. His wife came from Lund, just a little further away.”
Katie felt at home immediately.
“I understand why they eventually chose to settle in this particular part of the United States, at the top of the northwest. It felt like home right from the beginning when I came to Skåne – the landscape, the water, even the air felt like it. It was like home!”
When she thinks back to the time in Sweden, she remembers just fun things.
“I got to know so many fine people, both among my fellow competitors, and among those who did the recording. It was an amazing time.”
Katie soon discovered the differences between American participants and Swedes who worked around the recording.
“We are much more emotional, we are close to our feelings,” she says. “And when one of us falls into tears or gets tears in their eyes we quickly approach and ask if everything is okay or if you need help. That is not what Swedes do, I understood.”
Loves to compete
But the Swedes were drawn with sometimes.
“Once I was very emotional and had tears in my eyes. And when I looked up at the recording team, I saw that all of them also had glossy eyes. And they were all Swedes!”
Although all became friends and came very close to each other so one must not forget that there is a competition. You have to perform and it is something that suited Katie like a glove.
“I’m very competitive, it’s in my personality and really love to compete. The sad thing in this case was that the participants had to leave the group gradually but the sorrow was mixed with joy that you yourself were allowed to stay. How long I am not allowed to tell.”
Katie lives with cystic fibrosis, a serious chronic disease that affects the lungs and breathing and that is a big part of her life. It is a disorder that among other things, is dealt with through physical activities since a good fitness level holds back the symptoms.
“Sure, I felt symptoms of the disease sometimes in some competitions but not enough to bother me. My case is not as difficult as many others, and I can live an active lifestyle everyday.”
What she misses most after returning home, all the Swedes who she met and has gotten to know.
“They may not be as easy to make contact with as my fellow countrymen but when you’ve found something in common to talk about, they are always super nice. Then they can talk as much as anyone – that I will miss.”
And maybe she will miss some of the Swedish silence too.
“When I landed at the American airport, it felt like everyone was shouting around me. It was quick to get used to Sweden where everyone speaks more quietly.”
So – will she return to Sweden at some point?
“Yes for sure. And then maybe I can speak to you in Swedish then also. I have registered for a course in Swedish this fall. It will be fun!”
The text in the major picture:
Katie had a wonderful summer adventure in the land where her ancestors came from. And she has brought many wonderful memories back with her. How it went in the competition, she doesn’t reveal.
In the “person data” box:
Age: 34 year
Family: Married to Joe, they have the dog Tor
Profession: Singer, mostly opera
Lives: Gig Harbor in the American state Washington
Current: Allt för Sverige on SVT1
Under the picture with Joe
Katie and Joe at her home in Gig Harbor on the American west coast
Under the picture with Tor
Katie’s dog she has named after the Nordic god of thunder Tor
5 questions to Katie about Sweden
What is the name our Swedish king?
– Oh, I do not know but I know you’ve had a king named Gustav.
Wrong. Correct answer: Carl XVI Gustaf
Mention some typical Swedish food?
– Herring, crispbread, lingonberry jam. I’m glad I did not have to taste fermented herring
What is the name Sweden’s second largest city?
What is the name Sweden’s greatest football hero?
– Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Can you name some Swedish opera star?
Jenny Lind (lightning fast). Her I have seen her on your 50-kronor bill.
4 of 5 correct – Well done!