Disclaimer: The characters belong to Ngozi Ukazu.
A/N: I studied abroad in Sweden and have been pretty active in the Swedish-American community my whole life. Please don't correct/second-guess Swedish stuff unless you're from Scandinavia or have another good reason to be sure you know what you're talking about. Also, this fic is for OMGCP Friendship Week 2021, run by birlcholtz on Tumblr.
One: Pea soup and pancakes
The dining hall only has two lines open, since the school year hasn't started yet and only athletes are on campus. Lukas has been here for less than a week, and he's still jet-lagged and not really sure about his teammates. They seem nice, he guesses. Most of them, anyway. He's not sure what to make of Nursey and Dex, and he's not sure anyone else other than maybe Chowder knows what to make of them, either. But his fellow Waffles seem cool, at least so far.
Lukas just isn't sure he can trust that. He's heard that Americans are like peaches—the first bite is sweet, but every other bite tastes the same as the first. Swedes, on the other hand, are like glass ketchup bottles—you have to flip them upside down and whack them for a while before you get anything at all, but the friendship lasts forever once you have it. Peaches are gone so quickly.
Lukas is half-listening to Hops excitedly explaining an anime (Lukas isn't sure if he's part of the conversation—Hops seems to be mostly talking to Bully, so Lukas is pretty sure he's not being rude by only halfway paying attention) as the whole team shuffles through the line that isn't for pasta (Bitty had herded the team away from the pasta line and into this line instead, saying something about protein that had made the upperclassmen laugh, though Lukas wasn't in on the joke). When he gets to the front of the line, Lukas accepts his chicken and green beans and goes and sits down with the rest of the team.
The days have been such a blur lately, what with practices, that it's not until someone says, "Thank fuck tomorrow's Friday," that Lukas realizes it's Thursday.
It's Thursday, and he's in a school cafeteria, and he's eating something other than pea soup. It's the first time in his life that all three of those things have been true.
"Huh," Lukas says to his food.
"What's up?" Hops asks from Lukas's left.
"This isn't pea soup," Lukas says, gesturing at his food.
Going by Hops's expression, that explains nothing.
Lukas sighs. "It's a Swedish tradition. I think it's been around since the Middle Ages or something? But Swedes eat pea soup on Thursdays. It's kind of our thing. And so my school cafeterias always served pea soup every Thursday, my whole life. Like, tacos on Friday are pretty common in Sweden, but that's a recent thing and not everyone does it, whereas pea soup Thursdays are, like, enforced, at least at school. And I guess I sort of knew that wouldn't be a thing in the US, but I hadn't really processed it, I suppose. This is literally the first time I've been in a school cafeteria on a Thursday and eaten anything other than pea soup."
"That sounds hella repetitive, bro," says Bully. "I'd be glad to get away from it."
"We can respect his culture, though," says Hops. "If he wants pea soup, we can find a way to get him pea soup."
"True," says Bully. "Sorry, man. Do you want pea soup?"
"I don't think so? At least not right now. The chicken is fine," Lukas says. "I think what I'm actually going to miss are the pancakes for dessert. Those were also a Thursday tradition."
"Aren't pancakes more of a breakfast food?" Bully asks.
Lukas wrinkles his nose. "No? Pancakes are definitely dessert. Especially when you put whipped cream and jam on them."
Hops and Bully exchange a look, and then Bully says, "If you say so."
"So if you don't want pea soup, do you want pancakes?" Hops asks.
Lukas shrugs. "I mean, yeah, but where would we get them?"
"Have you not been listening to the upperclassmen?" Hops asks. "Bitty totally bakes. I think Dex does, too. I bet we could borrow the oven at the Haus. I'm pretty sure their stove works, given how much food Bitty has already brought us."
"Oh," says Lukas.
After dinner, he follows the rest of the team back to the Haus. Bitty beelines for the kitchen, but Hops and Bully are on his heels and Lukas is in their wake.
"Can we use the stove?" Hops asks Bitty, who's pulling ingredients out of the cupboards.
"Sure!" says Bitty. "We just ate, though. What are y'all planning on making?"
"Louis wants pancakes," Bully explains. "Apparently they're a dessert in Sweden and it's common to eat them on Thursdays?"
Bitty looks at Lukas. "Really?"
"Yeah?" says Lukas. "You put whipped cream and jam on them and then you roll them up."
Everyone in the kitchen stares at him. "How do you roll up a pancake?" Bitty asks finally.
"You just do?" Lukas feels just as confused as everyone else looks.
"Aren't they a little thick for that?" Hops asks.
"Pancakes?" Lukas says. "Not at all! They're super thin!"
"How thin are we talking?" Bully asks.
Lukas holds his thumb and forefinger up so that there's maybe a millimeter of space between them.
"Oh," says Hops. "So they're different than American pancakes."
"How thick are American pancakes?" Lukas asks.
Hops holds up his thumb and forefinger, more like seven millimeters apart.
"Oh," Lukas says. "Yeah, that would be a lot harder to roll."
"So you want super thin pancakes, whipped cream, and jam?" Bitty asks.
Lukas nods. "I can make them, if you can spare the stove."
"I'll help," Bitty says. "We've got plenty of jam and some whipping cream in the fridge. Do you have a recipe for the pancakes?"
Lukas nods. "I have it memorized." It's not like he knows how to cook all that many things, but the things he can cook, he can cook by heart.
"All right, I'll let you take the lead, then," Bitty says, crouching to get bowls and measuring cups out of a low cabinet. "I'm staying here, though. It's y'all's first time in my kitchen and I'm not sure I trust any of you to cook unsupervised. It's nothing personal. Just—Nursey and Whiskey have both only narrowly avoided burning the Haus down, and I'd like to avoid a three-peat on that front, you know?"
The Waffles all nod. Then Lukas looks down at the measuring cup Bitty's handed to him and says, "Uh. Do you have any that are in deciliters?"
Bitty stares at him for several seconds and then goes, "Bless your heart, you are even more metric than the Canadians, aren't you?"
"Apparently?" Lukas replies.
"No, I don't have anything in deciliters," Bitty says. "I can use my crepe recipe if you don't want to do the conversions. The pancakes you're describing sound a lot like crepes."
"All right," Lukas sighs. "Let's do that."
Bitty practically talks Lukas's ear off—and Hops's, and Bully's, since both of them stay—while making the crepes, but in the end the crepes taste approximately like the pancakes Lukas is used to, and Bitty's jam is the best pancake topping Lukas has ever had. Hops, Bully, and Bitty all admit that the combination of crepe, whipped cream, and jam is pretty good. It's a good night.
Two: A drinking age of 18
The team goes out for dinner at Jerry's after a matinee home game—there'll be a kegster tonight, but first it's time to get some better-than-dining-hall food without making Bitty cook—and Lukas is looking forward to getting something to eat. Hockey makes him so hungry. He's also 19 and not totally sure he's done growing, which probably doesn't help on the hunger front.
When the waitress gets to Lukas and asks what he'd like to eat, he asks for one of the burgers and a beer, at which point the waitress asks, "Can I see your ID?"
Lukas frowns. "I don't have it on me, but I swear I'm 19." He doesn't drive in the US, so the only ID he keeps on him regularly is his student ID, which he knows isn't legally relevant. He keeps his passport in his dorm—it's not like he's going to just keep it in his hockey bag and leave it in the locker room for hours at a time, even though security in Faber hasn't been an issue in the month he's been here.
"You're 19?" The waitress asks. "You know I can't legally serve you alcohol, right?"
Lukas frowns harder. "But I'm—" he flails in his English vocabulary, looking for a translation of myndig, and comes up empty-handed.
Hops puts a hand on his arm. "Drinking age in the US is 21, bro."
"Right. I forgot," Lukas mutters. "That's a ridiculous law. You all realize that, right?"
"We do," says Bully from across the table.
"So do you want a non-alcoholic beverage, or are you sticking with water tonight?" the waitress asks, her smile thin.
Lukas sighs. "I'll stick with water. Sorry for forgetting about US law."
The waitress nods and moves on to Hops.
Three: St. Lucia Day
It doesn't get as dark in Massachusetts in December as it does in Uppsala, but even so, Lukas really misses the light by the time finals season rolls around. Mostly he misses the sun, but he also misses St. Lucia Day with all its candles. He hasn't fully realized that he's not going to get to properly celebrate the holiday until it's actually December 13. December 13 happens to be in the middle of finals, so Lukas can't spare a lot of time to think about what he's missing, but in the evening he replaces his usual lo-fi study playlist with a mix of Swedish Lucia songs and Christmas hymns.
There's something about "Betlehem stjärna" that gets him every time, particularly when the descant comes in, and there are so many fun arrangements of "Staffan stalledräng." It's not like a hymn or Lucia song can actually be a bop, but "Staffan stalledräng" is genuinely enjoyable. For some reason, though, the song that hits Lukas the hardest this year is "Nu tändes tusen juleljus." It's such a simple song, one he's known since he was a little kid, but something about the concept of the whole world lighting candles at the same time makes him feel connected to home in a way he hadn't realized he was missing this intensely.
He doesn't realize he's crying until teardrops start hitting the notes he's trying to review. He tries to keep studying for a few minutes, but the tears start coming faster.
Okay, fuck finals, actually.
He gets out his phone and texts the Waffle group chat, it's a swedish holiday and i'm way more homesick than i thought i was. i know it's finals but could either of you come study in my dorm or something so i'm not alone?
sure thing, bro! Hops texts immediately.
omw, Bully adds.
Within ten minutes, both of the other Waffles are in Lukas's room. They both sit on Lukas's bed, since Lukas is at his desk and there aren't any other chairs, and after brief greetings they all get back to studying.
About 45 minutes later, Hops sets down his notes and says, "What holiday is today?"
Lukas sets his highlighter down, turns around to face his friends on the bed, and says, "It's called St. Lucia Day. Lucia was actually an Italian saint in, like, the 300s or something, but legend has it she showed up in Sweden on a boat full of food in the middle of a lake during a famine several centuries later, which I'm quite sure didn't actually happen, but whatever. We celebrate her saint day on December 13.
"Usually the oldest daughter in the family dresses up in a white dress with a red sash and a crown of candles and brings coffee and lussekatter—um, buns? With . . . saffron in them? I think that's what it's called—to the parents, and the other kids wear white dresses too, but without the crown and sash. Even the boys wear dresses, even though we call them robes, and we wear these really tall pointy white hats with stars on them, and we carry wooden things with sparkly stars on the end, and they call us stjärngossar—uh, star boys, I guess? And there are tons of traditional songs that we sing, and I was listening to those earlier and started crying, which is why I texted you."
"What's your favorite song?" Bully asks.
"Probably 'Staffan stalledräng,' usually, because it's kind of bouncy and fun," Lukas says. "A lot of Lucia songs are actually Christmas songs, since the holidays are so close together. Staffan had some minor role in the Christmas story, I think—all the songs about him are about him taking care of horses, and I actually don't know how that fits into anything at all. Most of us in Sweden aren't actually religious and we just celebrate this shit for cultural reasons. But the songs are cool."
"Nice," says Hops. "Can you sing it for us?"
"Okay," says Lukas. He's planning on majoring in composition, so he's in the music department but doesn't sing in front of people on a regular basis. He's not exactly shy about his voice, but he doesn't go looking for reasons to sing publicly, either. But these are his best friends. He takes a sip from his water bottle and launches into his favorite arrangement of the song.
"You were right," Bully says when he's done (well, with one verse—he's not going to torture his friends by letting this go on forever the way it sometimes can). "That is kind of fun."
"I see what you mean about it being bouncy, too," Hops adds. "Is that because of the horses? Like, is it supposed to sound the way riding a horse feels?"
"I've never thought of that," Lukas admits. "Maybe?"
"How are you feeling, bro?" Bully asks.
"Pretty good," Lukas says. "Still a little homesick, but I'll be fine."
"Cool," says Bully. "I have an eight o'clock final tomorrow morning, so I'm probably going to head back to my dorm, if that's cool with you."
"Yeah, for sure," says Lukas.
Hops stays for a while longer, which is nice of him, but Lukas really is okay now.
Four: Words for "the day after tomorrow" and "the day before yesterday"
"Hey, Louis, are you coming to Annie's with Hops and me tonight?" Bully asks as everyone is getting out of their gear after practice.
Lukas grimaces. "Sorry, I don't think I can. I've got a paper due tomorrow, and then a presentation . . ." He's looking for the English equivalent of på övermorgonen, and he can't find it. "What's the English word for the day after tomorrow?"
"We just say 'the day after tomorrow,'" Bully replies.
"Isn't there, like, a word for it?" Lukas asks.
"Nope," says Hops from his other side.
"What about the day before yesterday?" Lukas asks.
"Spanish has that one," Whiskey says before either Bully or Hops can answer. "It's anteayer. English doesn't have a special word for it, though."
"There are words for both of those in Swedish?" Bully asks.
"Yeah," Lukas replies. "The day before yesterday is förrgår and the day after tomorrow is övermorgonen."
"That would be so useful!" Nursey exclaims, walking past in a towel. "Why can't English be like that?"
"You're the English major, Nurse," says Dex. "You tell us."
"Pretty sure you'd need a linguistics major for that," Nursey says over his shoulder before resuming his walk to the showers.
The hockey season has ended, spring semester finals loom on the horizon, and spring has finally sprung in Massachusetts. The snow has melted and leaves have appeared on the trees all over campus. Honestly, this was a shorter, sunnier winter than Lukas is used to, but it felt at least as long, maybe because of how far he is from his family, and the spring feels amazing. But now April is ending and Lukas has just realized that he's missing yet another Swedish holiday. He went home with Hops for Christmas—there wasn't really time for a trans-Atlantic flight between hockey games just before and after the holiday—and everyone but Tango spent Easter on campus, since Easter didn't coincide with spring break and most of the team lives too far away to justify going home for a weekend. He's taught himself to cook more traditional Swedish foods—he made some late lussekatter at Hops's house over Christmas, and figured out how to make semlor for Easter—but now Valborg is coming up, and Valborg isn't mainly about the food.
To be honest, Valborg is mainly about the alcohol, but it's not the sort of thing Lukas can try to replicate by drinking alone in his dorm. Valborg is a holiday of bonfires and communal singing and public intoxication. He knows the singing is right out—he can look up some songs online and sing along with them, but he's the only Swedish international student at Samwell and therefore almost certainly the only one who knows "Vintern rasat" or "Glad såsom fågeln" or "Sköna maj, välkommen," and the point of Valborg is to do things together. But at the very least, he can get some people together for a fire, even if it'll be nowhere near as big as the bonfires in Uppsala.
On April 27, Lukas texts the team group chat, can i use the haus firepit on sunday? april 30 is a swedish holiday that we typically celebrate with bonfires and alcohol.
hell yeah! Chowder replies. are we invited?
i'm not planning on kicking you out of your own backyard, Lukas says.
i can take you to buy wood, Hops offers. This makes sense—he's the only Waffle with a car, and the older SMH members tend to expect the Waffles to look after each other without a lot of external input—and Lukas appreciates the offer.
thanks! Lukas texts back.
don't burn anything down, Dex adds.
we'll be careful, Lukas promises.
So on the 30th, Hops and Lukas make a trip into town to buy firewood, and then they get a fire going in the Haus firepit and members of SMH start to trickle in. Most of them wind up nursing beers—it's a Sunday night, so not many people are at liberty to get truly smashed, and this close to finals a lot of the guys are a little more aware of needing to keep up in their classes, but a beer or two won't hurt. It's nothing like the giant, raucous bonfires full of university students and resounding with drinking songs that Lukas is used to, but it's nice, anyway.
"So what holiday are we celebrating?" Tango asks at one point.
"It's called Valborg," Lukas responds. "I think it maybe used to be a saint's day, but that was a long time ago. These days, you basically just make a giant bonfire, sing a bunch of songs about spring, and get absolutely blasted. May 1 is a national holiday, so people have time to deal with their hangovers or whatever."
"What holiday is May 1?" Tango asks.
"Labor Day," Lukas replies. "I think you all celebrate it in September, but a lot of the rest of the world celebrates it on May 1."
"Oh right, I think I've heard that before," Tango says. "What's your favorite holiday?"
"Probably Lucia Day," Lukas answers. "I love the music and the saffron buns and the whole theme of having light in the winter, when it's so dark outside."
Tango keeps asking questions for a while, but Lukas doesn't mind. He wasn't going to be able to have a typical Valborg, but this is good too. He's with his friends, and he'll be going home soon.
Plus one: Hops and Bully visit Lukas in Uppsala
Lukas thought that returning to Uppsala would be the solution to his homesickness. It made sense: he'd never really been homesick before leaving Sweden, so going back should fix the problem. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work that way, because he'd forgotten to take into account that Samwell has, in some ways, become his home over the past year. It's not that Uppsala isn't home or that eating knakkebröd in the mornings doesn't make him happy; it's just that he feels like he also left part of his heart in Massachusetts.
Luckily, even though Lukas didn't anticipate this, Hops and Bully did, and they arranged their summer schedules so that they could both take the week of July 4 off (well, Hops was taking actual time off from his internship; Bully was between sessions at the summer camp he worked at) and come to Sweden to visit Lukas. They fly into Arlanda on the morning of Sunday, July 2—landing a couple hours apart since they're coming from different places—and Lukas takes the train down from Uppsala to meet them.
Hops and Bully are both jet-lagged and minorly cranky on the short train ride to Uppsala, but Hops, who's traveled more than Bully, says that it's important to stay up and get on local time as soon as possible rather than going to bed, if they can help it, so Lukas offers to show them around the city after they drop their stuff at his place. Hops and Bully ooh and ah over how massive the cathedral is, with its two spires, and the fact that there are actual Viking runestones just sitting there next to the sidewalk, and the fact that some of the streets in the city center are cobbled rather than paved, but what cracks them up is the fact that there's a castle on the hill.
"Dude, you're a music major—how do you not know that song?" Bully asks after he and Hops have broken into song spontaneously following Lukas pointing out the castle, much to Lukas's confusion.
Lukas makes a face. "Being a music major means that the music I like is actually good. Who did you say this was by?"
"Ed Sheeran," says Hops. "But don't give me that 'my music is actually good' bullshit. You listen to EDM."
Lukas sighs. "Okay, fair."
Lukas shows Hops and Bully around the castle gardens for a while—there are replica cannons near the castle, which Lukas has always liked, and then the gardens radiate out from the castle in all directions, full of greenery and fountains—before Bully says he's too tired to function and he needs to crash ASAP. It's only about a 20-minute walk back to where Lukas lives, but Bully seems closer to falling over with every passing minute. When they reach Lukas's home, Bully stumbles to the guest room, leaving Hops and Lukas to sit and talk in the kitchen, which is the room farthest from the guest room.
"Thanks for coming," says Lukas. "I hadn't realized how much I was going to miss you until I got back to Sweden."
"Thanks for having us," Hops replies. "I've never been to Sweden before and it's cool to have a personal tour guide. I can't believe you have actual runestones just, like, lying around."
"I'm pretty used to them, honestly," says Lukas. "I mean, they've been here longer than I have. I grew up with them. But yeah, they're cool."
"'Cool,' he says," scoffs Hops. "Viking runestones that are like a thousand years old. 'Cool.'"
"Shut up," says Lukas.
Hops rolls his eyes. "Yeah, yeah. You're glad we're here."
Lukas sighs. "Can't deny that."