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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Shockingly Swedish


Being an American, does it matter where we come from?  There are few other places in the world where people love to guess eachother's ethnicity, where you can have the genetics of 100 different countries contained in a city block.

 My whole life I was taught to believe that one side of my family was from Poland, with all my relatives immigrating at different times from Poland. Hence, I grew-up-- my whole life --with one side of my family identifying themselves, culturally, as Polish.

In daily life, this translated to: the obligation of serving Polish food at all religious holidays, doing elementary school heritage projects on Poland, admiring Polish Olympic weightlifters, and learning a few words here and there in Polish. I mean, this side of my family's identity was completely predicated on how Polish they were.  They had even been discriminated against because of  their heritage in the first half of the 20th century.

Ethnicity guessing,
an American pasttime

Something was off though.  For one, I never liked Polish food, and when I went to Poland the food was made differently then how my family made it ( Ok, so Im could chalk that up to Americanization of the food).  But, I also noticed that none of the people I met in Poland looked like my family. I even remember Polish ladies in a small market in Slubice, giving my husband an "Oh, ok" sort of look when he told them that I was Polish. Sure, these perceptions could be due to sampling error, but I have competed against Polish athletes, abroad, and trained with a Polish coach. Again, none resembled my family.  I have, certainly, never been told that I look Polish.  Not to mention, like my ancestors, I have never directly benefited from being Polish in the US.

So, when a very close relative had a DNA test done for fun, we were shocked to find out that their DNA is an exact match to Sweden.  Though I had my reservations about my "Polishness",  Sweden wasn't even on my radar screen.  Further, out of the top 10 countries, Poland was number 9 with less than a 20% match.
Of course, the first thing I did was go to the Swedish Weightlifting Federations website and look up the national records (yes, the page was in entirely Swedish and I didn't even need to use google translator ;).


This brings me to some interesting conclusions:

Riding a pony 
Well, for one, I think we can infer that my ancestors were Viking invaders, whereas Sweden had conquered Northern parts of Poland, where many of my ancestors are from.  This could explain my fondness of horsemanship, strength sports, sailing, and Maine winters.   I guess this means I can now talk about the Vikings as if I'm related to them. More seriously, there is literature on diet and genetics. For example, Sweden has one of the highest populations of lactose tolarence -- ie close your eyes Paleo diet fanatics, I CAN digest milk ( reference http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/2009-08-30-lactose-intolerance_N.htm)

Some concluding thoughts...
1. I'm still in a bit of disbelief that I'm not Polish.

 2. For those of you that have told me that I didn't look Polish, I apologize for laughing at you. You were right. And for those people who have told myself or other female relatives that they look Swedish, I am sorry if I assumed that you were just hitting on me;)

 3. For my 2nd, 3rd, and 6th grade teachers: I'm sorry I did my family heritage projects on Poland, seriously, I really didn't know I was Swedish. I don't think its necessary to retroactively change my grades ;)

4. I now have to get the other half of my family's genetics tested. I mean, what if it turns out that they are Polish, this whole post would make no sense at all.



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