Eva Fodor Velander: finding yourself, the very best of you, and living the dream that you could not have dreamed

Eva Fodor Velander made quite some steps: from Hungary to Sweden to The Netherlands to Sweden. I know her quite well. Eva and I have been together for 10 years, from 1998 until 2007. This is also the reason why she moved to The Netherlands in 2000. She went back to Sweden in 2008. Eva and Sven Velander married last year.

She is someone with a lot of enthusiasm, very nice presence and drive for setting things into motion. We have the interview at Kittebo, a location for training/conferences/events and a B&B. Quite a thing to meet your ex-wife after seven years and talk about quality of life.

You lived in three different countries: in Hungary, Sweden and The Netherlands and then back to Sweden. Let’s go to the first step that you took from Hungary tot Sweden. You fled from Hungary to Sweden with $ 20 in your pocket (HB at that time Hungary was still behind the Iron Curtain). Can you tell something about the motivation that you had?
The idea was not mine from the beginning. I was married very early. My husband wanted to move to Sweden. Why Sweden? I don’t know. It was also not my decision either. The first day that he told me about to Sweden: I told him ‘never’. But, every evening after work he was talking about it. After about three months, I started to think maybe it is not a bad idea. I don’t why I didn’t want it. It has nothing to do with Sweden. I just didn’t want to leave my country. But after three months, I thought, it is a good idea, let’s do it. The interesting thing is that after I made my decision to go, I started to see all the negative things in Hungary. The people who don’t care when you want something to buy in the shop; they just ignore you.

This was still at the time of communism.
They got the salary anyway so they don’t need to do anything. It is very interesting, if you make up your mind then you start this process of leaving. And in this process you start to think positive things about where you are going and negative things about where you are going from.

And after three months, he was more uncertain. And I was more certain. So after five, six months, I wanted to go. And he thought maybe we shouldn’t. But then I already made up my mind.

Did you expect to have a better quality of life in Sweden? What were the underlying motives? I understand that after you made up your mind, you thought this and that will be better.
I really don’t remember exactly. I don’t think my motivation was a better quality of life. I didn’t think in those kind of terms. I think it was more part of an adventure. My mother protected me all the time, I had a very protected childhood. And I started to discover that there was a world outside this cotton world I was in. I was curious, I think.

It was quite an adventure. Because you knew when you were going that you couldn’t come back. It was a one-direction step.
Yes, it was a big decision because I couldn’t come back. First, after three months, I started to think this is a good idea: it was more because it’s an adventure. But during the process of the fourth, fifth and sixth month, I started to think, as I told, about the negative things. This was the motivation: it will be better in Sweden. It will be easier to get an apartment, that kind of quality. It’s more the… I think… If I go back, it’s a kind of freedom I was applying for. Free decisions in everything. That I can decide how I want to live. People in Hungary often asked me when I will get married instead of what I wanted to be. I didn’t liked it. I wanted to have my own life. So, I didn’t like when they asked when are you going to marry. This was the purpose of life. But it was not my purpose. I got married, I think, not of love but I wanted to go from home and this was the only possibility for me to move. Out from my parents’ house. It was a good childhood, but I wanted to be more free. That they don’t look at everything I do. This was the biggest motivation. This freedom would be bigger in Sweden in any circumstance. So, I do not need to meet the people in the house where I was living my whole life.

What do you mean?
In this house where we were living, the same people asked the same things. It was too little. There were not so many people around me. In school, I had my class. And I had one or two friends. My parents and me were not going out. We had little social life. So, I couldn’t meet a lot of people. When I started university, it was fantastic! Because it was a kind of freedom. A lot of people. I also met people from outside, a lot of African people (they could study for free on the university). And they told me about things I never had heard about. There was no internet yet.

To come back to your step: it was freedom – not fleeing from a communist to a socialist country – but more about personal freedom.
Yes, exactly.

Then you made in 2000 a step from Sweden to The Netherlands. Can you elaborate a little bit on the quality of life between the three countries: Hungary, Sweden, The Netherlands?
One big difference I see, is about the government and the society. If I compare those three countries, I can trust the government in Sweden most. And in Hungary least. Holland was in the middle. This was the first impression that I had after a couple of weeks.

If I compare the cultures, the Swedish culture was very different from the Hungarian one. The Dutch culture was a little bit going back to how it was in Hungary. I loved those small towns and I remember sometimes I heard the street organ (HB ‘draaiorgel’) and that kind of things. Like selling things on the streets. There was not so much open life in Sweden when I moved. Everyone was at home or you could go out to a restaurant. But it was not so open. Today in Stockholm there is ‘uteservering’, outside service, but not at that time. It was very closed, all inside. When I came to Holland, it was much more open. It was like in Hungary. It made me feel more at home in Holland, in the beginning.

Considering the quality of life between the three countries: what kind of difference do you see?
It’s without question that Sweden has the best quality of life. It’s because the kind of safety that you have. When I moved to The Netherlands, medical care and that kind of things gave not a very good impression. It was quite a culture shock for me.

Because they were not so friendly?
I would not say that they were not friendly because I believe that the Dutch people are the most friendly people in the world. In my opinion, they are extremely friendly. But I think, they don’t have the need to take care of you because they don’t take care of themselves either. One example, when I went to a dentist and then they were doing something and I was totally wet. I went here, in Sweden, two days ago to the dentist and the nurse she just dried me every 10 seconds, so I don’t get wet. That’s a small example. Here, they are more careful with your body in every way. I can’t really explain it. But, it’s a feeling that I have when there’s a problem, I’m sick or whatever, Sweden would be the best. Also if I compare with Hungary, they have extremely good nurses and doctors there but they have not the money to buy the machines. So there are low level machines and they don’t have so much money to make it beautiful in the hospitals but they take care of you. In Holland, it was in the middle. In Sweden they take care of you and have a lot of money to make it beautiful. And Holland has a lot of money and a good service but it’s not so – I would not say it’s not friendly –  not service minded. Also in the restaurants, it was not so service minded. In Hungary, it is very service minded. Sweden also. And in Holland, it is not at all. They don’t think it is important how you put down the plate – in the restaurant or wherever. Small things, it is very difficult to explain.

So, in your personal quality of life: caring is very important.
Obviously. I didn’t know about it. But after four or five years living in the Netherlands, I started to longing back to Sweden. Never to Hungary. I don’t understand why. But, yes, I was almost dreaming about Sweden, the Swedish language, the Swedish hospitals – if I would get sick.

The safety
The safety and the comfort.

You like to eat and also to cook. If you look at the quality of food between the three countries. Each has a typical kind of food. Can you say something about this? Perhaps not about what is good or better. Not compare them too much.
I can say what is better! I don’t need to think about it because the Hungarian food is best (HB lots of laughter). What’s interesting in Hungary is that you make a very tasty food of small money. They have the spices and a long tradition. They don’t have so much money. The country is not very wealthy. But they always say ‘we are poor, but we are eating good’. Even the poorest people have good food. Very cheap, cheap ingredients, but is very tasty. They are extremely good in making very cheap food very good. You don’t need high quality ingredients. Of course, they have high quality ingredients with fruits and vegetables. But it is not expensive like goose liver, caviar, champagne etc. They don’t need it. They have very good and cheap food.

On the second place is Holland. Holland has a very good mixture of food culture. The first time a took a dim sum in Holland, I had never eaten
but that’s Chinese!
It’s Chinese, but you have it. You have the Indonesian rijsttafel. I didn’t had that kind of things in Sweden. Sweden is not good in taking in other cultures’ food. Hungary not either. But they don’t need it :). But now it is much better in Sweden. We have a lot of Arabic food, which is very good, and other oriental food. All kind of food, it is much better now. I think food is important.

What is the best Hungarian food?
Goulash. Goulash and pancakes.

What is the best Swedish food?
In Sweden, the best food is, mm,… falukorv (HB lot’s of laughter – because it is my favourite sausage).

And in Holland?
In Holland… pannenkoek. The Dutch pancake is the best. Even better than in Hungary. The Dutch pannenkoek is extremely good. And poffertjes.


You moved actually three times: once from Hungary to Sweden, once from Sweden to The Netherlands and once from The Netherlands to Sweden. You need to have a lot of drive and energy to move. It’s not very easy to go from one country to another. What is your drive?
It is a very difficult question. I felt all three times that I had to build something from almost nothing. When I came to Sweden, it was totally different. There were so many things in society that I never had seen. Like McDonalds, a bank, a check.

When did you go to Sweden?
In ’79.  So, everything was so different. I had to learn, not just the language. I couldn’t talk Swedish nor English. So, it was very different. But already the third day, I was at school.  And I was very determined to learn the language. I decided that the first day. Because when I was in Stockholm for half a day, I went to McDonalds – it was quite new for me, I had never seen it before, but I had heard about it – and I wanted to take a hamburger. And I also wanted to take French fries. But I didn’t know what the name was. So I told the girl at the McDonalds I want ‘kartoffel’. Kartoffel in German. And she didn’t understand kartoffel. What is kartoffel? And there was a long queue. So, I has no time. And I had no French fries. So, I decided: I must learn the language!

The first one or two months were very frustrating. I couldn’t talk to people. It was very frustrating because I had a lot of things I wanted to say. But, I was so determinate that I went to all kind of shops and I asked the people ‘how much does it cost’. And they said something – ok, thank you – tack, tack. And I didn’t understand anything of what they said. But, I went to the next shop, just to practice the everyday language. After a week, I went to the library. I wanted to hear the language so I borrowed things. A lot of effort. I think I didn’t do anything else the first four, five months besides learning the language.

Every time you had to rebuild your life?
The first time was completely rebuilding. But, when I went to Holland it was easier in the way that I could talk English. I already had lived in two countries and I also had done a lot of travelling. So, I was more open to change. Actually, the first year was like a big holiday. It is a beautiful country with extremely nice people, there are always laughing and open; much more open than the Swedes.

You also said that it is difficult because things are different in another country, like the banks, doctors – all how it works. So, you have to get accommodated to everyday life.
The interesting thing is that when you come to another country as a tourist you don’t see those things. But, I you start to life there, after a month or two, you realise that things that were obvious in your country are now becoming a problem. I can compare it with an example: lacing your shoes and then you lose one hand… than you can’t do that anymore. It is perhaps quite a drastic example. But what I want to say is that suddenly you realise that you need two hands. But you never thought about it. How should you do it now? You need to discover a new way – all the time. The energy goes away on those kind of things. So you must think about the language and also all those other things. E.g. how should I contact a plumber, what is the name, how can I find them. You don’t find them in the way you were used to in your other country. But, it also makes you very entrepreneurial. You must find out things.

I understand the negative side, the difficulties. But, I also see the positive side. You have to live very intense. You really have to re-invent yourself.
It is not that it is negative. It can be for some people who are not good in entrepreneurial thinking. But, I had it – although I didn’t know about it. It took a long time before I discovered that I had it. So it also took a long time before I started my own company. And I think it was a very good decision.

The intensity takes out also the best in you.
Exactly. Takes out the best. When you change environment, country, then after a while you find yourself. The interesting thing is that you find things you were not looking for. But when you are finding it, you realise this was where I was looking for, but I didn’t know about. If you don’t know a coconut you cannot miss it. But, once you take the coconut and find it is extremely tasty and good then you start longing for it. And then you miss it if can’t have it. When I was in Hungary there were a lot of things I didn’t know about. I thought I was happy. But, it was not really me, the real me. I think that I decided what I really want is when I came to Småland (HB the area where Eva is living now).


All those steps, from Hungary to Sweden to The Netherlands to Sweden, Småland. Let’s say this is the most quiet place on earth.
Yeah, the middle of nowhere.

You call it ‘langsåmhet I tid och rum’, slowness in time and space. This is the quality of life?
No doubt.

The best of yourself is here? Can you say a bit more why this personally is so for you?
Every time I come here, I feel it. I have a quite busy life in Växjö (HB the closest city and which has a population of about 90.000 persons). It is quite busy, a lot of things are stressed. When I come here in Kittebo, like during the weekends, I feel within five minutes, when I come out of my car, I look around and I just love what I see. I’m never tired of it. I get down in stress, it disappears. It is hard to explain. I feel at home.

Is it also the area here, also in Växjö?
No, it is not the same. I never had this longing to a place before. Never in my life. I never felt I had to go back where I was born in Hungary or another place where I have been when travelling – I was almost in 50 countries. Some countries were very beautiful. But I never felt I had to go back. Or that I felt that a place is very important for me. And this is the first time that I have it. But it was not from start. When I first came here five years ago, I didn’t liked it at all. But the other small house, the stuga (HB which is now part of the B&B), I loved to live there. I was even cooking there. I did everything at that little place. But now the main house is renovated. And I have this concept: education centre, Bed & Breakfast and events. This is a kind of social life and which is also my (second) work which I love. So this is the quality of life now.

I’m not sure I would like to live here every day. I think it is good to have the differences. I also like the busy life in Växjö. Sometimes I go to Stockholm and I also like the busyness there. But after I while I want to come back here. I was thinking that in my twenties or thirties, I could never have imagined to live in place like this. I would say it is totally boring, I could never imagine it would be nice. And now I think it is amazing. What also helps, is that you have internet and you can keep the contacts. Twenty years ago, it would have been very lonely. But now, it doesn’t matter where I am. I can sit on the country site totally alone and communicate with the whole world. This is quite new in life, for everyone. This is also why I can live here and feel at home. I have the world with me. I don’t need to go to the world, the world is coming to me.

You are connected to the world.
Not just like that. When we started this centre and the events, people are coming here. This is what I also mean. I know what is happening and I can compare how it was before.

This quietness here… you don’t want to keep it quiet? Because you also want to attract other people here?
Yes, but I don’t want every day a lot of people. Once, twice, three times a week is okay. I know that the day after it will be quiet. And I know that it is very nice to have the variation. I love it.

After we started this year with the concept (HB Kittebo Kursgård), I don’t see the need to travel. I love to travel and still have some dreams to see some countries, but, I don’t see it as important. I just feel every time that when it is Friday, I want to come down here. And to do things. Every time when we come here we do something, build it up. Oh this is not good, the sofa should not be here but there, that kind of things. Every time, we come here with new things. It is very interesting. I can live out my entrepreneurial drive, build up something from zero. This was a very old house. There was a lot to renovate. It is nice now. Not ready yet, but already a big difference. An extremely big difference.

Thanks, tack. Do you have anything else to add?
I discovered… This is like a dream – but it is not the dream I dreamed about. I didn’t know that I could have this dream.

Kittebo Kursgård

Eva Fodor Velander bij Kittebo

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