‘Fika’ with Sweden’s ambassador | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

‘Fika’ with Sweden’s ambassador
USE The Sweden ambassador's residence in Makati is surrounded by nature—mature trees and lush garden. Photos by Eugene Araneta
‘Fika’ with Sweden’s ambassador
The Sweden ambassador’s residence in Makati is surrounded by nature—mature trees and lush garden. Photos by Eugene Araneta

Sweden Ambassador Annika Thunborg was sitting elegantly on the couch when I came in. In front of her was a low table filled with a fika spread made up of Swedish cookies, kakanin and fruits. Fika is part of Swedish culture where you spend time with family and friends over coffee or tea and snacks.

But the hospitality in Thunborg’s residence also includes a special touch. My coffee was served in a porcelain teacup and saucer. The duo came in the tre kronor (Three Crowns) in blue pigment, reminiscent of the chintz pattern. The crown is the national emblem of Sweden. The back stamp read Rörstrand, but it’s not something you can just go to the store and buy.

Thunborg said that the original was ordered by King Gustav III, who ruled Sweden between 1771-1792. The teacup we used that morning may have been made recently, but the design is at least 250 years old.

‘Fika’ with Sweden’s ambassador
Outside Thunborg’s study are shelves of books in traditional Swedish bookcases. —EUGENE ARANETA

Thunborg said that the set was exclusively made for diplomatic residences. She has the entire tableware stored in her wooden cabinet as an official tableware, used for hosting. It comes with the residence.

The envoy’s residence is a white ancestral home, one that reveals itself after passing a mature tree on the driveway. The home is made of natural materials such as wood and stone, but has been updated with sliding glass windows and French doors. A heavy wooden door with a knob curiously placed at the middle opens up to a hall with parquet wooden flooring and high wooden ceiling.

“I am very interested in ancestral homes. I’ve visited a lot since I came here,” she said.

Perfect marriage of Swede and Filipino

‘Fika’ with Sweden’s ambassador
Thunborg said that some of the cabinets in her home are from
Sweden, but they work well in the Filipino ancestral home
where she lives. —RUTH L. NAVARRA

This is the charm of the ambassador’s residence. Everything is a perfect marriage between the pride of Sweden and the Philippines. Thunborg said that the interiors were designed and chosen by official Swedish designers before the arrival of her predecessor, Ambassador Harald Fries.

She pointed out similarities between a Swedish home and a Filipino home. The wooden furniture, including the numerous bookshelves in the hallway, are from Sweden. But they are very similar in design in what you can find in a Filipino ancestral home. She also said that she spotted locally made minimalist furniture that reminds her of home.

Displayed prominently on one side of the living room is her glass collection. It’s mostly Swedish made but also in the mix are some Spanish glass works.

‘Fika’ with Sweden’s ambassador
Thunborg’s glass collection can be found in the living room.

It didn’t take much for Thunborg to adjust to the Philippines owing to her prior assignment—she was assigned to Mexico before the Philippines. She saw similarities between the two countries in terms of the Spanish influence, the language and religion and culture. But the Philippines presented something new to her, too.

“I have never lived in the tropics before and this is the deep tropics. I have traveled here before, in 1992. I was on vacation. But living here is different from being a tourist,” she said. “The Filipinos are the nicest people I’ve met, they are very hospitable.”

‘Fika’ with Sweden’s ambassador
The porcelain tableware is designed with Sweden’s emblem of Three Crowns. This is for official use only and exclusive to the ambassadors’ residences. —EUGENE ARANETA

She finds the mix of culture in the Philippines very unique. Thunborg embraced the fresh offerings of our islands, including fish, scallops and oysters.

“I like them as they are, grilled and fresh, directly from the sea,” she said. She also enjoys the myriad of tropical fruits available to her. Guyabano, mango, papaya are some of her favorites, but she also enjoys the fruits that grow in her backyard, including star apple and lanzones. When she goes home to Sweden, she brings dried mangoes, wooden handicrafts and indigenous textiles as gifts.

Sustainable practices

‘Fika’ with Sweden’s ambassador
The lattrice ceiling in the dining area can be found throughout the house

However, there is one thing that she is having a hard time getting used to—that is the temperature of indoor spaces.

“People remind me that I’ve lived in a cold country… But I am used to being warm outside so I dress for it,” she said. The 16-18 degree Celsius temperature in malls and hotel lobbies feels like stepping inside the refrigerator for her.

Thus, her residence has one other distinct feature: the temperature is set at 27 degrees, close to what Energy Secretary Rafael Lotilla recommended. She added that it is part of their efforts to conserve energy.

This is something the Swedes take seriously. They have their own system for composting food wastes in their backyard. It’s religiously kept by the residence’s guardians. They use the compost as organic fertilizers for the garden.

“We bring in our waste from the Embassy here because our building doesn’t practice recycling there. This is something Forbes Park is good at because they work with companies that recycle plastic. We try to be a low-waste embassy as much as we can. We avoid single-use plastic to reduce waste,” she said.

‘Fika’ with Sweden’s ambassador
Photo by Ruth L. Navarra

The garden is well maintained and they grow their own herbs, including an abundance of dill which is commonly used for salmon dishes. This is a favorite, according to the residence’s staff.

“I grew up in the 1970s and we had a very large campaign called ‘Keep Sweden Clean.’ It was mainly about keeping the garbage until you find a trash can. Then later on, recycling was introduced to us and it became part of our DNA,” she said.

This included passing on clothes to younger children. There was no shame involved if a child wore something that older children wore.

“Secondhand stores are very common in Sweden. My nieces don’t own anything new. They are all secondhand,” she said.

‘Fika’ with Sweden’s ambassador
Photo by Ruth L. Navarra

Thunborg explains that perhaps the reason for this is because they are surrounded by nature. She went on regaling us with stories about a constitutional law in Sweden where a land can be private, but nature is for everyone. So anyone can be at your land for three days to enjoy what nature provides, for as long as they don’t destroy it.

Our fika ended with her showing us her private space, including the bedroom she shares with her husband and their study. The shelves are filled with books, including a beautiful Jane Austen collection. Otherwise, she prefers non-fiction books and biographies.

Thunborg is one of the most informative ambassadors that we’ve encountered. She’s a wonderful storyteller, owing probably to her background as a former journalist. But in her home, she gets excited over the most simple things. Her glass collection, books, wooden furniture and even the fruits she loves eating.

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