Sweden was at the top of my wish list for years. Yet it would take me until 2015 before coming to Stockholm for the first time. To be honest: it wasn’t love at first sight. Construction works were ongoing around the station and I couldn’t get a grip on the city during those first hours. It was a stressful time at work and I came without preparations. I only knew I wanted to go to the ABBA Museum and the Vasa Museum.
Fortunately, as I strolled along the water, an overwhelming feeling of peace came over me. I still remember that feeling, it was so strong. Like coming home. In retrospect, this city trip would herald a new beginning in many ways. I didn’t know much about Sweden. I knew ABBA and Roxette. And as a renovator on a tight budget, I had learned to appreciate the practical furniture from Ikea. In the years that followed, I not only immersed myself in the Swedish language but also in Swedish culture.
Why I feel at home in Sweden?
I like the Swedish sounds. ‘Learning Swedish’ was on my bucket list for a long time. Although I understand almost everything and can say what I want, I would like to be able to speak even more smoothly. Practice makes perfect, they say. So I want to travel to Sweden a lot because where better to learn a language than on the spot…
Yes, those dark winters… First this: in the south of Sweden it doesn’t get dark much faster than in Belgium or the UK. Sweden is a very vast country. In this article you will find quite a few generalizations, clichés and other averages where the exceptions confirm the rule. But back to those dark winters. As an antidote, the Swedes go outside as much as possible when it is light, to exercise. In the winter months they use that little bit of daylight to do outdoor activities, and after sunset they make it cozy (mysig) inside with candles.
The return of spring is celebrated extensively: with long walks, terraces and even a real fest: Valborg. This takes place on April 30. They light big bonfires and sing songs to celebrate spring.
I also really take advantage of every opportunity to get outside. Enjoy the outdoors when the weather is nice and work a little harder when it rains with candle lights, that is my plan!
In Sweden you never wear shoes indoors. In winter this is self-evident: it would be a mess with the melting snow. But it also creates a more relaxed atmosphere all year round. Something not to forget if you are invited to a home party in Sweden. Shoes are left at the door. You better wear decent socks without holes, haha.
No expensive designer furniture in my house. Even if I wanted to, my wallet doesn’t allow so. Or should I say: has other priorities? But I do like that sleek, minimalist look that is so typical of Swedish (Scandinavian) design.
The same goes for the clothes: I’ve never been a fan of colorful designs. Black is my go to color. Luckily I’m a winter type and I can wear black. I often opt for comfortable and casual for my minimalist wardrobe, but as you so often see in Stockholm, nylons with sports shoes underneath? Sorry, that’s still a step too far for me!
Once or twice a day, Swedes take a coffee break. It’s more than drinking coffee. It’s a way of life. They take time to rewind, have a coffee with friends, colleagues or family (or why not, enjoying your own company),… Preferably accompanied with something sweet.
At the pub, everyone orders and pays for themselves. In Belgium we have the habit of treating our compagnons. Great fun and all, but if you drink water all evening and the rest of the group has expensive cocktails, the balance is quickly lost.
Now that we’re talking about food… There is some Swedish food I don’t like. In the Swedish cuisine they often use herring. Not bad, but herring is still seal food for me after all these years as a student worker in a seal sanctuary, haha. And I absolutely dislike lakrits, the licorice that the Swedes love so much.
Just like the British, the Swedes also line up and wait until it is their turn. Even though I don’t always have a lot of patience, I think that’s nice. I always stand on the right side of the escalator so that anyone who is in a hurry can pass on the left.
Another oddity: most Swedes always arrive on time. It is a form of respect for the other. A point of improvement for myself. I usually plan to be on time, but I often misjudge the time, which means I’m either too late or I’m way too early and so I end up doing something else in the meantime, which means I’m still late. In Swedish they call this a ‘tidsoptimist‘.
Recycling is very well established and sustainability is almost self-evident among companies. The Swedish king also supports the environment. A few years ago, he argued in favor of no longer installing baths in new-build homes. With a shower you waste less drinking water than with a bath.
And hooray for the range of vegetarian products in the supermarket, the vegetarian dishes in the restaurants and even hamburger chains that offer no fewer than 5-7 different types of vegetarian burgers (Yes, Max Burgare!).
Even though my job often requires small talk, I’m actually not huge a fan of that. I like the reserved image of the Swedes. Don’t get me wrong, once they get to know you, the Swedes are generally very welcoming, warm and friendly people!
What do you do when you meet someone? A hand? A kiss? Three kisses? I always find that difficult, especially in international company. In Sweden it’s a bit easier: when you meet someone for the first time, you shake hands. Friends (or just about anyone you’ve met before) get a big hug, not a kiss!
I still remember Carola’s wind machine at the Eurovision Song Contest when she sang Invincible. In 2004, Lena Philipsson with ‘It Hurts’ was one of my favorites. And of course I also remember all the Swedish winners of recent years: Charlotte Nilsson (now Charlotte Perelli), Loreen (twice!) and Måns Zelmerlöw.
My favorite songs from this singing competition often turned out to come from the Nordics. And the Melodifestivalen list on Spotify is also often played.
But Sweden has more to offer than Eurovision. As a young teenager I listened to Roxette for hours. And who remembers The Cardigans, Neneh Cherry, Eagly Eye Cherry,…? All Swedish! Not to mention the producers or songwriters.
Could you live in Sweden? Do you have a connection with another country or culture?