A foreign girl in Sweden confesses

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If you are a foreigner living in Sweden you might find a number of things unusual. Of course not all foreigners have the same experience: it depends where you come from and how exposed you were to other cultures prior to moving to Sweden, but also the city and neighborhood you live, your lifestyle etc. In any case, your list is likely to be different from the list of your other foreign friends.

Here are a few highlights that personally will always feel “alien” to me:

Where is everybody? We have been wondering this for the last two years and there is still no helpful explanation. We live in Solna, a relatively quiet area which however has a significant number of residents and it’s also quite popular among the Swedes. It’s early Friday evening for example and there is no city buzz. No pedestrians, no cars, no motorcycles, no noise. You can see every single apartment in the neighborhood illuminated with these small Ikea window lamps (no curtains usually and the blinds are up.) but almost never do you see people moving in the apartment. If we were back home you would see people coming and going, cooking, talking loudly on the phone and generally making their presence known. The only explanation that I have so far come up with and sounds logical (but it is completely bonkers) is that Sweden is like another version of the Truman Show or a poorly designed Matrix: Somebody neglected to place people in all the right places.

No Shoes Indoors. This is not only Swedish of course but in Sweden it is almost illegal to step into a person’s home with your shoes on. Swedes are generally very self-sufficient, they clean their own mess. Furthermore apartments (that to be fair can be very small) are treated like sacred havens of comfort and relaxation as people spend a lot of time indoors. So leave your dirty snow boots at the door.
I have completely embraced this habit and all the foreigners I know have embraced it as well. Bear in mind however that Swedes, socially, like to entertain others at home. Which means that you will be expected to remove your shoes at the door when going to parties. (Every time I remove my shoes at someone’s doorstep on my way to a social occasion I recall that scene from Sex and the City when Carrie is invited to a baby shower and she is asked to remove her Manolos at the door. Horrified, she points to her dress and shoes and gasps: “This is an outfit” )

Poor quality of ethnic food and foreign “chefs”. In Stockholm so far I have had decent ethnic cuisine only downtown. However, a bit further out the center, the food is notoriously bad. You can tell that the person who does the cooking was neither a chef nor took any cooking classes back in his native country. The other day for example I was served a dish that had pieces of chicken, tzatziki, rice, watermelon and avocado all together on the same plate. Another day I asked for a chicken salad and I got a combination of chicken, cheese, lettuce, tomato and strawberries-all in big chunks- in a mixture that frankly was inedible. The remarkable thing is that these businesses always seem to have customers and never go out of business. I can only imagine how short their existence would have been had they tried to sell food in some other countries.

No pizza or food delivery. That’s right. Swedes don’t order in. It is by far a “do it yourself” lifestyle.

All my observations relate to the Swedish society rules and culture. They are neither accidental nor a sign that the Swedish society “does not know any better”. Sweden has chosen this lifestyle that reflects its socialist structure and fits the idiosyncrasies of its people.

In that sense, foreigners that come to live in Sweden are quickly made to adapt or perish. If you are too much into an international lifestyle and crave the diversity and character of global cities, Sweden is not the place for you. Uniqueness and individuality are not celebrated concepts and it is highly recommended to follow the local way of sameness and try not to stand out.

Having said that there are other reasons why foreigners move here and these have to do with the three “S” that Sweden offers: stability, safety, and security. And it is certain that if a foreigner puts his heart into creating a home here, this will happen sooner or later and he/she will enjoy the security this country offers.

If you are a foreigner living in Sweden or Scandinavia and have a “list” of things you are welcome to contact me. I would love to hear what your experience is!

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