Yesterday was the two year anniversary of my landing in Stockholm, Sweden. I’ve managed to survive a whole lot of days in this country. So obviously I celebrated in what I thought to be an appropriate American fashion.
I went to a movie. An American one of course. Followed by standing outside of Stadion listening to Bruce Springsteen. I am cheap and didn’t have tickets. Luckily, playing in the 1912 Olympic stadium allows for the sound to carry. It was glorious. Dancing in the Dark seemed an appropriate song to be hearing as darkness tried to envelope the city around 11 in the evening.
When I made my way home I found myself attempting thoughtful reflection. Of course, thoughtful reflection doesn’t always work well for someone like me. Instead I reminisced about the misery that was my first move to an apartment in Sweden.
I knew maybe three people in Stockholm when I moved here. I had no job. I had no car. I wasn’t able to move into my apartment for about ten days after having moved here. I have had Swedes tell me I was brave to move here considering those circumstances. Having lived here for two years now, I understand that when Swedes say “modig” or “brave,” they actually mean “you are a complete idiot, why the hell would you do something like that.” Swedes tend to be very polite passive people. Luckily I had an uncle with an apartment.
In the ten days between landing in Stockholm and being able to move into my apartment I began the ever exciting task of buying furniture at IKEA for a new apartment. I stockpiled a few chairs and a table at my uncles place and patiently awaited my move-in date.
Because I had agreed to renting the apartment before moving to Sweden I had not seen it. As we all know, I am an idiot. I had ten days to go explore my new surroundings. Find out exactly where I was living. Find out how to get there. I did not do that. Because that would show some sort of foresight and logical thinking.
When move-in day rolled around, I didn’t really know where I was going. But I knew that I wanted to make the move as painless as possible. So, in what I thought was a good idea, I packed a backpack and a suitcase to take with me. In my bags I was carrying some clothes and a couple of pieces of flat packed IKEA furniture. I headed for the pendeltåg. The commuter train that I learned to hate over the coming months. I was not living in the middle of the city. By any means.
It was the middle of June and surprisingly warm. I found my way to the train without any problems. I got on the train going the right way. I did not find a seat. I had a lot of luggage so there just wasn’t room for me. I studied the different stops so I would know which stop was immediately prior to mine. This would allow me to prepare. I was thinking ahead. And that’s when it happened.
The train stopped. Not at a train stop, which would make sense, but in the middle of the tracks. I’m not an expert on trains, but being stranded in between stations on train tracks just doesn’t seem like a good idea to me. I stayed calm and sat down on my bags.
Time passed slowly on the train. Slowly and silently. This was my first experience with the deathly silence that is Swedish public transportation. There were no announcements as the sun beat down on a train full of quietly seething Swedes.
Finally, after about ten minutes, the conductor came on and babbled something about not worrying, just a problem with the signals up ahead and we would soon be on our way. Turns out, he was a liar. We sat there for 30-45 minutes. I give such a big range, because my memory says 45 minutes but I fear that the two years have just made me bitter.
Suddenly, if suddenly can be used to describe such a long wait, the train started moving. At this point, the suffocating heat of a stranded train has left my shirt stuck to my sweaty back and my forehead running with little rivulets of sweat as I finally arrived at my stop and stepped off the train. As an aside, the girls couldn’t keep their eyes off of me. It was obviously my boyish good looks.
As I mentioned, I had never been out to my apartment. I didn’t know where to go. I had an address and an idea. Some would think that a map would have been a good idea. Those people would be right. Unfortunately, I was not one of them. So I wandered around carrying a backpack and a large suitcase which I had stuffed two flat-packed chairs into. I turned right out of the train station. After struggling with my bags and wiping sweat out of my eyes I realized I wasn’t going to find the street I was looking for.
I backtracked, this time going left out of the station. And did not find my apartment or the street I was looking for. So I backtracked again, this time to the station in hopes of some sort of sign from God. Instead, I found a sign from SL. Which is almost the same thing.
Turns out, I needed to turn left out of the station. So I headed back to where I had just come from. By this time, my shirt was not only sticking to my sweaty back but also my sweaty belly. The rivulets had become a deluge. I was hot.
I wandered in amongst a large collection of high-rise apartments. From the open window of one of the apartments I heard Coolio singing Gangsta's Paradise. I saw people all around me in traditional Middle Eastern garb. I didn’t hear a word of Swedish. It was such a change in scenery from the middle of Stockholm. It surprised me. Not a good surprise. Not a bad surprise. Instead it gave me a look at Sweden that very seldom is mentioned.
Suddenly, the realization hit me. I was in the Swedish ghetto. Euphemistically known here in Sweden as “the suburbs.” The area is essentially social welfare housing speckled with some student housing. I was trying to find the student housing.
As my desperation grew, and I looked more and more like I went swimming with all of my clothes on, I realized I still hadn’t found the damn street that my apartment building was supposed to be on. By this point, I was just angry. I had wandered into what is, not so euphemistically, known as a jumbo cluster fuck. There were streets with no names. There were streets that lasted one block. There were towering apartment buildings without addresses.
My apartment was on the 12th floor. Suddenly, it hit me, these buildings were big, but they weren’t 12 stories big. So I started counting the number of floors on each building as I passed it. None had 12 stories. Except for one. But it had small balconies. I knew enough to know that I didn’t have a balcony. I kept walking. Kept sweating. Kept cursing my decision to carry two IKEA chairs in a large bag. All the while counting the number of stories in each building.
Suddenly, I saw one building in front of me. No balconies. Over 12 stories. Ugly as sin. Then another. Then a third. I walked to the front of the first building, because somehow, in my wandering, I had managed to sneak up on the buildings from behind.
There it was. A student housing sign. Then a street sign. Then building numbers. The key worked and I made my way inside. Up to the 12th floor where I immediately dumped my backpack and bag on the floor, peeled off my shirt and shoved my face under the kitchen faucet.
I was home. A home which did me well for nearly a year and a half. I have since moved from “the suburbs.” I do not miss them. But it was always an adventure.
Welcome to Sweden. And reminiscing.