I’m pushing about two and a half years in this lovely Nordic country. It took me a very long time to make friends, not two and a half years, but it was a struggle. I’m not always the most outgoing person, but I am by no means awkwardly shy, making friends has never really been a struggle for me. Until Sweden. Some of this had to do with my circumstances, living in the southern suburbs of Stockholm while working in Uppsala. Not going to school. But still.
Lots of people say this is because Swedes are shy. I say that. Lots of people say it is because Sweden is somewhat of an insular country. I say that. Lots of people say it is because Swedes make friends at early ages and that’s who they stick with. I say that. But still.
Let’s just say moving to Sweden and making a friend, isn’t always easy. So I bitched and moaned, and eventually harassed people enough with phone calls and sms’s (that’s Swedish for text messages) that they were forced to like me. Today I have a friend. Maybe two.
However, I don’t have those friends that know that I had curly hair when I was little. Or at one point was capable of seeing without the assistance of contact lenses. Or that I was awesome at marbles. (Actually, that’s not true. I lost them all to Henrik, the older neighborhood kid with a briefcase full of them. Many of them mine. Bastard.) Most of my American friends don’t know that either. That’s because I haven’t been going to schools all my life with the same people I went to dagis with. It’s different here though. I’ve always claimed this dagis thing was important, but never really understood just how important.
But the other day I was with a group of people listening to a woman introduce herself and I suddenly had a very concrete example of why Swedes are so hard to make friends with. She explained her background, educational, work, and then got into her family life. Where she grew up. She hesitated. And almost apologetically stumbled her way through an explanation. I suppose I would say I am from Södermalm [an area in Stockholm]. I moved there when I was about three years old and still live there today, as do my parents. So I guess I grew up for the most part on Söder. So yes, I grew up on Södermalm.
Here is a woman, who is 30ish, and has lived on the same small island in Stockholm for let’s say 27 years, who struggled to explain where she grew up. I have had my own identity struggles; mostly on the existential who am I level. I always knew where I grew up. Greeley, Colorado. That one was easy. And I didn’t move there until I was nearly six years old.
This was the example I needed though, that example that explains what I mean when I say Swedes are shy and insular. Of course, this is an extreme. I know. But that the extreme could be this extreme seems to speak to just how tightknit Swedes are when it comes to those friends they grew up with. Not everyone is like this. Some people manage to not live their entire life (or all but three years of their life) on an island area of Stockholm. Some people don’t.
Welcome to Sweden. And best friends forever.
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