Time for more Moving to Sweden posts. This one is all about the little things. The culture shock that comes with making the move to a foreign country. Of course, if you’ve made it this far you’ll already have read through the rest of the Moving to Sweden posts:
Moving to Sweden – What to Bring
Moving to Sweden – The Swedish Language
Moving to Sweden – Finding a Place to Live
Moving to Sweden – The Metric System and You
Moving to Sweden – Getting a Cell Phone
Moving to Sweden – Getting from the Airport to Stockholm City
Moving to Sweden – The Weather
Moving to Sweden – Swedish Citizenship Test
Moving to Sweden – Public Holidays
Moving to Sweden – Finding a Job
Moving to Sweden – Making Friends
Moving to Sweden – Cost of Living
Moving to Sweden – The Laundry Room
Moving to Sweden – Marijuana
Moving to Sweden – Most Common Jobs and Salaries
When I moved to Sweden, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. Of course, I knew that moving somewhere, whether from Greeley, Colorado to Eugene, Oregon or from Greeley, Colorado to Stockholm, Sweden carries with it a bit of culture shock. But come on, I spoke decent Swedish. I had a passport. I had lived here before.
I thought I knew the language. I thought I knew the culture. I thought I knew enough to not suffer from horrible culture shock. I was wrong. Not because suddenly I was forced into situations in which I felt completely out of place, but because I was forced into situations in which I felt like I should belong, but wasn’t quite there. I was on the fringes of culture shock. And that shocked me.
Coming from the US to Sweden, there is an expectation that things will be different, but not too different. And at first glance, that is absolutely true. A two week vacation to Stockholm, and you wouldn’t notice the differences. Of course there is the different language and enough H&M stores to make a teenage girl piddle. But you can speak English and buy Levi’s and drink a Coke and not think twice about it. But it’s the little things that you notice when you’ve been here for a while.
Like grunts being an acceptable form of response. The sharp intake of breath meaning yes. Obviously. To the untrained English speaking ear, it might sound like an utterance of surprise. It’s not. It is an utterance of affirmation.
Like all of the public holidays. I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating. Red days. They are red because the Christian calendar liked to focus people on those important days by printing them in red. Sundays for example. And of course who could forget the Ascension. In a country as secular as Sweden, some less religious holidays are celebrated. Like International Workers Day on the first of May. Whatever the reason, enjoy your day off and try to avoid embarrassing circumstances like showing up for work.
Like fika. The act of stopping everything you are doing to drink coffee and eat delicious baked goods. Some companies seem to shut down for about half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the afternoon as the entire staff eats a cinnamon roll and drinks a cup of coffee. It’s amazing. It’s delicious. It’s frustrating. Embrace it.
Like the customer service. There is none. Seriously. Get it yourself. Find it yourself. Don’t ask questions. I bitch and moan about this still. And I’ll bitch and moan about it until I leave. Except now I know enough to get it myself, find it myself, and not ask questions. But it took a while to get used to.
Like the alcohol policies. There is one distributor of alcohol in the entire country. They are run with an iron (curtain) fist. They are closed on holidays. They close early on Saturdays. They don’t even keep your beer cold for you. But plenty of Swedes will defend Systembolaget to their dying breath. I won’t. If anything, being of legal age to drink and living in Sweden will force you to plan ahead. Spontaneity is frowned upon on a Saturday after three in the afternoon. Want to bring a six-pack over to a friend's for a night of hockey on TV? That’s a great idea. As long as you had that idea during opening hours.
Like waiting in line. Swedes don’t really wait in line. Not in the way we know a line to be at least. And it’s not because they are trying to sneak their way in front of you. It’s because the Swedes have what is called a kölapp. A tiny little piece of paper with a number on it. When it’s your turn, a light will flash and your number will pop up. This eliminates the needs for lines. It’s amazing when it works. What is less amazing is when you don’t know about the system. Because suddenly you find yourself standing around confused and mildly angry while that guy in the comfy looking chair suddenly slides in front of you. Whenever there is a potential for a line (bank, bakery, pharmacy, etc.) just start looking around for a little dispenser of small numbered pieces of paper. Trust me.
Like worshipping the sun. You’ll start to do it. You’ll start fantasizing about sunny beaches despite your pale, easily reddened skin. You’ll think that the charter travel trips to the Canary Islands are actually starting to look reasonable. You’ll throw your face to the sun during those waning moments of daylight in the middle of December. And not a single person will think less of you.
Like the trust. Some ski resorts have areas for you to leave your lunch. They are not locked. They are not guarded. You just leave your backpack with your lunch in it. And no one takes it.
And of course, like the toilets being a different height from the ground than in the US. I’ll be honest, I’m a bathroom reader, so when sitting down I’m not thinking of how close I am to the ground but this was brought to my attention by my cousin and her sambo. Turns out they noticed when visiting the US. Just beware.
Welcome to Sweden. And culture shock.