Monday, April 12, 2010

Moving to Sweden – Making Friends

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 – Culture Shock: It's the Little Things
Moving to Sweden – Cost of Living
Moving to Sweden – The Laundry Room
Moving to Sweden – Marijuana
Moving to Sweden – Most Common Jobs and Salaries

Swedes have a reputation for being shy. And for the most part, from my experience, it is a reputation that is deserved. I’ve written it before, making friends in Sweden with Swedes, is not all that easy. It's an important thing to keep in mind when moving to Sweden.

Much of my personal experience comes from trying to work in Sweden. A non-student perspective if you will. Because, having been a student here before, I know that the student lifestyle is something very different. You are thrown into a group of other people, with similar interests, many of whom have also just moved to someplace new. People are looking for friendship. Or at least some of them are.

That being said, moving to Sweden on a whim with plans of working doesn’t exactly put you in a situation where you are surrounded by people. Surrounded by potential friends. And this is where it pays to have a bit of that American attitude in my opinion.

The openness. The willingness to strike up a conversation with people. It’s going to come in handy. And it’s something that took me quite a while to figure out. I am not a horribly outgoing person. I’ll blame the Swedishness in me. I suppose I might fall somewhere in between the shyness of the Swedes and the outgoingness of the Americans. Lagom if you will (see what I did there?).

Of course, that openness and willingness can still run into problems. I had a friend tell me soon after her move to Sweden that she thought Sweden was so cold. We were in the dead of winter and told her not to worry the sun was going to show up again soon. Turns out I am, in fact, an idiot and it wasn’t the weather she was talking about but the reaction of the Swedish people to her attempts at friendship, or even just human interaction. Despite these initial misgivings, she left Sweden with many more Swedish friends than she had before moving here.

Swedes are stereotypically shy (this does not include every Swede, but as a general rule, there is a kernel of truth). Keep in mind that bubbly attitude that Americans sometimes find endearing, Swedes might not. What an American sees as outgoing, a Swede might see as superficial. You’ll be expected to be honest and direct without being rude. You’ll be expected to respect their personal space without seeming distant. You’ll be expected to be capable of sitting quietly, saying very little, without feeling awkward. It’s a balancing act that takes a while to understand. One between embracing the culture you come from and the culture you find yourself in and somehow making the two work.

I am a big proponent of the shotgun approach. Firing away, you’ll eventually hit something. Like Dick Cheney. You might not find a best friend right away, but you’ll find people you enjoy grabbing a beer with. Going to the gym with. Having a fika with. So ask people out for drinks. People you live close to. People you work with. People you met through a friend’s friend’s friend. Eventually you’ll find those good friends that make the difference when trying to call a new place home.

Say yes to invitations. It might be awkward at times, but it forces you out of whatever shell you might find yourself in. Whether that shell is self-imposed or not. Early on in my move here I received an invitation to a colleagues house (who has since become a very good friend). I said yes. Of course. I was the new guy in his group of friends. Later, he told me he was surprised that I had said yes, because he had grown used to Swedish people reverting to that shy stereotype and not accepting the offer. Sometimes, no matter how much you want to fit in, it works well to break out of the Swedish mold and not fit in.

Even if you’re a non-student like me, there are opportunities to get into that student way of life. Take a class at the university. There are plenty of opportunities to grab a history class and find people who are just as nerdy as you are.

And of course, go online. There are plenty of organizations that cater to the ex-pat community. This might go against the idea of finding Swedish friends, but you’d be surprised. Many organizations (Rotary, Stockholm Meetup for example) are filled with Swedes who lived abroad and want to keep that international connection alive. Many of the ex-pats are married to Swedes, dating Swedes, in love with Swedes and offer a connection that way.

Once you’ve started to identify that special someone. Keep at it. Be the one that makes the move. Nothing wrong with pursuing the friendship. You might find yourself ignored once or twice, but who amongst us hasn’t?

In the end, I found it important to have a mix of friends. Not just Swedes. Not just expats. It was important to have an expat to bitch and moan to about moving to a new country and it was important to have a Swede to expose me to everything Sweden has to offer.

Moving to a new country is difficult enough as it is. There’s the cultural barrier. The language barrier. The new jobs. The new people. Finding friends is an important way to bridge those cultural divides.

And when all else fails. Just get them drunk.

Welcome to Sweden. And finding friends.

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  1. Floridian in FinlandApril 12, 2010 at 11:54 AM

    Great advice. I also adhere to the shotgun approach. You never know when you might meet a great friend and it's worth striking out a few dozen times if you hit the jackpot a few times. And you're right - having only expat friends isolates people. The problem is expanding the circle outside work and mutual friends. Not easy! I'm now trying to find friends while speaking Finnish which is scary as hell. Although since being shy is accepted here people don't think I'm so strange for being a bit quiet in Finnish. :)

  2. Ah, making friends in Sweden. You know this is my favorite topic Hairy ;-). After all my bitchin and moanin', I may have made some real progress on this front!
    First I was outgoing me. Then I decided to dial it down a few notches and inject some Swedish shyness. Then I went back to being me. And wouldn't you know it? I eventually won a little.
    No matter what the culture, that's just it, isn't it? It's hard in a different culture. But it is possible. Good folks are good folks. Thanks for this post. And continued good luck to all us expats on our mission.

  3. I don't think I've ever commented before but I enjoy reading your blog.

    I moved to Sweden in January and I can't really agree with it being hard to make friends but maybe it's different for me for 2 reasons.
    1. I'm Icelandic - culturally we're very similar to Swedes.
    2. I go to church so I found friends to hang out with in 0.2 seconds

    But all the Swedes I've met and made friends with are very open & willing to let me be a part of their group. So I haven't really experienced the shyness in a big way.

    Just thought I'd share.

  4. @Floridian – oooh I like the idea of the shyness of learning a foreign language can actually be used to your advantage in the Nordic countries. Well played.

    @SwedishJenn – its true, in the end, you end up finding those friends that matters. It might just take some getting used to the culture you find yourself in.

    @Dagný – I think you have to distinct advantages, the Nordic culture and finding yourself in a church setting with people that probably share some similar interests. That’s why I suggested the school option, it puts you into a setting with people who you almost instantly have at least one thing in common with.

    @Mazui – regardless of the culture, it sounds like that person was just mean.

  5. You really hit the nail on its head this time Hairy (and you can't really say that in English, can you?). Can I use this quote? "Keep in mind that bubbly attitude that Americans sometimes find endearing, Swedes might not. What an American sees as outgoing, a Swede might see as superficial". I've needed it for years! Especially the ones I spent in North America, and I was totally the odd one out (cold, if you will).

  6. It's that balance thing that is just so inredibly tough sometimes when in a diffeent country.

    I might end up being a social outcast once I head back to the US, just unable to adapt after trying to adapt to the Swedish way of making friends.

  7. Last year, while visiting a friend living in Stockholm, I had the chance drink down some young swedes. They were allright after a couple of drinks and discussion subjects came out with next to no difficulty. Since we never met again, I can't tell if the attitude stuck or was overcame by second thoughts in the lines of: "What was I thinking!?"

    The issue lies with the maturity and self development of each individual swede. "Stupid people" are the same everywhere and chances are one would fail getting a meningful conversation on with these types. So I ask, just how cultured are regular stockholmers? They are well breed middle class citizens, thus have the potential of becoming wonderful persons (with some additional effort).

  8. I think you stumbled upon the secret of making friends with Sweedes. Alcohol.

    But most Swedes really are quite cultured and nice people. albeit reserved.

  9. If I'm frank, the one thing I'm scared about in my upcoming 6 months of sweden are the people. I'm a very extroverted person, my swedish friends tell me everyone's gonna love me, but I think I'll hit a brick wall making friends. Swedes as a nation are very different than my southern nationality, but then Stockholmers ... this should be interesting.

  10. Oh, and I might as well sign my post ...

  11. it can be difficult, but it is doable. you just ave to keep at them. you'll be fine!

  12. As a native swedish youngster I think it's really exciting to read about what immigrants think about this country. Well, immigrants from other civlized countries.

    Thank you for a great blog!

  13. Your mom tipped me off about this blog in early January and it has been an excellent resource for me since then. I'm planning on moving to Sweden this summer and the advice and insights you provide (as well as the stories) are unbelievably helpful. Thank you!

  14. @anonymous - glad to offer a different perspective.

    @Ingersizzle - hope your transition has been going smoothly!

  15. Hello.
    Melissa from America.

    I am moving to Sweden and I wanted to make a friend or two :) My girlfriend has her own friends and I kind of wanted to make my own. I have no idea where to look if someone could point me in that general direction that would be great.

  16. Hopefully some of the tips in this post were useful then.