Pavel is an artist, photographer, translator, travel writer, PR consultant, blogger who’s lived in Sweden for almost 6 years. He is also a dear member of the Newbie blogger team, covering cultural happenings in Sweden, read his posts here and here.
“I moved to Sweden from Portugal with my partner at the time – he was a Swedish citizen. So whenever I’m asked how I ended up here I normally say that I came for love.”
The first winter was the hardest. After a fabulous apartment on the Atlantic coast with an amazing view, driving a luxurious car to work and enjoying all the benefits of an international start-up company I ended up in a modest apartment building on the outskirts of Stockholm. No job, no language, no friends, no light! But somehow you overcome any challenges – now I am doing what I always wanted to do, I can speak some Swedish (and working on improving it), I have met my dearest person here and I have some great friends.
Do you remember what you found the hardest to adjust to during your initial time in Sweden?
In one word I would call it “mentality”. I’ve lived in a couple of countries before and I can say that it takes quite a long time to get used to the way the society is built and functions, with its strict hierarchy, personal detachment in many situations and the three million rules you have to follow (of course most of them are agreed on for your own convenience, but it takes a while to really understand it).
After almost 6 years here it feels like it’s quite difficult to “blend in” and find real friends among Swedes. So be prepared that it might feel lonely here, especially in the beginning.
Do you have any advice for Newbies?
I think Sweden offers good opportunities, but you have to work really really hard here. My circumstances allowed me to get along without speaking proper Swedish for a while, but I suggest that you start with the language and really invest your time and energy into it.
Yes, most of the Swedes speak fluent English, but you will never be a part of this society if you don’t speak Swedish. Also be aware that the work market is very competitive.
What do you appreciate the most with Sweden?
Structure, clarity and order. Also – I know, that sounds a bit naïve – most of the things seem to be fair in Sweden. Life is very expensive, the amount of taxes you have to pay is insane, but for contributing to the society you get great benefits – free education, (almost) free healthcare, great infrastructure. And I still can’t get used to the fact how un-polluted the environment is. Of course all this comes with a price (check the taxes you’d need to pay if you own an old car, for example), but I really enjoy fresh air, clean water and nature here.
What do you like the most about Swedes?
That a lot of them are hard working. It takes time to realize it, but most of them are actually kind and caring, curious about other cultures and open to the new experiences.
Is there anything you find puzzling about Swedes?
What Rona mentioned in her Newbie Story. I would call it “a strange idea of private space”. Maybe because the country is so large and not so densely populated, but I still find it irritating how sometimes people don’t consider your private space – like when you’re about to exit the building and someone is coming in, they rarely let you go first. The same with entering a lift without letting you leave it. Or being on your way and not realizing it. Or bumping into you and not saying sorry.
I lived for a couple of years in the UK and maybe it was there where I got spoilt by somewhat excessive courtesy (we Russians are normally far from courteous and famous for the “Russian honesty” (directness that is often interpreted as rudeness), but I still find it a bit amusing.
Anything in Swedish culture that you find confusing?
Still can’t get used to the traditional holidays like midsommar with all the strange rituals coming with it.
What do you miss the most from Russia?
Spontaneity in the relationships. Like when you can start talking to a person at a bus stop and end up being good friends. Somehow I still can’t imagine happening it here.
Do you have a favourite Swedish word?
Glädje (pleasure, happiness, joy). I think the way it sounds perfectly reflects its meaning. In general, Swedish language is really beautiful – but not that easy to master.
People sometimes feel a longing for a place, a city or a country before they have ever been there. Was that the case for you with Sweden?
I first came here in 2001 and I remember that when I was walking past the Grand Hotel I said to myself – hmm, I wouldn’t mind living here. It was just a random thought, like a reflection on what I’ve been feeling at that specific moment. And somehow after 14 years, after changing lives and moving from Russia to the UK and then to Portugal I ended up here. So, beware of your wishes, they might come true! 😉