Sweden-a country somewhere in the far north, often and easily confused with Switzerland, is not a place people know much about. My knowledge about Sweden improved before coming here as my husband was here a couple of times before we moved. And of-course, I browsed through the internet a lot. However, there are always things one discovers only once you are actually living in the country. An amazing roller-coaster of two years has helped me discover things that I wish I’d known earlier. And I can’t wait to share it with other Newbies!
Knowing English is NOT enough
Swedes are known for their good English skills. Most people understand and speak English, especially young people. It sometimes gets a bit difficult for older people to answer in English but mostly they understand the context. I expected a similar environment at the workplace and was happy to find many international companies here with English as the official language.
This was enough to fuel my motivation to come here without feeling the pressure to learn the local language. I thought of learning at my own pace. However, the bubble burst within the first 3-4 months, as I found out from a recruiter that all companies operating in the local markets demand you know Swedish.
My internship experiences in a multinational company was a testimony of just how important it is to know Swedish.
Most of the meetings were held in Swedish, with occasional clarifications in English for urgent matters related to me.
There are people who can manage without Swedish and get support to work only in English. However, it is highly appreciated if you try to integrate as much as possible.
All your important documents from rental contracts, electricity bill to your pension plans come in Swedish. One can always go to internet sites and use the translator but that is not always a reliable option. Grocery shopping was tough as I could not risk buying something new with ingredients I do not understand.
So, I concluded that completing my Swedish course (Svenska För Invandrare) would be a priority. Not only getting a certificate, but so that I can use the language in daily life. Knowing English is a big plus, but not enough!
Individualistic approach to finance
My first encounter with a bank was a mix of weirdness and shock. They wanted a proof of income from the employer, the Employment office – Arbetsförmedlingen or Försäkringskassan – the Social Insurance Agency – in order to open an account. My argument that my husband would support me in this initial phase of our relocation was not enough. They even asked me for a signed contract in that case. For me, this was an example of an extreme individualism practiced in Sweden.
Later, I discovered how individualistic they are while dealing with their economy. I understood and respect their way of thinking but I surely wish I had known that before.
Using comma as decimal point
It took me a while to understand that comma (,) and (.) used in decimal number is different than how we do in India. I am not sure how many people have had this issue, but somehow I missed this before coming here.
Comma is used as decimal indicator. It means 100,000 is ‘one hundred’ and 100.000 is ‘one hundred thousand’.
Knowing this in advance would have helped avoiding initial mistakes in my work.
For detailed information of countries using either comma or point as decimal indicator check out this link.
Re-learning names for countries and electronic gadgets
It is one thing to learn the names of animals and vegetables, but re-learning the country names in Swedish was demanding. To be honest, I still do not know all of them. That is true for all European languages.
My surprise reached the new heights when I found that even electronic gadgets are renamed!
Dator (Desktop), Surfplatta (Tablet), bärbar dator (Laptop), Dammsugare (Vacuum cleaner) sounded funny and hard to digest. But I think there will be a time when I will forget the universal names soon; as it is already happening with ‘dammsugare‘.
Monotonous clothing colors
Swedes are known as a reserved people and do not particularly want to be noticed in a crowd. Which is quite opposite to cultures in warm and populated countries. But in Sweden, a usual “uniform” is black pants, black top/t-shirt and black leather jacket.
Black, white and pastel clothing is practiced everywhere and all clothing shops are full with these limited variations. The most different variant will be a brown, wine or bottle green color.
It is a general feeling for many newbies in Sweden that it is hard to find something that suits our style. It is specific for people like me who comes from a vibrant culture. I would have brought more clothes from my country before arriving here if I had known this.
I think this list will get longer as the time passes. If this happens, I will write another part of this post soon.