In 1994, I boarded the plane from London that was to take me to Stockholm. I thought I’d live here for around a year. But 22 years later I’m still here, and my adopted homeland has become the place whre I’ve built my life, fulfilled my potential and continue to follow my dreams.
The Stockholm I arrived in is very different from the Stockholm of today. There were fewer bars and restaurants, virtually no vegetarian options, no farmers markets, no Sofo, no Espresso houses, no Waterfront building, no ‘tvärbanan’, no Hipster Hornstull. But it was easy to find a flat relatively cheaply, the underground was uncrowded and the city was clean and quiet and safe. Like all cities, Stockholm has developed immensely and much for the better. Today, the city many of you have arrived in is one of world class and a desirable place to live.
So what have I learned about life in Sweden during these decades? As an Oldbie, do I have any advice at all to give Newbies arriving here? What are my top 10 tips? Well, here goes!
My top ten tips for newbies
- Don’t expect to be offered help. In this strongly individualistic culture, the thinking is that if you need help, you’ll ask for it yourself. This refers to friends as well as strangers on the street. So don’t be afraid to ask.
- Learn Swedish. It is your ticket to the culture. Even though Swedes speak great English, learning their language gives you insight into their humour, their society and their perspectives and it makes integration a whole lot easier.
- Join a group. Making friends with Swedes can be difficult, even Swedes themselves find it hard. So socializing is less spontaneous than you might be used to and is therefore often very structured. Join an interest-based social group to meet people. There are groups for everything: choir singing, wine tasting, beer brewing, gardening, baking, sport. Find one you’re interested in,and join.
- Don’t make a commotion. Even when angry and annoyed, you will get the best result if you keep a lid on it and communicate calmly. Screaming and shouting is often perceived as uncouth and somewhat unnecessary and often leads to a lock down.
- Take initiative. Swedes are generally private people with busy full lives. This means they might not be the first to suggest something social. So take control yourself. Invite people out. Set up Facebook events. Be the organiser. They love to participate.
- Be yourself. While Stockholm is a fairly homogenous city, the people here still find foreignness interesting. Behaviours they might disapprove of in a Swede are often seen as exotic in a foreigner. So be yourself.
- Wait your turn. It is social suicide to jump the queue or interrupt, so get used to waiting. Even if it might not seem the most efficient, Swedish thinking is very systematic – one thing at a time. So take a ticket and wait. Stand in a queue and wait. When somebody is speaking, wait until they have finished.
- Don’t be offended. The Swedish language is often very direct. And, depending on your preference, this might come across as rude or impolite. Get used to hearing comments like ‘No, you’re wrong’ and ‘That’s not ok’. And remember directness is generally intended to be clear and not to be rude.
- Get used to group think. Especially in the work place, Swedes have a preference for making decisions in consensus. This leads to many discussions and long meetings which, if you’re not used to it, can seem inefficient and a waste of time. Swedes use this method to increase involvement and motivation and to get commitment to the decision amongst as many individuals as possible. For them, it makes implementation easier. So get used to it, and join in.
- Enjoy it! Sweden is a fantastic country, and Swedes are a lovely group of people. In my opinion, they are modern thinkers with very sound values and a high level of humanity and respect. The air is fresh, the water is clean and things work. By moving here, you’ve made a good choice. Let’s see if your intended one or two years, like mine turns into 22!
Written by: Neil Shipley
My name’s Neil Shipley and I have lived in Sweden for over 20 years. I work as a trainer, lecturer and coach in Intercultural competence and communication from my Stockholm-based company. I am also of one of the few people in Sweden to have a Master’s degree in Intercultural competence.
From my English perspective, I observe Swedish society and the Swedes – everything from the special to the sublime, the scary to the surprising. This is my blog of my observations.
I can be employed to provide training, lectures, seminars. Check out my company: Key Training