When I was younger, I always said that ‘I’d never move to a country that’s even darker and colder than the Netherlands!’. Little did I know that not many years later, I’d be walking (or more like ice skating) at Drottninggatan in the centre of my new home city with a kanelbulle from Pressbyrån, listening to P3 Dokumentär, screaming URSÄKTA! to all the tourists that suddenly decided that their map or phone was more important than the people around them. I had moved to the dark, cold city that’s Stockholm!
During my teens, Scandinavia started to fascinate me. The beautiful Norwegian nature and the relaxed mentality of Sweden really attracted me, especially since I come from a country which doesn’t have either of these. It was really nice growing up in the Netherlands, but after I graduated high school I just wanted to leave as fast as possible! I decided to volunteer in Iceland, Sweden and Norway to learn more about the Scandinavian culture, and to get more information than just knowing it’s cold up there and there are some wolves and moose walking around. After having spent weeks in the Norwegian fjords, Icelandic volcanoes and Swedish countryside, I came to the conclusion that it would be best to move to Stockholm already and get to know the city and people.
A couple of weeks later, I said bye to my family and dog, and took the plane to Arlanda with as much stuff as I could pack, ready to start my life in another city. Luckily it wasn’t my first time in Sweden. Seeing the å, ö, and ä in almost every word wasn’t scary anymore, and hearing the magical Swedish language wasn’t as funny as it was the first time hearing it. I knew the do’s and don’ts. Sort of. You’re surrounded by Swedes, so you still never really know if you’re doing it right or not. But seeing all the forests, the calm people, and all the space around you immediately made me feel welcome!
Although I had been studying Swedish for two years, it was so much easier to just speak English as everyone’s English is perfect here, and it’s so easy to make awkward mistakes (is it ett or en, and do I say sk or sj?). I walked through Stockholm with the ‘Stockholm’ app which guided me to every tourist place imaginable, but somehow still kept on getting lost in the small streets of Gamla Stan. It was getting colder and darker every day, but the Christmas lights, markets, and snow made Stockholm even cosier! I found English speaking jobs, and basically kept on living my life like I used to, just in a different city with different people.
Even though I’d been living there for a couple of weeks, I still didn’t really feel like I was part of it. I tried to figure out why not, and the answer was rather easy.. I didn’t speak Swedish, I still wasn’t very comfortable with the awkward silences on the train, “lagom”, standing 7 meters apart from each other at the train station, walking on the left side (yeah that’s a thing), and so on. I was living here like a tourist. It is very nice that Swedes speak English so well, and that you can live here without changing too much (depending on where you’re from), but you really shouldn’t do that if you want to feel at home in Stockholm!
So I decided to change it all. I started to not care anymore if I made mistakes in Swedish, I just wanted to speak their language and not feel like the ignorant foreigner. I switched my phone and computer to Swedish, started reading Swedish books, and really tried to start liking the cultural differences between Sweden and the Netherlands. Sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone for a short while in order to feel much more comfortable later.
And indeed, it didn’t take that long before I felt so much better! The feeling of being the outsider is practically gone, and I feel much more self-confident. I don’t live like a tourist anymore, but like someone who actually lives here. I love the silence on the train now, I don’t even notice the antisocial behaviour anymore, and “lagom” actually makes a lot of sense.
Stockholm is an awesome city to live in, but you have to change some things in order to feel at home. I know it’s really easy to just speak English all the time and act like you always did, but you will never feel like “one of them”. Be brave, act as Swedish as possible, and don’t be scared to step out of your comfort zone. Fake it till you make it!
Written by Lydia Hallie
I’m Lydia, a 19-year-old Dutch girl living in Stockholm. I try to write many helpful posts to help younger people who recently moved to Sweden to get to know the country and how everything works here!