Julia came to Sweden in October 2014 to live with her husband. She was five months pregnant and remembers that getting through the first Swedish winter was challenging. She appreciates the predictability and reliability of the Swedish way of life and the balance of responsibilities between mothers and fathers but misses the energy of people from her life in the US.
The dark was quite difficult to adjust to as I arrived in October, just as we headed into the winter. It can be difficult to generate energy for yourself when dusk comes just after lunch. This is why fika (afternoon coffee/treat break) is key but also only provides a synthetic energy to get your through. I also found the keep-to-yourself culture challenging. Conversations with strangers are rare and, even in a customer service setting, are expected to be kept brief.
You have been here for almost two years. What do you like the most about Sweden and Swedes so far?
Things in Sweden are, for the most part, predictable and reliable. This means you have more energy to add interest to life because the basics are there for you. The subway runs on time, the streets are clean. Government dealings and healthcare are not efficient, in our experience, but are clear and pretty reliable.
I also enjoyed not feeling as objectified as a woman when out in the streets as I do in the US, and I appreciate the balance of responsibility between mothers and fathers. I enjoyed our pre- and postnatal care by the midwives, too!
They are a lovely people who seem, in the best ways, uncomplicated. They may think hard about some things but often seem satisfied with a decent answer or with not knowing. There is a contentment to it. I did find many Swedes to be warm when you had the chance to speak with them. I also see many parents going off the trail in the woods to just sit and look at trees and flowers with their children. I think this is lovely and important.
What would you say is the greatest difference in social terms between Swedes and Americans?
There’s not really the go-get-’em spirit that I’m used to. They do as they do, they do their jobs, they may have a hobby, maybe not. There is something wonderfully content about this but also lacks an energy. They don’t seem to question much, things are good as they are for them. And because the societal “rules” about behavior work and produce this good life, they just follow them.
Do you have a favourite Swedish word?
Kanelbulle 🙂 (Cinnamon bun)
What do you miss the most from your life in the US?
It sort of feels like there’s music in the air that’s missing in Sweden. Not literally, but there’s a certain extra energy in people’s comings and goings that is just sort of missing in Sweden. And 24-hour anything! Everything (shops, pharmacies, supermarkets) closes down early in Sweden, especially on the weekends!
Did you make any funny experiences during you initial time in Sweden?
My first time getting off the subway to our home, it was rush hour and a large group of passengers was exiting the station. I was near the back of the group, and as we approached the long escalator to the exit, a very long line formed as everyone waited to stand on the right side of the steps. The left side is, apparently, for walking up, and though no one was choosing to walk up and we could have all gotten out twice as fast had we used both sides of the steps, everyone formed the queue and waited to stand on the right side. Because that’s the way escalators are done. 😉 This seemed ridiculous to me.