2 March, 2020

Sweden’s Side Effects

Like a medicine taken regularly, a new place to live can also cause some side effects. Moving to a new country (or even a new city or neighbourhood) usually involves changes of habits, daily life and some cultural shocks. Some new habits are easy, like fika, but some other ones can be hard, like dark winters. However, the adaptation process starts as soon as you move in and there’s a part of yourself that will change naturally, without you even noticing it. That’s what I call a side effect, a change that has happened from within.

Alike medicines, the side effects are dependent on the new place and the user, as the effects are highly conditioned by personal experiences and background. That way, I can’t really tell you which side effects you will get in Sweden, but I’m happy to share mine.

Shoes indoors

“Do like locals and you won’t do wrong” works for nearly everything. That’s probably how most of us got into the habit of leaving our shoes at the entrance at home. That’s not a side effect. The side effect is trying to do it outside of Sweden and feeling really weird when you don’t do it. It became a very natural and intrinsic habit in me and I always feel I’m bringing a whole world of dirt inside someone’s home when I’m not supposed to do it.

Temperature feeling

Running in the winter can be challenging

This is probably one of the biggest and most remarkable side effects I got from Sweden. When I moved here, four years ago, I felt low temperatures in a different way than what I do today. I bought two different bed covers in Ikea: one medium warm and one super warm. I don’t need to use the warmest anymore, it’s just too warm. Four years ago I needed three warm layers to be able to run outdoors with temperatures around 5 ºC (read more here). Nowadays, I only use all those layers if the temperature is -5 ºC. I noticed this recently when it was 2 ºC outside and I came home with warm hands even if I was not wearing gloves and commenting how “it wasn’t that cold”.

Early dinners

I grew up having “early” dinners because my dad worked night shifts. Our early dinners would start around 19:30, which is quite early in my home country. When I moved to Sweden, it was not uncommon to have dinner at 16:00 or 17:00, especially on weekends. My body took that change hard at first because I always got hungry in the evening. However, some time along the way, I must have gotten used to it, since nowadays I don’t even blink twice if someone invites me for dinner in the middle of the day. In a way, all meal’s time has become less important and I tend to eat when I’m hungry without thinking too much if it’s lunch, dinner or a snack. Unless I’m at work, since there it requires a bit more planning.

Attitude to saunas

Saunas can be so relaxing!

Saunas were simply a no-go for me. Yes, I could see the benefits of it and the fun when outside the sauna was a big pile of snow, but I could simply not handle the hot air. I tried several times but was always forced to leave the sauna after a few seconds. I tried steam, dry, hot, less hot, but nothing worked. Until a few months ago, when I decided to give it another try, and this time it worked! I could stay inside! I even managed to relax! That was in a dry sauna at around 42 ºC. I felt bold and encouraged by the positive results, so I decided to try a hotter sauna of 80 ºC. It worked too! And I could finally try the hot/cold shock that everyone talks about, by dipping myself in very cold water afterwards. I might have even become addicted to that!

Cardamon and saffron in sweets

I love cakes, pastries and similar things, so it was really not hard to get used to fika. However, when I was relatively new in Sweden, I often got disappointed in cafes because I would get these good looking yummy cakes, but then they would taste weird. Yes, it took me a while to like cardamon and saffron in sweets, but now that I do I can’t even understand how I could not like them! Semla is now by far my favourite of all Swedish fika things and I love baking lussekatter around Christmas. Adding these Swedish flavours to my baking ingredients only increased the already long list of options in my repertoire.


Sweden is known for its openness and curiosity about other cultures, which for me is reflected in the food habits of its inhabitants. Surely that leads to interesting (or weird depending on how you look at it…) fusion dishes like having kebab on a pizza, pesto on salmon or funny taco combinations. However, that also means that people like to be creative in their kitchens! I often got surprised when I saw the large collections of spices Swedes have in their kitchens. Nowadays, I probably beat them all! I went from having salt, pepper, cinnamon and paprika to having… well, everything you can imagine. And I like it!

As you can see, habits and opinions can change, and sometimes we just need to keep trying and give it some time until we get used to new things.

How about you? Have you suffered any side effects from being in Sweden?

Don’t miss out! Get updates on new articles, opportunities and other goodies by signing up for our newsletter.

Sara Costa
Hej! I’m a Portuguese Newbie in Sweden. I have also lived in Brazil, Poland and the Czech Republic. It’s been fun to be a foreigner in so many different countries and I enjoy learning about other cultures. I’m a fan of sports, some to watch and some to practise, my favourite being running. I also love food, reading and blogging. I hope you enjoy my posts!

Leave a Reply