Written by Bonnie Thornington
For a while now I wanted to write about living in Sweden during the Covid19 pandemic from a Newbie perspective. I hesitated doing so publicly for fear of being judged, criticized and shamed. If I am completely honest with myself, at the root of my wavering is a simple and obvious reason: guilt.
As I read about and hear firsthand the experiences my friends and family are going through around the world, I feel grateful that I am in Sweden. Grateful because, selfishly, I still feel like I am living a somewhat ‘normal’ existence despite Covid19 wreaking havoc worldwide.
As we all know, Sweden has taken a different approach to dealing with Covid19. Some would say all of us living here are in an experiment. Some would say the rest of the world is in an experiment.
Whichever side you believe is doing ‘the right thing’, we can all agree that the world is going through Covid-fatigue at the moment and that nobody knows if, when or how it will end.
I follow the news from Sweden, Canada and around the world very carefully. I read various sources of information to gather a well-rounded scope of truth. I know of some people who have contracted Covid19 and recovered. I know a handful of people whose relative or friend have died from it.
I chat with friends and family around the world to see what firsthand experience they are going through. I formulate my own opinions but they remain that: my own opinions. Still, it is hard to convey to our friends and family who are not in Sweden what it is like to live here during these pandemic times.
We are like any other suburban family: school and work during the weekdays with weekends dedicated to chores, relaxation and getting out to explore a bit.
However, I feel the difference is we do that with the same level of comfort and ease as we have done pre-pandemic times. I do not feel there is an air of anxiety when I step outside. I don’t cross the road when I see another person approaching me on the sidewalk. I don’t hold my breath when I pass someone close at the store. I don’t wear a mask.
On the other hand, I don’t want to make it sound like we don’t take precautions either because we do. Instead of shaking hands or giving hugs, we will wave to one another as we stand apart. Instead of dining-in somewhere, we will do a take-out or delivery. Instead of inviting people over to our apartment, we’ll organize a park get-together and have a bonfire.
*Update: at the time of writing this article to having it published online, numbers of infections and deaths have increased dramatically in Sweden and I am now wearing a mask in more crowded places, like grocery stores and at my place of work.
It is easy to judge, condemn and criticize from whichever angle you look at it, especially when the other person is engaging in behaviour which you find unsafe and reckless. But one can never know what it is really like for someone else because they are not living your reality.
Until I had my own children, I thought I knew what parenting was all about. I used to say I was the best parent before I actually became one. When I would see other people disciplining their children in public, I would secretly think to myself, “Why are they doing it that way? I would never…” And then I had kids of my own and that promptly shut me up and shoved me off my high-horse. Parenting is a dynamic role with intricate nuances and forces at play.
Today I would never assume I know best how to parent another child because everyone’s situation is different. Also, I would never assume anyone else to know how to parent my own children because they don’t know my entire situation either. Yet it is still so easy to fall into the comparison mindset, to weigh up the similarities and differences, and judge accordingly.
In a way, I feel countries around the world are acting in a similar manner. Each country is so different, in makeup and mindset, that to compare one country’s response to Covid19 with another country is as useful as comparing my child’s development to my neighbour’s child next door.
Numbers don’t lie and the increasing infections and deaths are facts. However, the why, how and most importantly, response to the situation, varies drastically from country to country.
Having moved to Sweden during the height of the pandemic in June, I went from living in complete lockdown for a couple of months in Canada to suddenly living with a new set of boundaries created by the Swedish government. I would be lying if I didn’t say it felt like a huge weight was suddenly lifted off my shoulders. My family and I were still cautious and vigilant, but the contrast was unbelievable. It was not really about schools, parks and businesses still being open, nor was it about the lack of masks around. It was a feeling that was in the air, one that wasn’t heavy with anxiety and fear.
I came to realize after a few months of living in Sweden, that the feeling I was experiencing was one of lagom. Lagom is the Swedish term to describe something that is ‘not too much, not too little but just the right amount.‘
Upon reflection, living in Sweden has taught me the essence and importance of approaching things with a lagom mindset, which I feel extends to dealing with Covid19 today: don’t ignore the scientific facts and government recommendations but also don’t overreact and cause undue stress upon yourself or others. Take control of what you can take control of, like washing hands, physical distancing and staying home if you’re sick. But don’t let it overwhelm your everyday life.
Bottom line: be sensible
Having come to terms with only being able to do stay-cations and modifying my family’s social plans is minor compared to many around the world who are in lockdown once again. Therein lies the guilt.
The Swedish government has only ever issued recommendations (not laws) and due to the drastic increase in infections in Skåne recently, the latest recommendations are to: limit gatherings to no more than 8 people, work from home if possible, avoid indoor environments where there is a risk of crowding, avoid socializing with people other than those you live with or see on a weekly basis, avoid public transport if possible and avoid participating in sporting events for over those over 15 years old.
It is not a huge effort to shift our behaviour towards these recommendations with a lagom mindset. Think sensibly and consider the well-being of your family, community and country. Weigh up the risks and benefits for yourself in your own situation and take responsibility for your actions.
After all, this is a marathon not a sprint and as winter approaches, a balanced and healthy mind is what we need to see us through the dark months.
About the author
Hej! My name is Bonnie and I’m a Chinese-Canadian who has lived/visited over 60 countries, most recently travelling with my family on our 42-foot sailboat for the past year from Canada down to the Bahamas. I love music, yoga, swimming in oceans and lakes and will try anything at least once. I am excited to be moving to Lund and look forward to immersing myself in Swedish culture – especially fika and lagom! Hope you enjoy my posts as I recount my experiences of relocating and settling into Swedish life during a pandemic!