One of the main associations foreigners have about Sweden is snow. Depending on where you are in the country, the snow arrives anytime between October and January. And once it’s here, it usually stays for a while.
In the Stockholm winter, it’s dark and cold. So cold that the lakes turn to ice. So cold that your lungs hurt when you inhale. So cold that being outside, well, is brief. We scurry from flat to office, office to home. We try to find as many underground shortcuts as possible. We freeze even though we are wearing 5 layers of clothes.
As we foreigners walk briskly down the street, hunched with cold, and cursing the sting of the chill, it’s not uncommon a focused Swede runs past us. Dressed in lycra tights, a reflective vest and an Ipod, he’s off on a jogging round. Probably down to the frozen canal and along the slippery canal-side path. He’s probably going to circle city hall and run casually along the lakeside, past the boats frozen fast into the ice. His skin is red and slightly chapped. His breath is billowing steam. But he doesn’t seem to care. The cold won’t stop him from his daily jogging round. That’s what I call Swedish determination. Freezing? It’s for wimps.
Normally, I find snow in the city irritating. My shoes get ruined, I slip and slide inelegantly around, my face gets battered, my hair gets mushed. In general, very irritating. But a few years ago, my perspective changed. As the snow tumbled down, I realised that snow is all about democracy. No matter how ugly something is – when it is covered with snow, it is beautiful. No matter how dirty something is, when it is covered with snow, it is clean. No matter how shabby something is, when it is covered with snow, it gets a new, fresh start. The snow kind of evens everything out. Now if that’s not democratic, I don’t know what is.
So it’s in the winter that two clear Swedish characteristics are revealed – determination and democracy. So brace yourselves – the Swedish winter is coming.
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