15 Impressions After Living Nearly One Year in Sweden

Here’s some thoughts and impressions after 11 months doing “Swedish time.”

Society

• It feels odd that there is no contact when you sit next to someone on a bus or buys something from a cashier. Of course there is the exception but typically there isn’t much “Hi, how are you?” or “It sure is cold out.”

• If someone bumps into you on the sidewalk or suddenly swerves into your path, they’re not going to say, “Whoops, didn’t mean to do that.” They’re most likely not going to say anything at all.

Sculpture in Kungsholmen

Sculpture in Kungsholmen. Photo by K. Lund

 

• It’s impossible for me to understand Swedish when it’s loud and there are lots of different conversations (for example, in a restaurant). Interesting how the brain computes languages differently. I wonder at what point I will be able to follow a two conversations in a restaurant? (What I actually mean is to understand one conversation while there’s a distracting one nearby.)

• Sweden has a really marked group mentality. I’ve written before how nearly 95% of Swedes seem to prefer a black winter coat. So now that it is Fall, I am seeing this black sea on the sidewalks again. Thursday is the day to eat pea soup and pancakes. In August, you eat crayfish…Is there a rebel who secretly eats crayfish in, say…January? (not the season they’re caught, I suppose…OK then, is there someone who eats pea soup on Saturdays?)

• Every apartment door that I’ve seen in Sweden says “Ingen Reklam” in some fashion. This means the inhabitants don’t want any advertisements pushed through their mail slots. It always makes me laugh because to me, it looks like someone named “Ingen” lives there.

apartment mailslot

“No snailmail spam, please.” (Name obscured to protect the innocent.) Photo by K. Lund

 

Dogs

• Dog owners seem to rarely let their dogs off leash in the parks. I think it’s generally not allowed but I admit to be a little hazy on the subject. Perhaps because I sometimes let my dog off the leash and because I want to have plausible deniability about my ignorance of the laws. Bad. Very bad.

Dog in the park

“Rabbit” enjoys a rest in a park near Sundbyberg (Stockholm). This picture looks like a painting to me. Something about the light…Photo by K. Lund

 

• There is a mandatory dog register in Sweden, and every dog is micro-chipped so there is clear responsibility if the dog is lost or the dog hurts someone. It cost around $10.00. Yup, Rabbit is registered. Don’t worry.

Food, Restaurants, and Medicine

• Soda in Sweden seems to have less carbonation. I miss the extra bubbles.

• There’s much less high fructose corn syrup in Swedish food. Hurrah!

• There’s less preservatives in the food so milk and meat spoils sooner. It’s worth the effort of going back to the store.

• This Fall I have noticed that most of the restaurants put blankets on the chairs of their outdoor seating. These chairs (and tables) are often right out on the sidewalk and I am amazed that the blankets don’t “walk away.” The blankets are designed to cope with the fact that it’s really too cold to sit outside on the sidewalk, even with your coat on.

blankets on outdoor tables

If you choose to dine outside, you can take advantage of the blankets the restaurant sets out. Photo by K. Lund

 

• There are lots of everyday medicines and supplements that come in a tablet form designed to drop in water and dissolve in a fizzy burst. Here in Sweden I’ve casually seen vitamin C like this, headache pain medicine, and charcoal tablets for upset stomachs.

• There were 30 kinds of orange juice back in California. Here in Sweden? There are 30 different kinds of dairy products. It’s hard to understand what the differences are.

dairy products

There are lots of dairy products to choose from… Photo by K. Lund

 

Household Stuff

• Why hasn’t that little loop (for hanging up) on towels in Sweden not caught on in other countries? It’s such a small thing and such a great thing! And it works so much better than trying to make the tag do the work (if there even is a tag that forms a circle.)

Autumn leaves

Autumn color in Stockholm. Photo by K. Lund

 

• Boy howdy, but it’s hot inside buildings and houses! Even after surviving last winter, I find that it is difficult to handle, the difference between indoor and outdoor temperatures. It’s pretty cold outside now (mid October) and as soon as I go inside, I need to immediately strip down to a thin shirt, preferably one with short sleeves. Sweaters or even turtlenecks don’t work for indoor work because it’s too hot for them. Guess I shouldn’t have brought those. This still feels unexpected, seeing as how it’s Scandinavia which the whole world thinks of as the Cold Dark North. I never expected it to be too hot!

Special bonus: I love signs in other countries. Check out the one below which I saw in a restaurant in Stockholm. Really, it needs no introduction…

sign in Stockholm

This is disappointing because I thought thieves would look obviously different from me…black hat…twirling a devious mustache…at least SOMETHING different! Photo by K. Lund

 

  • Monica-USA

    Ha,ha,ha….what a great story Kristin. By the way congratulations on almost a year now in Sweden. Really?! 30 different types of Dairy products?! So a lot of medicines are like Alkaseltzer? Okay sounds like you learning so much, thanks for the story love it. By the way what are the two statues of?

    • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

      Thanks for commenting, Monica. I haven’t seen a sign with the sculpture’s name…I will have to investigate more carefully and see if there is one. I like the sculpture because it seems to say “joy!”

      • cynic

        According to wikipedia’s list over sculptures on Kungsholmen it is:
        “Noas dans” (translates to Noa’s dance) by Lasse Trollberg

        • Monica-USA

          Thanks for the finding the information about the statues.

  • Alice In Actionland

    This is a great post! I love seeing the details and differences – like about the carbonated drinks, and dissolving pills, etc. And I think it’s reassuring to know that it’s cozy and warm inside during the winter! :-) It would be fascinating (for me, anyway) if you did a whole “grocery store tour”, lol.

    • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

      What a great idea! A grocery tour post would be interesting. I am especially in love with the gluten-free sections many stores have here. But there is lots of products I am not used to…for example they just started selling the Christmas soda (in October!) that is called Julmust. It takes like flat Coke to me…Thanks for commenting.

      • Monica-USA

        The Julmust taste’s like a cross between a Dr. Pepper and a Coca-Cola and a beer aftertaste.

      • quarryman

        Every december the sales of Coca-Cola drop about 50%, CC has made several attempts to change this, but to no use – Julmust still rules. Read more here (in swedish) http://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julmust or in english: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julmust

  • http://twitter.com/Senchaholic Senchaholic

    Here’s the law on dogs: http://www.riksdagen.se/sv/Dokument-Lagar/Lagar/Svenskforfattningssamling/Lag-20071150-om-tillsyn-ove_sfs-2007-1150/?bet=2007:1150 :) Men olika regler gäller kommun för kommun. Det måste man kolla med den kommun man ska befinna sig i.

    • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

      Nämen! Nu måste jag vara laglydiga! :) Tack för länken i alla fall.

  • Alma

    Hi Kristin, love reading your stories and the photos you publish :) Do check this out http://www.chocochocolate.se/en I will hold chocolate classes in English on November 18. (at Kungsholmen), interested? ;)

    Alma

    • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

      Thanks for the link, Alma. I will check your site out. :)

  • S Terzian-Feliz

    What a gorgeous photo of Rabbit in the park. Yes, it does look like a painting because of the light. I love the fact that you love Sweden so much, and seem so happy. Good move. Gutsy move.

    • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

      Thanks, Sandra! Rabbit says woof! :)

  • Justin

    Hello Kristin,
    Love the blog!! I am an American and an avid traveler (currently in Poland :) ) Your blog struck my interest as your transition is exactly what I am looking to do. I am looking for somewhere differet to live and work and both Sweden and Norway is my dream. I was wondering if I would be able to ask you some questions regarding the process?
    -Justin

    • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

      Hi Justin, you can send me your address by replying here (can spell address out to avoid webbots if you want) then I can reply offline. :)

  • Anna

    Hi Kristin,
    Love the way you see us Swedes and our country! Have to comment on one thing: Funny that you find it to warm inside our buildings, I experienced the exact opposite while visiting California. It was always very cold inside, so I always had to bring a sweater :)

    • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

      Exactly! It’s ironic that it’s cold (inside) in California and warm (inside) in Sweden!

  • Jenndoe2012

    This is awesome! I can totally relate to being an American living in Stockholm!

    • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Jenndoe2012.

  • Elle

    Very interesting post. I really like the mail slot section and look forward to the tour of the Swedish grocery store!
    Is it possible to live, but not work, in Sweden and speak no Swedish?

    • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

      I think it’s possible and nearly everyone can speak English (if that’s relevant to you) but I think you would feel very left out as A LOT is done in Swedish. I like that fact…that Swedish is not disappearing or anything. But conversations that begin in English often end up sliding back to Swedish, and Swedes are going to speak Swedish at most social occasions (again, rightfully so). But it’s no problem. Learn Swedish! :)

  • http://www.willowday.com/ G at willowday

    I stumbled upon you as I was googling All Saints Day. This is a fantastic article. I’m American and I’ve been here… 15 years but, my reactions are still the same as yours; although, I appreciate a reminder. I no longer talk about these everyday realities or I could go crazy, but feel like I walk around in constant silent dialogue with myself! Raising kids here, I feel it’s important to remain true to one’s self (and culture) and I faithfully smile at passer byers, excuse myself when I am in a “smashed into incident” while shopping or on the street and wave and “hej” at people who walk past our drive way every day. I shrug off the idea that most people probably think I am a total nut by doing these things and tell myself that connection and personal integrity matter to me. Humor, humility and tenacity have been my guiding lights to navigating Sweden … and, recently, a dog. After waving and saying hello to two anonymous neighbors for 3 years, the week we bought a dog, I’ve suddenly learned their names and have conversations with them after 3 years of trying! Never say never! Keep up the great writing!

    • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

      Thanks for commenting and congrats on the new family member! I have met some new people because of my dog so pets can definitely be a great social “lubricant.”

  • fjgm

    Love your blog kristin! currently living in sweden with my boyfriend ( I come from Australia originally) & totally agree with all your observations, especially the social aspect of bumping into people, aussies will generally always apologise or excuse ourselves if we knock into someone or need to push past a crowd, but swedes don’t say anything at all haha, I usually get strange looks if I apologise to someone I’ve accidentally bumped into.

    When I brought this up with some of my swedish friends who had visited Australia, they told me they noticed this difference as well and found it weird that so many people in Australia kept saying sorry when pushing past or bumping into them.

    So good to see i’m not the only one noticing all these differences too :)

    • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

      Thanks for the compliment. Yes, I have to continually remind myself that this is a different culture and not get mad that they don’t conform to my ideas of what is polite and what isn’t. I “out” myself as a foreigner all the time by saying “sorry!” on reflex all the time.

  • http://worldfamilytravellers.blogspot.com/ Scott

    Such a great post. Gaining an sense of the similarities and differences between countries is what makes travel or living in a new country interesting. I lived in Sweden for a couple years and have done a good deal of travel since. What I find interesting is that the reserved nature of Swedes in Sweden is not how they tend to act while traveling abroad. Although not as out going and friendly as Australians (is anyone?), they tend to be quite friendly and somewhat talkative when I’ve encountered them in Thailand and the U.S.

    • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

      I’ve heard about that phenomenon from other people, too. Apparently many Swedes change personalities when they are on vacation! Who knew! Thanks for posting.

  • Jmburnz

    The dogs not let off thing seems perculier to Stockholm, at least in my experience, here in Malmö it’s common, especially in the winter and certainly not unusual to see dogs off the leash in the street, sitting outside shops and so on. I’ve lived in both cities and the difference in dog culture is stark, and of course I have a dog!

    • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

      Interesting to know the dog life is very different between large Swedish cities. I haven’t made it to Malmö yet. Thanks for sharing the information. :)

  • Sandra Andersson

    You sure can eat crayfish in the winter, tastes just as good as in August. Me and a group of friends has been eating crayfish to celebrate x-mas for the last 20 years or so. We start our “day before x-mas-eve” with taco’s and for dessert we always seem to find some crayfish that goes well to “hallonsoda-grogg” and a brandy. Traditions are very important here in Sweden. “The same procedure as last year”.

  • Dlhaist

    How wonderful to find your blogs my dear. I find Swedish is easy when I watch Wallander too.