After months of planning and e-mailing back and forth, my family finally arrived last week for their vacation to visit me here in Sweden. I roughly planned the itinerary so that our destinations and activities would be a mix of things I both had and hadn’t seen before (my family had never traveled to Scandinavia before this trip). Due to their busy schedules and also partially because Americans don’t enjoy the same vacation benefits as Swedes, they could only visit for a week. In order to maintain a semi-relaxed schedule we decided to just stick to Stockholm and Copenhagen. It would have been nice for them to have been able to see my home city of Gothenburg, but I don’t regret our choice to avoid incessant traveling from city to city nearly everyday.
Tag archives for coffee
Anyone who has ever written about life in Sweden from a foreign perspective has surely noted the predominance of the coffee culture present here, but I’m not going to let that stop me from adding a few of my own comments on the subject. First of all, going into my transatlantic move I knew that Swedes have a reputation for drinking a ton of coffee. I didn’t think much of it because I know plenty of people in the US who drink a lot of coffee, including my parents and a few friends. For me, the big difference is not the fact that Swedes enjoy coffee, but rather the ways they prepare it and the lengths that they go to make sure they get it.
Fika technically means ‘to have coffee’ in Swedish, but the word carries a much higher level of importance than just the act of drinking coffee. From what I’ve observed and experienced, it’s more about the entire act of dropping everything you’re doing to meet up with your friends, coworkers, classmates, etc. to socialize while drinking coffee. If it’s a special occasion or you’re feeling particularly Swedish, then you’ll probably be eating some type of sweet roll or cake too. It’s pretty typical to fika at least once in the morning and once in the afternoon, so it’s a deeply ingrained tradition during the Swedish work day.
At my department we essentially have unlimited access to espresso and coffee. The people in charge of making these crucial decisions have chosen to devote a large amount of time and effort (and money) just to coffee, and I think everyone really appreciates it and is probably more productive/happy because of it. Concerning the regular coffee, we exclusively use a French press (aside: does everyone refer to this object as being French, or is this an exclusively American/English term?).
In North America we think we take our coffee seriously. Whether you brew your own at home or pick up something at the local Starbucks, it is a morning staple for most people. Cafes on every corner are common, offering coffee to go to suit a more fast-placed lifestyle.
But, the truth is, us North Americans know nothing about coffee drinking. In Sweden, it is more of a cultural practice, a time-honoured tradition, and a social entitlement that brings people together.
The coffee habits I have observed since I have been here still amaze me to this day. A typical day of coffee drinking can include, coffee at home before leaving for work, coffee when arriving to work, fika break mid-morning, coffee after lunch, fika break in the afternoon and even possibly a coffee after dinner.
While studying abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the hardest part isn’t going to your host country: it’s coming back home.
I’ve been studying in Sweden for about a year, and am definitely going to miss a few things. Here are the 14 I’ll miss most.
Back where I come from in Oregon, we’re known for having some of the best-tasting strawberries in the world. But even they pale in comparison to the Swedish variety, which taste like a combination of ecstasy, fulfillment, and a satisfaction in knowing you will never have better.
I know what you’re thinking: how can anyone love a season where temperatures can dip below minus 20 Celsius, snow is almost a meter thick, and it’s dark 18 hours (or more) a day? That’s precisely why I love the Swedish winter: it’s so different than what I had been previously used to. In Oregon, winter is marked by over 100 centimeters of rain, and in Boise if it’s snowing… well, if it’s snowing, then that’s the least of your problems. But in Sweden mayors don’t declare a state of emergency when it snows, and the glistening white stuff is also, I’ve discovered, a lot of fun to play in.
3. The food
Sweden may not usually be the first place that comes to mind when people think of tasty national cuisine, but I’ve found Swedish food to be surprisingly scrumptious – and much more diverse than herring and köttbullar. It’s much more affordable than it is in the U.S. (where you usually have to go to a specialty store or IKEA), and obviously more authentic too. And, when I was tired of traditional Svensk mat, grocery stores carry foods from all over the world, including the artificially preserved, flavorized, prepackaged, hormone-treated, sugar-infused fare I – unfortunately – was raised on.
4. The people
This one comes as a no-brainer. Life isn’t just about what you do: it’s about who you meet. And in Sweden, I’ve met some amazing people, from Swedes such as my host family and close friends to fellow exchange students who’ve helped me broaden my horizons and taught me a lot about myself, too. If it wasn’t for this motley cast of characters, there’s no way my time abroad would have been as magical as it was.
A uniquely Swedish creation, a fika is a great way to spend time with friends, family, classmates, coworkers, or just about anyone. It’s also a great excuse to consume more coffee and sweets than your mother would have ever allowed you to have growing up.
6. The queue system
Back home, when you go to someplace like the bank, housing office, etc. you have to wait in line. And wait. And wait. And wait. But in Sweden, you just take a number and wait for your number to be called. It’s great for people such as myself who can never stay in one place for more than three minutes.
7. Traveling by train
Trains in the U.S. are few, far between, and incredibly expensive. In Boise, a city of more than 200,000 people and a metro area of half a million, there isn’t even a single operating train station. Pretty much every town in Sweden has a train station, and – in my opinion – paying 400 kronor to travel from Växjö to Göteborg seems pretty cheap. It’s a great way for students without cars to get around.
8. The history
Some Swedes may gripe that there isn’t much history in Sweden, but it’s a whole lot more than where I come from. Back in Boise, the oldest building is an old log house from the 1800s. In Sweden, people live in houses older than that. Heck, the Växjö Domkyrka (Växjö Cathedral) was built in the 12th century – more than 300 years before America was even “discovered.” Every town has its own rich and unique history.
9. Allsvenskan football
Few things are able to match the passion — and intensity – of Allsvenskan football matches. It’s one of the rare times you’ll see Swedes lose all emotional control, and is certainly not to be missed.
10. My host family
Host families are a fantastic way to see the “real” Sweden, and I had a great time with mine. From going to football matches, to barbecues, to fishing, to speaking to secondary school students and to jumping in frozen lakes, I will miss them greatly.
11. The summer
If the Swedish winter is spectacular, then the summer is even more so. Temperatures around 20 Celsius, clear skies, 18 hours of sunlight, Midsummer… what could be better?
Swedes have a special connection to nature, and it’s easy to see why. Never in my life have I seen a country as green as Sweden is. From the forests to the meadows to the thousands of lakes, it’s hard to imagine more beautiful scenery anywhere else on earth.
13. Teleborgs Slott
Sure it’s not that old (built around 1900), and sure it’s not that big, but it’s the first castle I’d ever seen. And when it’s only a five-minute walk from your flat, you tend to spend a lot of time there. Truly, it’s the most magical place I’ve ever been. No matter the occasion – whether I was having a bad day, was stressed out, wanted to enjoy nature, meditate, hang out with friends, take a girl on a date, study, or whatever – I could just walk through the castle’s spacious grounds or inside to have a fika. Every moment spent there was spent in timeless bliss.
14. The Swedes
Whether it’s their closeness to nature, tolerance of others, friendliness, ingenuity, or helpfulness, it’s obvious the Swedes are special. Never before have met friendlier, more tolerant, or helpful people in my life. With them, the glass is always half-full. And their smiles can power a small city. And they’re the most loyal friends you can ever have.
My advice to anyone coming to Sweden: enjoy every moment of it. Because when you’re gone…
You’re not in Sweden anymore. And that’s what I’ll miss the most.
Ask any expatriate, exchange student, fellow traveler, or even the guy selling strawberries down at the Saturday market, and they’ll all tell you the same thing: Swedish women are confusing, even more so than… well, there might not be anything more confusing than Swedish women.
And you know what? I agree. I’ve gone on a few dates here, and every time found myself more and more perplexed. Christ, even O.J. Simpson’s police chase makes more sense.
Let’s save ourselves a lot of time here and just agree that Swedish women are incredibly attractive. They have terrific personalities, million-dollar smiles, and are more in shape than 99.99% of everyone else. They’re well-educated, know exactly what they want in life, and usually speak with an accent that makes us men melt every time we hear it. Oh, and did I mention almost all of them look like they should be modeling somewhere? Seriously, Tyra Banks has nothing on them.
But damn, they are enigmatic. Allow me to illustrate by sharing my personal experiences.
I’ll admit I’ve always been a little nervous courting the opposite sex, probably due to watching – as God is my witness – more romantic comedies than quite possibly any other heterosexual male on earth. But I held firmly to the popular U.S. stereotype that Swedish women go crazy for American guys, and let my friends do the rest to inflate my ego to levels perhaps only rivaled by Muhammad Ali or Zlatan Ibrahimovic himself. I was young, I was in good shape, and I was American: when I arrived in Sweden, the ladies wouldn’t stand a chance.
But as the weeks went by, I gaped in paralyzed horror as my self-esteem was quickly ground into mush. Not only did all my previously held notions turn out to be totally wrong, but it seemed the opposite was true; compared to the endless number of good-looking, well-muscled, and much better dressed Swedish guys, it seemed no woman was interested in a pale, skinny American with absolutely zero fashion sense and a shaggy haircut.
Eventually, however, I drummed up enough courage to ask a girl from one of my classes for a fika in Teleborgs Slott. We talked, laughed, and I somehow managed to pay for her – something many Swedish women, I knew, were not used to. We hung out a few more times and, in my mind, there was no way I could fail. I was IN.
But then disaster struck. I asked her to dinner, assuming the answer would be an automatic “yes.” Instead, I received a text message explaining that dinner would feel “too much like a date.”
In all my 21 years, I had never been so confused. Would feel too much like a date? Really? I mean, c’mon, we had coffee at a freakin’ castle!
In one swift blow, my self-esteem returned to its liquidous state. A few weeks later, it evaporated entirely when, after getting the phone number of a girl I had warmed up to, she rejected me by flat-out saying I wasn’t her “type.” Looking back on it, I probably asked her out for the wrong reasons anyway, but if I had known what I know now I could’ve gotten a lot more sleep.
A few weeks after her – whom my friends only refer to as “Miss A” – there was yet another girl. Unlike the others, she took the initiative of “first contact” by talking to me after a class we shared. A hopeful sign? Perhaps. But then again, I’m pretty sure I’m not psychic. And later events would certainly validate that.
The two of us had something in common right away: both of us studied journalism. She seemed to spend every moment picking my brains on life in the U.S., determined to study there one day. We had similar tastes in music and movies, and even shared a secret passion for documentaties.
We hung out every day for about a week, and finally one night she spontaneously invited me over for dinner. We ate a nice meal of chicken and rice, and then we talked for a bit. And talked. And talked. And talked some more. By the time I finally excused myself and went home, it was past 4 a.m. She had poured her heart out to me, displayed the entire spectrum of human emotion, told me things she said she had never told anyone else – or so I thought.
A couple weeks later, she told me she was seeing someone. A guy whose name I never learned, of whom she and her friends had never spoken, and of whom I didn’t even see any evidence of on Facebook.
Jeez, how cruel can a girl be? If you want to say “I’m not interested,” then just say it! Mentioning possibly fictitious boyfriends only makes it crueler!
But that’s dating in Sweden for you. If I’ve learned one thing from my time here, it’s that I don’t know anything.
So everyone, I’m with you: I’m just as clueless as you are. If you can decipher the mystery of Swedish dating, let me know.
I’ll be drowning my sorrows in coffee.