My first few weeks in Sweden were filled with excitement and awe at everything I saw. It reminded me of the previous times I’d been here on holiday, which usually lasted about three weeks and everything happened so quickly that if felt like a whirlwind, and I always left while still high on feelings of giddiness and excitement. The only difference this time around was the summer days I could vividly recall were replaced with chilly days and the giddiness began to wear off.
It took a while to accept that quickly going out in summer was totally different to quickly going out in winter. In summer, in the blink of an eye you could quickly make a dash for the outdoors. But not in winter, oh no! First you had to put on layers of clothing, thermal tights, at least two pairs of socks, winter boots, a scarf of two, a beanie and a warm pair of gloves. As a newbie, this process took me about 10 minutes, but if felt like an eternity. To top it off, I hated how heavy I felt with the extra layers of clothing and how I ended up waddling like an overfed duck! As if that wasn’t enough suffering, the feelings of mild depression that I experienced due to the cold and long periods of darkness certainly made things worse. Fortunately, I soon got used to the rituals of winter and a daily dose of vitamin D pills kept the blues at bay.
Next, I struggled with the people. In my home country, people are generally warm and friendly, and even more so in my previous country of residence, Thailand. I was used to greeting and smiling at strangers. I was used to strangers offering to help me even when I didn’t ask for help but merely looked lost. I was used to making small talk with strangers and not feeling awkward at all. I had to quickly adjust. I soon learned to mind my own business, not bother strangers with small talk and unnecessary ‘how are yous?’
I managed to master the above quite well and even managed to make some Swedish friends. My expat friends were quite impressed with me and some even related how they’d been here for a couple of months and hadn’t managed to make friends with Swedes because their cliques were difficult to penetrate. I was very chuffed with myself for accomplishing this in a few weeks. My Swedish friends turned out to be extremely warm people, contrary to my initial perceptions. Whenever we meet up, we always have a blast. The only drawback is that we have to plan our meeting a few weeks in advance, which is something I’m not used to doing with friends who live in the same vicinity as me.
I appreciate the values of fairness and equality that are instilled in Swedes. I’ve seen couples share their household chores equally. It’s also obvious in the way employees interact with their bosses, they speak casually to each other in a way I’ve never seen before. But the thing that fascinates me the most is the way children interact with their parents. The kids here definitely get away with way more than I got away with back home.
Speaking of home, I came to realise just how private most South African are about their homes. We’re not comfortable with passers-by openly having access to see what’s in our homes. But here, I’ve seen many homes without curtains. I’ve also seen houses with minimal curtains, definitely not the way we have curtains back home, with lace underneath and the a second layer over the lace. Whenever I see families having dinner in their homes as I walk on by , I always have a slight feeling of discomfort. Blame it on the fact that I’m a paranoid South African who always imagines the worst possible scenario.
Unlike most South Africans, Swedes are generally non-confrontational. This is especially evident in the indirect manner in which they give constructive criticism, which can sometimes leave you in the dark about issues that you need to work on.
Now let’s move on to the food. I love Swedish food but every now and then I do crave a bit of spice as the food here can be quite bland. Of course lots of spices are readily available, but I was surprised to discover that even the spices that are labelled as spicy usually don’t do it for me. On the bright side though, there are tons of restaurants that cater for those with a spicy palate.
One thing that took me by surprise was having to pay to use the toilet in shopping malls. I feel that’s daylight robbery at it’s best. But fortunately, I’ve learned to adjust to this inconvenience. I usually use the bathroom before I leave a café or restaurant and then hope that I don’t have to go again until I’m back home.
Despite the all these differences, I am still having the time of my life here in Sweden. My motto is ‘when is Sweden, do as the Swedes!’ If Sweden were a guy, I would absolutely marry him, that’s how in love I am with this beautiful country. My next post will be about the things I love about Sweden.