Sweden: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
I just lowered the Swedish flag on my digital flagpole in the top left-hand corner and replaced it with the stars and stripes. It was a little painful. It’s the first indication that I’ve made to anyone, including myself, that I am indeed back in the USA.
Sweden seems like a dream now, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. I couldn’t imagine a better country to test the spirit of this blog. It was expensive to live there, and therefore really challenging.
For those of you who are late to the game, I studied at Lund University in Sweden for nearly six months. After this amazing experience, I feel like I should give the skinny on this beautiful Scandinavian kingdom, in case anyone is thinking about heading off.
I want to be completely objective and list both good and bad things, because every country in the world has them. So please don’t be offended my Swedish friends, this is simply what I walked away with.
Sweden is calm. No one shouts, no one honks their horns. Everyone seems to be more patient and relaxed. It’s lagom.
The infrastructure is great. There are bike paths everywhere, and the trains and buses make it easy to reach any part of the country without too much trouble.
Everything is extremely clean. I’ve never seen such pristine streets anywhere. There’s even a guy who’s paid to walk around with a mini-flamethrower to burn the moss that grows between the cobblestones. The country almost has OCD or something.
Don’t forget to NOT tip. There is no minimum wage required in Sweden. Wages are instead set by collective bargaining, and unskilled labor wages are extremely high, comparatively. Consequently, tipping is just not part of the culture, aside from rounding up to the nearest kronor.
The food is better and healthier. The government has high standards for what is in the food, so you can expect lower amounts of steroids, hormones, and other crap in what you’re eating. Most of it is also sourced locally.
As I said before, it’s expensive. The standard of living is higher than America’s, and you pay for it.
It’s mildly difficult to talk to Swedes unless you’re drinking with them. Of course this isn’t the rule, and it depends on how much effort you put into befriending Swedes. It’s true that it can be hard, but it’s definitely not impossible.
Alcohol will be the scourge of your bank account. Buying a beer can be as much as a $10 drop in the bucket. Even at the Systembolaget, the government liquor store, it’s not as cheap as what I’m used to. Enjoy singing snaps in moderation.
In recent years, Sweden has had a large influx of immigrants and asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa. This has become a very controversial topic in the sociopolitical dialogue. Some Swedes that do not like the government’s immigration policies can be rather racist, and quite blatantly so. You can color me disappointed. Coming from the American South, I expected much more progressive thinking. Fortunately, this is truly the only “ugly” thing I found in Sweden.
Fika! Fika is an awesome social institution in which everyone takes a break in the early afternoon to enjoy coffee, something sweet, and good conversation. Expect to see packed coffee shops from 1-4 PM. Fika is enjoyed by most employees, in addition to lunch. Even the government observes it!
Sweden has one of the largest remaining wildernesses in Europe. In fact, most Swedes are nature freaks, and can be seen doing something outside no matter what the weather. As a self-aware nature freak, this is great.
Sweden exudes that special Scandinavian atmosphere that you can’t quite describe no matter how recognizable it might be. The atmosphere is calm, and life is an exercise in practicality. I’ll miss the moments out with friends when we would see something “that’s so Swedish.”
Like guys wearing tight red pants while sporting Sting’s hairstyle from the early years, or even Bowie’s if they’re particularly trendy.
Or the ease of which a Swede uses his/her iPhone on the train, almost like an instrument, putting even the most adept US hipster to shame.
I will definitely long to hear melodic Swedish conversations in the background, patting myself on the back whenever I can understand something.
It will be difficult to yell “Hej allihopa!” to a crowded room and receive confused expressions instead of laughter in return…
…and now I’ve shot off into a reflective diatribe. It’s just as well. I’ll try to keep the bitching about being back in the US to a minimum here. It will be interesting to see how long it takes me to readjust, and what thoughts the whole process will provoke. Hopefully it won’t be too soul-crushing. I’m looking upwards and onwards, at any rate.