• Sweden's news in English
 
app_header_v3
The Local List
Eight strange things that surprised me about Sweden
Swedes celebrating... something. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Eight strange things that surprised me about Sweden

Catherine Edwards · 17 Feb 2016, 11:33

Published: 17 Feb 2016 07:44 GMT+01:00
Updated: 17 Feb 2016 11:33 GMT+01:00

1. There are whole days specifically dedicated to pastry

This was probably my favourite surprise. Although I was disappointed to find out I’d just missed Cinnamon Bun Day (October 4th) when I arrived, I didn’t have long to wait before Gustav II Adolf Day, which has its own special cakes, and then Lucia Day, which celebrates saffron buns (oh, and Saint Lucia – but mostly the buns). Even on the days which don’t have a designated dessert, in Sweden there's always time for fika. What's not to love?


Mmmm... cinnamon rolls. Photo: Fredrik Broman/imagebank.sweden.se

2. The doors open outwards instead of inwards

This seems like it should be an easy quirk to get used to, and I'd never given much thought to the direction of doors before, but it resulted in a frantic 10 minutes when I thought I’d locked myself out of my new apartment. Actually, I was just trying to push a pull door. Apparently the reason they open outwards is for fire safety, or because of snow, or to save hallway-space… no one seems to have a conclusive answer, but there must be a lot of expats who get smacked in the face the first time they visit a Swedish house.


Will this door open outwards or inwards? Photo: Ben Babcock/Flickr

3. The weather is really not that bad

Coming from the gloomy north of England, I'm used to the cold, but the thought of Swedish winter with temperatures regularly dropping to the minus-10s still made me nervous. As I encountered an increasing number of Swedes who seemed shocked that I'd moved here of my own free will at the end of October, I wondered what I'd let myself in for. But it wasn't nearly as bad as I'd feared. The biggest difference is that there's much less rain than in perennially damp Manchester, where I'm from, so if you wrap up warm you can cope with the cold.


Stockholm's Old Town in winter. Photo: Ola Ericson/imagebank.sweden.se

4. The customer service is great

We Brits like to think of ourselves as polite, but most of the time there’s a large dose of passive aggression behind every ‘sorry’, ‘fine’ and ‘can I help you?’. By contrast, the Swedes I’ve encountered have all seemed genuinely friendly and helpful, many of them apologizing profusely when I admit I haven't understood their Swedish.

When I rang a call centre to fix the wi-fi in my apartment, instead of grumpily putting me on hold, the man at the end of the phone said he was excited to ‘practise his (already perfect) English’ while he reset the router, and asked me how I was finding Stockholm so far. He even recommended a pastry shop in my new neighbourhood.


The customer service is surprisingly friendly. Photo: Miriam Preis/imagebank.sweden.se

5. Everyone is very, very tall

Most expats move to a new country hoping they’ll seamlessly blend in with the locals in a matter of weeks. This is a total impossibility for me, a petite, dark-haired Brit in a country of tall blondes – the world’s second tallest population, in fact. Not only am I instantly recognizable as a non-native, but many everyday tasks from clothes shopping to reaching high shelves are made much more difficult by the height difference.


Some very tall Swedes. Photo:Finest

6. The housing shortage is real (but manageable)

Finding a long-term apartment was my biggest worry when moving to Stockholm, and sure enough, I had to send dozens of emails before getting invited to a single viewing. My flat-hunt took me to various corners of the city, and I discovered just how flexible the definitions of the words 'furnished' and 'central' can be. One landlady wanted me to fill out a detailed questionnaire about topics including 'weekly hours spent on telephone' and 'foods consumed weekly' before agreeing to a viewing, and although I saw several nice apartments, there was huge competition for anywhere close to acceptable.

However, after about a fortnight of looking, and with lots of help from friends and colleagues, I was able to find a spacious apartment, 15 minutes from work, at a price for which you couldn't rent more than a cupboard in London or Paris. The housing shortage is clearly an issue, but there are options out there and from my experience there are far fewer scams or exploitative landlords than in other European capitals.


How do you find an apartment in Stockholm? Photo: Blondinrikard Fröberg/Flickr

7. Systembolaget

Story continues below…

The bar in my hometown used to sell drinks for 10p, so the high price of alcohol in Sweden came as a bit of a shock. And then there's the fact that you can only buy alcohol from state-owned Systembolaget, which is closed in the evenings and on Sundays. It can feel like an inconvenience having to walk more than five minutes to be able to buy alcohol – and not having any options at all outside Systembolaget's opening hours – but on the other hand it does seem like a sensible approach to alcohol abuse.


The famous and infamous Systembolaget. Photo: Daniel Mott/Flickr

8. People are really into exercise (even in winter)

In the UK, many people describe themselves as ‘runners’ even when the slightest dip or rise in temperature is enough to send them retreating under the duvet. Here, I’ve seen people jogging in deep snow, playing ice hockey on the city’s frozen lakes and generally not letting anything get in the way of their exercise routine. My colleagues have even started a daily mid-afternoon 'stretching session' in the office.

They're all really good at sport too – when I attempted ice-skating on the city's outdoor rink, thinking it would be a lovely Christmassy experience, I failed to take into account the fact that Swedes learn to skate before they can walk, and spent the entire time gingerly staying near the edge and trying to avoid being floored by a 6ft Swede or a pirouetting toddler.


Anyone for a tour on the ice? Photo: Helena Wahlman/imagebank.sweden.se

For more news from Sweden, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Catherine Edwards (catherine.edwards@thelocal.com)

Today's headlines
Brexit vote
Sweden opposition cools talk of 'Swexit' poll
Anna Kinberg Batra, of the largest opposition party, the Moderates. Photo: TT

"This is a sad day for the British and for Europe."

Brexit vote
Swedish PM swats aside calls for EU renegotiation
"Sweden will now lose an important partner in the EU," Löfven said. Photo: TT

Left Party calls "totally irresponsible."

Brexit vote
'Devastated' - Brits in Sweden shocked by Brexit vote

Expat Brits in Sweden have reacted with shock, despair and uncertainty to the result of the EU referendum in the UK which was won 52-48 by the Leave campaign.

Brexit vote
'A morning of sorrow': Sweden reacts to Brexit vote
Photo: TT

The former Swedish EU minister, Birgitta Ohlsson declared that it was 'a morning of sorrow', after British voters opted to leave the European Union on Thursday.

The Local Recipes
How to make Karin's delicious Midsummer cake
Karin's cake. Photo: swedishfood.com

"We are very tolerant of other cultures except when it comes to strawberries."

Sweden named the world's 'most reputable' country
The flag of the world's most reputable country – at least according to one report. Photo: Fredrik Sanberg/TT

Sweden has been ranked as the most reputable country in the world by a new report. Find out why.

Why most students don't finish Swedish for Immigrants
More students are taking Swedish for Immigrants classes, but completion rates are low. Photo: Pontus Lundahl

Only four in ten students finished their courses at Sweden's state-funded Swedish for Immigrants classes in 2015, according to new statistics from a national agency.

Swedish police nab drunk-driving lawnmower man
Lawnmowers: dangerous, in the wrong hands. Photo: Hasse Holmberg/TT

A man in southern Sweden is at risk of having his licence revoked after drunkenly driving a motorized lawnmower.

Sweden has EU's second highest food prices
A shopper prepares for the inevitable fleecing. Photo: Fredrik Persson/TT

If your loaf of bread seems ridiculously expensive that’s because it is.

Here's how much alcohol Swedes drink on Midsummer
Systembolaget is a busy place around Midsummer. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Swedes are known for letting loose on Midsummer, but the most recent figures from the country's state-run alcohol monopoly may surprise you.

Sponsored Article
How to find student housing in Malmö: 5 tips
Culture
How do Swedes celebrate Midsummer?
Sponsored Article
'Sweden gives artists the space to follow their dreams'
Culture
Coming soon: Sweden’s smelly fermented fish
National
Assange lawyer: Sweden should recognize UN opinion
Blog updates

17 June

Queen’s Birthday Stockholm 2016: 9th June. 90th Birthday. 900 Guests! (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"What do you do when you read that the Queen’s 90th Birthday in London will be…" READ »

 

10 June

i lördags, på lördag – time phrases for present, past and future (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hejsan! Swedish time phrases can be difficult to master. It takes a lot of practice to…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
5 reasons you should try dating with The Inner Circle
Private
The Local Voices
Why is this Syrian dentist who hugs like a Swede worried about undies?
Sponsored Article
The man behind Sweden's biggest music festival
Swedish nationalist 'shot and ate' lion and giraffe
Analysis & Opinion
'Sweden's residency revamp is harmful and inhumane'
Photo: The Local
The Local Voices
UNHCR boss: 'It's hard to start your life without your family'
Sponsored Article
US expats: Have you met your tax deadlines?
Politics
VIDEO: Brits in Europe say why UK should stay
Sponsored Article
Education abroad: How to find an international school
Photo: Marko Risović
The Local Voices
World Refugee Day: Searching for safety in Europe - in pictures
National
Is Swedish nationalists’ foreign food ban bananas?
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Gallery
Property of the week: Söråker
Sponsored Article
Malmö: Home to the best food in Sweden?
International
Poll shows huge support for EU in Sweden
The Local Voices
How a Syrian scuba diver mobilized Sweden's biggest asylum centre
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
Sport
Zlatan: 'If we'd been fighting for real, he'd be in hospital'
Sponsored Article
VIDEO: Why Malmö is the world's 6th best city for biking
The Local Voices
Orlando reflections: Is it possible to be gay and Muslim?
Sponsored Article
5 reasons you should try dating with The Inner Circle
Sweden to go ahead with migrant age tests
Sponsored Article
US expats: Have you met your tax deadlines?
Gallery
People-watching: June 17th-19th
Sponsored Article
Stockholm school celebrates Nepal Project success
National
Will you be hit by changes to Sweden's residency laws?
Sponsored Article
6 simple travel hacks that will make your life easier
The Local Voices
Why an Iraqi who won Swedish lottery won't quit his restaurant job
Gallery
People-watching: Midweek revellers
National
Why this pizzeria is giving elderly Swedes free meatballs
3,330
jobs available
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
psdmedia.se