As we walked to the Bishop’s Arms on Bellmansgatan, a pub so English that it’s a shock to hear another language spoken there, he explained that he had heard that I had been in Sweden longer than he had and wanted some advice.
He had applied for a job and had been invited to an interview. It was the next day and he wondered if I could suggest any tips for getting through it successfully.
“Of course,” I said, reflecting that if I knew how to get a job I wouldn’t be a freelance journalist.
“The problem is,” he said, “I haven’t been exactly truthful on my CV.”
Richard moved to Stockholm nine months ago from England to be with his girlfriend. They had been together for three years, first in London where they met, through work, and then Ryanairing back and forth between Stansted and Skavsta for as long as they could stand it.
Eventually Richard gave up his job, sold his flat and his car, said his goodbyes and moved to Stockholm. Three weeks later they broke up.
Whilst perhaps a little extreme, this is not unusual. A warning for any Swedes thinking of bringing their foreign lovers over here: couples who think that a long-distance relationship is the hard part are often surprised to find that things get a lot tougher when you’re stuck together in a one room apartment and one of you is looking for a job, trying to learn a language and missing home.
And – if you’ll excuse my lack of gender balance – it’s often much harder when that person is the man. The male instinct to provide has not been so successfully eroded elsewhere as it has in Sweden. Dependency leads to shame, shame leads to bitterness, bitterness leads to regret. And regret leads to the airport.
The key to avoiding this scenario is communication: talking to each other, getting out and meeting new people, learning the language and, of course, staying in touch with people back home.
Surprisingly, Richard stayed in Stockholm. Maybe it was pride. Maybe it was the humiliation of returning home single. Or maybe he just liked Stockholm. He doesn’t talk much, so I don’t know.
But after a few months of unemployment his money had almost run out and he refused to take unemployment benefit. He needed this job if he was to stay in Sweden. I asked him what he had said on his CV that wasn’t “exactly truthful”.
“I said I was fluent in Swedish,” he replied.
Richard is not fluent in Swedish. (In fact, he talks so little that I’m not sure he’s even fluent in English.) But I tried to be positive for him. After all, there are many jobs here where you can get by in English – in fact, in some companies English is the working language.
“The problem is,” he continued, “it’s a telephone sales job.”
Oh Lordy. I bought him another pint and wished him luck.
I don’t know whether he got the job or not – he hasn’t been at the class since our drink in the pub. And I suppose he’s not the kind of person to give me a call to let me know how the interview went.
Maybe he has done what he should have done nine months ago and gone home. Perseverance is all very well, but there’s no point in being silly about it.