But it turns out that conversation is more easily stimulated by similarities than by differences. And returning to the class after Christmas, we had all shrunk back a little, heightening the differences and chucking grit into the cogs of conversation that were whirring so smoothly before the holiday.
Luckily, there is a fail-proof lubricant which has eased me through many a coffee break: family.
Wives, husbands, kids – a single question can spark a torrent of detail. Whether it’s Rumanian Linda with her troublesome sons, Theo the Greek with his beautiful wife and beautiful daughters or Manuela and her “naughty, naughty” husband, it’s just a question of a question, assuming I can remember the cast of characters to ask after.
With my Swedish friends, and, more specifically, those of the female persuasion, remembering the cast of characters in their lives is impossible.
For here’s a thing, as an adolescent, I never thought I’d hear myself say (or rather, watch myself write): I have an awful lot of single female Swedish friends.
Never mind their cast of characters – it’s considered a steady thing these days if Mrs Syndrome and I see the same leading man in more than one performance.
Many of these women are decidedly attractive. They’re also intelligent, most of them, with good jobs and healthy interests. They range in ages from early 20s to late 40s and they’re sociable and fun. So why in the name of Cupid are they all single?
In my more beveraged moments I joke that it’s because I’ve come along and raised their expectations to an unattainable level. They never fail to say that they are single by choice, having seen Mrs Syndrome become a sorry shadow of her former self since she hitched up with me.
A quick flick through a glossy magazine will give you the impression that it is indeed a lifestyle choice, that inside every couple there’s at least one single person fighting to get out.
But if there’s one thing my single friends are singular about, it’s finding a partner. And by God, they try. To paraphrase Dorothy Parker, if all the single women in Stockholm were laid end to end over the weekend, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.
But it’s no joking matter. Above Stockholm’s streets you can see window after window of single people living alone, like that unforgettable scene in Brazil – or is it Twelve Monkeys? I can never remember – endless rows of humans, solitarily confined.
Despite lifelong queues for apartments, rising prices and high graduate unemployment, more people live on their own in Stockholm than in any other city in Europe. That is not only a symptom of the problem, it is also a cause.
In many other international cities, flat sharing is the norm. People become used to giving up some of their space, compromising a little, accepting a different brand of butter in the fridge or different standards of cleanliness in the bathroom.
But young Swedes go from their cosy families to their single student rooms to their own little flats, and at every stage their ways become more and more entrenched. That makes them less and less likely to be compatible with anyone whose ‘come hither’ look temporarily appeals to them.
“It didn’t work out,” says the female Swede, popping up again after a few weeks’ absence and listing the array of sins that the latest Johan or Stefan committed in their short time together.
(Presumably there are just as many single Swedish men, but they seem consoled by spending their time squiring around with younger models, who, by the time they’re ready to settle down, will go for younger models themselves.)
New Year’s Eve, of course, is always the big night for Singles. Everyone’s looking for a fresh start, everyone’s self-confidence is fortified by Systembolaget.
As usual, Mrs S and I found ourselves the pariahs at a gathering of our single friends – with an entirely different selection of potentials to last year.
But it was nothing doing on the love front. The only fireworks were the ones exploding dangerously close to our heads as we squeezed into the narrow footpath of Monteliusvägen, overlooking the whole of Stockholm.
Mingled with the smoke and booze, I sensed a certain lack of optimism in the air. Fewer resolutions to meet the right partner this year. Less effort expended on the new crop of potentials.
It seems as though my Swedish friends are giving up on the whole idea. My immigrant classmates would be speechless.