Many people who move to Sweden – especially those relocating to small villages in Lappland – are beguiled by a strong, silent Nordic type or one of the members of the Swedish Bikini Team. But despite the hordes of love immigrants who have been caught in the net of a blond bombshell, it often seems easier to meet a Swede in Mallorca or London than it is in Stockholm.
For those of us who made it here on our own without a Sven or Inga Svensson ready to set up house, how do you go about finding a Viking to call your very own?
It's not like there's a shortage of singles – Statistics Sweden reports that there were over two million single households in 2005 in a country with a population of nine million. The real problem is finding that one in a million.
The first year I was here, I trawled the campus of Stockholm University to seek enlightenment. Among my fellow exchange students, there were plenty of Frenchmen, Australians and Scots with accents to die for, but the Swedish male remained almost as rare as a first-hand rental contract.
The bar scene yielded similar results, but maybe I'm just too picky. Take Magnus and Jonas: although initially interesting, their appeal quickly wore off when they decided Swedish was a secret language suitable for discussing my friend Anna's 'attributes' right in front of us. (To be fair, I didn't exactly volunteer the information that I speak fluent Swedish, but it's their own fault for making assumptions about the linguistic prowess, or lack thereof, of Americans).
The problem with the strong, silent Nordic type is not that he's strong or even that he's Nordic – it's the whole silent thing. The only way to loosen his lips is with a couple of “stora stark.” In other words, it takes a few “big strong beers” to get the “strong silent ones” chatting. (That's at least if you place a premium on conversation – if you want to get straight to the point, a better strategy might be to skip the lip-loosening altogether and get straight to the lip-locking).
But strong-and-silent-except-when-drunk doesn't really do it for me. I like a man who can hold his own in a round of witty banter without the assistance of a beer-cum-security-blanket. Take the case of Calle. The night I met him, he was a brilliant conversationalist. The deal breaker was that the next morning he couldn't remember what had been said the previous evening.
Drunken antics aside, the root of my problem was that Sweden lacks a culture of dating, at least in the way I understand it. For instance, Swedes don't even have their own word for date. You “dejta” or “gå på dejt.” But the underlying concept of what you're supposed to do when you gå på a date is somewhat lost in translation.
The American concept of dating originates in high school – complete with prom and making out in the backseat of a car. In Sweden, in comparison, kids can't get their driving licenses until age 18 but parents sanction co-ed sleepovers.
The American rules of the dating game are quite straightforward: Guy asks girl on date, girl says yes if she doesn't find guy's shoes objectionable, guy takes girl out to dinner, girl interviews guy about his occupation and future earnings prospects, guy pays for dinner, guy walks girl to front door, girl invites guy in if he successfully passed the test.
All of the above goes out the window when it's time to start dating in Sweden. It's not entirely clear who is supposed to take the initiative, who is supposed to pay and what is supposed to happen at the end. Usually, you give up trying to figure out the answers to these questions and just let the alcohol make all of the decisions.
There is, of course, the infamous “fika,” which is having coffee with someone, but it could also be a date in disguise. The ambiguous nature of the affair means that even if you know it's a date, you're not so sure that he knows it's a date. After three such fika occasions, I stopped seeing one guy as he didn't seem interested (and we had run out of things to talk about after discussing the Stockholm housing market to death).
We stayed friends, and I found out months later that he had liked me – but just hadn't done anything about it. While there are benefits of removing traditional gender roles in dating, such as making it more socially acceptable for girls to take the initiative, it becomes problematic when neither party is sure who should make the first move.
I'm afraid I've painted a rather dreary picture of dating in Sweden. But never fear, I've heard rumours that romance without beer goggles actually occurred sometime in the middle of the 20th century.
One strategy for finding love in Sweden is to embrace all available technologies. Entire relationships are conducted by SMS. Just like you can file your income taxes and get a loan with your mobile phone, you can now practically get married and divorced by SMS.
The Internet is another effective way to connect with the Swede of your dreams. Online dating is perfectly socially acceptable, but be beware of anyone who calls himself “SwedishCowboy4U” and offers to show you his chaps. And remember that the advanced search allows you to filter out anyone who is stupid enough to describe himself as a balding middle-aged man with two ex-wives, six children and 11 toes.
And the first time you “gå på dejt” with someone who doesn't fancy himself to be a Nordic John Wayne, go armed with a six pack of big strong ones – all in the hope of finding a big strong one of your own.
And as for me? Well, I may not be the best person to ask for advice about how to wrangle and hogtie the elusive Swedish male. After three years of prowling the Stockholm “dejting” scene, I met an American, 3000 miles away from home.
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