Are you a love refugee?

Every week, we ask a regular panel of readers to discuss a particular aspect of life in Sweden. This week: moving to Sweden for love.

Are you a love refugee?

Athanassia Fourla

Athanassia Fourla

Yes, that’s me: one of the many victims of the Swedish conspiracy of sending cute Swedes around the globe to fool foreign men and women to fall in love with them and move here.

I had thought before about moving to another country but not for love and not to Sweden. However, life works in mysterious ways, so here I am. To me it is impossible to compare a relationship here with a relationship back home since it is all about people and everyone is unique.

Maybe I could talk about some more specific things about relationships here, always at the risk of generalising when I shouldn’t. Let’s take for instance the fact that couples here do not really share: there is “mine” and “yours” a lot more than in other countries.

On the plus side, people in relationships are much freer here to have lives of their own. Then there is all this very amusing relationship-defining terminology like “sambo” [literally: co-habitant], “särbo” [couples living apart] etc. which makes no sense at all in other cultures.

But again one can never compare relationships with each other, not even in the same country. Of course the cultural differences give a different spice to it but still we are talking about men and women and the basic trends are universal – for better or for worse.

Graeme Newcomb

Graeme Newcomb

Yes, I am a “love refugee”, although my sambo was willing to compromise for the first six years of our relationship and we both ended up settling on the UK as a suitable “middle ground” before moving to Sweden.

I think that the biggest difference between Swedish women and their South African counterparts is that Swedish women are a lot more independent and self-confident. In contrast, many English-speaking South African women seem quite happy to revel in old fashioned gender stereotypes.

I also find that Swedish women seem to be significantly less focussed on shallow materialistic issues than English-speaking South African women, who largely seem to be inordinately obsessed about living in the “right” suburb, ensuring that their kids go to the “right school” and how much money their partner makes.

Emma Chataway

Emma Chataway

Along with many other people, it seems I too am indeed a love refugee. Which sounds a lot nicer than an immigrant for some reason. At the beginning anyway, a big difference between a relationship here and a relationship back home back home was being faced with all the unfamiliar, lost and disorientated feelings that hit you like a brick on arrival.

It isn’t so much the relationship that changes, but how as a couple you are able to cope with it all. When I feel like I’m not getting anywhere here, my Swede is quick to reassure me that, if I don’t like it, we can simply go back to Australia. This is nice to hear; it’s good to know that if this doesn’t work out, it doesn’t mean that we don’t either. However, I’m stubborn and determined to build something up here. Nonetheless, it does take the pressure off.

It’s wonderful and scary to take this step for someone you love. To move to another country and try to set up a life together. It also feels nice to have a good moan about his country too, the way he did in mine. I finally get to say, “Well in Australia…”

It’s also an intriguing journey to inhabit your loved one’s environment. To see firsthand why they are who they are, through learning their language (or trying to anyway), traditions, finally meeting their parents, friends and seeing embarrassing photos of them when they were young.

It gives you this bigger perspective of them, like stepping back and seeing the whole picture. I’ve had many, “Ahh…so that’s why” moments, especially over the dinner table, like grappling with the passion my man has for cream sauce, potatoes and herring. Overall though, just being exposed, reflecting and discussing our small and large cultural differences is refreshing I think for any sort of relationship.

Igor Trisic

Igor Trisic

I have never been even close to becoming that, so I don’t have much experience on that matter. However, since I come from outside the EU, the situation for me is different than for some other folks on this panel.

The first thing that comes to mind is the issue of asymmetry and dependence on the partner. If a relationship breaks down you are forced to come back to your old country, and naturally anyone who moves to Sweden is likely to sell their house or apartment in order to contribute to the joint pot.

The other thing that put me off is that the Migration Boards has to learn all sorts of details about the relationship before you get the green light. Not to mention the fact that it can take up to six months before you can even come to Sweden.

If I ever entered in this kind relationship I would have to be certain that it will work and that’s hard. I would prefer to move to Sweden, establish myself there and meet someone then.

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith

I am not quite sure that I am a “love refugee” but I did move to Sweden because the woman I love lives here. Being in a relationship here is different only if you want it to be.

Language, people, traditions and having new friends are some things that may be different, but in the end, isn’t it the same no matter where you are? It’s all about being home and being with the one you love. I am home and I am with the one I love.

Swedish panelists: Are you harbouring a love refugee?

Daniel Nyström

Daniel Nyström

I’m happy living in Sweden with my wife, but if she were to move to another country I would most definitely follow and try to make a new life for us there. I know she would do the same for me.

It would be pretty hard leaving the things that you have worked for and accomplished, but human values are more important and I probably wouldn’t even hesitate.

Katarina Johnsson

Katarina Johnsson

I assume I fit in the category of harbouring a love refugee. One of the more obvious quirks is the different areas of interest when it comes to sport. I have grown to appreciate rugby over the years, but I still struggle with the notion of watching a cricket game for five days.

Another quirk would be the different views on weather. During the winter I get to witness my partner’s fascination and joy with snow, ice and freezing cold temperatures. This is great as I mostly find the winter an inconvenient period just to get through.

On the other hand, in the summer, when my spirit returns, I have to fight his reluctance to spend all our time outside and watch him avoiding the sun by any means possible.


Top ten expat complaints to their Swedish partners

From ketchup to driving skills, when The Local once asked what expats complain about most to their Swedish partners, the responses were mixed.

Top ten expat complaints to their Swedish partners
Why do you love your tech gadgets more than me? Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

1. Ketchup on… well, everything!

Swedes have an obsession with ketchup. They dollop it all over their pasta, their lasagne, their mashed potatoes – you name it. And it's not just a little splodge either, this is a true dousing. Strange, right? I mean, Swedes wouldn't put jam on their meatballs, would they? Oh that's right, they do.

Ketchup line up. Photo: Don Ryan/TT

2. Texting while driving down Vasagatan? No problem.

It's nothing strange to see a Swede talking, or even texting on their phone, while driving. And do you know why? Because for years it was pretty much perfectly legal, although this is beginning to change

Just watch out for red lights! Photo: LM Otero/TT

3. Passive aggressive notes

Swedes tend to avoid conflict, but only of the verbal kind. If you've left a little bit of lint in the laundry room's dryer, or if you've left a mug in the office sink, then you'd better be prepared to face a passive aggressive note the next day. In the picture below a Swede is complaining in very colourful language about garbage disposal etiquette.

'Keep your sh*t in your own apartment!' Photo: Petter Palander/Flickr

4. Too much coffee and no decaf!

The biggest problem is the lack of decaf, some Twitter users suggested when we once asked what rubbed people the wrong way about their Swedish partners the most. In a country where coffee is (probably) consumed more than water, you're in the minority if you prefer yours without caffeine. And if you don't like coffee, then you'd better rectify that immediately. It's easier than saying “No thank you, I don’t drink coffee” and then explaining yourself 14 times a day.

Mmmm… fika time… Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

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5. Tradition over spontaneity, no exceptions!

“You'll be here next Christmas, too, right?” your Swedish mother-in-law will ask as the last present is unwrapped on Christmas Eve (yes, presents are unwrapped on the 24th). Tradition triumphs and spontaneity is dead, that's the fact in Sweden. Expect raised eyebrows if you don't commit early to birthday celebrations, Easter, crayfish parties, and of course, Christmas. You will be there, and you will enjoy it. And we dare you to try to plan a weekend away with friends instead!

A silly Christmas Chihuahua. This is not a Swedish tradition, we just liked the picture. Photo: Mary Altaffer/TT

6. Laundry comes first…

Swedes will sometimes use their laundry time as an excuse. “I'd love to come out with you tonight, but I have a laundry time reserved – I really can't miss it.” In Stockholm, at least, most people live in apartment blocks with a communal laundry in the cellar. Reserving a good laundry time (like a Sunday morning or Tuesday after work) can be treated as the holy grail of weekly achievements.

No time like laundry time! Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

7. ‘Did you really pass your driving test?’

Nescience of road rules is one of the complaints we heard the most. More specifically, people we asked were peeved at the lack of indication when turning corners or using roundabouts. Others moaned that Swedes don't know how manage traffic flows on motorways. One even said Swedes drive just like a Volvo, which, upon checking the online urban dictionary, apparently means the driver is, in short, conservative and ‘boring’. 

No Volvos in this picture! Photo: Stig-Åke Jönsson/TT

8. “Let me drink!”

A complaint we heard a few times was that Swedes often turn a disapproving eye when it comes to having a casual drink on a school night. “You're having a glass of wine? On a Tuesday?!” This could have something to do with the fact that alcohol is hard to come by in Sweden, as it is only sold in the monopoly chain Systembolaget at certain times of the day, and drinking is an exclusive weekend activity.

How is he holding that wine glass? Photo: Gorm Kallestad/TT

9. Too much snus

A quick explanation of snus in case you're unaware: snus is a moist snuff packet (imagine a tobacco teabag the size of a piece of chewing gum) that you wedge between your lip and teeth. Well, maybe you don't, but the Swedes do. A lot. If you think a snus packet sounds familiar, it's probably because you've seen one dangling from a Swede's upper lip mid-conversation, or perhaps you've seen a used one in the gutter or in the toilet, spat out and forgotten.

The snus-ing shadow… Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

10. “I can't find a Swede to date… and then complain about…”

Yes, complaints about Swedes aren't just for those dating them, but for those still looking. And meeting new people might be hard, especially if you refuse to use popular dating apps such as Tinder. Then you just have to rely on a classic ‘Hollywood-romance’ meeting, which isn't necessarily easy in a country not exactly known for its open and sociable citizens. Good luck!

READ ALSO: How to never be single again in Sweden

Romance in the moonlight. Photo: Charlie Riedel/TT

This article was first published in 2013 in our old gallery format and was revamped in 2017.