• Sweden's news in English

The little differences: Why I love Sweden

The Local · 24 Jul 2013, 12:37

Published: 24 Jul 2013 12:37 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

"You know what the funniest thing about Europe is?" John Travolta asks Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction. "It's the little differences. I mean they got the same shit over there that they got here, but it's just... just there it's a little different."

This sums up how I feel about Sweden. I tried to relay this idea to my family while we were on holiday in the UK, but it's exceptionally hard to do. The big differences are easy to explain. Sweden's generous parental leave system, the high standard of living, the beauty of Stockholm's archipelago.

Even the negatives are very concrete: The lengthy housing queues, the administrative nightmares with the tax office, the price of a pint in Gamla Stan...

But the little differences... well, as luck would have it, the whole idea of the little differences transpired before us as I brought my mum and sister to Stockholm after a London visit.

We were taking the National Express coach from Victoria station to Stansted airport, and had left ourselves with ample time to catch the flight. We'd checked in online in advance, and had planned for an hour and twenty minutes to get from the door of the airport to the plane itself. Ryanair recommends 30 minutes. We'd be fine, right?

But then we got the bus driver from hell.

Before we even left the station, he started pacing up the aisle of the bus muttering "We're already 15 minutes late - we're going to hit peak hour traffic." I've never driven a bus myself, but surely the best thing to do when your own bus is late is to drive it rather than pace the aisles. Pacing is rarely the answer when you're running late.

But our problems hadn't even begun.

For almost every single passenger that got on along the way, there was a different form of ticket to deal with, none of which the driver seemed to have ever encountered before. Cash, cards, printed tickets of all varieties, reservations, no reservations. Some passengers had none of the above.

And each passenger seemed to exasperate the driver until he properly lost the plot. When a calm Spanish-sounding man asked why he couldn't board the bus, the driver snapped and threatened to call the police.

"I'm not just a driver, I have the authority to allow people on the bus," he shrieked.

The Spaniard never made it on board, and he wasn't the only one. The driver stopped at some stations simply to tell passengers that he had no room on the bus. Let's consider that for a moment. It's an airport connection, no one is getting off until the final stop, and he was pulling over to tell people they couldn't board.

We eventually arrived 45 minutes late, after the gate had closed for our flight.

The driver never said a word on the loudspeaker about the delays, never offered an estimated time of arrival, and even told one passenger "I don't care about the passengers, I am getting paid until 9pm, that's all that matters to me."

By some miracle, which was not helped by random bag checks from overly zealous bag checkers, we made the plane in the nick of time after running all the way to the gate, which just happened to be on the other side of the airport.

Throughout the flight, I took the chance to assure my family that the same would never happen in Sweden - Sweden's drivers aren't lunatics and the ticketing systems are clear. Touching down in Skavsta was a dream come true.

We'd bought tickets in advance and could simply show the Swedish driver our receipt on a smart phone. There was an orderly queue for the bus, on which there was room for everyone.

The bus travelled along a calm route to the centre of Stockholm, all the while displaying a screen with the progress of the journey and our estimated time of arrival. The driver didn't stop for passengers, and didn't feel the need to assert his power as being "a lot more than just a driver".

Story continues below…

In short, the trip reflected my idea of the little differences where the Swedish system works, and it was the perfect introduction to the country for my family.

Of course, Sweden's public transport is not the ultimate example of a well-oiled system. I met a man from Osaka recently who told me that he loved Stockholm, but that Japan put Sweden's public transport system to shame.

It's the little differences like those that I notice the most, he told me.

And while we were coming from different ends of the spectrum, I couldn't have agreed more.

Oliver Gee

Follow Oliver on Twitter here

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Trollhättan remembers school attack victims
'It was an attack on all of Sweden,' Education Minister Gustav Fridolin said. Photo: Thomas Johansson/ TT

Hundreds of people on Saturday turned out for a torchlight procession in the small town of Trollhättan in southwestern Sweden to honour the victims of last year’s deadly school attack there.

Sweden wants emission-free cars in EU by 2030
Photo: Jessica Gow/ TT

Sweden's environment minister on Saturday urged the European Union to ban petrol and diesel-powered vehicles from 2030.

Hundreds protest Swedish asylum laws
Around 1,000 people protested in Stockholm. Photo: Fredrik Persson/ TT

Hundreds of people on Saturday demonstrated in Stockholm and in many other parts of the country to protest Sweden’s tough new laws on asylum-seekers.

Dylan removes Nobel-mention from website
The American musician has more or less responded to the news with silence. Photo: Per Wahlberg

American singer-song writer Bob Dylan has removed any mention of him being named one of this year’s Nobel Prize laureates on his official website.

Refugee crisis
Asylum requests in Sweden down by 70 percent
Sweden's migration minister Morgan Johansson. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

Sweden received 70 percent fewer requests for asylum in the period between January and September 2016 than it did during the same time last year, the country’s justice and migration minister Morgan Johansson has revealed.

The unique story of Stockholm's floating libraries
The Stockholm archipelago book boat. Photo: Roger Hill.

Writer Roger Hill details his journeys on the boats that carry books over Stockholm's waterways and to its most remote places.

Refugee crisis
Second Stockholm asylum centre fire in a week
The new incident follows a similar fire in Fagersjö last week (pictured). Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Police suspect arson in the blaze, as well as a similar incident which occurred last Sunday.

More misery for Ericsson as losses pile up
Ericsson interim CEO Jan Frykhammar presenting its third quarter results. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

The bad news just keeps coming from the Swedish telecoms giant.

Facebook 'sorry' for removing Swedish cancer video
A computer displaying Facebook's landing page. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

The social media giant had censored a video explaining how women should check for suspicious lumps in their breasts.

Watch this amazing footage of Sweden’s landscapes
A still from the aerial footage of Sweden. Photo: Nate Summer-Cook

The spectacular drone footage captures both Sweden's south and the opposite extreme, thousands of kilometres north.

Sponsored Article
This is Malmö: Football capital of Sweden
Fury at plans that 'threaten the IB's survival' in Sweden
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
Here's where it could snow in central Sweden this weekend
Analysis & Opinion
Are we just going to let half the country die?
Blog updates

6 October

10 useful hjälpverb (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! I think the so-called “hjalpverb” (auxiliary verbs in English) are a good way to get…" READ »


8 July

Editor’s blog, July 8th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hej readers, It has, as always, been a bizarre, serious and hilarious week in Sweden. You…" READ »

Sponsored Article
7 reasons you should join Sweden's 'a-kassa'
Angry elk chases Swede up a lamp post
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
The Local Voices
'Alienation in Sweden feels better: I find myself a stranger among scores of aliens'
People-watching: October 20th
The Local Voices
A layover at Qatar airport brought this Swedish-Kenyan couple together - now they're heading for marriage
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Swede punches clown that scared his grandmother
Sponsored Article
Swedish for programmers: 'It changed my life'
Fans throw flares and enter pitch in Swedish football riot
Could Swedish blood test solve 'Making a Murderer'?
Sponsored Article
Top 7 tips to help you learn Swedish
Property of the week: Linnéstaden, Gothenburg
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Swedish school to build gender neutral changing room
People-watching: October 14th-16th
Sponsored Article
'There was no future for me in Turkey'
Man in Sweden assaulted by clowns with broken bottle
Sponsored Article
‘Extremism can't be defeated on the battlefield alone’
Nobel Prize 2016: Literature
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Watch the man who discovered Bob Dylan react to his Nobel Prize win
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
Record numbers emigrating from Sweden
Sponsored Article
'There was no future for me in Turkey'
People-watching: October 12th
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
The Local Voices
'Swedish startups should embrace newcomers' talents - there's nothing to fear'
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How far right are the Sweden Democrats?
Property of the week: Triangeln, Malmö
Sweden unveils Europe's first elk hut
People-watching: October 7th-9th
The Local Voices
Syria's White Helmets: The Nobel Peace Prize would have meant a lot, but pulling a child from rubble is the greatest reward
Missing rune stone turns up in Sweden
Nobel Prize 2016: Chemistry
jobs available