I’ve lived in northern Sweden for 18 months now. All my friends and family are understandably thoroughly bored of my extolling the virtues of living up here. I do tend to go on about it. And while it’s true I am very happy living here, I wonder if sometimes I overcompensate – most people seem to have such a wrong-headed perception of northern Sweden, I often fall into the trap of exaggerating its charms in order to combat their cynicism.
But there are things that really irritate me about living here. Some issues are almost certainly experienced by every ex-pat who lives in Sweden but some are peculiar to living up north
1. “Don't hang up!”
If you’re going to cold-call me to sell me car insurance/children’s books/rat poison please have the courtesy to NOT hang up when you hear an English accent. And if you ARE going to hang up then have the decency to not call again an hour later and hang up again.
You know, make a note on my file. “Angry English person, swears a lot, do not call again.” Also, a few weeks ago I called the organiser of a local twins’ group to find out when the next gathering was. She waited until I'd finished asking her Swedish if she spoke English and then hung up. Not a ‘nej’, nothing. She just hung up. I’ve since learnt that she works for a church.
Don't do it! Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT
2. “Sweden is NOT the centre of the universe!”
I am English. At school we were taught French, German and Spanish. I can converse in French because I spent four years studying the language. I can understand some German and Spanish. I am not totally language-phobic.
We have acquaintances who have never even been to Stockholm, never mind left Sweden. They take ALL their holidays in Sweden. They are getting very grumpy that we are not yet fluent in Swedish. The last time they harrumphed at us for our basic Swedish, we snapped. “You learn English throughout your time at school,” growled my girlfriend, Donna, “and most of your TV channels have lots of English-speaking programming – learning English for you guys is relatively easy. You are steeped in the language from an early age. In England, no schools offer Swedish as an option. Also, we are busy with 4-month-old twins and are doing our best from a standing start.”
“Oh!” exclaimed one of our acquaintances, with a quizzical look on her face. We thought she had finally understood and would cut us some slack. “You really don’t learn Swedish at school in England? Why not?!”
Cue the sound of two foreheads hitting the table.
There are no other nations. Photo: Christine Olsson/SCANPIX/TT
3. “Privacy, please!”
I love our neighbours, truly I do. They are some of the kindest, most good-natured, most helpful people we have ever had the pleasure of knowing. The last few months, with newborn twins, have been tough. But without the kindness of our neighbours they would have been a lot tougher. I just wish our neighbours wouldn't walk in to our house whenever they feel like it.
My girlfriend has been confronted, mid-breastfeed, by two neighbours we don’t even know that well who were keen to see our new daughters. Donna was in the nursery at the time. Upstairs. They had just let themselves in and stomped up the stairs to see who was around. We now lock our front door but not because of people wishing us ill, as was the case in London – we lock our door to keep out friendly people. Hmm, now I think about it, this could also be an entry in five things I love about Swedes…
Please, at least have the decency to knock. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT
4. “Bring a bottle!”
When you come to my house intending to drink two litres of wine, please do not think a box of poxy chocolates will suffice as a gift. Especially when it’s really obvious that you’ve had the box in the back of a cupboard for a couple of years. If you’re going to drink wine, bring a bottle of wine with you. If you want beer, bring beer. We’ve had one dinner party guest (gift – a bunch of petrol station flowers) who complained that we didn’t have the right brand of beer.
One English friend has told me that the local Swedes assume all the English are rich and can afford loads of alcohol. These are the same Swedes who earn around 450 kronor ($50) an hour and think I’m tight because I buy my toilet roll in bulk.
See how disappointed he looks when you drink all his wine? Photo: Faramarz Gosheh/imagebank.sweden.se
5. “Would a 'thank you' kill you?”
If I open a door for you, please say “tack.” Don’t just stare through me as if you’re Elton John and I’m your flunky. The same goes if I let you out at a road junction when I’m driving. Say “tack,” or raise a hand in acknowledgement – it’s really not going to cost you anything. Also, if I call or email you, please have the good manners to respond, even if the answer is something I don’t want to hear. Don’t just ignore me.
Those are my main irritants. Other, lesser, irritants written down on my notepad are:
“Swedish reserve – for heaven’s sake, show some passion. Are you all Vulcans?”
“Trot racing – speedway for horses. Pointless.”
“Shop hours – how can you run a hair salon and not open on Saturdays?”
And that’s it. You know, if that’s all I have to moan about after 18 months of living here, I’m really not doing too badly.
An accurate depiction of the emotions that come up when people don't say “Thank you”. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT
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