'Why can't Swedes look me in the eyes?'
The Local/ms · 18 Nov 2014, 06:38
Published: 18 Nov 2014 06:38 GMT+01:00
Don't get me wrong, I think Swedes are lovely people, but I don't think I realized quite how much more open Canadians are until I moved here.
Right from the beginning I noticed that people had problems walking in public spaces - they kept bumping into each other.
Eventually, I realized that Swedes rarely look each other in the eyes, especially not strangers. This seems to reflect a broader pattern where people are uncomfortable in certain public situations. Even passing another adult on a quiet street can feel unusual.
I came to Sweden six years ago to do my masters in Urban Planning and I figured I would learn as much on the street as in the classroom by moving to a new city well-known for its sustainability and liveability efforts. I’m still really grateful I had the chance to do this.
I wasn't one of those expats who didn't integrate - I met a supportive group of Swedish friends through school and through snowboarding - but I still found social interaction between strangers or casual acquaintances to be different here. When you add alcohol to the mix it does change things. But what I missed most was those informal connections - starting up conversations with strangers in queues or on the bus.
Mitchell snowboarding in Stockholm. Photo: TT
Mitchell and his girlfriend Jessica. Photo: Private
Would I advise people to spend a stint in Sweden? I’d let others decide for themselves.
I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had here, and I will definitely miss my friends. I will miss the amazing views on my daily bike ride to work. I will miss the amount of culture there is in such a small capital city. I will miss the effective way that the state works, from organizing taxes to making healthcare appointments and arranging time off work.
But I can't wait to get home and start having random conversations with strangers on street corners, before heading upstairs to some stable accommodation that feels like home.