Forget meatballs, cinnamon buns and dala horses. Oliver Gee argues that efficiency, openness and a quirky media are among the things he unexpectedly misses after ending his four-year stint in Sweden.
Published: 9 September 2015 06:59 CEST Updated: 9 September 2015 13:59 CEST
A bus zooms through the snow (on time) in Stockholm. Photo: TT
Sweden does efficiency on steroids. Buses run to the minute – even in the snow – and trains (usually) do too. The irritating need to carry around cash is so long dead in Sweden that even the homeless can be found with card readers. And I loved that when you're phoning for information about something, you're often put in a numbered queue and given an estimated waiting time. And last of all, the holy personal number is incredible. I'll never forget the first time I saw someone use one to 'check in' at a dentist, leaving my jaw on the floor. No need to spell out your complicated name in front of a receptionist.
Can I pay by card? Of course you can. Photo: TT
2. Everything's in English
Even if you speak Swedish, there's a real pleasure in knowing that information will also be available in English almost everywhere. It's rather comforting, especially when you're new to the country. The government's website, transport information, migration information…all på engelska. And let's not forget the Swedes are extremely talented at speaking English too. The downside, of course, is that some people aren't motivated to learn Swedish as a result. In Paris, meanwhile, where I live now, you can find tourist information signs that are only in French.
Does that bread come with some Swedish? Photo: Shutterstock.
Sweden's almost unparalleled openness is mind-blowing. In five seconds anyone can find your full name, phone number, address online. In a few minutes they could probably find your salary and the names of your kids. I know that some people are uncomfortable about this, but I never had any problem with it myself. As a journalist, it makes it easy to track down people for interviews and can allow quick access to top-level politicians, police and even celebrities.
Who needs a phone book when you can check hitta.se online? Photo: Imagebank Sweden
Sure, most countries can boast some awesome nature, but have you ever thought just how amazingly green Sweden's biggest cities are in comparison to other major urban centres?
Forty percent of Stockholm's inner city is composed of green space. Forty percent! I really miss walking through the Nacka reserve, swimming off Södermalm in my lunch breaks, or spotting deer at Djurgården. And I wonder how many cities in the world have legitimate natural swimming holes in walking distance of the central train station?
Lastly, since this is an article for a Swedish newspaper, why not end on a happy note? The Swedish media writes plenty of extremely positive news stories, no doubt because Sweden is so innovative, so progressive, and often such a shining example to the rest of the world that it's hard not to be impressed. Of course, it's also because Sweden is a smallish country – at least population wise, which surely plays a large part in the fact that you're more likely to see an elk or a story about a Swedish start-up than a local bombing on the front pages.
For comparison's sake, the last story I wrote for The Local Sweden while living in Stockholm was about how a cartoon song on national broadcaster SVT was going viral due to the two main characters – a dancing penis and vagina. I headed to France that night where my very first article there was about the Charlie Hebdo terror attack.
There is of course room for both kinds of stories and Swedes are indeed huge consumers of international news. However, I miss getting my daily dose of silly Swedish stories on my morning break. Although, I'm sorry to say it Swedes, I do now prefer snacking on a croissant with my coffee, instead of a cinnamon bun.