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‘Swedes, stop being shocked foreign graduates move here!’

Swedes should be proud so many foreign graduates are choosing to relocate here, rather than being shocked by our decision to brave the cold, argues The Local's Editor Maddy Savage.

'Swedes, stop being shocked foreign graduates move here!'
Many foreigners are charmed by Sweden's climate. Photo: Fredrik Broman/Image Bank Sweden
What would you say to a Swedish friend who always dreamed of living in the UK or America and finally packed their bags to take a job abroad? 
 
Chances are you'd be impressed and excited for them. So why do so many Swedes think it's strange when foreign graduates or other trained professionals move to the Nordics under the same circumstances?
 
After living in Stockholm for more than a year, I've lost count of the number of times I've registered shock or surprise on Swedes' faces when I explain that I moved here from Britain without a partner to work for a news startup. The others, the ones that smile politely and say “how interesting!”, usually end up quizzing me drunkenly months later at parties: “So you do actually really like it here then?!”.
 
And my experience is by no means unique. 
 
“At work I constantly get asked 'why the hell did you choose Sweden?'” laughs German-born Julian Piek, 27, who works in IT.
 
Meanwhile former Londoner Emma Green, 35, who relocated after her British husband scored a job in the gaming sector says, “it seems improbable to most Swedes that anyone would move here unless they really had to”.
 
“I think I've been asked so many times if I'm married to a Swede that I've begun to question whether I actually am!,” laughs the mother-of-one, who is planning to return to work later this year, while her husband takes his generous share of parental leave.
 
 

Sweden is a popular destination for expat families. Photo: Carolina Romare/Image Bank Sweden
 
Ten years ago, most of the foreigners arriving in Sweden who weren't fleeing violence, came either for stable jobs or secondments with major global corporations, or to live with a Swedish partner. But these days, growing numbers of us are actively choosing Sweden over other global cities because of its thriving startup, science and creative industries.
 
Others simply decide it's a cool place to be (no pun intended), perhaps spurred on by a love of Nordic Noir, Scandinavian electropop or a passion for minimalist interiors and fashion. As I've written before, Sweden's approach to gender equality and its relativelly short working hours compared to other successful economies can also be core reasons to stick around.
 
“It's a liberal and free- thinking society. Stockholm is a gorgeous city, has a unique tech hub, and the social infrastructure in Sweden offers the best foundation to feel safe in whatever my future plans will be, ” summarises Piek, who's been living in the Swedish capital for more than three years.
 
 
After plenty of probing, it seems that most Swedes are well aware of these advantages. Those who've travelled or lived abroad will usually admit that they were lured back by the work-life balance, better air quality or sense of calm that typifies this small yet innovative country.
 
So why is it still such a struggle to grasp why educated foreigners might choose to build their lives here too? Most often it seems to come down to one word: climate.
 
“'Sweden is so cold and dark – I just don't understand' — every Swede says that,” laments Green, who says she'd rather have Sweden's snow than Britain's notoriously wet weather any day of the week.
 
“When people ask me why I moved to Sweden, I actually joke “because of the weather,” says Mexican Diego Planas Rego, 30, who explains he is constantly probed about why he's spent six winters in Sweden instead of his sunny homeland.
 
“But Sweden – or at least Stockholm – isn't so terrible,” says the marketeer, who has worked for startups including Spotify and Squore.
 
“It has less cold winters than many cities in the US or continental Europe. It has less rain than most of the UK, the Netherlands or northern Germany. And the summers are not excruciatingly hot like in lower tropical latitudes.”
 

Mexican Diego Planas Rego enjoying the snow on a visit to Kiruna in northern Sweden. Photo: Private
 
Rego's argument is one that many foreigners would agree with. Plus, there are very few places in the world where you can enjoy the magic of a lakeside picnic in broad daylight at 10pm during summer and ice skate across the same water six months later.
 
According to Statistics Sweden, plenty more people look set to share these unique experiences in the coming year, with the country's population expected to top 10 million for the first time in 2016. While this is partly due to the recent surge in asylum applications, almost 40,000 people are predicted to move to Sweden from elsewhere the EU or from other highly developed economies over the next 12 months.
 
How are you going to greet these new arrivals then, dear Swedes? With more shock and disbelief? Or is it time to brush away your Swedish modesty and be proud of the fact that so many people want to embrace your lifestyle and contribute to your economy, even if that involves getting chilly in the process?
 
Life a foreigner in Sweden isn't always easy. Believe me, grappling with the housing crisis, learning a new language and attempting to navigate the dating scene are all far more challenging than dealing with the sub-freezing temperatures. 
 
So, next time you meet a newcomer, don't instantly question their decision. Instead, how about warming them up with a smile and asking what exactly they like best about their treasured adopted nation.
 
 
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OPINION & ANALYSIS

OPINION: How I learned that Sweden is a nation of secret queue-jumpers

Swedes have a reputation as a nation of orderly queuers. But it doesn't take long living here before you realise that for things that matter - housing, schools, health treatment - there are ways of jumping the line.

OPINION: How I learned that Sweden is a nation of secret queue-jumpers

Soon after my daughter was born, I emailed Malmö’s sought after daycare cooperatives to get on their waiting lists. 

I didn’t get an answer from any of them, so a year later, I began dropping her off at the daycare allotted to us by the municipality. 

It was housed in a concrete structure so grim-looking that it was used as the gritty backdrop to the police station in The Bridge, the Scandinavian Noir crime drama based in Malmö. Getting there involved taking a lift that frequently smelled of urine. The rooftop playground was (after we had left) used by local dealers to stash drugs.

But to be fair, it was close to our house and in other ways, perfectly adequate. 

A year later, though, I got a call from one of the cooperatives I had emailed. My daughter Eira was next in line. Did I want to come to meet the staff and existing parents?

When I arrived, I discovered I wasn’t alone. My friend, a Swede looking to establish herself in Malmö after a decade in London, was there, as were several others.

Listen to a discussion about queue-jumping on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

Click HERE to listen to Sweden in Focus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.

I soon had a distinct feeling of being outmanoeuvered, as I watched her identify the parents in charge of new intakes and get to work on them, asking intelligent questions, demonstrating her engagement, and generally turning on the charm. 

A few days later I discovered that, even though I’d been told Eira was top of the list, my friend’s son had got the place. 

This was my first lesson in Swedish queuing, and it is a pattern I’ve seen time and time again.

Swedes, I’ve learned, generally respect a queue if it’s visible, physical, and not about anything particularly important. But when it comes to waiting lists for things such as housing, schools, and healthcare, many people, perhaps even most, will work their contacts, pull strings, find loopholes, if it helps them jump the line. 

When it was time for the children of the parents I knew to go to school, several of them — all otherwise upstanding law-abiding people — temporarily registered themselves at the addresses of friends who lived near the desirable municipal options, and then, after their children got places, moved back.

When I protested weakly that by doing this were depriving someone else’s child of their rightful place, they simply shrugged. 

When Eira joined Malmöflickorna, a dance gymnastics troupe that is a kind of Malmö institution, the other parents whispered to me that joining the troupe helped you get your child into Bladins, Malmö’s most exclusive free school, as the troupe had longstanding links. 

When it comes to accessing health treatment, I’ve learned, it doesn’t pay to stoically wait in line. When I was recently sent for a scan, I immediately rang up the clinic my primary health care centre had chosen for me. The receptionist spotted a time that had just become free the next day, and slotted me in, saving what could have been months of waiting. 

If you’re looking to buy a house, I’m told it pays to develop good relationships with estate agents, as sometimes they will sell a house without even listing it. And there are all sorts of ways to jump the long rental queues in Swedish cities, some involving paying money, some simply exploiting contacts. 

I’m not, myself, much of an operator, but I’ve also learned to take advantage of any opportunities that crop up. 

A year after we had lost our battle for the daycare place, the same Swedish friend got in touch. She had managed to upgrade to an even more sought-after cooperative. (This one has had world-famous novelists and Oscar-contending film directors as present and former parents.)

There was a place free, and she was in charge of the queue. Did we want it for Eira? The queue at this daycare, I soon discovered, was pure fiction. The municipality has since cracked down, but at the time, places went to the friends and contacts of whichever parents happened to be on the board, or failing that, to people in the queue who seemed the right kind of person. 

It didn’t seem right, but of course, we took the place. 

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