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.