It’s difficult to think that this chilly Stockholm is the same city that was basking in 25-degree heat only a few months ago. Back then was also the time when, against the fitting backdrop of Eurovision, I stumbled off a 32-hour flight, jet-lagged to the heavens, but ready to begin my new life in Sweden.
Moving to Sweden has been life-changing, wonderful and completely challenging. On the one hand, a fresh start is so exciting and energizing. On the other hand, I have often felt a bit like a toddler at a grownups party – in need of guidance, struggling to communicate and, particularly over these latest icy weeks, still figuring out how to walk.
But Sweden has been one pleasant surprise after the other. As more expats continue to flock to these fabulous Scandinavian cities, I thought it would be a nice time to share a few of the learnings I’ve made over the last six months for future Arlanda airport arrivals.
Sheona Urquhart visiting the island of Gotland. Photo: Private
Expats and Swedes
Swedes are incredibly welcoming to expats and it’s easy to fit into society here. However, after a while living in Sweden, you can start to notice some slight, often amusing, cultural differences. A common one (especially for us Aussies), is that we’re considered loud here. Quite loud. I’ll never forget one casual Sunday fika that somehow resulted in my Aussie mate and I squawking with uncontrollable laughter, whilst throwing our bodies back and forth in sheer hysteria… much to the silent shock of the surrounding, significantly more civilized Swedes. Be ready for that.
Coffee doesn’t mean the same thing here as it does at home
This is very, very important, especially if you’re usually a long-black drinker. Swedish coffee is a force of nature – this can’t be stressed enough. Simply ‘trying Swedish coffee’ should only be done in a carefully controlled environment – trust me, you don’t know what this hot, devil liquid could do to an un-trained stomach. If you want my advice, try one with a good quarter litre of milk and two sugars and gradually work your way to black… don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Turns out Sweden is successful at everything
This was difficult to swallow at first, but it’s something we’ve all had to eventually accept. There’s the well-known successful Swedish exports like Spotify, H&M, Ikea and Robyn, but the longer you’re here you’ll really discover how gifted Sweden is at being…well, gifted. If stunning musical artists like First Aid Kit, Laleh and Ted Gärdestad aren’t enough, Sweden has the Nobel Prize, automatically booked doctors appointments, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and summer-time strawberries that will be the best you’ve ever had. Swedes are so inventive, they can take literally the most disastrously designed ship, fetch it from the bottom of the harbour and turn it into one of Stockholm’s most visited tourist attractions. Gifted.
Snow in Sweden is glorious! Until you have to walk in it…
Have you ever seen that scene of Bambi trying his hooves out on ice for the first time? Slipping and stumbling with every step, limbs becoming entangled and a steady decline in pride? You can’t get a more accurate image of what my life has been like stepping outside this month. Speaking from experience, only the first four falls are embarrassing. After that you’ll learn to let go of all dignity, so long as you try to avoid collecting other civilians on the way down. In other news, turns out MacBook pros are a lot more water resistant than you think!
Snow in Stockholm in November. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT
Heaven on earth exists
I’m convinced the island of Gotland is a slice of utopia that toppled from the sky and landed off the east coast of Sweden. What an island – it’s a must on any to-visit list. Having said that, there’s also plenty of stunning areas in Stockholm that still make my heart skip a beat, six months in. A morning walk around Sickla Sjö can make you feel like you’ve accidently wandered through a cupboard at Ikea and ended up in Narnia.
The reason you come to Sweden is not always the reason you’ll stay. And you will stay.
As is often the tale, I originally moved to Sweden for love. And now, like a surprisingly large number of expats, I’m still here even after the relationship didn’t work out. Of course it felt strange suddenly losing the reason I had decided come here in the first place. Stranger still, however, was that I didn’t consider leaving Sweden once I’d lost it.
Perhaps I’d started a different relationship back when Dami Im was gracing Globen’s Eurovision stage in May – with Stockholm. After all, in the last six months Stockholm has taken me in, given me adventures, a wonderful job and the start of a beautiful career in music. Stockholm is a city of innovation, creativity and it has plenty of support. It’s also home to some of the coolest, kindest and most open-minded people I’ve ever met. How could I leave?
I wonder at what stage expats start to feel like a real resident in Stockholm? Is it the purchase of the first monthly SL public transport card? The first time you curse under your breath at not being able to book the time you wanted for the communal laundry? The first midsummer? The pure joy of no longer being an alien once your personal number has been processed? Or perhaps when you make the transition from making fun at your friends using a shoe horn, to using one yourself?
In any sense, for me it happened somewhere over the last six months and I’m so happy to call this funny, cucumber-shaped country my home.
Thanks for making me feel so loved, Stockholm. I can’t wait to see what the next six months bring.
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Sheona and her music partner Jade looking out over Sickla Sjö. Photo: Private