Ten things I wish someone had told me before I moved to Sweden

The Local Sweden
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Ten things I wish someone had told me before I moved to Sweden
Sweden, much, much colder than you think. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

British writer Clement Boateng loves his new life in Sweden. He just wishes someone had warned him about these ten things first...


I am a London-boy born and raised, now currently living and nesting in Stockholm in the hope of a new life, new career, new adventure and new experiences. I made the decision to relocate to Sweden after experiencing Midsummer and was happy about that as I feel Stockholm suits my personality. However, it is no surprise that there were a couple of cultural differences...

1. Winters are really cold

I previously thought London was cold. That was until stepping off that plane at Arlanda airport to be greeted by snow in the middle of November. Needless to say, I was underprepared for Sweden's cold climate. Last time I had visited Sweden was Midsummer, and the weather was lovely. It's not snow that is bad, but the icy wind that sneakily finds its way up your jeans. Investing in under-warmers is essential and a pair of boots that provide grip, warmth and wet proof for melting snow. The worse thing is that it only gets colder from now to January. Never have I experienced anything lower than -1C. So the thought of anything lower than -3C makes my blood freeze. However, to the Swedes there is no such thing as too cold – you should just wear more clothes.

Winter in Stockholm – where you can take your kid to kindergarden on a sled. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

2. Job market

It really is tough if you do not speak Swedish. Most people in Sweden speak a good level of English – it is like the Swedes' second first language. That means that even if you are a native English speaker, you are already at a disadvantage if you do not speak a basic level of Swedish or are in the process of learning. However, there are short-term ways around this. You could specialize in something technical that doesn't require you to master the Swedish language. Or look for job fairs and opportunities that specifically ask for native English speakers. They are out there, but you will need to really look and can't be too picky. Alternatively, learning Swedish is the best option for the long term.

Finding a job in Sweden can be a real challenge. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

3. You need more black in your wardrobe

Black seems to be the uniform colour here for everything. You can imagine how out of place I felt wearing my bright orange jacket through the city of Stockholm. People seem to assume that I am seeking attention and feel that I am making some kind of statement, that I am a non-conformist of some kind or just a tourist unfamiliar with the unspoken codes.

Spot the tourist. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

4. Personal space

There is another unspoken rule that says one must never be within an arm's reach of each other. Even if it is rush hour, it is no excuse to invade another Swede's personal space. And never randomly impose a conversation onto a Swede or you risk scaring them away. This could be a very traumatic and scary experience for a Swede but everyday life for a Londoner. Taken for granted.

Mind the personal space! Photo: Matt Rourke/AP Photo/TT

5. There is no such thing as 'please'

For a while now, the Swedish have been mislabelled as quite forward, blunt or even harsh with their use of English. To a native English speaker who is unfamiliar with the language translation, Swedes come across this way when speaking English. I can actually testify that it is not their fault. The concept of English pleasantries and buffers are non-existent in their language. Hence, when spoken and translated from Swedish to English it just sounds very forthcoming. Cut straight to the point of 'what do you want'? Then say 'thank you'. No offence intended.

"I want another beer, thank you!" Photo: Tina Stafrén/

6. Once you've had Swedish pizza you will never go back

Completely off topic but still important nonetheless, is the topic of pizza. Nothing else compares to a Swedish pizza. And they don't do small – only big or even massive for relatively cheap prices.

Is there anything better than pizza? Photo: Simon Paulin/

7. When they say 'be on time' they mean it

Not five minutes late or five minutes early. Be on time. Anything else outside of that, you had better call up or have a very good explanation – or risk being seen as rude.

Never be too early. Or too late, for that matter. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

8. Understanding the concept of 'lagom'

To all thoses still unfamiliar with this Swedish saying, it basically means not too little and not too much. To someone like myself who grapples with the idea of 'moderation', this is a day-to-day battle that you will get lots of practice in within Swedish life. From the volume of your laugh to how much is just enough, 'lagom' does not come naturally to non-native Swedes.

An example for lagom: When there is exactly the right amount of wine for everybody. Photo: Matthew Mead/AP Photo/TT

9. Line up

In London, there is an anything-goes mentality that is accepted as part of a competitive and fast-paced environment. Dare I say, "a dog-eat-dog world". In Sweden, no matter where you are from, there are rules and structures to follow. Orderly fashion is the key. No anarchy here, otherwise you could be met with the look of an unimpressed Swede. I find this is perfect for me, because nothing grinds my gears more than people pushing into queues.

Whatever you do, NEVER cut the queue at the bus station. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/SCANPIX/TT

10. Your social life and concept of 'fika'

The way I explain 'fika' to my London family is that it would be equivalent to the British love of tea and biscuits. However, this is far more serious. Just like an afternoon tea with something sweet on the side, the Swedes love a good 'fika break'. This comprises of a lot of coffee consumption and sweet treats. The Swedish are the third-biggest consumers of coffee next to Finland and the Netherlands. Makes sense when you think about how cold it is. This is a compulsory way of life for Swedes. No matter how busy you are, there is always time to have 'fika'.

The classic fika: Coffee and cinnnamon buns. Photo: Tina Stafrén/

Clement Boateng is a freelance web editor and writer, recently relocated from London to Stockholm in search of new adventure, new challenges and a new way of living. Follow him on Twitter or check out his blog.

Would you like to write a guest blog for The Local? E-mail [email protected].

Clement Boateng. Photo: Private


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