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Coffee, cash and Eurovision: Eight differences between Germany and Sweden

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Coffee, cash and Eurovision: Eight differences between Germany and Sweden
The Swedish way of life is unique. Photo: Hasse Holmberg/TT
14:03 CET+01:00
Many people think Germany and Sweden are basically the same, but that's really not the case. After five months in Sweden, The Local contributor and German student Christian Krug is still trying to adapt to the Swedish way of life.

1. Swedish isn't just 'German but different'

Reading a Swedish text kind of looks like someone writing in German if they're tired and don't really care about spelling, so every German coming to Sweden presumes it will be a piece of cake to become fluent in Swedish.

But the first time you hear Swedes talk to each other, you may just think they're mocking you, because you won't understand a word. Even if they talk very slowly ("långsamt" in Swedish, "langsam" in German).

Not to mention all the irregular verbs (gå, gick, gått), putting the definite article at the end of a noun (see: universitetET), and calling dinner "middag", which sounds confusingly like "middle of the day"!

Still, at least you won't be lost in Sweden if you're able to speak English, because almost every Swede seems to be perfectly fluent in that.


The Swedish language is not as easy as you may think. Photo: Stian Lysberg/TT

2. Where are all the holidays?

Coming from the southern part of Germany, I'm used to having a lot of holidays all year around, and therefore often having a day off. After moving to Sweden that changed, mainly as the Catholic holidays of Bavaria don't apply in Protestant-influenced Swedish culture.

There's also no long winter break from university in February and March. But considering the relaxed way of teaching and the small number of courses, survival is still possible for a spoiled German student.


Midsummer is one of the most famous Swedish holidays. Photo: Hasse Holmberg/TT

3. Let's hear it for public transport!

It may seem surprising for Swedes, but as a German, I'm really satisfied with the metro, buses and trams here, and in particular, just how many people there are working in public transport that are nice and helpful.

Whether it's the ticket inspector on Stockholm's Roslagsbanan who gives you a pass when you forgot to buy a ticket, or the bus driver who turns around because you missed your stop by accident, politeness is the Swedish way!


A tram in Gothenburg. Photo: Emelie Asplund/imagebank.sweden.se

4. The long opening hours (compared to Germany)

It's Sunday evening in Germany and you really crave something special to eat or drink, but your fridge is empty. You'll probably have to starve, or order something really expensive to be delivered: German supermarkets are closed after 8pm and all Sunday.

Not in Sweden! Supermarkets are open so long here you get the feeling the people working there have an 80 hour working week. Don't worry though, those working on weekends get paid better, so there's no need to be ashamed when walking into the store at 10pm to buy yourself some saltlakrits!

But be careful: if you want to get beer containing more than 3.5 percent alcohol or something stronger, state alcohol shop Systembolaget is the only place to buy that. It closes earlier than other stores and doesn't open on Sundays.


Need some food on a Sunday? No problem in Sweden. Photo: Sofie Wiklund/TT

5. Cash is obsolete... or is it?

Unlike in Germany, as soon as you've found your food and drinks at the supermarket in Sweden, the next surprise is waiting for you at the checkout. If you take your wallet out to pay with cash, people may look at you as if you're 120 years old and belong in another time.

If you want to adapt, you'll have to get used to paying by card or via mobile apps like Swish. Yet as soon as you feel truly futuristic, you'll suddenly find yourself at a bar ordering a beer and being told that they only take cash.

Equally confusingly, the Swedish central bank (Riksbank) has released new bills and coins in the last two years, seemingly ignoring the trend of cash being used so little.


Cards are replacing cash in Sweden. Photo: Per Larsson /TT

6. Men Oktober, November och December är så grå!

If you're not a big fan of that thing that gives you warmth, light and daytime (I think it's called the "Sun"), then come to Sweden between October and March.

You're going to wake up at eight, look outside, and see a beautiful grey sky. When you leave the house at nine the sky will still greet you with a marvellous variety of tones of grey. And if you ever see the sun at midday, it shines so low you'll think you're at the beach watching sunset. Which it kind of is already.

Be sure to have enough light bulbs, because at 3pm the sun goes down and the beautiful grey turns into dark. If you know how to adapt like the Swedish, it can be quite cosy and enjoyable, so long as you're indoors, at home in the warmth.


Swedish winter can be cold and dark. Photo: Arno Burgi/TT

7. Coffee: the elixir of life!

One Swedish way of adapting to the dark is by drinking as much coffee as possible. In the morning, coffee is a must. If you're having a break at work or school, the first thing you do then is get a coffee too. Even the now internationally known word "fika", describing a small coffee break with a sweet nibble, originated from a Swedish word for coffee. The best thing about the coffee craze is the often surprisingly low price for Sweden.


Coffee is essential for survival in Sweden. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

8. The Eurovision Song Contest

What is the obsession with Eurovision? I mean sure, Sweden won it six times, the last in 2015 and is second in the all-time ranking of Eurovision winners by country. But still, I would have never expected to go to a club and hear a Eurovision song.

Even more surprising is seeing people in their 20s excessively shouting out the lyrics. That wouldn't happen in Germany!


Most Swedes know Måns Zelmerlöw, Swedish Eurovision winner in 2015. Photo: Kerstin Joensson

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