Coming from the Czech Republic, many things in Sweden seem a bit strange to me. The language sounds alien, some of the local architecture eerily resembles the communist style I know all too well, and liquorice seems to be a popular sweet.
On the other hand, queuing here is very organized and civil (as opposed to my home country, where not getting the skin scraped off your heels by the overly eager person behind you is a win), and you can even come across a park in central Stockholm at Norra Bantorget that is full of black bunnies at night! Altogether, being Czech and new in Sweden provides you with a few surprises, ranging from pleasant to irritating – but all part of the experience. Here are my top five.
Walking down Drottninggatan during my first week in Stockholm I noticed a few people with strangely bulging upper lips, making them look like they have a really bad toothache.
After some enquiry it was explained to me that it's actually a small pouch of tobacco stuffed under their lips – a Swedish product called Snus. The taste is strange and it looks funny when you're sucking on it, but many insist it's a less harmful tobacco substitute for a common cigarette (though not without its own dangers, as some studies suggest).
As smoking indoors is about to be prohibited in the Czech Republic, Snus might just be worth introducing in the local market (provided Sweden can somehow shake that pesky EU export ban).
Even though Czechoslovakia broke apart 24 years ago, forming two separate and individual countries in the form of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, many people in Sweden (and around Western Europe) seem to be unaware of this historical fact.
After announcing I come from Prague, Czech Republic, people are either absolutely oblivious as to where it can be located on a map, or they often exclaim 'Ah ja! Czechoslovakia!'. This particular retort usually leads to a well practiced short lecture on European history, with just a hint of agitation and an extra side of patience on my part. To my surprise, even the library at the Swedish Film Institute has a category labelled 'Czechoslovakia'…
Throwback to 1968. Photo: TT
The cardamom bun is probably one of the most unexpected foods for a Czech. As we usually complement our pastry with cottage cheese, various jams, or poppy seeds, cardamom presents a very new and unfamiliar taste, but is surprisingly good!
I would recommend the Valhallabageriet at Valhallavägen, where it seems like they always have a fresh batch warm, ready to be enjoyed with a cup of nice coffee.
READ ALSO: How to make Swedish cardamom muffins
Public transport & general pedestrian manners
Though approaching a Swede is usually guaranteed to be a pleasant experience as they are cordial folk, passing them on the street or in a store can be frustrating. Stockholm people seem to have no problem bumping into you without as much as an 'excuse me' or 'sorry' crossing their minds.
The same goes for getting on/off the metro in the Swedish capital, the tunnelbana. Whilst in Prague it is customary to wait for everyone to disembark before getting on (and non-compliance usually earns you scolding looks or even a telling-off), people here are already halfway through the carriage long before the last person has both feet out on the platform. This new experience can be quite shocking at first, but after a while I just found it easier to adopt the same habits.
Being a student at Stockholm University, my list naturally has to include something to do with education. As opposed to universities in the Czech Republic – which still rely heavily on memorizing a load of information you tend to forget instantly after an oral exam – the education system here prefers a more creative approach of composing essays and discussing relevant topics during lectures, making you feel less like a monkey and more like an actual student capable of thinking for themselves.
Though this might not be unusual for a student from the UK for example, it certainly is eye-opening for a Czech one such as myself, who is used to quietly catching up on some sleep during lectures.