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‘One has to wait for a sober invitation from a Swede to make it really count’

German entrepreneur Matthias Kamann came to Sweden over ten years ago for a semester abroad in Småland. Now, he has turned his experiences of the culture clash as an international into something productive, explaining Swedish habits and traditions through websites and a book.

'One has to wait for a sober invitation from a Swede to make it really count'
After ten years Matthias Kamann is still passionate about Sweden and its characteristics, including the elk. Photo: Private

“It's more easy to interact with Swedish people when you are prepared and you get deeper insights into the Swedish society. It's important to learn about the meaning of fika, about the different areas where Swedish people will agree or disagree with you and how to respect that. I think this is basically the book I wish I had read before I came to Sweden. It would have made it much easier for me.”

He learned from his own experience that there are other people like him, who come to Sweden and would be happy to have a “survival guide” of sorts for the new culture they are trying to understand and adapt to.

“I met many international students here in Sweden, since my office is also situated on campus and I often talk to other international students about their experience of Swedish culture and pitfalls, and culture clashes.”

Kamann tells The Local he came up with the idea of starting a blog, and now a book, after people kept asking him the same questions about his experiences in Sweden ever since he first moved there ten years ago.

“So I give over and over again the same answers and I feel there is the need for this information,” he says.

“I thought okay, I could just skip the answers and just send them all straight to my website or just give them a book. So I felt I have something to tell to people also because I felt after ten years I lose a little bit of the outside perspective, so I wanted to get it out right now and thought this was the time for that.”

“How to be Swedish” by Matthias Kamann was published this year. Photo: Private

After finishing university with a degree in business administration Kamann didn't choose the easy way for his career by only sending applications to already existing companies. After his master's degree he started to promote his own ideas and work on explaining Sweden and Swedish culture to the world.

“I started as an online marketing consultant and made websites for other people. Nowadays it's basically content creation and search engine optimization for myself, to tell other people about Sweden through the blog, the book and other channels like YouTube.”

“I just released my book, published it this year and I am working on the book marketing and approaching stores to sell it. But I'm mostly creating content for my website. is my blog. And soon I'm going to launch a web shop called 'Shop of Sweden', with products made in Sweden: souvenirs, design products and interior stuff. Those are the main areas I'm working on right now.”

Kamann speaks enthusiastically about his work and his passion for Sweden in general. He sees his work as some kind of a service to prepare people for what will await them in Sweden, targeting tourists and people that are planing on moving to Sweden, either for study, work or love.

Before starting his career as an entrepreneur he moved to southern Sweden as a university student in Växjö, Småland. That way he experienced firsthand what it means to enter the Swedish society as a foreigner.

“I came to Sweden 2005, I was studying in Germany before. It was about time to go abroad, so I was checking all the options. I chose Linnaeus University in Sweden because they had a course in international marketing, which I liked, so I came to Sweden. It was loosely just one semester, but then I extended it to a second semester to do the bachelor's degree and then even to another year to do the master's here in Sweden. So yes, in the beginning I mainly came to study here in Sweden.”

“After that I went back to Germany for a year. In that year I started working in online marketing. But I felt more at home in Sweden than in Germany, because I was still rooted here and had connections. I thought okay, then I will start my Sweden experience again in the place I left, so I came back to Växjö and continued with my studies but also continued working on my own business. The courses I took were Swedish and web design, so just single courses which I wanted to do on top.”

Kamann at his office located at the University campus of Linnaeus University in Växjö, Småland. Photo: Private

When Kamann talks about his early years in Sweden and all the cultural things he writes about nowadays, it brings back memories of a few difficulties he experienced back then. He jokingly describes the two things that made it hard for him to adapt to the Swedish culture and that he had to learn about in the beginning.

“I think the hardest thing for me was the language barrier. The language opens up so much, for example talking to older people who don’t know English that well and understanding the media, what's going on on the radio and so on. I think the language was the biggest part that helped me to get a better understanding of the people and Swedish society,” he says.

“Also smaller things that I call culture, getting used to that Swedish people, when they are drunk they get very different from when they are sober. It took a while for me to understand that when a Swedish person maybe invites you over for paintball when they are drunk, it doesn't necessarily mean that the invitation still is valid the next day when they are sober. I learned that one has to wait for a sober invitation to make it really count.”

One part of Kamann's work is to describe and analyse quite a few cultural stereotypes. From his personal experience the highlights two characteristics: “You can see the Viking in a Swede when you go out to parties. I think this is totally confirmed. And yes, many people have Ikea furniture, that is true.”

Kamann feeling Swedish by visiting an Ikea store in Sweden. Photo: Private

While Swedish and other northern and western European cultures may appear to be similar at first sight, when Kamann is asked to compare Swedish culture to other nations he finds clear differences.

“I mostly compare the Swedish to the German culture and many Germans, when they come here in the beginning, think the culture is quite similar to ours. But then, after month or years, I think there are differences that surface. For example the biggest difference between the Swedish and the German culture is that in Germany people are very competitive and they are striving for perfection and in Sweden they have more the 'lagom approach' that things can be good when they are good and then it's fine. In Germany people focus much more on the things that are leaking to make it perfect. In Sweden they are more relaxed.”

READ ALSO: Stop! This is what lagom truly means

Kamann is often asked if he would describe himself as more German or Swedish, after living abroad for such a long time. He struggles to give a clear answer to that but can summarize his thoughts about it.

“When I'm back home and ask my parents they say: oh, you've become so Swedish. But here in Sweden I hear things about certain aspects like tidiness and timing. But I would say between 60-70 percent I'm still German. So about 30-40 percent I have become Swedish in how I act and behave.”

Kamann experienced it can be quite challenging at times to fit in with the Swedish culture. Photo: Private

Kamann is aware that describing societies in terms of certain characteristics may reproduce stereotypes, and urges people not to let prejudice determine how they view a country. In some ways stereotypes help us make sense of the world, but he explains that he would like his readers to look at them with a degree of flexibility.

“Before you come to a certain culture you have a stereotype and then you try to confirm if the stereotype is accurate or not. But then of course be open to adjustments, maybe it's not at all like it is written in the comic books. One has to go out and make a real-life experience of the culture. One should be open to changes.”

Sweden's startup scene has made an international name for itself in the past few years, and as a blogger, author and soon-to-be owner of an online shop, Kamann is happy that he chose the country as his home.

“I started my company in Germany and you had to deal so much with like Behörden (German word for Public Administration) and here in Sweden it went so much faster, just apply to Skatteverket (Swedish Tax Agency), hand in the papers and it was done. So much faster and easier.”

“And here in Sweden I had so much support from other organizations like 'Drivhuset', it's from the university to support students who want to start their own company. And I also got help from Almi (European Investment Fund), they also gave me great support. It was fantastic that I could go to the offices and talk to the people when I had some problems with filling in forms for applications and also with the book keeping and so on. I found it very helpful, that those organizations are there and I didn't have to pay for anything. The Swedish state basically supports that kind of entrepreneurship and I found it much easier than in Germany.”

His future plan is to stay in Sweden and to stay focused on promoting Swedish culture.

“I like the nature and the Swedish mentality. I like to spend time with Swedes, and get to know new Swedes or other people, that are also passionate about this country. Through the website so many people contact me that share the passion and there are so many interesting exchanges.”

“I love it here, I'm very passionate about Sweden and I like talking about it, so I hope to make that hobby my full-time work later. Right now I still also have to do quite technical things like the search engine optimization and setting up the web shop, but once that is done I can focus more on filling it with content. I hope to travel and tell the people about the beauty of this country.”

For members


Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

A reader got in touch to ask how long he had to work in Sweden before he was eligible for a pension. Here are Sweden's pension rules, and how you can get your pension when the time comes.

Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

The Swedish pension is part of the country’s social insurance system, and it can seem like a confusing beast at times. The good news is that if you’re living and working here, you’ll almost certainly be earning towards a pension, and you’ll be able to get that money even if you move elsewhere before retirement.

You will start earning your Swedish general pension, or allmän pension, once you’ve earned over 20,431 kronor in a single year, and – for almost all kinds of pension in Sweden – there is no time limit on how long you must have lived in Sweden before you are eligible.

The exception is the minimum guarantee pension, or garantipension, which you can receive whether you’ve worked or not. To be eligible at all for this, you need to have lived in Sweden for a period of at least three years before you are 65 years old. 

“There’s a limit, but it’s a money limit,” Johan Andersson, press secretary at the Swedish Pension Agency told The Local about the general pension. “When you reach the point that you start paying tax, you start paying into your pension.”

“But you have to apply for your pension, make sure you get in touch with us when you want to start receiving it,” he said.

Here’s our in-depth guide on how you can maximise your Swedish pension, even if you’re only planning on staying in Sweden short-term.

Those who spend only a few years working in Sweden will earn a much smaller pension than people who work here for their whole lives, but they are still entitled to something – people who have worked in Sweden will keep their income pension, premium pension, supplementary pension and occupational pension that they have earned in Sweden, even if they move to another country. The pension is paid no matter where in the world you live, but must be applied for – it is not automatically paid out at retirement age.

If you retire in the EU/EEA, or another country with which Sweden has a pension agreement, you just need to apply to the pension authority in your country of residence in order to start drawing your Swedish pension. If you live in a different country, you should contact the Swedish Pensions Agency for advice on accessing your pension, which is done by filling out a form (look for the form called Ansök om allmän pension – om du är bosatt utanför Sverige).

The agency recommends beginning the application process at least three months before you plan to take the pension, and ideally six months beforehand if you live abroad. It’s possible to have the pension paid into either a Swedish bank account or an account outside Sweden.

A guarantee pension – for those who live on a low income or no income while in Sweden – can be paid to those living in Sweden, an EU/EEA country, Switzerland or, in some cases, Canada. This is the only Swedish pension which is affected by how long you’ve lived in Sweden – you can only receive it if you’ve lived in the country for at least three years before the age of 65.

“The guarantee pension is residence based,” Andersson said. “But it’s lower if you haven’t lived in Sweden for at least 40 years. You are eligible for it after living in Sweden for only three years, but it won’t be that much.”