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INDIA

15 lessons my life in Sweden has taught me

Divya Sharma moved from India to Sweden in 2013. She reflects on the 15 lessons she has learned from her years in Sweden.

15 lessons my life in Sweden has taught me
Divya Sharma. Photo: Private

It seems strange now that I was so against moving here in the first place. Now I can't remember a life other than this. Of course I miss India terribly, but the thought of leaving this life sends shivers down my spine. I feel I grew up in India but learned to be a real adult here in Sweden.

It is remarkable what and how much a new country can teach you. People complain about life in Sweden, weather, lack of jobs, hurdles with the language and the European way of life, but that's what makes the ride so worthwhile. Here are 15 lessons that life in Sweden taught me in my first years here, hoping there are many more lessons to follow.

1. Patience

I used to get angry, impatient and irritated at the drop of a hat back home. Traffic, standing in a queue, people staring, made me lose my cool. Maybe it has to do with the lifestyle, but since everybody here maintains patience while standing in a queue, crossing the road, at the tax office, almost everywhere that one goes, I am much more tolerant. Seeing all of this taught me a lesson or two and made me much calmer.

2. Compassion

Opening the doors for strangers, throwing litter in the dustbin, understanding the plight of others. Again a trend that is already there in the Swedish way of living, compassion is built within the society.

3. Solitude

As much as I hated solitude back in India, I am getting to love it right now. Alone time has now made me invest more time in reading books, writing articles, doing yoga and spending time in the nature. Scarce back home, time is now found in abundance here and the solitude has made me find time for myself and doing new things.

4. Honesty

Now I am not saying that there is no honesty in India. But ever since I encountered the Swedish way of life, honesty and 'going by the word' is the way things work here. The shopkeeper doesn't count the change when you return the money, the salesman advises you not to buy certain things even though he stands in danger of being in a loss, employers don't 'check' your offer letter when you join a new job and so on.

5. Travelling

Nothing opens your eyes to the world other than travelling. Seeing a different landscape, hearing a different language may sound alien but curiosity gets the better off you and you become adamant to decipher the culture. Living in Sweden and visiting different countries has given me ample opportunity to learn so much about different cultural norms.

6. Value to time

Unlike the Indian standard time that is well known for all the wrong reasons, everything happens on time here. A party at 7pm begins at 7pm and an official meeting at 8am works the same way. Coming and being on time seems to be the way of life here, irrespective of the weather or any other circumstance.

7. Good weather doesn't last long

Sweden is famous for its unpredictable dark, rainy and gloomy weather. Good weather days are few and far between and so is the sun. Weekend or not, if the weather is good, you'll spy more smiles than ever. Since good weather is a blessing, I have learned to value its importance more than ever and relish it while it is around. When it is not, I stay indoors and keep myself engaged.

8. Leaving your comfort zone

Before we leave our respective countries, we never see the life beyond it. Coming to Sweden made me see the vastness of the globe and the difference in the way of living. There are people like us out there who see the world from a different perspective. The culture, thought process and lifestyle is varied and you don't realize it until you pack your bags and experience it for yourself.

9. Value of working

A vital one. I was a happy career-oriented girl back in India and I didn't realize the necessity of a career so badly until I moved to Sweden without a job. Finding a job grew more difficult owing to the necessity of knowing the local language. I toiled hard and it took me a year both to master the language and to bag a job. Now that I have a job I cherish it.

10. House work

Like anyone else back home in India, I had the luxuries of a cleaning lady, ironing wala and dry cleaning wala. There was a pick-up and drop-off facility for anything and everything. Amid all the grumbling, tearing my hair out and wailing for the comforts back home, I learned the housework the hard way after living in Sweden. Ranging from fixing a bulb, picking up the groceries and driving. In fact, even when I go back to India for holidays, I insist on doing my own laundry, dishes and other necessities that I once yearned for. Strange, but the need to have a helper now makes me feel handicapped.

11. Fewer the friends, the better

I was used to being surrounded by a bevy of 'friends' in India. Going to the pubs, discos, movies with an acquaintance just for the company was very common. Moving to Sweden not knowing many people, one learns to pick the ones that you gel with and not just anyone to hang out with. Spending quality time is more important than just being with random people you can't connect with.

12. A new language, fresh wave in life

Learning Swedish in the beginning felt like something imposed on me as a means to get a job. It was tough. Slowly, my confidence reached a new high as I grasped it more and more. So much so that I actually started enjoying it and didn't care whether or not I would get a job. And that was the exact moment that I got one.

13. Walk or cycle your way to good health

People in Sweden prefer to walk or bike their way to work. You definitely can't make out a person's age as they exercise regularly, mostly by cycling or walking. People here walk briskly and for longer distances, unlike in India where we are not used to walking. Of course India has the perils of not-so-developed roads. I easily walk two to three kilometres per day and that is the best form of exercise to start with.

14. Plan everything in advance

Summer trip? Book it in the winter. Organizing an event or party? Send the invites a week or two before. Doctor's appointment? Not so urgent? Book a month before. Last-minute schedules don't work in Sweden. People value your time and expect you to value theirs.

15. Indian-ness

India and its news and festivals have never been as important as it is now. The connection to the motherland has become stronger with me writing and talking more about India, its food, festivals and 'problems'. However much we bicker about India and its problems among ourselves, we become defensive when a foreigner does the same. There are instances in which I learn more about my own country and its culture through the experiences of the Swedes living here.

As a parting note, life has its lessons to teach you anywhere you go. Living in Sweden has made me realize the tiny gems that I underestimated back home. It is vital to spread these gems wherever we go so that we in our turn make the world gleaming and worth living!

Divya Sharma is an HR professional from India, working in Denmark, living in Sweden. Globe-trotter, blogger, reader, runner, dreamer and living life on both sides of the Öresund Bridge every day. The original version of this guest blog was originally published on her own blog Wiseberries.

WINTER

‘It’s every man for himself’: A foreigner’s survival guide to the Swedish winter

The Swedish winter is not for the faint of heart. But Alison Allfrey from the UK explains how she learned to embrace the frozen north.

'It's every man for himself': A foreigner's survival guide to the Swedish winter
There's no bad weather, etc. Photo: Martina Holmberg/TT

An expat posting to Sweden is perhaps like no other.

Here, images of swimming pools, cocktails, home help aplenty and frequent forays to tropical isles are redundant. More relevant are snowsuits, studded tyres, requisite muscles to dig out your drive with vim for up to six months – and a good dose of courage and humour.

Living on the same latitude as St Petersburg isn't for everybody, but the Swedish winter has a definition to it which is challenging and can be hugely rewarding.

Unlike endless months of fog, mud and dim light in England or perhaps the Netherlands, Sweden offers a very distinct proposition. It's whether you accept the challenge and whether you're going to be warm enough that count. As the Swedes say, “There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”

So, armed with a really good winter coat or snowsuit, heavy duty boots, a resilient snow shovel and plenty of determination, the Swedish winter can work for you. What's more, Swedish houses are actually warm, unlike their draughty English counterparts. So as the days shorten, take heart, even if you're from a non-skiing nation.

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It's true that non-Swedes may lack the innate balance which makes shuffling along ice-packed pavements without catastrophe hazardous and brings a wobble to the legs when stepping onto vast expanses of frozen lake ice. But all that incredible space, bracingly crisp air, pristine nature and Scandi determination to get outside, get fit and revel in the extreme dice thrown when Sweden was given its climate are so invigorating.

Where else do you see families, from babes encased in sheepskin rugs in prams to grannies being pushed on makeshift chairs with a skating blade on the back, out in force on the ice? Where else do octogenarians speed round cross-country ski tracks as if they could go on forever? Not to mention, the solitary man patiently twisting a massive corkscrew through the ice so he can fish the freezing waters below?

How ever cold it gets, there's always time for fika afterwards – reassuring vats of hot chocolate, pepparkakor and kanelbullar. Hot coffee. That fantastic aroma of cinnamon, cardamom and saffron lacing the air. The satisfaction of having got something out of the climate, rather than it insisting on dominating you.


Alison Allfrey moved to Sweden in 2012. Photo: Private

Admittedly the stakes rise as the force of winter hits, as the snowy existence has more of a direct impact on the individual than in Switzerland or Canada, where roads are pristine every morning, however the weather has vented its spleen.

Here it's every man for himself, with neighbours nodding sagely at each other over the morning dig out of their drives, the elderly teetering perilously along lethal pavements, Stockholmers competing for rare parking spaces as the weekly clear out of snow ensues.

But, in true Darwinist style, Sweden has adapted to its lot and there's every possible accessory to ease your path and every sporting temptation to seduce – one trip to XXL will reveal all.

Perhaps that's just it – the contrasts and extremes which make Sweden so different. There isn't really any middle ground and it's difficult to do such an extreme climate by halves.

Sometimes it feels as if the rest of the world has abandoned you, as you persist in a seemingly forgotten realm far above the southerly latitudes of warmer climes. On those really foggy days, the horizon seems to have vanished, as whirling snowstorms merge with a closed sky.

But waking up to a morning which seems to say, “try me, ski, skate, dog sled to your heart's content”, is like nothing else. It's an invitation to succumb to nature as it used to be. The frozen embrace of Sweden. 

Alison Allfrey is an avid linguist and traveller from the UK. So when she and her snow-loving husband were posted to Sweden in 2012 with their sons Tom and Ben, the stage was set for adventure. Her first book, SO SWEDEN – Living Differently, is now available in paperback and Kindle form on Amazon. 

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