SHARE
COPY LINK

STOCKHOLM

‘Even though you can survive here without Swedish, it’s respectful to make an effort’

British-born David Ashby came to Sweden in 2002. Moving from Brighton to Gothenburg to be with his now-wife, the English teacher-turned-author tells The Local that the past 16 years have been a voyage of cultural discovery.

'Even though you can survive here without Swedish, it's respectful to make an effort'
Brit David Ashby has found creative inspiration in his adopted Sweden. Photo: Mathias Sautermeister

This article is part of The Local's My Swedish Career series. Read more interviews with international professionals and entrepreneurs in Sweden here.

“I met my wife, Elvira, at a salsa class in my hometown on the south coast of England,” he tells The Local. “She's Swedish and was in the UK for just four months, so when she moved back to Sweden we travelled back-and-forth to see each other for a while, until I decided to move. I bought a one-way ticket on the ferry, turning up in Gothenburg without a job or a plan.”

Happily, the TEFL-trained Brit was soon put in touch with another ex-Brighton resident, who offered him a role as a Corporate English teacher. “That was the start of things for me here in Sweden and I soon set up my own company, offering my services as an English proofreader and translator.”

Now based in Stockholm with his wife and children, Ashby has discovered first-hand that certain behaviour in Sweden can attract strange looks.

“I'm a talker. When I'm at a bus stop, or in a queue, I'll start a conversation. In the UK that's fine, but not so much in Sweden. People think I'm a bit odd. When we used to live in a flat I would see people hesitate about entering the lift if they saw me in it, as they were terrified I was going to start talking to them. Some of them even pretended they had forgotten something and turned round to go back to their flat rather than get into a lift with me!”

As a teacher he has seen this reticence reflected in the classroom. “I once had an introductory class with one student who came from the very north of Sweden. They're quite reserved up there, and during the whole lesson he hardly said anything. After that one class he never came back. Obviously the shock of having to speak in English was too much for him!”

READ ALSO:

Ashby expresses the importance of making an effort to learn Swedish: “Even though you can survive here without Swedish – I have friends here who do that – it's respectful to make an effort. And it's useful, especially with children, to be able to blend in, to assimilate.”

Picking up the language, however, has not been an easy process for the English teacher. “My pronunciation is awful. I can't pronounce where I live! It makes ordering taxis difficult. My wife gets annoyed with me – she says I completely ignore the three extra vowels in Swedish (å, ä, ö). In fairness, they're hard for a Brit to say.”

As well as pronunciation, the “lack of a please and thank you culture” in Sweden has been difficult to accept. “Even though I know in my mind that it's not rudeness when someone pushes past without apologizing, it can get to me, coming from an ultra-polite society like the UK.”

“Equally, there are things that are considered rude here that aren't at home. The importance of timekeeping is one; in England time is a bit of a flexible thing. You say 'on the hour', you meet at quarter past. Not so, here: if you agree a time, you meet at that time. Arriving late is considered disrespectful. It's reset my clock and changed my perception of time.”

While the children's author describes Sweden in the summer as “a paradise”, the winters have proved more trying. “The darkness and the cold can be difficult. When I came to Sweden I couldn't understand all the Swedes standing in patches of sunlight, looking up, as if communing with a higher entity. Now I get it. My wife has a light box to combat any winter gloom. I just grit my teeth and cope with it.”

Winters aside, Sweden has seeped under Ashby's skin and into his work. He's just written his debut book, which is heavily influenced by Swedish myth culture. “The book is called 'Gribblebob's Book of Unpleasant Goblins'. Although it's set in Sussex (in the UK) there is a big Swedish influence. I first dreamed up the idea walking through the woods in Stockholm, the characters have names like Bengt, Nils, and Anna, and the evil character is inspired by the old Nordic legends of Mara, who brings nightmares. It's a British/Swedish fusion.”


Stockholm's woods proved the inspiration behind Ashby's debut book. Photo: Oskars Sylwan

“We've always been a family of storytellers; my wife Elvira has written and had published successful books for both children and adults. It was when my wife was publishing her books that I got in the mood to start writing properly. As I'd been reading the children a lot of bedtime stories, it felt natural to write for them.”

“One day, we were walking back home from Skärholmen in Stockholm through the woods, when we saw something glinting in the sun on the ground. We went over to see what it was – and it was a stone that looked like a tiny little book. I said, 'Imagine if it was a little book, and a goblin had dropped it.' As we continued walking home I made up a story about a goblin who had dropped his book, and his dog whose shadow we could see, but not the dog itself.  When we got home, Elvira said 'You should write that story down, and finish it'.”

“I did, and then submitted the book to the editor behind the Harry Potter series. The editor liked the story, wanted to publish it – and the rest is history. It comes out from Pushkin Children's in February 2019.”

“If hadn't moved to Sweden and seen my very talented and productive Swedish wife start to make a career as an author, I wouldn't have started writing 'Gribblebob' so I have my new country to thank for that.”

You can follow David Ashby on Twitter here. His debut book, 'Gribblebob's Book of Unpleasant Goblins', will be on shelf in February 2019 and can be pre-ordered on Amazon.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

MY SWEDISH CAREER

My Swedish Career: How labour market training got me a job at Capgemini

Two years after she arrived in Sweden, Shreya Sai, from India, decided to use Sweden's 'labour market training' system to learn to code from scratch. A year later she was working as a developer at Capgemini.

My Swedish Career: How labour market training got me a job at Capgemini

Sai moved to Älmhult, the small town that hosts Ikea’s headquarters, back at the start of 2019, after her husband got a job working for the flatpack furniture giant.

She is a qualified physiotherapist and had spent two years practicing back home in India. But it didn’t take long for her to realise that it would be difficult to work in Sweden in her chosen profession, given the difficulty of getting a license to practice. 

“After coming over here, I saw that there were so many hurdles in medical fields, and it was a very long procedure of almost four years [to convert],” she says. 

READ ALSO:

She worked as a substitute teacher, but after almost two years in Sweden, her handler at the Swedish Public Employment Services suggested she retrain. 

“I had a chat with my case officer. And I told her about my problems, the language barrier, and how, in the past, I had studied something related to IT, so that’s why she suggested I go for these certifications.” 

The case officer enrolled Sai on a six-month full stack developer course at Lexicon, an education supplier in nearby Växjö. It was a tough few months, but Sai didn’t lose hope. She completed the course in February 2021, and then started as an intern at a Stockholm startup the next month. 

“It was really tough for me initially, but anyhow, I grabbed some momentum and started understanding coding,” she remembers. “It’s so tough to be a coder, and it is the purest pressure in my whole training time, because I didn’t know anything about coding. All types of coding were alien to me.”  She had last studied computers when she was at upper secondary school.

The Covid-19 pandemic was still ongoing, so both the course and the internship were done through remote learning, but that did not stop her from getting a four-month contact as a web developer with a heating technologies company upon graduation.

Then in February this year, she started a permanent contract at Capgemini, after being hired through their Ignite graduate program. 

Sai believes that the Public Employment Service’s labour market training courses are a good option for newcomers to Sweden, with some 400 courses on offer, mostly provided by private sector suppliers such as Lexicon, Lernia, or AU utbildning. 

 You can see a full list of available courses here. And here is some information on going on a study visit.

“You choose which field you want to belong to, and when you choose, they give you some type of study visits,” she says. “And then you go and explore and receive information, and then your case officer enrolls you if there is a vacancy after a short interview.”

In May, the employment service reported that 20,210 people had undertaken labour market training in 2021, and that there were currently 40,000 people either awaiting a decision or engaged in labour market training. 

The program is expensive, costing Sweden’s government 1.5 billion kronor in 2021, but according to the report, 43.7 percent of those who took courses were working 180 days after their course was completed, and 36.2 percent were working 90 days after the training finished. 

While studying, you still qualify for unemployment benefit from the Swedish Social Insurance Agency.

Sai says that there were people on her coding course from Ireland, Israel, Iran, Sweden and Poland, among other countries, and that only about 20 percent had a direct background in IT, with the rest having had careers in other fields.

She was the only one in the class with absolutely zero experience with computers or coding, however. 

“It was very, very, very hard for me. I was like, ‘I will quit it. I won’t be able to do it.’ But my family supported me a lot. And they said, ‘you have to do it, you can’t back out because you can you don’t have any other option'”.

She lacked the qualifications, she says, to do a less intensive computer programming course at a university, and lacked the qualifications needed for other jobs in Sweden. 

“I used to like studying day and night, and somehow, I managed it. Right now, I will not say that I’m the best or a perfect coder in today’s world, but I’m working towards becoming a good coder.” 

SHOW COMMENTS