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A New Yorker's guide to surviving the first few months in Stockholm

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A New Yorker's guide to surviving the first few months in Stockholm
Surviving your first Swedish summer can be hard. Photo: Ola Ericson/imagebank.sweden.se
06:59 CEST+02:00
Opinion: Moving to a new city is anything but easy, and in Stockholm there is a particular set of challenges from alcohol restrictions to making friends, writes New York native Madeline Tersigni, who shares the highs and lows of her time in Stockholm as well as her tips for fellow first-timers navigating the city and its culture.

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I would describe myself as a well-travelled individual. I have been studying abroad for the last three years in Rome and during my time there I visited countless places across Europe, including Stockholm. With prior experience moving abroad and travelling, I wasn't expecting to experience culture shock when I moved to Sweden. 

But a new start anywhere usually means some sort of some growing pains, and this turned out to be especially true in a culture so vastly different from the ones I've lived in in the past (even if I didn't appreciate the extent of the differences straight away). That transition from tourist to resident can be a difficult one, especially in the Venice of the North, but there are also positive surprises in store for newbies. There are several things I wished I'd known before about the best and worst parts of adapting to life in Stockholm.  

WORST: It's hard to make friends 

Swedes are a charming, fun-loving and extremely kind group of people... once you've finally tapped away at their hardened shells. Trying to start up a conversation with a Swedish person isn't at all easy; it takes time, effort and a lot of icebreakers on your part. Expect to do most of the work during the beginning of any relationship with a Swede, but once you've gained their trust, everything becomes a whole lot easier.

Without a circle of friends it can get lonely here. Luckily, in Stockholm there's always something going on around the city so you can fill the time and maybe meet new people. The Local provides a list of events across the country for English-speakers each month, and websites like Meetup.com can help you connect with other people over a shared hobby, from coding to canoeing. Otherwise, your best option would be to try a pub; a few drinks can be useful in helping people loosen up and become more open to making friends. 

Making friends can be a bit difficult when moving to Sweden. Photo: Ulf Lundin/imagebank.sweden.se

BEST: The silence 

Whether or not this is a perk probably depends who you're speaking to. For someone who's grown up in New York, in a loud Italian/Irish household, I've never known quiet. Moving to Rome was no different; noise was just a part of my daily life and I never expected that to change. Stockholm was still a major city after all, right?

Well, Stockholm might be a bustling city but sometimes it doesn't act like it. Going to bed on my first night here without the background noises of sirens, loud music or people speaking right outside my door was almost eerie. The silence was deafening in the way that it is in a horror movie.

But over the time I've spent here, I've come to appreciate being able to be alone with my own thoughts, without having to put headphones in and blast music to block out everything else. There's something so serene about walking around by yourself and not being bombarded with noise. And you can sleep at night with out of fear of something waking you up. Enjoy the quiet, I know I'm going to try to... at least until my family visits next year. 

Just sit back and enjoy the silence. Photo: Werner Nystrand/Folio/imagebank.sweden.se

WORST: Alcohol regulations

Now, I think Sweden is great, one of the best countries I've lived in. The government does a lot of things right when it comes to healthcare, parental leave, conservation, you name it. But no matter how hard I try, I can't get on board with the restrictive policies around alcohol sales. I know the laws are there to reduce alcoholism and that most Swedes are surprisingly positive to the state monopoly, but it seems that the main thing it accomplishes is making people angry, namely me. 

I don't understand why drinks with a high alcohol volume can't be sold in supermarkets or convenience stores. The Systembolaget stores close exceptionally early (especially to someone coming from the city that never sleeps) and staff in grocery stores still check ID if you're buying the low-alcohol beer, so why not just put everything in one place?

READ ALSO: Understanding Sweden's state-run alcohol monopoly

Then there's the fact that an underage person cannot be there while another person is buying alcohol. There have been too many instances where I didn't have my ID with me and my boyfriend was no longer allowed to buy what he wanted. I understand that I'm a baby-faced individual (on my way here, one airport employee asked if I was an unaccompanied minor) but the products are for him, not me!

And don't get me started on the prices; there's no reason beer should be that expensive. So I don't have many tips for dealing with this, as the best advice is just to try to accept that this is how things work here, plan your alcohol consumption in advance and get to Systembolaget early. But please Sweden, take pity on me. I am a college student. Making alcohol more expensive doesn't stop me from drinking, it just makes me sad and broke. 

Make sure to get to liquor stores early. Photo: Faramarz Gosheh/imagebank.sweden.se

BEST: Everyone speaks English 

This might seem like a shallow thing to say, but it really is such an advantage that Stockholmers speak such a high level of English. It's comforting to know that almost anyone can communicate with me. Have a problem navigating the subway? You can ask a stranger. Can't read a sign, directions, an emergency? You're covered. There has not been one instance in the entire summer where I have not been able to speak with someone.

Obviously, anyone planning to stay long-term should try to learn Swedish in order to feel more at home and have more options when applying for jobs. But for the first couple of months, the language barrier is not something you have to worry about, and that's not something you can say about many places. There are many English-language shows on TV too, and so many Swedish shows will have English phrases thrown in here and there. Nothing surprised me more than watching a show with my boyfriend and having my subtitles stop all together because the characters just decided to say things in English. So don't worry, you'll survive. 

You can survive knowing English alone for a bit in Stockholm. Photo: Henrik Trygg/imagebank.sweden.se

BEST/WORST: The nudity 

To me this is both a positive and negative aspect of living in Sweden. It's wonderful to have a group of people so comfortable with their bodies that they don't mind exposing themselves while swimming in lakes or in public saunas. Women are able to breastfeed openly while going about their days, and no one seems bothered, which I am in full support of. 

However, maybe it's just the prudish American side of me, but I just can't embrace the public nudity myself. If others want to get naked for an outdoor swim, do what's best for you. But it's going to take a long time for me to jump in on the fun. I recently went swimming with my friends and the amount of stares I received in the locker room when I didn't take my bathing suit off to shower was crazy. Sorry Swedes, it's just not my thing yet. Ask me again in a few years. 

Being naked in public is no biggie for Swedes, but Americans are not as progressive yet in that respect. Photo: Anna Hållams/imagebank.sweden.se

BEST: A welcoming city

It's so refreshing to be in a European city that mirrors New York in its diversity. New York is called the melting pot for a reason; different cultures from all over the world are the very foundation of the city and so when I initially moved to Rome, I was disappointed at the difference I experienced in that respect. Most Italian cities felt more wary of foreigners (at least in my opinion) and I expected Stockholm, as another European capital, to be no different. But it was.

That's not to say there's no segregation at all, but living in Stockholm you meet people from all different places and backgrounds and can see the clear representation of their culture in the restaurants, events and stores around Stockholm.

Sweden is also very inclusive in terms of LGBTQ+ rights, and I was so happy watching the Pride parade in Stockholm this year, which definitely held its own in comparison to NYC Pride. And my little feminist heart soared this summer seeing all of the support from both the men and women in Sweden during the Women's World Cup. I had never before witnessed little boys wearing women's football players' shirts before; it was brilliant. All in all, Stockholm is one of the most welcoming cities I've personally experienced.

Pride Parade. Photo: Sofia Sabel/imagebank.sweden.se
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