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Lived in Sweden for 5 years

But I luckily made my way out

post 20.Jan.2013, 07:07 PM
Post #1
Joined: 3.Jan.2013

I moved to Sweden from Spain back in 2007 after my company was granted a very lucrative contract within the IT sector. I had a Swedish sambo by then who I had met in Spain 5 years before (and who became my wife later on) so I envisioned this as a good professional opportunity and also a way to better know the Swedish culture and life style. I was not totally new to the country since I had spent some summer vacation and Christmas holidays in Sweden before.
After nearly 5 years, two children and 4 winter depressions, I finally made my move back to Spain in Dec. 2011. I have to say that I never planned to stay that long, but some personal and professional circumstances made me to postpone return year after year.
I understand my situation was pretty much privileged: having a Swedish family eased many bureaucratic issues; it facilitated the whole process of finding accommodation, learning the culture and to some degree getting integrated into society. I am also an educated and high skill professional (which I had earned with big effort since I come from a working class family in Spain) which all and all made my process of landing in the country way simpler than for many other people having to fight their way through. What follows is my very personal opinion about life in Sweden.

By far my biggest issue with the country. I believe there are very few place in the world with a settled population where the weather can be worse. The winters are long, cold (yes, cold and cold unless your geographic reference is the Siberia) and very, very dark. And the summers are…well there is no summer, there is? I myself call a summer a season when the sun is shining consistently and you can enjoy outdoors activities any given day. A period when you don’t need to wrapped yourself around a blanket during evenings or worry to carry a raincoat all the time in the trunk of your car just in case.
Before moving to Sweden I had bought that idea about wonderful summers and chilly but bright white winters. To my deception I found the Swedish winter to be grey, dark, humid and eternal. I also found quite irritating that against all facts, the official propaganda in the media but also in all teacup conversations was again how wonderful the winter is and how many winters activities one can practice. I still wonder why thousands of swedes can wait to book a winter trip to Canarias, Costa del Sol or Thailand if they are so content with the winter weather.
I learned that in order to enjoy a skiing trip you need to drive five hours to Fjällen, and then get used to -15 degrees Celsius and only a few hours of day light. Best case scenario. It is way easier to enjoy winter sports in Spain even if you live in the south (if you ever heard of Sierra Nevada). Clear blue sky, at least 8 hours of sunlight and temperatures betwee 2 to 5 minus guarantee.
I also found annoying that popular saying about “there is not bad weather, only bad clothing”… Well, there is bad weather no matter how thick is your coat or how expensive are the boots you wear. The weather in Sweden sucks, if I may summarize the topic.

Beautiful yes, but monotonous. Is pretty much the same everywhere, no matter how far you drive (except in the far north which no one ever goes). Many countries in the world have more variety in landscapes and climates in relatively short distances. In the other hand, the nature in Sweden is pretty much useless. The weather seldom invites you to go for a picnic into the woods except for a few weeks in summer. A lot of my Swedish acquaintances told me about the Allemansrätten (Freedom to roam)… And I always wonder ‘well, if you have it, why don’t you use it?’

Simple, plain, horrible, lack of choice, poor in ingredients and ways of preparation. I again have a difficulty here coming from Spain, where the culinary tradition is so strong and where we have so many and diverse local products. Yes, many of the vegs and fruits in Swedish supermarkets come from Spain (and other warmer countries), but those are long life varieties, specially breed to look good after long storage and transportation times. They don’t taste anything like the fresh you eat in their countries of origin.
And what do you guys say about the meat? I also wondered why chicken, beef or pork is so annoying tasteless in Sweden, and why every dish is server drowned in béarnaise sauce if not worst. Every dish tastes the same, no matter which animal was slaughtered back long the food chain.
Travelling in Sweden is boring and far from being a culinary experience: a McDonald’s can be pretty much your best option for a lunch stop during a holiday road trip. Sad, but it says a lot about the food culture of the country.
Potatoes seem to represent the very delicacy of Sweden, every one going crazy with the fresh ones during early summer (which they pay as if it were caviar or pata negra). Well, in Spain we happen to have fresh potatoes all year and yes they are good but still they are just potatoes! (I witnessed my parents in law stating that Spanish potatoes tasted better than Swedish ones during a summer holiday in Spain, which I could interpret as the final surrender of the very culinary symbol of “Swedish Cuisine”).

Culture and Traditions:
Yes, they do have traditions. They gather together a couple of times during the year in the strict intimacy and they dine and drink together. Pretty much as other cultures do a couple of days a month if not more often. There is no culture sharing, there is no places of public interaction. I have many times heard about why immigrants don’t embrace Swedish traditions… Well, how could they? Are they supposed to break in into the typical Swedish house and seat themselves around the dining table? From when I come from, the culture and tradition is open, public and for everyone. The culture is in the streets or there is no culture. They are incredible proud of their Christmas traditions… but nothing happens really! Have they seen what other countries organize during Christmas season? All the cheerful, markets, songs, events going on outdoors. I also found discouraging the lack public expenses to decorate or organize public activities in the city’s main square. How can you really connect with your fellow citizens if everything happens indoors?
The Lagom and the Jantelagen mentality:
Some people may say that this mentality has declined during the last decades. But as an outside observer, I believe it is still very present and it will take a few more generations to wash away. For me, lagom is mediocre, and everyone seems to be fine with it. Mediocre services, mediocre products, mediocre conversations, mediocre everything! Maybe if they just go abroad and compare… Swedes call it lagom, I call it mediocre.
Jantelagen is also a big downer attitude towards life if you happen to be a more or less ambitious person. It may fit with your personality if may not. I think Sweden is probably the best place if the world if you are an unambitious and conformist character. Everyone is the same no matter how good or bad, how much you effort or you don’t . It is a way to equalize people regardless their skills, attitude or talent. If you are a person who lacks these attributes, then you probably feel much unstressed in Sweden. In the other hand, if you think that effort, hard work and trained talent will bring you (one day and only if you are lucky) some future reward, you will pretty feel uncomprehended in both your professional and inner circles, most of the time by most of the people.

Social life:
Well, what can I say here... I have of course met genuine good people in Sweden. Of course they most are (and remember that I have Swedish family). But they usually lack social skills that make life way easier for the people that don’t have strong ties to this society. The rest of the expat community I have hanged around had friends from other nationalities, but never swedes. I think there is a wide culture gap here. I don’t know if it has to do with the south-north or the roman-germanic heritage… but maybe not since I have felt way more culturally close to brits, aussies and even americans than to swedes. I found weird that sense of humor is not relevant to them in their social relationships. Or that getting to some familiarly with someone has to take years of regular encounters. I just want to share a beer and talk about some funny trivia for God’s sake! Just have a funny time which could lead (or not) to friendship one day. Well, I have heard many times that unlike other more open cultures where social interaction can be more superficial, if you gain a swede for friendship, it will remain your friend forever. .. Still waiting to reach the familiarity stage though.
Jobs, social security, health care, etc
Yes, Swedish society works quite well in these aspects (although I know that the job market can be very inaccessible to most non Swedish speaking people). You get a lot of social benefits if you are into the system (including student loans to spend in beer, self-exploratory trips to South East Asia and give you the fantasy of self-independence when you have not yet get a job for real to pay your bills off). But again all this propaganda about how really good the system functions makes me react. Swedish Health Care System is far from being perfect. And it is not for free! It lacks of personal commitment from their employers (if it is not in the instructions book I won’t care). I personally prefer the Spanish health care, the difference is that in Spain you sit for 2 hours in the Emergency waiting room together with other 50 patients before getting attended, and in Sweden you wait for the same two hours completely by yourself. What is the doctor doing meanwhile!? If you are unluckily to get caught in a scenario that has not been considered by “the system”, you’ll probably die… maybe only metaphorically. Social security is ok, but if you want to have a more or less ok life standard, you and your partner better work 100%. It is very difficult to adapt to situations of reduced family incomes since the fixed costs in Sweden are already very high. Most of the people follow simple nutritional habits (the food at its basic is very expensive), don’t go out that much and have huge loans for the house and the 2 volvos parked in the front yard. Difficult to cut down expenses as I said.

Cost of life:
Expensive, pricy, costly... The feeling I always had was to pay too much for the value. I couldn’t help it. Especially after coming from some Spanish holidays… I really don’t want to pay that kind of money for this tasteless fläskfilé.. I really don’t! But hey, what’s the alternative here? Yet again another Friday dinner with falukorv? Everything is expensive, in every shop, in every mayor distributor chain. Why? Well, I explained myself as a comforting strategy that paying high prices makes people to get decent salaries… Because at the end, in Sweden there are not big differences in salaries (legal job market). What a clerk and what an engineer makes after taxes is not that different all and all. I think this is a clear aftermath of the Jantelagen mentality. I don’t think is truly fair, truly equal and truly balanced. I say something here that once came to my mind after a discouraging grocery shopping routine: a so called working class (mid to low income) family in Spain eats better and more quality food that high class high income swedish families. They just don’t have access to quality food!
Food is important to me as well as the weather in case you have not noticed 

Let me finish this OP acknowledging that your personal experience may be very different to mine. I don’t want to desencourage anyone from settle in Sweden, and I understand there are very different backgrounds or circumstances in life. Sweden is a country that offers security, education and a good standard of living. Depending of what you compare to, it will work for you or it won’t. It is a good place to raise children, and that is undebatable.
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post 20.Jan.2013, 07:16 PM
Post #2
Location: Stockholm
Joined: 2.Aug.2011

I read your long post, thanks for sharing.

I think it really depends mostly on one's own personality in how you will experience Sweden. If you are inflexible and rigidly bound to your culture and your ideas of what life should be, you will suffer, whether in Sweden, China, or anywhere else. But that suffering is entirely your own creation.

It is interesting that you went back to Spain when the skilled people want to get out. Did you find a reasonable job? Did your Swedish partner follow with you?

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post 20.Jan.2013, 07:20 PM
Post #3
Location: Malmö
Joined: 10.Jul.2009

you make some excellent points, i couldnt put most of what you written better myself. i have been here a similar amount of time to you and although i have not gotten married or had any kids, i have noticed the same behaviours. the worst is the work ethic, a totally incompetent person whom cant even do the job is treated wiht the utmost courtesy so as not to offend their totally useless ass. they sit there having their 1 hour fika breaks ever 15 mins and i sit and work as there is work to be done and then i get accused of being antisocial.
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post 20.Jan.2013, 07:38 PM
Post #4
Joined: 10.Dec.2010

Thanks and best wishes.
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post 20.Jan.2013, 08:01 PM
Post #5
Location: Skåne
Joined: 7.Jan.2010

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post 20.Jan.2013, 08:12 PM
Post #6
Joined: 3.Jan.2013

QUOTE (PDX @ 20.Jan.2013, 07:16 PM) *
I read your long post, thanks for sharing.I think it really depends mostly on one's own personality in how you will experience Sweden. If you are inflexible and rigidly bo ... (show full quote)

Thanks for reading.
I think that you are right for the most. I believe in addaptation to some extend. But at the end only you decide what you want for your life. At some point I realized I didn't want to addapt to swedish climat, or swedish food, or swedish social life. I have travelled the world through my work, and I definetly believe I could spend long periods in certain geographies and do very good. I had a good time in Sweden, but the dark moments also occupied too much of my life. I was lucky to have the option to come back to Spain to a good position, and where my international experience is a plus. My family moved with me, I would not had done it otherwise.
It is funny the kind of feeling I have for Sweden. My wife and children are swedish, I watch swedish cartoons with them and I love it! I like to speak the language although I'm not so fluent as I should be after 5 years (working IT sector where english was the project language). I hated the weather so badly, so badly...It is ridiculous. I believe that Im not inflexible or culturally rigid.. but I think that great part of the humanity share common social and cultural ties that either don't exist in Sweden or they are so particular in their expression that you won't reconigze them as such. Scandinavian culture is very particular (more than others) and it is not for every one. Won't you agree on that?
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post 20.Jan.2013, 08:57 PM
Post #7
Location: Stockholm
Joined: 7.Feb.2006

Thanks also for taking the time to share. I feel like you very much. I would leave but I can't due to children from a previous relationship.

I particularly agree on the traditions and culture. When I moved here 11 years ago, I thought the cultures were strong and I was impressed, until I realized that there is no open door policy, it's even considered bad manners to bring a friend to fairly informal gathering. Without ties, how are you supposed to integrate, as you put it..!!

I also agree about the countryside. Is it that beautiful? I've driven across northern Spain with its rugged mountainous terrain, Rome up to Tuscany and even across the the South downs, Devon etc in my country. All stunning. I drove from Stockholm to Gothenburg when I first moved here. Biggest disappointment ever.

I agree it's great for my 3 kids. It really is. That's my solace. All the best to you!
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post 20.Jan.2013, 09:00 PM
Post #8
Joined: 5.Jun.2012

wow so you moved to a Nordic country expecting sun and sea. How stupid are you?
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post 20.Jan.2013, 09:20 PM
Post #9
Joined: 3.Jan.2013

Thank you guys. I've been reading most of you for years, so it feels nearly like I know you a little.
Never dare to write my impressions though. I thought it was the right time now that I took some distance.
@Beef. I understand your circumstances and I wish you the best.
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post 20.Jan.2013, 09:20 PM
Post #10
Joined: 28.Nov.2012

So Jonko: Are social benefits such as unemployment insurance, free healthcare, online government services and free education available in Spain? If they are then I would gladly move to a warmer and cheaper place as well...
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post 20.Jan.2013, 09:32 PM
Post #11
Joined: 26.Jul.2011

QUOTE (jonko @ 20.Jan.2013, 07:07 PM) *
I moved to Sweden from Spain back in 2007 after my company was granted a very lucrative contract within the IT sector. I had a Swedish sambo by then who I had met in Spain 5 y ... (show full quote)

So what do you want us to discuss? This is a forum where one is supposed to discuss different issues or news. As it is now there won`t be any discussion, just people who offer their own stories or give you a pat on the back. Are we supposed to discuss your personal experiences and opinions? That`s no discussion. I can`t argue against your personal experiences or opinions. They are your personal opinions and there is nothing I can say to refute those claims. If I can`t do that then there is no discussion. All I can say is that your story is just one of millions and it is definetly not descriptive of Sweden or the Swedes. That`s the beginning and end of the discussion.

You say it`s your own personal experiences or opinions but that doesn`t stop you from making wild and broad generalizations about an entire country with it`s population. It`s just a long negative rant about how much you think Sweden and the Swedes suck. You didn`t meantion one single positive thing. What`s you agenda? Why did you post this? What did you hope to achive? Why not make a post about how even though Sweden and the Swedes sucks, according to you, they have still given the world so much? Or, if you think things are so bad, why not offer some constructive criticism instead of just listing all the negative things you found?
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post 20.Jan.2013, 09:45 PM
Post #12
Joined: 3.Jan.2013

@Migga. My opinion is that I write whatever I want no matter if you like it or not. Can you argue that?
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post 20.Jan.2013, 09:52 PM
Post #13
Joined: 22.Mar.2011

Spot on! Take heed creatures. You will not like sweden. And sweden does not like you. Right now living is easy. Resources are plentiful. People are tolerant and friendly (our version of friendly anyway). But hard times are coming.
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post 20.Jan.2013, 09:58 PM
Post #14
Joined: 26.Jul.2011

QUOTE (jonko @ 20.Jan.2013, 09:45 PM) *
@Migga. My opinion is that I write whatever I want no matter if you like it or not. Can you argue that?

It has nothing to do with me liking it or not, I have no emotions towards your post at all. So your agenda to be here is to write what you want?
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Gamla Hälsingebock
post 20.Jan.2013, 10:02 PM
Post #15
Joined: 21.Dec.2006

Very observant and well structured...but why?

Anybody can write what they experience...either negative or positive...I bet a person could find a lot of "wrong" in the life of any people anywhere...even Spain...I thank you for your negativity and most obvious "home sickness".

Aren't you glad you have a place to vent, as it were?

If the Swedish people were unhappy with what they are, and as you perceive them, they would most likely change their ways or move to sunny Spain...and no doubt be honoured and pleased to live next door to you.

GH wink.gif
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