I actually have already written about a number of ways in which Sweden has changed me in a previous post, which you can read here:
Almost an entire year has passed since then: a whole year of cinnamon buns, postal tardiness and gender equality. Whilst it is likely that I will leave Stockholm come summer, I’d like to think that wherever I live, the marks Sweden has etched upon me will remain. Though I may live across the world, I will still go for fika with friends, I will get angry when the bus is one minute late and I will seek and cherish the sun every day it deigns to make an appearance. And maybe, if I am feeling particularly homesick for the city I have fallen hopelessly in love with, I will start queuing two meters behind people.
Here is the continuing list of the ways in which Sweden has changed me:
1: I never carry cash…unless it’s Friday at the MF pub
I love Swedish money. They have Astrid Lindgren on their 20 kronor bills! But I never have any on me. I think it is because of the startled and confused look the cashier at Coop gives me when I hand a stack of bills. I just cannot do that to him anymore. I don’t have the heart. Indeed, you heard it here first, I’m pretty sure Stockholm will become the first cashless city in the world. I have encountered more and more ‘cashless commerces’ that only take cards. I am also convinced that my small French town of 7000 people has more ATMs than Stockholm. Ok, this might be a slight exaggeration. But I’ve made my point. In the end, paying by card may be simpler. Sweden has removed any coins lower than 1 krona from circulation, if you pay by cash the amount has to be rounded up or down, and that is just a huvudvärk (headache) for everyone. So keep your bills for the KI Friday pub where ‘cash is king’.
2: A fika break is not a luxury – it is a necessity
I am becoming more Swedish, one kanelbulle (cinnamon bun) at a time. Since I have moved to Sweden, I have ingested incredible amounts of sugar and….cinnamon (as you will soon find out, cinnamon is the Swede’s favourite spice). On average, Swedes eat cake and pastries equivalent to 316 kanelbulle a year (I love that they use kanelbulle as a metric). My favourite thing about Swedish pastries though is that they follow a strict calendar. You only feast on lussebulle (saffron bun) during the Christmas period and ingest semla (cardamom bun with almond paste and and deliciously unhealthy amount of cream) between fat Tuesday and Easter. To be honest, after eating one semla, I’m pretty sure you need a year to recover. Let’s all take King Adolf’s death by semla overdose as a cautionary tale. The Swedish king loved semla so much that he ate 17 of them, and died instantly (this may be fiction but I want it to be true). I hope he at least earned the respect of his fika-loving nation for this brave act.
Fika is what they call coffee breaks in Sweden. They have a special word for it because that’s how sacred it is here. When I started working in the lab, I soon realized that fika was the answer to everything. You have a meeting? You bring fika. You have to present a paper? You bring fika. You got your paper submitted? You bring fika. It’s Tuesday? You bring fika. In life, there are fika breaks, and then everything else in between.
3: Vocalization 101
Before I moved to Sweden, I was satisfied with simply nodding when someone spoke to me, to signal that I am listening. But here, everything has changed. I have become a very vocal listener, just like your average swede. It goes from the basic ‘åh to the little more complex ‘aaaahhhhh’, to the more minimalist half ‘a’, and the ultimate sophisticated ‘jahaaa’, the latter signifying ‘Oh I see!’. I remember one woman on the phone in the pendeltåg who literally just repeated ‘ahaaa’, ‘aaa’, ‘jaaa’, ‘a’ (the number of As is a subtle but important difference) at her interlocutor for 20 minutes (not so fun to eavesdrop on). This may simply be yet another example of Swedish efficiency. Why use whole words to answer people, when you can simply make sounds and save time. It is genius; you contribute to the conversation, without really having to come up with an actual contribution. Would you expect anything more from the country where a sharp intake of break is equivalent to a yes?
4: Gender equality has become a norm
My biggest surprise when I moved to Sweden was seeing dads pushing strollers. I saw men walking their children in parks. I saw bro-dates as two men push their respective child in their prams and chat over lattes. I remember commuting in the subway one morning and seeing a mother kiss her children and husband goodbye and get off the train. She was going to work; he was bringing the kids to school.
Maybe my surprise is surprising. But I am French and this just does not happen in my country. Women assume most of the childcare whether they work full-time or not. I remember when I was 16 and my math teacher (who was such a wonderful and kind teacher) told us he was going to be off on ‘paternity leave’. That was such a foreign expression to us, and it still remains this way.
Of course, gender equality does not limit itself to child rearing in Sweden, it just happens to be the most obvious manifestation of it. (I hesitate to question happy couples about who makes the most money between them). I’ve changed now. Gender equality has become a norm. I am no longer pleasantly surprised by men pushing prams. There’s nothing extraordinary about it. My friends from Paris came to visit and kept commenting on it. I just shrugged like it was no big deal, a true Swede-worthy response. The thing is that now I am surprised when I I walk around Paris. Where are the latte pappas (or papas croissants?). I am horrified at the lack of men with their children. I guess I have Swedish standards now, and I’m not ready to give those up.
5: Incomplete Swedification
My ‘swedification’ is however not complete. Here are some ways in which I have resisted thus far:
- I still don’t like coffee. No amount of milk can render the taste appealing. But since I have moved here, I have a chai latte addiction. Well played, Sweden, well played.
- I don’t wear skinny black jeans, a long black coat and white sneakers. I wear a long grey coat, blue skinny jeans and blue sneakers. I’m a very daring individual.
- I sit until the end of the credits at the cinema. I don’t get up the moment the lights come on like every single other person in the room.
- I refuse to stand two meters away from the next person in the bus line. Sometimes, when I’m feeling French and anarchic, I might not even stand at the end of the line. I’m a monster. I like to watch society fall apart.
- I still don’t understand Eurovision. But then, even the British enthusiasm didn’t get to me. My French cynicism is an unscalable wall.
- I do not own an IPhone. Swedes love their Apple products. Why would they not? The efficiency and minimalist design reflects their Swedish users so well.