In a land far far away…..where half of it is covered by pine and spruce forests, a mesmerising archipelago exists near its capital city. No polar bears or penguins live here but northern lights, elks, and moose can be seen (if you are lucky). The sun occasionally exists here too (note occasionally) and it has its peak during summer where the sun never sets (what?). I am of course talking about Sweden.
Sweden is one of the first countries in the world to allow same-sex marriage in church, has one of the highest rates of immigration and is the frontrunner in climate change awareness (shoutout to Greta). Sweden has exemplary views on equal rights and democracy (i.e. freedom of will, speech, and to write) and is literally the definition of a free country. Sweden tops all the “Top 10 countries to live in” or “The happiest people in the world” lists.
It all sounds perfect but is it as great as it seems to be? What are the “odd” things about Sweden? How important are those aspects when you are deciding to move to Sweden? That is up for you to decide but I will try my best in answering these questions and give insights on the peculiar behaviour of Swedes. Remember that these are my personal opinions and I am generalising a lot (FYI: I am born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden). Let’s start!
1# Be who you want to be. Yet don’t be too different.
Swedes have a rather healthy way of living life (according to my definition of healthiness). They are very connected to nature, believe in a sustainable life style (healthy diet, minimalism, active sports), good work balance and emphasise on the importance of reflection. They believe in being self conscious, self reflective and allowing yourself to think freely and independently. It is deeply infused into their social, political and economical values and it enables Swedes to make choices of their own. How great is this?!
However, all this reaches to a certain limit where you can think freely and be who you want to be, as long as it fits well into the general norms. Ever heard of the Swedish word lagom? It means not too much, not too little. Just lagom.
Speak your mind and say what you think, but do not be too different about it. Swedes are very politically correct individuals and bringing up subjects where their own personal opinion would matter, they would try to avoid that. You would not want to challenge them into expressing how they really feel, especially if you would feel differently about a matter. It makes them feel uncomfortable. They will quietly make their judgements about you but never say it to your face.
Be very active and ambitious in your life but only to a certain point. If you take a lot of space and have confidence, it might be interpreted as being arrogant and swedes dislike that. They believe in equality, being on the same level (flat organisations are popular here) but it becomes frustrating to deal with if you have those characteristics. You feel that you cannot grow as much as you wish for and you have to keep grounding yourself to not be mistaken as arrogant or “too expressive”.
2# In Sweden, healthcare and education is free. But we also have one of the highest tax rates in the world.
When it comes to healthcare, dental care is completely free until you are 23 y/o and general healthcare is free until you are 18 y/o. As of 18, you have to pay up to 1150 SEK for healthcare costs (appointments, medications) during a 12 month period and when you exceed the 1150 SEK, everything is free for the rest of the period. At the end of that 12 month period, the cycle restarts again. For dental care, the costs vary for dental procedures and also whether you go to private clinics or the governmental dental care (Folktandvården).
Education is free here at any age, at any level of studies (primary school up to university studies) and you even get paid to study. For example, a university student studying at least 75 % pace, receives 3292 SEK per month. You only need to pay it back if you have not passed your credits. I love it 🙂
With that said, income tax for the average Swede is 44 %, with rates reaching as high as 60 %. This makes Sweden’s income tax one of the world’s highest! All that tax money goes somewhere right? I have paid taxes since I was 18 (26 y/o now) and my parents over 35 years. In some ways, we are indirectly paying our own education and healthcare but Sweden has implemented a system where the government deals with the “details” and allocates it equally to everyone living in Sweden. Good or bad? cannot decide so I leave it neutral!
3# Swedish people are very welcoming and open. But only to a certain extent.
Swedes are very polite and humble people. They are for example excellent in english and enjoy communicating to others that cannot speak Swedish. They are thriving in supporting LGBTQ rights and are open to individuals practicing their religious beliefs. Swedes are also very empathetic (do not confuse it with sympathetic) as they are one of the countries that contributes with the most funding to charitable causes. And we are just 10 million! Lastly, IF they can feel a sense of connection with you, you can surely make life long friends with them. Once you are in, you are inside their circle for the long run.
But Swedes are also rather careful, private and conservative. And I really want to emphasise on that. It becomes rather difficult to reach Swedish people in that sense. They are not the most talkative types, they would not be the first one who “breaks the ice” and they would certainly not initiate a conflict either. They do not make hasty decisions, they wait for someone else to take the first step and they certainly dislike to talk about themselves unless absolutely necessary.
If you initiate a conversation, they will politely answer your questions and it might end up being a fruitful dialogue…. but that could be the end of it. It is simply hard for them to step out of their comfort zone and just be a little more relaxed about meeting new people and become personal with you next time you meet.
Aaaaaaand now I am done.
Sensitive subject right? Yes, I know. Have I exaggerated in some parts? Maybe. But I hope that you can take all this information with a “pinch of salt” and see the humour in it as well. Me writing this blogpost is not a Swedish thing to do. But as I am not the typical lagom Swede, I just had to do it in the end 😉
Sweden is a great place to live and I could not be happier to consider myself a Swede. We just have funny ways of behaving sometimes and if you learn how to deal with it, you are good to go!
Thank you for reading! // Tina 🙂 Blogger for the Bioentrepreneurship programme.
Cover photo taken by: Patrick Engeler (Our former Instagram Ambassador).