A foreigner in Sweden

The Life of a Foreigner In Sweden

Kära Sverige! Welcome to the story of my life as a foreigner in Sweden, a country known for social democracy, blonde women and fermented Baltic Sea herring. Some people claim that it is the home of Santa Claus. I beg to disagree. For those of you who don’t know, Santa lives in Finland. According to Statistics Sweden, 782 833 people in the year 2015 in Sweden were foreign citizens. And yes, I was one of them. Even though my “integration process” has been fairly smooth, considering that I grew up about two hours from here, on the Finnish side of the border.

A Foreigner In Sweden: How I Ended Up Here

We live in a time of mobility and people tend to move quite a bit. I believe there are several reasons for people to move: some people look for jobs, others follow their hearts. Just to mention a few. My reasons were a combination of both of the above. Jesper is Swedish. However, we could probably have stayed happily in Slovakia, but it is easier to find a good job in Sweden – a job that actually pays your bills.

Let’s be honest here: Sweden was by no means an unfamiliar country to me. As a teenager and young adult I spent quite a bit of time in Stockholm. I also speak the Swedish language, which naturally affects my experience of living here.

Being a Foreigner In Sweden: the Ups and the Downs

As I mentioned above, I already spoke the language at a native level when moving to Sweden, so my life was probably a lot easier than for most people in the same situation. Finding a job was fairly easy, as well. Within six weeks of moving here, I started my first job in central Stockholm. As icing on the cake, my citizenship (Finnish) really made things simple. The cooperation between the Nordic countries is tight. This means that the bureaucracy is not as bad as it might be for citizens from other countries.

And what kind problems can a foreigner in Sweden expect? Well, no matter where you come from, the housing situation is horrible. This is especially the case for the cities. Here’s a quote from an article that appeared in 2015 in the Guardian, this is still pretty much the case today:

However, the system is experiencing acute pressures. Building of rental homes almost dried up after a financial crisis in the early 1990s, and there is a dire shortage of properties. Demand is such that it is almost impossible to get a direct contract. With nearly half of all Stockholmers – about 500,000 people – in the queue, it can take 20 or 30 years to get to the top of the pile.

Of course, buying is an option but for that you need the money. And you need quite a lot of it. We were actually quite lucky with finding an apartment – but it was the result of many coincidences.

It must also be noted, however shortly, that one of the pros of living in Sweden is that most things work. 

A Foreigner In Sweden and the Cultural Aspects

There is also the cultural aspect – finding yourself in a new country always poses challenges. Swedes and Finns are culturally quite similar. We might not agree on the exact location of Father Christmas, but at least we coincide on the fact that he exists. Well, kind of.

Something that I personally find quite odd is that people are so darn cheerful all the time. And everything is superb, great, wonderful, magical, amazing, awesome, incredible, fantastic, lovely and perfect. You really need to know your superlatives if you want to blend in. This is actually quite contradictory to everything you have heard about the Law of Jante. I have definitely found my cynical streak after moving here.

A foreigner in Sweden might be in awe of (or suspicious) about all the fika. It is quite surprising how so many people can be so fit considering that this is a country that has dedicated a day to the cinnamon bun. Make sure to be in Sweden on October 4th if you want to try this delicacy! And what is fika? Well, it’s a very nice tradition that usually includes coffee, cakes, sandwiches… A coffee break in other words.

One thing that is not strange to me but that other people might think weird is the silence. And I do not only refer to the absolute silence in the nature. No, people are generally quiet and quite formal. Small talk and sitting next to strangers on the bus might not be a strength. Actually, come to think of it, speak loudly on public transport and people will give you angry looks. As I mentioned above, one of the advantages in living here is that everything works. That presupposes that everyone should follow the rules – everywhere and all the time. Maybe it is Jante after all.

Are you living in a foreign country? What are the pros and cons of living in that country?

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Miguel

    Well, the language barrier is one you have avoided in this case, but it hurts in the beginning. Also, depending on where you come from, these weird things like the silence you mention come as a burden.

    From Spain to Estonia, where I am now, I’d say there’s a number of cultural differences like the silence, or removing your shoes when entering a home, and at least in Estonia, the constant competition to be better than others.

  2. Sarah Washburne

    Thank you for explaining the silence! We live where the Swedes immigrated – Wisconsin and Minnesota in the U.S. and here we call them, “stoic.” Beautiful quiet people! We love our Finns, here, too!

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