Sweden was a first Scandinavian country that I visit.
Going to the new place with a set of pre-determined expectations is not good, as it might hinder your exploration patterns and narrows your view. However, even knowing that, I did have my expectations, blurred pictures of how should Sweden look like and function.
What I saw generally fitted my pre-defined idea but also complemented and partly corrected it.
I will not follow any chronology or make a story of my trip to Stockholm, instead I spit here out (in a more or less structured way) my observations about this country.
The very first impression I had arriving in Stockholm was about people being stylish. It’s not that kind of definition of style you’ll find in Paris or Italy but functional, minimalistic and modest.
It makes a perfect sense to use rain jackets daily in Sweden, so Swedes created beautiful rain jackets instead of plastic crap we are used to think about when mentioning rain jackets. Also Swedes like to use under jackets, sort of Uniqlo style. These go under any coats and suits.
I haven’t seen much diversity in color, as clothes are mostly dark or grayish, the fits are large, and the forms are simple and straight , as if people don’t like to stand out of the crowd but keep their clothes comfortable and again functional.
Physically, both me and my husband found Swedish men and women attractive. A lot of Arian types of faces with light shaded skin and blonde hairs but also nice brunette types.
Surprising for me was that Swedes are not as tall as I expected. Probably even smaller than Germans, not to mention Dutch people.
c. Quiet and individualistic
When I go to Mexico, I feel like someone strongly increases the volume of sound. Everything is loud and mixed. In Sweden, the effect is contrary.
I think I’ve never been in a more quiet country. Ok, let alone the Swiss countryside but talking about the big city, actually the capital.
One day we were traveling and we came to a Burger King on the train station to eat. The silence in that Burger King at the train station was astounding. People were sitting quietly and eating their burgers without making any noise, even those ones who were not alone. Everyone was actually eating and reading – either a paper book or smartphone.
When Swedes speak, at least on public, they do it very calmly too. Don’t know if it’s my imagination but even announcements on the train station sounded gentle and quiet.
Another particularity I noticed in Sweden, is that people tend to be more individualistic compared to other countries. A lot of people spending time on their own in cafés and other places. Indeed, according to statistics, over half of Sweden’s households is made up of one person.
d. Laid back
Comparing to northern peoples and, especially, Germans I found Swedes to be more laid back and slightly more open.
People on the street make an eye contact more frequently and easily, whereas in Germany is more of the mauvais ton.
Another huge difference compared to German is that people are less concerned about their privacy when it comes to photographs. That’s fine, take your photo and go.
2. Life organization
I could have talked about lagom here but I haven’t read the book. Lagom seems to describe Swedish life approach very well. So instead I’ll focus on other aspects of life that Swedes in my opinion managed quiet well.
I spent 5 days in Sweden and haven’t used and not even seen the local money. I could pay everywhere with the phone (except of two places where I had to pay with the physical credit card).
Moreover, some places are clearly announced as cash-free places, meaning that you can pay only with a card/phone.
Sounds like a dream country for a geek like me. I think it’s safe and convenient, also transparent which could be an advantage and disadvantage for some.
b. Ecology and resource management
You might link the ecology and Sweden with the name of Greta Thunberg. Yet, Sweden is famous in ecology matters not (only) because of Greta.
Stockholm has been called a European Green Capital, and that’s because it implemented some of the unique systems of resource management. The one that impresses me most is the system where the sewage from toilets gets cleaned and transformed into biogas that in its turns powers the local buses.
Stockholm buses are powered by your poo! How cool does it sound!
The filtered water then is being emptied into the Baltic Sea.
Other than that, what I could spot in Stockholm as a tourist is that all paper towels are made of unbleached recycled paper, straws are mostly paper ones, disposable cutlery is wooden etc.
c. Modernization but in connection with nature
Old town in Stockholm is cute but overall from my perspective all the new things that Swedes construct, arrange look better than the old ones. It’s no wonder IKEA was born in Sweden, even though IKEA is about functional things not the sustainable ones.
Stockholm seems a bit like a construction place. A lot of renovations, improvements, re-building. The new urban design looks very good to my taste. Swedes also know how to keep a connection to the nature, so Stockholm is a very modern but green city.
Another impression worth sharing is that Sweden seems to be the homeland of hipsters. Just because everything seems hipster here. At the same time not pretentious or artificial.
I haven’t made a thorough research on this subject but I dare to make an assumptions that hipsters are originally coming from Sweden. Don’t they?
This point could also be in section 1. People, nonetheless I decided to put in under section Life Organisation, as the open-mindedness both originates and directly impacts the way of life,
That being said, Sweden is a very open-minded country, to some – way too much.
My attitude to open-mindedness is obviously positive, at the same time I’m not a big fan of the common side effect of open societies nowadays.
Paradoxically, after reaching the high level of tolerance and acceptance, we go backwards and develop intolerance towards the ones who are not tolerant (aka have a unpopular opinion, act differently). The boundary between tolerance and openness vs. refusal of another view are getting thinner these days.
Anyway, I didn’t have a chance to see the degree of presence of such paradox in Sweden but what I could grasp is that inclusivity (race/sexual identification and other), feminism feel genuine and effortless here. It is just normal and from what I could see in 5 days I liked this attitude and ambiance.
This was my first encounter with Swedish language which turned out to be quite close to German but even more to Dutch. I don’t speak Dutch but living there for a year I did learned the basics, which are super helpful in Sweden.
The words like betalen, nu, öppentidder, måndag, avstånd are almost identical to its Dutch equivalents. I think living in Sweden for a year or so would be enough to have a solid understanding and communication skills.
One language peculiarity I perceived in Sweden that reflects also the mentality is that funny tendency to repeat words twice. As if Swedes try to sound more gently: tack tack , mumselimums , hej hej .
Sweden‘s nature reminds me a lot of the northern Russia – the Karelia region which borders the Finland. This made me feel nostalgic about my trips in that Russian area.
Same huge stones covered with moss, same soft soil covered with moss, berries and mushrooms, beautiful forests and lakes.
Normally, tourists go to take a ferry across the Stockholm archipelago, which I was originally planning too but due to the low-season, the timetable for the ferries was really poor so I opted for going to the Natural Park Tyresta 25km away from Stockholm.
It was a great way to have a tiny glimpse over the Swedish countryside (Swedish wooden houses also remind me a lot the Russian ones) and to enjoy the northern Scandinavian nature.
I covered here only a small part of my Swedish impressions and, definitely, only a teeny-tiny glimpse into the Swedish culture but hopefully it could be enough to spark the interest to this country and region.