Life in Sweden, by MP
I have known Matthew Perry since we met at college CU in 1980, and discovered a mutual passion for Tolkien. He was studying chemistry and has continued as a professional (industrial research) chemist ever since. In 2011 this led him and his family (artist wife Noreen and one of their two daughters) to move to Sweden to live. I asked him for a post about his experience of living in a foreign country. His own blog can be recommended for several reasons, not least the numerous photographs!
Sweden is a really beautiful country, even where we live, just outside the second largest city. Our house backs onto woods, the other side of the valley is a nature reserve that stretches about 30 km north to south. I love walking in the woods, summer or winter. We have lots of lakes, I live with three lakes within walking distance of my house; two of them I have both swum in during summer and skated on in winter. Only a short drive from our house is the sea, with beautiful beaches. Just off the coast is an archipelago of small islands (with boat service to the major ones). I windsurf in an idyllic spot and have canoed in the archipelago.
In winter we get cold weather and often snow. Hard work since I cycle to my job all year, but beautiful. I have also taken advantage of being able to go to ski slopes after work or at weekends to learn to ski.
The population of Sweden is about 10 million in a huge country; I find Britain very crowded and the roads dreadful when I go back. Culturally Sweden has some differences from Britain. It is a very gender-equal society. At my workplace about 60% of the employees are female. My manager, her manager and our vice-president are all women. Men get, and take, parental leave when they have small children. I would have liked to have had 6 months – 1 year off when my children were young. In contrast people do not retire so young, but I am not in a hurry to stop work.
Sweden has some very nice celebrations that Britain either never had or lost long ago. We will soon celebrate Lucia – the festival of Saint Lucia who with candles and singing is almost universally celebrated here, coming as it does at the darkest time of the year. Candles and lights are a big part of the dark winter days – they go up at the beginning of Advent and stay up until at least the end of January. The dark winter days are one of the harder parts of life here – another reason for liking snow since it brightens up the days.
Swedish houses have lots of windows and living areas are usually open-plan with wooden floors – British houses seem very cramped in comparison. Despite the cold weather – or perhaps because of it, modern Swedish houses are warm, with efficient heating and excellent insulation. We usually feel cold when we visit the UK in winter months!
I hated learning languages at school and came here knowing that I could get by without knowing much Swedish – but to my surprise I found I wanted to learn Swedish and have become quite passable at it. I can manage work meetings and most general conversation. I can usually even work out what official communications are about. I have surprised myself by discovering that I love reading in Swedish, in fact I only read fiction in Swedish these days.
Swedish food is different from Britain – the Swedes eat a lot of fish, there is always a fish option at work in the canteen, every supermarket has a good fish counter and outside there will be an independent fishmonger as well. The quality of the fish, particularly here around Gothenburg, is superb, the prawns are the best I have ever had. The choice of fish, however is smaller than in the UK because we do not get the fish from warmer waters.
Other differences are closing times – smaller shops close quite early on Saturdays (3 pm typically) and much of the country shuts down altogether for a month in July. One has to become Swedish and take a long summer holiday! Holiday provision is quite generous so this is not difficult. The winter school break is known as “Sportlov”, that is sports break, and many people take a winter sport holiday.
There are a few things I dislike about living here: the biggest drawback is the need to fly to visit family and friends in the UK. I feel this is bad for the environment but I am not convinced that driving (plus long ferry crossings) for two days is a great alternative. There is a constant tension between desire to see people and minimising travel.
I do not particularly like living in an “ex-pat bubble” and not being part of the community. We have friends here, though not so many, and people leave. We are part of a small English-language church that has a broad international congregation (with even a few Swedes). In many ways it is a very good church, though it also hinders integration into the community that might come from joining a local congregation. The church in Sweden is very weak and also mostly rather too liberal for me.
Personally, coming to Sweden has been a great experience, I have developed in my role at work and had a very fulfilling, if demanding, time. I have also developed as a Christian in our church, which is entirely lay-led, becoming part of the leadership team and having both the privilege and responsibility of preaching regularly. More broadly the challenges of living in a new environment, learning a language, a culture and a history have been experiences I am very grateful to have had.
If you are interested further I blog at https://adventureinsweden.wordpress.com/ , though less frequently, now I have been here seven years.