It’s funny how the closer I get to coming home, the more I want to stay in Sweden (even though there were times during the last six months when I would have given anything to be back in California). It almost always works that way, though, doesn’t it?
There is a group on Facebook titled, “You know you’ve been in Sweden too long when…” and it points out some of the more interesting cultural quirks associated with Swedish culture. It turns out that I’ve adapted to quite a few of these norms, and I laughed out loud when I read some of them. A good reminder of how different things really are here.
Here are some of the best ones…
You know you’ve been in Sweden to long when…
…you rummage through your plastic bag collection to see which ones you should keep to take to the store and which can be sacrificed to garbage.
Here’s the deal: not only are Swedish grocery stores devoid of bagboys, but you are also required to pay for your shopping bags (about 15 cents each). They are made of much thicker plastic than the typical U.S. grocery bag and this leads to the stockpiling of bags, which you then reuse: either by bringing them with you on your next shopping trip, or using them to line your trash can.
…you associate Friday afternoon with a trip to System Bolaget and think nothing of paying $50 for a bottle of 'cheap' spirits.
The Swedish government has a monopoly on alcohol sales in Sweden. If you want any drink with stronger than 3.5 percent alcohol, you must go to the System Bolaget. They are only open Monday through Saturday, close by 5PM, and the prices are steep! All of this is an attempt to encourage Swedes to drink "responsibly." Procrastinators line up on Friday to buy booze for the weekend, and the more ambitious and price conscious head to Germany, Finland, or Denmark to buy it for cheap.
…your front door step is beginning to resemble a shoe shop.
Self explanatory. Everyone takes off their shoes when entering a home. Even the computer repairman who came by my dorm several weeks took his shoes off automatically, without any request. Primary reason? Long, snowy winters = wet, muddy shoes. And year-round cleanliness, I suppose.
…you associate pea soup with Thursday.
It's a Swedish tradition: pea soup and pancakes on Thursday. Even for the royal family.
…the first thing you do on entering a bank/post office/pharmacy/bakery etc. is look for the queue number machine.
Swedes don’t wait in lines, except at the grocery store. Almost everywhere, you take a number. Banks, bakeries, the doctors office, wherever. Take a number. Then sit. And wait.
…an outside temperature of 8 degrees Celsius (45 F) is mild.
Even a wimpy Californian like me is getting used to the cold!
...you think that an unripe wedge of tomato on a limp leaf of iceberg lettuce can be called a salad.
Swedish food is very good for the most part, but I haven’t had a really good salad since I left California. While in Sweden, I’ll take what I can get. But one of the first stops when I’m back? Café Intermezzo!
...you assume that anyone who apologizes after bumping into you is a tourist.
This is a bit of a generalization, but Swedes do treat their personal space a little differently.
...paying $5 for a cup of coffee seems reasonable.
Actually, $3.50 is a little more accurate, but a café latte doesn’t come cheap. Neither does a lot of other stuff (clothes, food). The dollar is weak and there are no Target stores here. Suck it up and pay.
...you get offended if, at a dinner party, someone fails to look you in the eyes after raising their glass for a toast.
When you toast, you say “skål!” but you don’t clink glasses. Instead, you look every person at the table in the eye. Always.
...seeing a young woman with lit candles stuck to her head no longer disturbs you.
Sankt Lucia day: December 13th. This is a tradition that my mom brought into our home when I was younger, so the candles-on-head thing has never actually been disturbing, but I suppose it's a bit strange to those who are unfamiliar with the Nordic Christmas! Read more.
..."candles" are a permanent fixture on your weekly shopping list.
When I got out of my class yesterday (at 4PM) it was already pitch black outside. Swedish winters are dark! And cold! Candles are an easy way to make everything warmer and brighter.
...you believe that when you finally win your Nobel Prize, it is best to be modest and say "Oh really, it was nothing!"
Ah, the Swedish concept of “jante.” It’s humility – the idea that no Swede is better than any other Swede. It’s a really refreshing perspective that affects the way one thinks and behaves. (And it is dramatically different from America’s individualistic ethos!)
So, when I come home in December and you discover that I’ve become a plastic-bag-collecting, winter sunbathing, Sankt Lucia girl who takes off my shoes while indoors and walks around saying “California is so warm!!”, don’t be surprised.
Friday, November 30, 2007