Living internationally: how I’ve adapted to Swedish culture

October 8, 2012

in fitting in with the locals,Life as an expat,Living abroad,Living in Sweden,Sweden,Swedish cultural behavior


Flying the Swedish flag in front of Stockholm's Stadshuset or city hall.

This morning, I read one of those “you know you’ve turned into a Swede when” type of lists and there were a lot of things on it that made me laugh. And it also made me realize how much I’ve changed in the eight years that I’ve lived in Stockholm. So I couldn’t resist doing a step-by-step analysis of a few of the points.

First, here are a few things that I’ve learned and a few ways that I’ve become “Swede-ified:”
You know how to fix herring in 105 different ways. I would change herring to salmon though. It’s unbelievable how many ways the Swedes can fix salmon and how many recipes I’ve read about how to fix what is basically the same salmon recipe.

Your front step is beginning to resemble a shoe shop. Oh yes, the area inside my front door has a shoe rack that is jam packed with all our shoes. Even when I go to another country where the no outdoor shoes on indoors rule is not enforced, I still try to take my shoes off.

It’s no longer seems excessive to spend 1 000 SEK on alcohol in a single night. OK, I still think this is excessive, but I know that doing this can happen very easily when you go out on the town in Stockholm.

You know that ”Extrapris” goods are cheaper, even though your English mind translates the word as ”extra price.” Oh yes, I still English-ize words all the time. When I first moved here, I remembered the word for hospital – sjukhus – because I thought of it as sick house. Morgon means morning (good morning) and it still makes me laugh as it is pronounced moron and it’s often fun to call someone a moron, no?

You stop thinking you’re being yelled at every time you hear “Hey!” On top of this, I now use hej (pronounced hey) everywhere I go around the world and only remember how rude it sounds in other countries after I’ve done it once again.

The first thing you do upon entering a bank/post office/chemist etc. is to look for the queue number machine. Yup, I do this all.the.time. And at the doctor, the deli, the pharmacy and the alcohol store too. The Swedes love their number system!

• I know that VD is the boss, not something you need to get medical treatment for.

Here are some ways that I’ve become bi (as in sometimes I act American, sometimes I act Swedish):
You are no longer surprised when you see full-frontal male nudity in a commercial or on TV. While I’m not surprised when I see this, it does still kind of amuse me!
You can use bra, fart, and slut in the same sentence without giggling. Sometimes I can do this, but not always. Translations? Bra = good. Fart = speed.  Slut = end or closure. When I see slut rea or closing sale in a store window, I still think slut sale.
You refer to weeks by their number. I know that weeks are referred to by their number and I can make myself say, “let’s meet up sometime during week 41” but it still makes me feel like I am putting on an act.
And finally, here are a few of the ways that I have not adapted:
• You wear warm clothing when it’s 25 degrees plus in April – because it’s April. AND: you wear shorts and t-shirt when it’s barely 10 degrees in July – because it’s July. These are two ways that I know I am not a Swede. If it’s warm, I do not wear my warm clothing or else I sweat. Swedes never seem to sweat in these situations. I don’t get it. Nor do I get how on those warm days, a Swede will wear a down jacket, hat and gloves on the subway. That sounds like hell to me. And you know what, on those July days when it’s only 10 degrees c (50 degrees fahrenheit), I wear warm clothes, not shorts. Seems like common sense to me.
You think silence is fun. Nope, I don’t think silence is fun. I am hardwired to be a chatty American. While I certainly can be quiet and know when to be quiet, I like to talk as well.
 When a stranger on the street smiles at you, you assume:
a: he is drunk
b: he is insane
c: he’s an American
d: he’s all of the above
OK, I know from living here that smiling on the street or even acknowledging someone that you don’t know on the street is just not done even if you see them every day. That said, when someone smiles at me on the street, I do tend to register that they they are probably American or Australian. And then I smile back. I’m just too set in my ways to change that.




1 Ash Rehn, expat counsellor October 8, 2012 at 20:36

Some serious cultural observations here but also fun stuff. And it helps to keep up a sense of humor as an expat in Sweden. Keep posting!

2 Antropologa October 8, 2012 at 20:59

What about the elderly in Stockholm? Here on the other side I feel like about 50% of the time I pass an elderly person and I smile at them (I love alarming strange Swedes by smiling at them) they do smile back!

3 Sandra October 8, 2012 at 22:10

Ash, I think that maintaining your sense of humor is a big part of surviving in a new culture. Thanks for commenting.

4 Sandra October 8, 2012 at 22:14

Antropologa, I think it may be a bit more snobby here in Stockholm – or at least in the city center. It can be particularly hard to get the elderly to notice you. I lived in a building next to a very stylish and stately woman in her 70s and saw her many, many times over the years. I would always say hello (in Swedish) and nod and not once did she ever reply. She very steadfastly ignored me!

5 EurotripTips October 10, 2012 at 20:44

French people too refer to time in weeks. Very confusing at first! Loved this post – especially insightful after talking about it with you yesterday!

6 Sandra October 11, 2012 at 07:59

Eurotips, Great to talk to you about it too. Have you posted about your adaptations, by the way?

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