Ok, so, here’s the thing; I come from a small, Greek country, where nothing is taken for granted in terms of working. And by nothing, I mean absolutely nothing. This can range from cell phone service, to actual services, like being serviced in a queue. Train schedules exist, also, just for the sense of the word. There’s no such thing in Greece as public means of transportation ever being on time.
Before I moved to Sweden, I knew. I had heard of this land where everything “just works” (is that a Steve Jobs patented phrase?), where people got what they wanted and knew when they were going to get it. Things were supposed to be so smooth in this far-away place, that every person in line can get serviced, roads are so well laid-out you will never get lost and there is everywhere a sense of everything being right. So I arrive in Uppsala expecting all of the above. After all, I had visited Sweden last year, so I knew what to expect. Boy, was that not enough though! Visiting is one thing, but actually moving here… oh man. I’ve been telling the Swedes since day 1 that, when you come from a country where the worst is to be expected in terms of things working, getting to Sweden is a vast change. Everything works, everything is seamless and the Swedes never lie about timeframes. Instead, they just never commit. On the other hand, getting to a different country means interacting with a different culture and, in its core, a completely different system. Which brings me to my list of things in Sweden that actually still surprise me, even though I have been living here for 2 months now.
- Swedes never want to commit to anything time-binding. This one I have noticed everywhere. No Swede will ever commit to a specific timeframe, instead, they will use the word “soon” when they want to refer to something that should be happening in the near future, or they will respond to your question with “it’s hard to say when, really”. That means two things; it can appear like they’re fast, when said thing happens in a sensible time-frame, or it can sound extremely vague and appear like nobody wants to help you. I just find that the Swedes are generally not that confident and they hate having to commit to anything, so they do this instead.
- Everything is automated. And I mean, like, literally, every single thing. I never carry cash on me (which is why I am broke right now since I lost my debit card and I have to get a new one. Dumbo!), because everything is paid with cards, BankID, or Swish. Then, there are the doors. Oh my god! Those little buttons you see next to every door? You press these and doors open for you, a red carpet drops and someone sings to you a welcome song. Two of these three things don’t happen. Also the buttons are mostly for pregnant women. Also, I am not a pregnant woman. But I still use the buttons.
- There’s a queue everywhere. And I mean, e v e r y w h e r e. It starts from apartment hunting and goes all the way down to using the toilet. The first time I went out, I had two beers and I had to use the toilet (naturally). I get into the pub, and I see people lined up and I’m like “what…”. I walk up there; and I realise… this is the queue for the toilet! That was when it hit me: Jag är i Sverige, älskling!
- Lunch break is a sacred time and forsaken thy be, if you interrupt this. When I got here, I got so unlucky (obviously), I had to visit the dentist. So, after waiting, they pick me up and, while fixing my tooth, the dentist goes like, half-joking, half-serious “oh we’re supposed to be having lunch now”, to which I reply, speaking like a person with their mouth wide open and tools inside it “I’m so sorry. Leave me here and go eat!”. And he said it’s ok. But I know he meant it. I know he was fuming he had to fix my tooth during lunch-break. Which, by the way, not my fault, because I had booked earlier. So, sorry not sorry.
- Phone plans are either ridiculously cheap, or incredibly expensive. In Greece, there’s this saying that goes like “I pay so much for so little data”. Ok that’s a lie, but we say this on the daily. Prices are ridiculous. 1GB of data will easily cost you, like, 50kr over there. When I came here, I realised that, with enough digging, there are cell phone providers that will get you a ton of data monthly, for 100kr. That is crazy. On the other hand, you know what else is crazy? Some other providers that will charge you the whole 150kr for 500MB of data. Hello? Is this 2017? 2009 called and they want their internet prices back.
- A personal number is needed for everything that needs to be done in this country. Oh my god. Oh my god. Ok, so my friends know about this and honestly make fun of me, but this number is needed for, like, everything. From ordering pizza online to getting a bank account. I swear. If you don’t have this, you’re, like, a nobody in the country. I had to figure this out the hard way. I’ve been here since June and, as I am writing these lines, I am still not registered! I have been ringing those Skatteverket minxes since the beginning of this world and, whenever I do get a hold of them, they’re just like “well you have to wait between 2 and 12 weeks”. And I’m like what???? That not-commiting-to-anything-time-binding thing we spoke about? This! On the other hand, I did apply when everyone was literally having their vacay-cay sipping cocktails, while I was here, in Sweden, drinking warm coffee, in July, thinking “oh man I love Fall so much. Where are the pumpkins?”. So, I guess I should be registered soon, now that everyone is back. On the other hand, you have to get creative. Doing things without a personal number is tricky and, overall, a hassle, but possible. Banks will give you an account and you can get a phone subscription without it. What you can’t do, is order lettuce online and be identified. No biggie.
- Town smells like falafel. I mean this. Every time I am in downtown Uppsala, I swear the town smells like a falafel. Or garlic. Or generally food. Which brings me to the next thing that is actually both impressive and good…
- There are food spots EVERYWHERE! Every food imaginable! Burgers, pizzas, kebabs, shrimps, you name it! You can be sure you will be walking around Uppsala and you will be able to find a food spot next to you. That is good for me, not so good for my wallet; poor thing has been hit so hard by these divine smells. Wait, I think I smell sushi.
- Coffee here is boring. So here’s the thing. I drink a lot of coffee. And I personally like filtered coffee; in Greece, flavoured coffee is the norm. Hazelnut, caramel, everything. Not so much the flavour, as the aroma. So imagine my surprise coming here, dreaming of all the different coffee flavours I would get to try, since Sweden is renowned for consuming tons of coffee and instead realising the only kind of filtered coffee you can get is the blah one. Or, you can get this instant coffee, which is called snabbkaffe or whatever but it literally smells and tastes like bacon, unless it is brand, so you have to pay an arm and a leg for it. My roommate put it simply; “We drink our coffee boring”. Speak the truth, girl. I have noticed.
I think these do it. You know, I love Sweden. I think it’s a great country, it’s absolutely, insanely beautiful, people are always polite, the culture is rich and everything just feels good. And I love Uppsala, my big small town, which has everything, at least for me. But at the same time, you cannot not notice how Swedes do things in such different ways; thing is, these ways actually do work!