A year in Sweden
About a year ago, on 16th May 2021, amidst heavy lockdown in India, I packed 25 kg of cloths, spices, assortment of itty bitty things in a suitcase and set off towards a new chapter in life. I had to apply for an e-pass from police to make this journey. All ecommerce and stores were closed. I could only bring things I had at hand in that moment. That marked beginning of a new phase in my life and career, working and living in Sweden. I had secured a job as Cloud Solutions Architect at Cybercom (which was later acquired by Knowit) in Gothenburg. A year has passed since and this is a reflection post.
It has been a journey of exploration, learnings, milestones and patience. A lot has changed since. I am no longer a lone wolf and now working at a cool EV startup-ish company, Polestar.
Moving to a new country is as good as building an entire new life. Adjusting to the new lifestyle, culture, rebuilding your social, professional groups isn't as easy as it looks. There were a few cultural shocks and many things to get used to. Below is a collection of such nitty gritties.
Things that took a getting used to -
- Adjusting to the assymetric day-night hours. In summer, the sun shines for nearly 18 hrs. Winter has darkness for nearly 18 hrs.
- Unpredictable weather.
- Work Life Balance - Start work at 8 AM, home by 5 PM.
- Drinking water right out of the tap. If you bunk at a hotel, you can safely drink the water from bathroom's basin. Crazy!
- Toilet Paper, no bidets or jet sprays!
- Looking at weather forecast before planning anything.
- Dealing with dates in week number. (eg. Lets do a picnic in Week 15)
- Booking activites way in advance. Be it social calendar or professional calendar, people plan ahead weeks here.
- Flying is cheaper than taking interstate trains.
Cultural shocks -
- Outdoor shoes not allowed inside of homes. Suprised with the similarity with our culture.
- Nudity in Gym Showers / change rooms.
- Old people living a very independent life.
- Self service model everywhere. Grocery store, restaurants etc
- Health conscience. Swedes do some form of phyical activity 3-5 times a week. Gym / run / padel etc
- Clean everywhere. Even the design choices are frekishly minimal and clean.
Things I love here -
- Punctual and predictable public transport system. A single ticket purchased can be used to travel for 90 minutes on trains, trams, busses and boats.
- Access to green patches, public spaces. At any given time, You can take a 15 minute ride to be in a real dense jungle.
- All services linked to your social security number - bank, mobile connections, rent, electricity etc.
- Social safety net - seperate provisons for sick pay, parental leave. Unemployment benefits, job safety via Unions, Pension, free education for dependents etc
- Healthy work-life balance. You can switch off your brains and rejuvinate.
- Nearly free medical services.
- Concept of Lagom and The laws of Jante.
- Housing - Finding a house is a game of luck and patience. Housing market is centrally managed. It is a bit skewed against immigrants at the begining.
- Paperwork - Most paper work takes weeks if not months. Limited workforce leds to delays in getting social securty number, bank accounts etc
- Expensive Labor - Need to fix something at home? DIY most of the things! Forget calling a handyman, unless you wish to spend a fortune and wait for 2-3 weeks for an appointment.
- Driving License - Google it :-)
- Language - Although most Swedes speak excellent English, knowing Swedish makes it easier.
I have learned a lot of things this year. Swedes have played an incredible part in the journey. Never have I ever felt as an outsider. They have embraced nuances and cultural differences I carried. I am trying my best to reciprocate by being mindful and respectful of their culture. I am looking forward to a few more years ahead. Thanks Sweden!
PS - Trying to explain culture is like trying to talk water to fish (https://sive.rs/fish). Its difficult to explain unless you do it. If you are contemplating moving countries, take that jump. Its worth the experience.