In case you’re not a regular reader of my blog, since the beginning of June this year I’ve been on a kind of extended jaunt around Europe that means I no longer have a permanent place of residence (or a permanent anything at all), which has been very hard to explain to clients, friends, family and of course HMRC. Since 7th June, I’ve driven all across Europe (London-Brussels-Frankfurt-Prague-Brno-Krakow-Lviv), lived in Ukraine for 2 months, driven back across Europe (Lviv-Kasowice-Budapest-Bratislava-Vienna-Bregenz-Italy), lived on the Italian-French border for a month and then spent 2 weeks in Spain (Barcelona/Zaragoza). Which sounds pretty exhausting now I write it down.
During this time I’ve been sort of dabbling in various freelance projects, mostly translation but also copywriting, blogging and editing. I haven’t really done well enough to make a load of money, but I’ve managed to finance all this travel, alongside all my living costs, so I reckon I’ve done ok. Anyway, about a month ago, while we were living our oh-so-tough lifestyle of chilling out on the beach in Italy with sugar-free ice lollies (we did a rather extreme low-carb month while we were there, completely defeating the point of being in the country of pasta, wine and gelato!), my partner got a call from a recruitment agent that went something like this:
Recruiter: So, we have this job in Stockholm as a **, it pays **, are you interested?
Recruiter: Ok, you start on Monday.
So our plans to sort of chill in Italy for the winter were rather abruptly changed for a rush to grab plane tickets and flat reservations in STOCKHOLM, Sweden. Roughly three days later he’d got on a plane and I was left alone in Italy to tie up a few projects before my next trip to Spain. The benefit of being two people without a house, kids or permanent jobs is that we can pretty much get up and move at a few days’ notice.
And so, two weeks ago I also got on a plane from Barcelona to Stockholm, and now here I am, two weeks in to my new life here. Now, I say ‘new life’ and ‘moved’ as if it’s going to be a permanent move this time. Well, certainly it will be a bit more long-term. His job is for at least 9 months, and by then we’ll have a pretty good idea of if we want to stay or not.
My first impressions of life in Stockholm are:
- It’s beautiful! Stockholm is built around a load of little islands (of varying sizes), with large rivers running between them, connected by bridges and ferries. The architecture, especially around Gamla Stan (the old town) is lovely, especially combined with the falling golden leaves that are around at this time of year, and the surrounding water.
- It’s god-damn horrendously fricking expensive. I’m from London, so that’s quite a statement I’m making. Prices of accommodation and transport are pretty similar to London (I just splashed out £180 on a 3-month transport pass), but prices of food and drinks are out of control. An average meal out will cost you at least £15 per person, which is right at the bottom end of prices. A drink in a bar is even worse. At an average Irish pub or similar venue in the centre, one single beer (not even a pint!) will cost at least 80 sek which is £6 – this makes even London drink prices look reasonable. The only answer to this problem is to hit up Systembolaget (the only place you can buy alcohol) and stock up on box wine!
- Swedish people are quite similar to British people. They don’t like to talk to strangers or make eye contact on the tube either. But once you get to know them they are very fun, interesting and open-minded people.
- But the lifestyle is a bit different… Instead of living to work, Swedes work to live. Or, well, they strike up a better work-home balance at least. In Sweden, if your job says ‘9-5’ you’ll be out of the office by 5 at the latest, unlike in London where ‘9-5’ secretly means ‘9 until when your boss leaves so you don’t look bad for leaving’, or ‘9 until it’s so late you might as well sleep on the work sofa and keep going again in the morning’. Offices here seem to have a friendly and relaxed culture: work lunches and fika (coffee breaks with cake) several days a week, and most people heading home early to look after kids. The expectation is, you do your job well while you’re in the office, then you go home and get on with the equally serious business of family life.
- Swedes don’t really like to get out and about as much as we do. When you finish work at 5pm, instead of racing to the pub or an after-work activity, they tend to go home. Whereas in London it was extremely rare for me to go straight home after work – I’d make my way to the pub with colleagues, catch up with a friend over coffee in the centre, go climbing, go to the gym, head to my boyfriend’s place, go to a French lesson or go to some kind of event around the city. Maybe it’s because of the cold or the lack of sunlight or the incredibly high cost of everything, but people around here seem much more inclined to just go home. Socialising more often takes place at someone’s house than out at a pub.
- This equality thing is not just a stereotype. Swedish parents have a ton of benefits including long maternity and paternity leave. They also seem to take family and parenting very seriously, and many younger couples seem to have kids. In London most people my age were still single, whilst here they’re mostly married with 1-2 incredibly good looking kids. The level of family-friendly facilities is incredible – there are super luxurious rooms in most public places for mums to feed and change their babies, for example.
- It’s not THAT cold or dark… yet! At the moment the weather is much like London but without the rain. Yes the air is pretty chilly but it’s normally bright and fresh. All this will change soon though. By December we’ll be getting only about 6 hours of daylight and constant snow.
- Swedish is amazing… More on this later!