About a month before officially moving to Sweden, I was in Stockholm for work for a few days. I took the opportunity to go around the office introducing myself to colleagues I’d worked with remotely but never face-to-face. Some of them were unaware that I would be relocating, and each time I told one of them, the initial reaction was nearly identical:
(Head tilt, raised eyebrow, slight pause) “…Really?”
This was sometimes accompanied by the followup question, “Why?”
After a dozen or so of these interactions, the lukewarm reception really started to get to me. If someone, anyone, told me they were planning on moving to Chicago, I’d be thrilled for them! I’d immediately jump into recommendation mode, giving them lists of things to do so that they’d see, as I do, that it’s one of the greatest cities in the world. Yet here in Stockholm, it was more like telling an inmate you’d just been sentenced to serve in the same prison as them. Suffice it to say, they were really raining on my Smörgåsbord.
It just didn’t make sense that Swedes would be so down on their homeland. It’s supposed to be one of the happiest countries in the world; Stockholm among the most livable cities [citations needed]. Was this just some plot so that they could have all the free healthcare and lingonberries to themselves?
After a while, I figured out what was going on. The Swedes, on the whole, actually think quite highly of living in Sweden. However, they are very concerned that foreigners won’t like living there. The reasoning pretty much boils down to two points:
- Sweden is cold.
- Sweden is dark.
In my case, their concern was compounded by the fact that I’m coming from a big modern American city. Why would anyone want to abandon the alluring glow of the Chicago skyline, with multiple buildings over 20 stories tall, to come to the boring old uneven cobblestone streets of Stockholm? There’s not even an Apple store!
After I figured this out, I knew just what to say to convince them that I really knew what I was getting into:
“Chicago gets just as cold as Stockholm so I’m not too worried about that.”
Boom. Instant acceptance. (It’s even true, the average lows in Dec and Jan are actually lower in Chicago)
So to summarize the stereotypes we’ve learned about Swedish people:
- Their true feelings often aren’t apparent in casual conversation.
- They think America is a cool place.
- They don’t want foreigners to freeze to death in the winter.