I am at one of my favourite places: H’s parents’ summerhouse. Many people in Sweden have a second home in the country, usually a cabin/cottagey type thing. This one is gorgeous – slap, bang in the middle of the woods, five minutes from the beach; it is a little slice of tranquil heaven. I haven’t spent any time here since we last lived in Sweden, so it is lovely to return; even better that H and the boys have gone canoeing and won’t be back until tomorrow – the stillness settles the soul; the calmness soothes the brain; the perfect place to step back and regroup.
We’ve just celebrated one of the most important holidays in Sweden: Midsommar, so I thought that as we are approaching our first year anniversary of moving back, that I would compile a list of some of the negative aspects of living in Sweden. It’s not going to be a Swede-bashing exercise, because I could wax eternally lyrical about the great aspects, including schools, beautiful nature, and the general excellent quality of lives we have, but it is always fun (and therapeutic) to talk about niggles and bug-bears!
1. Customer Service. This, in itself, is an oxymoron. Yes, we’re the customers, but the service is usually non-existent. See here for my mini meltdown rave about some of my experiences. I find it very odd: for a country that is so PC it is almost torturous, and as a nation that avoids confrontation at all costs, I find it strange that there are so many public servants unwilling to provide customers with help. That said – because of their dislike of confrontation, the staff can behave as they like because nobody would ever complain. So, the customer service can be as crappy as hell, and it wouldn’t matter. I am a bit of a customer service freak: if I pay for service, I expect to receive adequate help if I need it. So, this bit about living in Sweden is somewhat irksome to me.
2. Swedes often enjoy a little bit of one-up-manship. They like to boast (very gently, of course – they are Swedes, after all, and don’t go in for vulgar gloating), about what they have. They buy expensive houses way out of their means, and only pay off the interest. So, they don’t (and won’t ever) own them. They are very materialistic, and I think, pretty judgemental. Only, they would never admit to that (not even to themselves).
3. The Swedes are very proud of their healthy lifestyles: they exercise, eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, and limit their kids’ sugar consumption. However, there is an undercurrent which is either hypocrisy or ignorance, and I am not sure which: they eat copious amounts of sausage and other processed meats that are absolutely jammed-packed with E numbers and artificial ingredients. In fact, pick up any random grocery item and you would be amazed by the contents, the majority unfavourable. Kind of like the UK 20 years ago, before we realised the dangers artifical addititves presented. So, banging on about kids only having sweets on a Saturday is somewhat redundant when you feed them food full of crap every day.
4. They like herring. Lots of it. I don’t like it, and this seems to rankle with Swedes. In the 15 years H and I have been together, his family have tried to persuade me to eat it; even so far as one Midsommer trick me into it eating it! It just doesn’t sit well with them that it’s not for me. My boys like it; thank goodness – otherwise could you imagine the grief I would get then? They would assume that I was cheer-leading my own “We hate sill” campaign. And while we are on the subject of food – most of theirs is bland. And that’s coming from an English woman; we’re not exactly adventurous in my part of the world.
5. They don’t shout. Ever. I do. Lots. It makes me feel as though social services are going to come pounding on my door at any given moment, after receiving a complaint of continued shouting at children! I am not that bad, promise, but when they are all so held-together, it makes you feel like that!
6. They don’t queue. They just seem unable to grasp the concept. In the same token, they don’t let you out in traffic either; they also don’t wave thank you when you do let them out. As a polite nation I find this a rather odd phenomenon. To help with a lack of queueing, everywhere you go there are ticket systems in place, where you take a ticket and wait for your number to be called. Very handy when there are numerous people all jostling for service, kind of redundant when it is just you, but you still have to stand their like a numpty, waiting for your number to be called.
7. It’s expensive. God, is it expensive. Everything is two or three times as much as in the UK. Okay, wages are slightly higher, but not that much in comparison to the UK. Come back, Primark; all is forgiven!
Phew. Okay, I think I will give the Swedes a break now. I would love to hear other expat’s views on our lovely adopted homeland, and the little things they find annoying.