Foreigners in Sweden share their stories of family reunions after pandemic separation

The pandemic has kept cross-border families apart, meaning loved ones have not only gone without usual visits but also missed out on occasions like births and deaths. Foreign residents of Sweden told The Local what it's been like to be reunited.

Foreigners in Sweden share their stories of family reunions after pandemic separation
Corinne and her grandmother. Photo: Private

‘I saw my 94-year-old grandmother after two years’

Corinne, a French-English-American project manager, says one of the motivations for moving back to Europe from the US was to see her grandmother in southern France more often, but the pandemic put that on hold.

“We haven’t lived in the same place for my whole life but I usually managed a visit a year, especially as she has got older. This was the first time since I was very little that I hadn’t seen her at least once a year. It was strange. At 94 it feels like we lost almost two years of contact or at least two if not three visits. She got vaccinated in early 2021 but we waited until we had also received at least one shot and the numbers [of newly reported infections in Sweden and France] had gone down. Making the rules more clear about what you needed (at the time a PCR test) made it much easier.”

‘Reunited with my Swedish wife-to-be’

Ryan, a professional YouTuber in the US, met his fiancée online and they have been engaged for two years but spent 17 months and one day apart due to the pandemic.

“I flew to Sweden to meet her for the first time in May 2018 and we spent five magical days in Stockholm together. From that day on, whenever we were apart, we would be on an iPad call. If not the iPad, then a phone call.

“We then began flying back and forth to each other, her visiting me in America, and me staying with her and her family in Sweden. We were used to the separation after a while because I could only stay in Sweden for three months at a time, twice a year, but nothing could have prepared us for Covid.

“At first, it was just like any other time being away from one another. But the restrictions just kept getting extended. Again and again, our hopes of reunification were dashed. While away from one another, we fell asleep with each other on our iPads, watched shows together by counting down to zero so we would be in sync, and spent all the time outside of work with each other on a FaceTime call for the entire time we were apart. When America was added to the exemption list [from Sweden’s entry ban], it felt amazing! Like a weight had been lifted off both our shoulders. Needless to say, it has been an extremely rough time on the both of us, but she is worth every second, minute, hour of my life.”

‘My daughter met my parents for the first time’

Software engineer Srivani, 34, has not been able to see her parents in India since her daughter was born two years ago but finally made the trip this summer.

“There was no change in the travel requirement as India was still a red list country at the time of our travel, however we did travel since both my husband and I have been vaccinated. We have been in constant touch via video calls. My toddler hadn’t met my family in person due to the pandemic, so that was an emotional moment. My daughter had a good time with my parents and in-laws . The pandemic changed our lives in a unusual way. I have never been away from my family so long. I hope and wish things get better soon.”

‘Separation from family is harder since we had our son’

Anna Ramboldt is originally from Minnesota and lives in Linköping with wife Emilia and son Walter. She and Walter were able to travel to the US and see family over summer, though Emilia could not join them due to her employer’s rules about travel and quarantine.

“My son and I were reunited with my parents and sister – and even extended family after a bit of self-quarantine. We have always FaceTimed multiple times a week, but it’s just not the same as being able to see one another in person. I’m thankful for being vaccinated and for the opportunity to be ‘home’ again! It’s been tough. We haven’t been to Minnesota since Christmas 2019 when Walter was barely two years old. Surprisingly, he remembers things about being in Minnesota. The reunion was fantastic! My parents picked up me and my son and he ran into my moms arm’s. Not a dry eye between the four of us. It’s an amazing feeling to see your child reunited with their grandparents after one and a half years!”

Photo: Private

‘I got to see my best friend, but am still separated from my mum as she goes through cancer treatment’

An Coppens, 50, is from Belgium and commuted weekly between Stockholm and London before the pandemic. She is currently planning a trip to meet up with her Belgian parents elsewhere in Europe, and recently saw a close friend in London.

“My best friend and I met for the first time in 18 months this past weekend. We had been to her wedding in Spain 24 months ago and then I had met her a few times since in London when I travelled for work. It was great to be able to talk about the ‘shitshow’ pandemic time.

“She lost her mum to cancer and her husband lost his dad to a stroke [during the pandemic], both had to do things like quarantines on both sides because both are expats living in the UK but with parents in different countries. Because a large part of the conversation was dominated by Covid and what we missed, it felt so different to a normal catch-up. We talked about the big important things like death, disease, goals and motivations. It was beautiful to see her and her husband and have real human contact outside of my partner’s family. They are lovely, but it isn’t the same of having your own people around. I do feel as if I have become more introverted as a result of the pandemic.

“My mum was diagnosed with cancer and in a normal year, I would have gone over to stay with her and help out. All I could do was call frequently and I made a deal with a local florist to send her flowers every two weeks because she loves being out in her garden and she loves flower arranging and didn’t have the energy to do it. She has since come through her radiotherapy and operations as a cancer survivor. But for us it has been a scary time and the feeling of helplessness that you can’t do anything at all was the most frustrating. We will now finally get to see my parents after two years of meeting online only. We are planning a 10-day trip together in Portugal in September. Having booked the flights and with the arrangements being put together, it is starting to feel real.”

Thanks to all the readers who responded to our survey to share their stories. Some responses were edited for length or clarity.

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‘No laundry after 10pm’: What foreign residents in Zurich should and shouldn’t do

Switzerland's largest city has a myriad of written and unwritten regulations about what is and isn’t allowed. We asked our readers to share their own experiences.

'No laundry after 10pm': What foreign residents in Zurich should and shouldn't do

About 32 percent of Zurich’s population are foreigners, with Germans making up the largest group, followed by Italians, and Portuguese.

There is a sizeable English-speaking community in the city and canton as well.

Wherever they come from, each newcomer has had to learn the proverbial “ropes” of living in Zurich: what they should and should not do.

In October, we asked Zurich-based readers two questions: the ‘must-do’s’, and the activities that, based on their own experiences, foreigners should abstain from doing in order not to irritate the locals.

READ MORE: Tell us: Are there things that foreign residents in Zurich absolutely should (or shouldn’t) do?

The respondents have been living in Zurich for periods ranging from 18 months to 12 years, so they are well versed in the ways of the city.

This what they told us.

‘Be neat’

First, we asked for advice on things that foreign residents should get used to doing in Zurich.

“Accept the strict rules of garbage recycling,” Giesela Homa wrote, bringing home the point about the importance of proper trash disposal not only in Zurich, but throughout Switzerland as well.

READ MORE: Trash talk: What are the rules for garbage disposal in Switzerland?

Ramesh, an experienced resident with eight years in Zurich under his belt, reiterated what many foreigners already know but sometimes don’t put into practice: “You have to adapt to the Zurich way of life.”

“In most other countries, it is okay to be loud on Sundays,” he said. “But in Zurich, and Switzerland in general, Sundays are strictly for home. No vacuum cleaners or being loud.”

Another reader offered a practical tip like “look for deals to save money”, which is imperative in the world’s most expensive city.

That same person also recommends getting a half-fare travelcard for public transportation, which is also a good way to cut the cost of living.

Another no-nonsense advice is to “shop at Aldi, not Migros”.

Juraj suggested swimming in the lake (we assume he means in the summer), while Jennifer’s advice is to visit an area  called Frau Gerolds Garten.  Located on Geroldstrasse, it combines a market, art venues, and an urban garden.

One reader’s  advice is to “be neat”, which is sure to go down well in a country obsessed with cleanliness.

READ MORE: OPINION: Can foreign residents ever emulate the Swiss obsession for cleanliness?

Another brought up a point that should be self-understood but needs repeating nevertheless. “Take initiative to make friends,” the reader said.

Those are all valuable tips, but our favourite (though we are admittedly biased) is this one: “Sign up for The Local to get the updated news from around Switzerland.” (We might add that this tip holds true wherever in the country you may live).

‘Don’t break the rules’

Next, we asked what things foreigners in Zurich should never do.

Here too we received some valuable input, some which is in line with the much-talked-about rules of being a considerate neighbour.

“Never make noise after 10 o’clock the evening,” Giesela said. This includes, as other readers pointed out, “not flushing your toilet after 10 pm, or doing laundry at night or on Sunday”.

READ MORE: Swiss daily dilemmas: Can I flush my toilet at night?

“You should respect people’s privacy.  And be quiet in public transportation,” a respondent who identified themselves as Z, said.

Ramesh has also stressed the importance of respecting other people’s privacy. “Avoid enquiring about personal topics unless allowed to do so,” he said.

One reader advised against venturing to Sihlquai at night. It is an infamous neighbourhood that used to be a prostitution hub and considered unsafe, though it has been cleaned up in recent years.

Jennifer brought up an issue that is a sore point in many interactions between the Swiss and foreigners: “Don’t expect everyone to speak to you in English,” she said. “Do your part to integrate by learning conversational German.”

READ MORE: Why you shouldn’t expect the Swiss to speak English to you

To that end, as one respondent pointed out that you should greet people with ‘Grüezi’, not  ‘Grüessech’ which is likely a nuance only people living in Zurich can understand.

A reader named Albin, who has lived in Zurich for 12 years, summed up the entire subject succinctly but accurately: “Don’t break the rules” – a piece of advice that any foreigner would do well to comply with, whether living in Zurich or elsewhere in Switzerland.

READ MORE: Five Swiss laws that foreign residents are bound to break

What else would you add to this list? Leave a comment in the comments section below.