My first year in Sweden: ‘It’s OK to lighten up and like your country a little’

a swedish flag in stockholm
The Local's reader Alexander de Nerée reflects on his first year in Sweden. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT
Learn Swedish. Get a personnummer. Go cashless. Moving to a new country means going through a series of 'firsts'. The Local reader Alexander de Nerée writes about some of the challenges, quirks and adventures he has faced since moving to Sweden.

Now that it has been a full year, it is time for a column summing up the big “first”: my first year in Sweden.

An important thing to note is that it was obviously not a normal year. When usually a first year in a new country would be full of going-out-and-meeting-people, this year was more a brisk-walks-and-working-from-home and keeping-your-literal-distance experience.

However, as countries go, you could have done worse than moving to Sweden in these weird times. The brisk walks are always in pretty surroundings and the lockdown was not so severe as to turn Stockholm into a ghost town.

That does lead me to a general observation about life in Sweden: the government seems to rely quite heavily on their people’s discipline and own responsibility. The Covid approach being a case in point. When other countries ordered restaurants and non-essential shops to close, Sweden opted to recommend its citizens to stay at home.

Now, I’m not Swedish but I noticed that it was not so easy to resist the temptation to go out for dinner every now and then when everything remained open.

But more importantly, it was a little puzzling what the restaurants – and other businesses graciously allowed to keep their doors open – were to make of the approach. How are you supposed to run a restaurant if the government strongly recommends against going to your place for it may, well, kill them?

Personal choice, maybe, but the incident of the official whose personal choice enticed him to spend the holidays with his family in Spain despite the Swedish authorities’ recommendations, illustrated quite well the personal choice conundrum people were faced with.

Another observation I made is the tendency of Swedes to put down their own country quite a bit. When I told a Swedish colleague, who was living in Beijing, that I enjoyed my life in Stockholm he said that Sweden was only bearable for four months a year.

Now I know for a fact that Beijing is a drab nightmare of endless ring roads full of traffic jams and when you decide to skip the traffic and take a walk, you can chew the air pollution, that’s how thick it is. Suggesting that life in Beijing was to be preferred over life in Stockholm seemed a bit of a stretch.

It turned out to be a pattern: people telling me the winters would be unbearably cold and dark and miserable. In the summer it would either be too full of people or there would not be any people around. The food was going to be boring, the people unwelcoming, the music silly – never-ending misery was to be my part.

I know that people bragging about their countries like they personally had a hand in its greatness are embarrassing. But it’s OK to lighten up and like your country a little. I for one am looking forward to my second year here.

Alexander de Nerée moved to Stockholm with his husband in October 2020. He is Dutch, but moved from Zürich, Switzerland, after having lived in Hong Kong for 10 years. Signing up to move to a country they had never been to, in the middle of a global pandemic, was definitely a first for the couple. Alexander wrote for The Local about his “firsts” in Sweden.


Member comments

  1. Finally – an immigrant saying something positive (other than me). Good work.
    Appreciate the positive outlook.

    Thanks.

  2. I’m about to hit 2 year mark and sadly for me more negatives than positives. And I am generally a positive person with a balanced view of things, and I have lived in 5 countries.

    Quite simply I find the culture too reserved and closed and Stockholm might be very pretty on the postcards but up close can be very dirty and has a real litter problem.

    I do think the food is generally very good and once you overcome the mountain of bureaucracy things can run fairly efficiently.

    1. Simon –

      Maybe it’s you…Sweden is an amazing country, with incredible achievements.
      And if the culture is “too reserved” for you – I suggest hitting the bar and getting sloshed with a few Swedes. They cheer up fast with a bit of booze in the tank.

      I love the food. The restaurants are fantastic.

      Regarding the litter: What country are you from?

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