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OPINION & ANALYSIS

Living in Sweden has changed me in the strangest ways

On a recent trip back home I found myself rolling my eyes at my parents as they went around the house closing all the curtains the second it got dark. It was at that point I knew: Sweden has changed me.

Living in Sweden has changed me in the strangest ways
Soon after arriving in Sweden, Becky Waterton realised she appreciated being able to see little squares of light in her neighbours' windows. Photo: Leif R Jansson / SCANPIX

My attitude to light has changed

You may have noticed while walking around Swedish towns or cities that few Swedish properties have curtains. This can be quite a sharp contrast if you, like me, come from a culture where curtains are closed the second it gets dark outside, so that passers-by can’t see you through your windows.

During my first few months in Sweden – which also happened to coincide with the Coronavirus pandemic – I realised while I was mindlessly looking out of my window one dark evening at the block of flats across our courtyard that I appreciated being able to see the small squares of light in my neighbour’s windows.

Like twinkly fairy lights, they were reassuring, a small window into the daily lives of strangers which made me feel closer to other humans in a time where we were encouraged to be distant and socialise as little as possible.

I still think about that feeling when I look out of the window and see those yellow squares with tiny figures moving from room to room, even more so during winter, where they’re decorated with Advent candles and Christmas stars.

Becky Waterton spends much of the winter in Sweden under a blanket. Photo: Helena Landstedt/TT

I go into hibernation in winter

Another Swedish habit which I’ve adopted is going into hibernation in winter. Not literally, obviously, but more in a sense of taking part in fewer social activities and spending more time at home (usually under a blanket).

I’m not sure if this is due to arriving here just before the pandemic or the fact that I have a young child (so I don’t spend that many evenings outside of the house anyway!), but this hibernation period usually consists of eating comfort food, putting on warm and cosy clothing and spending a lot of time indoors looking out at the cold, grey skies that dominate Sweden for so much of the year.

There’s an old saying in Sweden, inga dåliga väder, bara dåliga kläder (no bad weather, only bad clothes), but this doesn’t seem to apply in winter, where it appears perfectly acceptable to just stay indoors. 

On the other hand, as soon as the weather is nice (which usually happens some time around March), the pressure rises to go outside and make the most of the weather, even if you’d actually rather prefer to stay at home.

Becky Waterton now thinks nothing of eating a “macka” for breakfast. Photo: Claudio Bresciani / TT

Changing your eating habits

Obviously, there are some things you stop eating when you move to Sweden as you are no longer able to get hold of them. Pre-packed sandwiches for lunch, small bags of crisps and fish and chips on a Friday are a few examples of things I naturally stopped eating when I first moved abroad.

Other things grow on you slowly. Since moving to Sweden, I rarely eat a sandwich with two slices of bread, instead eating a macka, a slice of bread with topping. I would never before have eaten a sandwich for breakfast, but I regularly eat mackor, whereas previously I might have gone for porridge or just plain toast with butter.

There is one Swedish foodstuff I will never accept, though, and that’s bread made using sugar or syrup, a throwback from when there was a flour shortage in Sweden so bakeries were given the green light to mix in extra sugar instead. It may make me look a bit odd checking the ingredients of every loaf in the supermarket, but I will die on this hill, and I have accepted that fact.

You’re probably expecting me to say something about how Swedes only eat sweets on Saturdays, and that I have also adopted this habit.

Although lördagsgodis has also become part of my weekly schedule, I have quite cunningly combined this with my previous sweet-eating habits, meaning that I not only can eat sweets on whichever day of the week I want, I can also gorge on them when Saturday comes around. 

I have, however, entirely embraced the habit of fika. Any excuse to eat one of Sweden’s many excellent pastries with a cup of tea (yes, I’ve not gone full-Swede on the hot drink front, either) is welcome, in my book.

Member comments

  1. You need to work on your Swedish Becky hehe, it’s “Det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga kläder”.

  2. ” ingen dåligt kläder, bara dåligt väder” means “no bad clothes, just bad weather”, so you might want to change that wording ….

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IMMIGRATION

Politics in Sweden: The migration paradigm shift we need isn’t the one we’re getting

Malfunctioning bureaucracy at the Migration Agency is the single biggest hurdle to Sweden's ability to attract international talent – and yet it receives shockingly little attention in the political debate, writes The Local's editor Emma Löfgren.

Politics in Sweden: The migration paradigm shift we need isn't the one we're getting

Earlier this month, the Migration Agency in a press release cheered that it had been able to shorten the processing time for receiving Swedish citizenship last year.

It felt rather like the passively polite automated voice in a phone queue. “You are number 10,549 in the queue. Thank you for waiting. Your call is important to us.”

Because although cutting the median waiting time from 330 to 256 days is a step forward, it’s not good enough.

Elsewhere on its website, the agency regularly updates the current expected waiting times for cases to be processed (based not so much on the actual expected waiting time, because such an estimate does not exist, but instead on the maximum time that 75 percent of “recent applicants” had to wait for a decision).

At the time of writing, they show that if you’re applying for citizenship, you may have to wait 40 months, an increase of one month since September 2022.

If you’re a doctoral student applying for your first permit, five months. Renewing your permit, six months. Applying for permanent residency? Congratulations, 14 months.

If you’re a work permit holder renewing your permit, brace yourself for a wait of anything between half a year to almost two years, depending on which industry you work in and whether or not your employer is certified with the Migration Agency.

Run your own business? Get comfortable, you’ll be in the queue for 28 months.

Thank you for waiting. Your call is important to us.

Meanwhile, several industries are crying out for workers.

The booming tech scene – the crowning glory of modern Sweden – will have a shortage of 25,000 game developers in ten years if the industry’s current growth rate continues, according to a recent report by the Swedish Games Industry and the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth.

Yet getting your foot on the ladder has become near-impossible after a law change last year, which shortened work permits for trial periods from two years to six months. This means the applicant might still be waiting for a renewed permit when their existing one runs out, and risks losing the right to work, they argue.

Squeezed out before their career in Sweden has even begun.

“The processing times are so long and the permit times so short that the [Migration Agency] can’t keep up. (…) If the current situation is not resolved, Sweden’s entire image is threatened and it will be harder for companies to recruit staff to the country,” they continue, calling for simplified rules and automated processes.

In a new opinion piece for the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper, the chair of SULF – the trade union for people working in academia – writes about highly qualified researchers who simply packed their bags and quit Sweden after being stuck in a never-ending loop of permit bureaucracy.

One was rejected after Migration Agency delays meant that once it finally gave them a decision, they no longer had enough time left on their contract to qualify for a permit.

“Sweden’s talent intake is being throttled,” writes SULF chair Sanna Wolk.

There are a few caveats to consider, not least that talent is a strange concept by which to measure people’s worth – awkward at best, dehumanising at worst.

The current right-wing government, and the left-wing government before it, are so busy trying to perform a balancing act of cracking down on some migrants while attracting other migrants, that long processing times gets shockingly little political attention.

There will always be routes for international talent to come to Sweden, they insist. But out of 2,255 applications for a shiny new talent visa since it was launched in June last year, only 20 percent have so far received a decision. Of those, only 10 percent were successful. Polishing the hood doesn’t fix a broken engine. 

And amid all the talk about paradigm shifts, they fail to understand that we exist in the same paradigm. That long waits, language tests, tightened citizenship rules – or even just taking it for granted that people will always want to come to Sweden, no matter how high the barriers – affect most migrants, and affect all who care.

Time and time again, the Parliamentary Ombudsman – the top watchdog in the country – has criticised the Migration Agency’s long processing times, put down both to the agency’s own flawed administration and a lack of resources from the government.

Cutting queues and red tape may not be as politically sexy as cracking down on refugees, not as headline-grabbing a word as paradigm shift. But it’s the single biggest hurdle right now to Sweden’s ability to attract the international talent it claims to need.

In other news

One of Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson’s top aides resigned from his post after it emerged that he had been fined by police for illegally fishing for eels and had twice lied to the authorities about what happened.

In a joint press conference last week, Moderate Migration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard and Sweden Democrat parliamentary group leader Henrik Vinge announced the campaign, which they hope will discourage refugees from coming to Sweden.

Muharrem Demirok is expected to be voted in as the new leader of the Centre Party at a party conference on Thursday. The newly elected member of parliament and former deputy mayor of Linköping will take over from leader Annie Lööf. Here’s The Local’s guide to why his role matters.

What’s next?

Kristersson has invited the leaders of Sweden’s eight main parties to a meeting at 5pm on Tuesday to discuss national security, in the wake of protests against Sweden in several Muslim countries.

Politics in Sweden is a weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues in Swedish politics. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive an email alert when the column is published. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.

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