Top Tips for Expat Life in Gothenburg
The city can be both exciting and hard to navigate at the same time, making my life as an expat filled with a multitude of emotions: I have been happy, sad, angry and surprised all at the same time. I have also felt lost, confused, helpless and lonely as I had no one to help me maneuver the vast maze of what is known as the Swedish system. Fortunately, I have met many wonderful people, and discovered some great opportunities that are not readily made public to new people coming to Sweden all through trial and error, patience, persistence and humility.
A great hidden secret, and a gem used for keeping calm, focused and relaxed, I found is Gilda Skolan (Gilda School). Gilda Skolan is a beauty school, located in Gothenburg, Malmö and Stockholm. Anyone can get any spa treatment, massage, consultation, facial, manicure or pedicure known to woman- or mankind, at a deeply discounted price. It is my favorite place of all times! You´ll need a special treat every once in a while when trying to get settled into your new life and city.
Networking at the Library
The Library is also a great resource center for new adult expats and children alike. There are several free services offered such as a book circle, language café to help with learning Swedish, a personal advisor who helps with book suggestions, you are able to book a librarian for an hour to help in whatever way you need, and there is also support with homework for both children and adults. You can use the computer and internet as well as make copies, and fax or scan documents.
Language Learning at Språk Cafe
The language café also known as Språk Cafe, is an awesome place to exchange, share and learn a new language, as well as meet new people, either Swedish or from another country for nothing more than the price of a cup of coffee, a beer or a glass of wine.
Into the Woods of Gothenburg
Another favorite past time of mine, is going to Slottsskogen (which translates to castle forest). It hosts a great restaurant, cafe, and zoo with Swedish animals, as well as a pond with seals, geese and penguins. There is also an area with small cottages from different countries and a playground for football, softball, frisbee, and golf. You can find walking and running trails, or if all you want to do is lie on the grass and stare into the sun or clouds, that too is allowed. Parents enjoy the play area for children with an opportunity to meet other parents and nannies. And, if you are a dog owner, you can meet fellow owners and dog lovers walking or running with their furry friend.
Secondhand Shopping and Sauna Days
Secondhand shopping is another fabulous custom of the Swedes. There are many secondhand shops where you can find the best items including furniture, clothes, art, paintings, etc. for little to nothing. Some of them even host a café as well as a book area where you can read and purchase gently used books.
One other must-do Swedish thing is making use of the sauna during the cold winter months. You and your family can meet new people and keep warm at the same time at a minimal cost. There is an awesome indoor pool and sauna at the Kulture House, Valhalla and many more.
Dating the Swedes
If you are single and/or a single parent, either male or female, you´ll find that dating is quite different from what you might expect, as “All things are created equal in Sweden”! It means either gender can be the initiator which lessens the pressure and makes it more exciting, or more scary. Either way, ENJOY!
I´ve found some cultural customs to be either funny, strange or plain crazy, but nonetheless awesome learning experiences, and hope you get a kick out of it just as much as I did. I went to the Apotek (pharmacy) to buy condoms, and was amazed to find that once I asked for them out loud, everyone in line near me including the guy and girl at the cash register turned red and went very quiet.
I later learned, it´s not something to ask for publicly. Instead, you should whisper to the clerk. I found it quite hilarious and expressed as much to the guy at the counter. What I found different and strange, yet exciting is how it needs to be quietly asked for, yet there are so many variations from which to choose. Thus leading me to believe Swedes are way more adventurous than they let on.
Getting to Know the Swedes
I must say that my expectations of life in Gothenburg were not quite like what it turned out to be. I expected my time and the people to be similar in some way to life in New York, Jamaica or to what I experienced as a tourist traveling to many great places with welcoming and friendly people. I was disappointed to find how hard it is to get Swedes to open up and welcome you to their inner circle. But, note, it´s not impossible! It will just take longer than what you are accustomed to. Don´t be discouraged and don´t give up. Once you´ve won them over, it´s amazing the time you can have learning about them and the beautiful city in which you live.
Your Expat Support System
Try at all times to keep a positive attitude, make friends with fellow expats who have been through the same and can offer positive and sensible advice and direction. I have found being a member of InterNations has made transitioning into Swedish life even more joyful and exciting. I have met likeminded global people who have become a part of my extended family. Don´t be afraid to ask many questions, be patient, be humble, be kind to yourself (spa days at Gilda) and others, be courteous, listen, be open, and most importantly, keep a smile on your face and joy in your heart even during difficult times.
And, if all else fails, feel free to call, email or join me for dinner, drinks, spa day or any activity or event that will help lift your spirits and make life in Gothenburg more fun, rewarding and meaningful. Wishing you a magical transition into your new life experience!
Jacqueline Modig was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and raised in New York City. She is a divorcee, after many years of being married to a Swede, and a single mother to an awesome 15 year old son who is both an American and Swedish national. Jaqueline has been a permanent resident of Gothenburg since October 2012.