Having lived the expat life in Brussels, Adrianne made the move to Scandinavia a couple of years ago. After getting a feel for blogging during the course of a previous project, she started her blog StockholmExpat in appreciation of all the beautiful things that happen to her in Sweden.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Sweden, etc.
I was born and raised in Washington, DC in the USA. What a great hometown! I moved to Halmstad on Sweden’s west coast from Brussels, Belgium in October 2006.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started a blog in 2007 for the JobsinStockholm.com website after launching the job board in the November of 2006. I worked on that project for 2 years. In 2009 I started the StockholmExpat.com blog as a way to stay in touch with the community I build around JobsinStockholm.com. I started the “Nice things happen to me in Sweden” series because I truly believe in the power of positive thinking and it’s too easy to complain about your new city or country when you’re an expat. I had to counter the negative things I was hearing about living in Stockholm. It’s not all bad!
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Honestly, anything in the “Nice things happen to me in Sweden” series I consider favorites. They are favorites because I make myself stop and appreciate the little things in life to note the pleasure in them.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Sweden differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
My new life in Sweden differs greatly from my life in Washington, DC, London and Brussels in many ways. Most notably are the different foods to which I have been introduced including sill (raw herring) in a multitude of flavors, sandwiches for breakfast (healthy ones with cheese and tomatoes and cucumbers on good bread or traditional hard knäckerbröd).
Celebrating Swedish holidays has been a fun education into Swedish culture as Swedes love celebrating midsommar in June, the longest day of the year, with traditional Swedish food including sill, new potatoes, and fresh strawberries and cream. And the celebration wouldn’t be complete without a leaf and flowers-covered Maypole, singing songs and drinking schnapps and beer.
The daily differences also include the importance of fika, which in sum is drinking coffee with your friends. If you work in an office you’ll be summoned to fika breaks with your colleagues. One thing I had to learn is that men are not going to open the door for you or let you board public transportation ahead of them, it is rare if someone offers to help a lady who is struggling with a heavy bag, and not to expect anyone to say, “excuse me” if they bump into you on the street. Even if they almost knock you down.
These and other differences can add up to culture shock but stepping back and looking at it for what it is makes it easier to get used to.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Sweden? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I certainly wasn’t fully prepared for what awaited me in Sweden. I did very little research before moving. I visited my Sweden lots of times over a year period but in retrospect I wasn’t living in the “real world” during those visits. Everything was planned and provided and I was welcomed by his friends and family. I was never on my own. I did make contact with the President of the American Club before moving which gave was smart as that lead to an invitation of assistance with questions and to meet whenever I was in Stockholm.
If I had to do it all over I would make a point of researching the cost of living, familiarizing myself with the rate of exchange of the Swedish kronor in order to compare things link what I spent on groceries in Brussels, dining out and clothing for starters.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
My Swede likes to watch Melodiefestivalen, the often maligned (by expats) song contest that leads up to Eurovision and chooses who will represent Sweden. One year we both fell in love with the song written and sung by a teacher to looked more like a librarian than a pop-idol. Her song became our song and when she was among the acts to perform at the Solgården at Tylösand hotel in Halmstad we attended the concert. And when she performed “our song” we danced, just the two of us, in front of the entire crowd underneath the stage. The next morning our photo was on a 2-page spread in the local paper. We got a huge kick out that and that spread is framed and hanging on our wall for everyone to see the minute they enter our apartment. Just thinking about it makes me smile.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Sweden?
If you can start learning Swedish before you land in Sweden, please do! While the vast majority of Swedes speak and understand a super high level of English, knowing the local language increases your odd of finding meaningful employment and making meaningful friendships with Sweden.
Do some research on Swedish culture and history. Be prepared to ask questions and contribute to conversations without making negative comparisons. Find something about Swedish history or culture that you can love and expand on that. That will make you more interesting and easy to talk with.
Learn how to cook at least one Swedish dish that you can prepare for the Swedish friends you will make.
How is the expat community in Sweden? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The expat community in Sweden is thriving in areas like Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö, Uppsala and I venture to guess any major university town. Lots of people come to Sweden to study. Higher education was tuition-free for foreigners outside of the EU and EEC until recently and many are still completing programs or working in Sweden. There are also lots of “love expats” and others working on post-graduate projects, working for multi-nationals and exploring Sweden because of their love of the culture and nature.
It is easy to find like-minded people and fellow expats through social media and social networks. Internations is a great example of both. There is no need for an expat in Sweden to feel alone.
How would you summarize your expat life in Sweden in a single, catchy sentence?
Living a wonderful life in the land of the Swedes: there is no such thing as a bad expat existence here, just a lack of imagination.