Expat Diaries: The Best Things About Living in Sweden

by madelineraeaway
Simrishamn Beach in October

WOW. Nine months. I’ve officially spent nine months living in Sweden. But seriously… where has the time gone?

Before we dive into this I want to start by saying that I love Canada with all my heart. I am forever grateful for the ultimate lottery of being born in one of the world’s best countries. And for the endless opportunities growing up in Canada, and being a Canadian, has provided me.

But, even though Canada is great (and still #1 in my heart)…

I’m convinced that other countries could learn a thing or two from the Swedes. Life in Sweden is a bit slower, a bit more balanced, a bit more “lagom” (if you’re like whaaaat is that?… I explain it a bit more about it below).

And after living in Sweden, I have some takeaways. Here are the best things about living in Sweden.


1. LAGOM

You probably have heard the Danish concept of “hygge,” which has become synonymous with Danish lifestyle, and is being emulated around the world. Similarly, the Swedish concept of “lagom” is something that has been hyped internationally (I mean, even Vogue was talking about it). However, I had a difficult time actually understanding this concept until I began to immerse myself in Swedish culture.

Lagom |là:gom|: Neither too little, or too much; just right. Doing, being, and having just enough.

This principle is truly indicative of the Swedish lifestyle. Simple, balanced, and, above all else, contentment. It is about living life in moderation, and appreciating what you have in that very moment.

I think the outside world has this view of hygge or lagom as a bunch of Scandinavian’s sitting around cozy fireplaces eating kanelbullar (cinnamon buns) – this isn’t true. It is a principle that is ingrained in the culture of the locals, and not something that, in my opinion, can easily be mimicked.

However, I still think that many other countries can learn a bit from the Swedish lagom principle about being content with what you have, and being a little more selfless. Because, ultimately, the reason Sweden has been coined such a great place to live is because they focus on the common good, where hierarchy and status is not important, and everyone is living their own definition of “lagom.”


2. FIKA

Surely you’ve heard of the Swedish concept of fika. It is easily one of the most famous Swedish concepts. But what does it really mean?

Fika |fi:ka|: a Swedish concept meaning “to have coffee” or “coffee with friends,” is typically coffee accompanied by a sweet treat, and is a moment to slow down, and appreciate the good things in life.

Before I moved here, I was aware of the concept. But I was certain it was just a fun gimmick. Boy, was a wrong.

Fika is a way of life in Sweden. We have “Fredagskaka” or “Friday cake” at work. We get together with friends and family for afternoon fika on the weekend (or even after work). It is a concept dating back to the 19th century and is an integral part of Swedish culture.

And while I love a good cup of coffee and a sweet treat, fika is so much more than that. It is an opportunity to take a break from the nuances of your day to just be with the people closest with you. To catch up. To bond. To tell stories… and laugh. And I mean, how special is that?

See Also: My favourite spots in Malmö for fika.


3. SOMMARSEMESTER

Or, in English, summer holidays.

Taking time for yourself – and enjoying time with your families – is important. That’s why 5-6 weeks of paid vacation is standard in Sweden.

And to add to that, Swedes believe that vacation should be enjoyed for longer than one or two weeks at a time. In fact, in Sweden it is normal to take up to four or five weeks of vacation straight, especially during the summer.

After working at a global Swedish-owned company, I can confirm that Swedes live by the principle that work is important – but that in order to be the best employee, you need take care of yourself (and your family). And that means taking time off without questions or feelings of judgement, whether it be to take a mental break, spend time with family and friends, or see the world. And this is something that I think that countries around the world could learn from.


4. “DET FINNS INGET DÅLIGT VÄDER, BADA DÅLIGA KLÄDER”

Translation: There is no bad weather, there are only bad clothes.

This is easily one of my favourite Swedish sayings. Despite living in the north, Swede’s love to be outside.

In Sweden, the number of summer days a year is limited. Most days hover around 20 degrees, however it is not unusual for it to be 15 degrees and rainy in July. And let’s not even get started on the cold, dark winters.

What does this mean for the locals? They make the most of every single sunny day – and spend lots of time outside, even if it’s a bit chilly (or rainy… and it can be very rainy in Malmö). During the summer, it is not unusual, or frowned upon to leave the office early just because it is nice outside. The reason why: nice days are limited, and should be enjoyed. Especially when it is light out until 10:30 pm. As far as Swede’s are concerned, they can make up for it at the office during the cold, dark winter.

However, that doesn’t mean Swedes don’t make the most out of every day. It is not unusual to see Swedes bundled up on a sunny day in March, outside on a patio, having fika with friends (likely with a baby bundled up in a stroller next to them – because yes, the stereotypes are reeeeal. And on that note, the stereotype of fathers on a solo stroller walks with their babies are true too).

See Also: A photo diary of autumn in Skåne, Sweden.


5. SWEDE’S ARE MULTI-LINGUAL

Jag talar Svenska (“I speak Swedish”).

Okay, no I don’t. But I swear I’m working on it. However, learning Swedish is proving to be quite the challenge, because in order to live in Sweden, you really don’t have to speak Swedish.

Did you know that Scandinavian countries are home to some of the best English-as-a-second-language speakers in the world? I mean, after years of cheering on the Detroit Red Wings and their Swedish roster with perfect English, I already knew this. But I didn’t realize that there is some crazy statistic like more than 95% of the population is fluent in English.

This makes it very difficult for an expat like me to learn to speak Swedish – because locals love to practice their English with native speakers.

With that being said, many of the Swedes I’ve met speak more than two languages. They are taught English in school and movies and TV shows are not dubbed (which means they are also expert subtitle readers). Because of this, they have this inherent interest in learning new languages.

Needless to say, I’m totally inspired. And am hoping that in due time, I can add “proficient in Swedish” to my CV (but I am not getting to eager yet, because this learning Swedish thing is no joke).


6. YOU DON’T NEED A CAR

Living in Sweden? No car required.

Locals that live in the city almost exclusively travel by bike. In fact, Malmö is littered with bike lanes and is often considered one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world.

Alternatively, you can take public transit. You can get virtually anywhere you need to go by bus and/or train – even rural villages. And the public transit operates at nearly all hours of the day, which means you always have an option to get where you need to be.

After living for most of my life in a city where you need a car, never could I have imagined have a 30 minute walk/bus ride to work everyday. But, truthfully, I love my commute. It is a time to get fresh air and listen to my favourite podcasts – all while helping reduce the carbon footprint. Which brings me to my next point…


7. ENVIRONMENTALLY-FRIENDLY

Surely, at this point, everyone in the world has heard of Greta Thunberg (but in case you’ve been living under a rock, she’s the Swedish teenage environmental activist who has been actively advocating around the world for climate change).

However, after living in Sweden, it doesn’t surprise me that this young environmental trailblazer is a Swedish native – because Swedes are very conscious of the environment.

As I mentioned before, it is not unusual for locals to rely on bikes and public transportation (especially with the price of gas). Additionally, simple initiatives like recycling and composting are made very easy. And don’t even think about buying a disposable water bottle, or using a plastic bag, because you’ll surely be judged. And besides, Swedish drinking water is some of the cleanest (and tastiest) in the world!


8. HIGH TAXES, HIGH REWARDS

Daycare? Free. University? Free. Cleaning services? Subsidized. Healthcare? Mostly free (you’ll never pay more than 1,000 SEK or roughly 100 EUR per year). I could go on and on about all the fantastic government-incentivized programs.

And let’s not forget the parental leave. 480 work days, which is often shared by both parents (yes, you heard that right, it isn’t weird for new dads to take parental leave; in fact, 90 days are required to be used exclusively by the father). This parental leave can also be used until the child is eight years old, which means it also isn’t uncommon for parents to only work four days a week or take extended summer holidays to spend with their families.

Of course, these programs come with the stigma of being costly. And although some of that is true, my income taxes certainly aren’t any higher than they were in Canada (although, sales taxes are a hefty 25%). Despite the stereotype that the Nordic countries are expensive, I don’t feel like my cost of living is higher here than it would be in Canada.

With many basic everyday bills, like cellphones, internet, and education being very affordable, the only thing that is expensive are the “luxuries” like entertainment (going out to eat, or going to the movies), cars, and gas. And really, I’m happy to reallocate that 90% savings on my monthly cellphone bill to a night out with friends, anyways.

See Also: You can read more about my favourite spots for a night out in Malmo here.


9. JANTELAGEN

I know, another word you likely can’t pronounce. This is a Scandinavian principle that guides how Swedes choose to act, particularly in the workplace.

Jantelagen |jantɛˌlɑːɡɛn|: You are not to think you’re anyone special or that you’re better than anyone else.

Don’t boast. Don’t brag. Stay humble and grounded. Never make anyone else feel inferior to you. No one needs to know about your rank in the hierarchy of your company. Or your new, expensive car.

That, in a nutshell, is Jantelagen.


10. PROXIMITY TO THE REST OF EUROPE

For a travel bug like me, this is easily one of the best things about living in Sweden. I can travel, door-to-door, to Copenhagen Airport in 30 minutes. And Malmö Airport, also nearby, offers budget connections to many European cities for cheap weekend getaways.

Not to mention, there are so many cities accessible by train, including some incredible cities within Sweden (for example, you can get from Malmö to Stockholm in four hours by train, or 50 minutes by flights … which I’ll be doing in a few weeks, so stay tuned for that story!).


And those are, in my opinion at least, the absolute best things about living in Sweden.

Is there anything I missed? If so, add it to the comments below! And if you’re considering moving to Sweden, I’ve wrote all about the Swedish visa process here. You can also read more about expat life in Sweden here.


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