An Expat's Thoughts on Living in Sweden

My blog, Swede and Sour Kitchen, has been listed as a Recommended Expat Blog on Internations.org. So I thought I'd share the questionnaire I filled out for them, with you!


Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Sweden, etc.

My name is Gypsee and I’m from New York City. I moved to Malmö, Sweden in September of 2010. I get this a lot: New York City!!! Why Malmö? and I usually tell them it was totally my choice. I met my husband backpacking in Thailand eleven years ago. We were friends and email pals until he visited NY in 2009, when we both realized,  ”Hey! I really like you!”  A year later, we got married by Elvis in Las Vegas. He was ready and willing to move to the States, but I wanted a challenge. Something different.

Before moving to Sweden, he told me that I should be prepared to take a job like passing out newspapers, or cleaning, which are perfectly fine occupations, except I knew I wanted to teach English. After 6 months, I got a job teaching English in Copenhagen, and it has been the best job I have ever had in my entire working life. When not working, I love cooking and doing crafty things like reupholstering old couches and armchairs, building things with wood, and taking photos.

Now, I’m a mom to the sweetest and silliest little 11-month old boy and we’re expecting a second. Being in Sweden sure makes being a new parent really really easy, so I’m glad that I’m here, amongst other great reasons for being here!

When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?

I started Swede and Sour Kitchen in order to force myself to think in Swedish. For me, speaking has been the hardest part of learning the language. I felt like I was just using the same phrases and same sentences, and words all the time. I realized that to build my vocabulary bank, I had to somehow express myself in everyday language, as I would in English, about the things I enjoy thinking about and talking about. And since I love to cook, love food photography, and figured I should learn more about the Swedish culture, I thought this blog would be a good tool and outlet for me.

Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours? Please add the URL as well.

Yes. Oven-Baked Falukorv. (http://swedeandsourkitchen.com/2012/10/31/oven-baked-falukorv/)

If you are a connoisseur of charcuterie, or of finely cured sausages, you’re in for a surprise. Sausages in Sweden are just hot dogs in different flavors, colors, shapes, and sizes. Well, you can read about it in this post!

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?

They say it takes about two years for a new place to really feel comfortable and homey, and I must say there is some truth to that. I do feel a bit at home now.

I have traveled quite a bit around the world, so I don’t think I experienced much culture shock or had any trouble getting used to Sweden. I mean, there were little things like not being able to tell what the million different kinds of milks and creams in the dairy section meant and why I had to pick up mail packages at the grocery store. The high taxes and prices of things were a little shocking at first, but once I started earning money here, it evened out. With all the benefits that come with living here, I have no problems paying taxes to Sweden!

But still, language is the biggest difference. After two years of being here, I feel I have a good grasp on what people are saying, but I do find myself questioning what I may have understood. So I think there is a lot more doubt in my life.

I do love the fact that I can get anywhere I need to go by bicycle. I had a bike in NYC, but it was an invitation for death every time I hopped on it. For the most part, there is a nice symbiosis between pedestrians, cyclists and drivers here.

People seem to work to live well rather than live to work in Sweden. Life is comfortable here.

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 wasn’t prepared at all, but I knew that, and knew that I was just “winging” it. Though I appreciate that I was able to find a job in Copenhagen, looking back, I think I would have liked to study Swedish intensively for a whole year before getting a job and having babies. Building a network and perhaps making friends at work, in the city where you live, seem to have more benefits in the long run than commuting to a (really) cool city across the bridge.

 Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?

Hopefully, this isn’t too inappropriate, as English speakers may be very confused about this word in the beginning. All I have to say is that “slut” in Swedish (pronounced SLOOT), means end; done; finished. “Slutspurt” means final sale. And if you see “slut” written over ice cream freezers, it means there is no more ice cream left. That’s all I have to say about that.

 Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Sweden?

1. If possible, dedicate your first year to learning Swedish. It just makes things like finding a job and communicating in everyday situations so much easier. Your patience, motivation, enthusiasm, and effort after that year may start to dwindle, since it is so easy to get by with English. Take advantage of the different språkcafes (Language Cafés) available around town, where you can drop in and speak with native Swedish speakers and other expats like yourself! It will help build confidence in speaking and you get to meet new people at the same time.

2. Be prepared for the winter darkness. If you’re not used to this, it can be quite a shocker to see what daylight there is disappear from the sky around 2:30 PM. And speaking of weather, get some good rain boots.

3. I haven’t been to any interviews here in Sweden, but I have heard numerous times, through job workshops, that being humble is the way to go. In the United States, boasting about your achievements and accomplishments is totally the tactic for resumes and interviews, but here, it’s more about painting a detailed picture of who YOU are and what you are capable of.

3. How is the expat community in Sweden? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?

There is a strong expat community in the big cities, at least, of Sweden. One can join various organizations, just like Internations, to network and meet other expats. I would say that if my situation were a little different, my efforts may have turned out differently. I found a job in Copenhagen, so it was hard to build a network here in Sweden and then, I got pregnant, which basically put any social life I had to a screeching halt. Surprisingly though, it’s been very easy to meet other new parents, both Swedish and international, outside of the expat meeting groups. I now have a few really good friends here that I’ve made totally on my own!

How would you summarize your expat life in Sweden in a single, catchy sentence?

Although NYC will always be home, I must say that right now, Sweden feels like “Home Swede Home”!

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