The first month of university has drawn to a close and those of us new to Sweden have had a whirlwind introduction to Swedes and their culture. Here are some of Rowena Guthries observations.
Swedes are open
When I tell friends that I am studying in Sweden, the usual response is to ask if it is difficult to make friends. The stereotype that Swedes are reserved and even unfriendly towards new people is still very much believed. However, it is something I am yet to experience. Every country has unspoken social rules that must be learnt and Sweden is no exception. Depending on where you are from, these may seem extreme but that definitely does not mean Swedes in general are unfriendly.
Fika is integral
Fika is a word you will come across in all aspects of your life in Lund. In short, it is to come together to drink coffee, the lifeblood of many Swedes, and eat something small, usually a sweet bun or sandwich. Fika will be served at meetings of academic groups, you will meet friends for fika and if you work in an office, expect a daily fikapaus. The idea that an entire office will sit together regardless of hierarchy to drink coffee is a very charming indicator of the social foundations within Sweden. Fika will undoubtedly find its way into your everyday vocabulary.
Split the bill
It is very easy in Sweden to split the bill at a restaurant and an option that servers will usually offer. Despite the term ‘going Dutch’, I found out in Amsterdam that it is practically impossible to split a bill in The Netherlands. In contrast, it is usually expected when in a restaurant in Sweden. Whether with friends or on a date, all parties pay their share of the bill. It is certainly telling of widely held societal views in Sweden that this is the assumed practice.
After a month in Lund, you are probably well acquainted with Systembolaget, or Systemet (The System), the government owned alcohol monopoly. While there are similar systems in other Nordic countries, for many new to Sweden it is a new concept. The need to consider what time one can buy alcohol until is something that takes practise and planning. I have ended up going to more than a few parties with 3% beer from the supermarket!
Some may find that their mother tongue gives them an advantage when learning Swedish or already being multilingual allows them to learn new ones with more ease. Whatever your situation, you will easily be able to have a life in Lund without speaking Swedish. But the ease at which we are able to communicate in English can be seen as a hurdle in learning Swedish! Forming your own Swenglish and slipping in Swedish words and phrases will be met with encouragement and support by your Swedish friends. SFI is also available if you want to push yourself further.
Moving to a new country is difficult, especially if it is very far away from home. One of the most exciting things about doing it though is having the opportunity to learn about and experience a new culture. I am sure I will continue to learn new things about Swedish culture as long as I am living here and I thoroughly look forward to that.