Sweden is often regarded as being somewhat of a liberal country; many people think that blonde, tanned Swedes cavort naked in forest lakes all summer long before retreating into their saunas for the duration of the long and cold winter. It is often said of the Swedes that they are practical and cold. Is this true?
For the main part, I have found Sweden an easy place to settle. Yes, Swedes are reserved and sometimes difficult to get to know but they are very similar to us Brits in attitude and humour—unlike some other nationalities they get sarcasm. Swedes are not brash, loud or in-your-face. I like that. So here’s what else I love about Sweden.
1. Sweden’s Common Sense
One of the things that annoys me about teaching in the UK is the complete lack of common sense that seems to pervade the educational system. When I was at school British Bulldog was a popular playground game but a number of students across the country fell and broke various limbs. The response: ban the game completely. That was the first step in creating the nanny state that Britain has now become. I took a school trip to Barcelona a few years ago and we were told that under no circumstance could the children go in the sea because it’s too dangerous. Have you ever tried taking ninety 14 year-olds to the beach and told them they can’t go in the sea?!! I don’t recommend it. My mother informs me that in the primary school that she works in students are not allowed to sharpen their own pencils because of the risk.
So imagine my surprise to discover that here in Sweden when the weather gets cold, the students head out to the nearest lake for ice-skating! Or that students, even in the Junior school, make their own way to school using the public transport system. On Sports Day students went skiing and one returned with a broken wrist but there’s not a sniff of a lawsuit. Why? Because Sweden recognises that if you take students skiing then an accident is very likely to happen. Maybe somebody should mention that to the UK school that sacked a teacher for taking 15 year olds sledging. It is certainly refreshing to teach in a country where you don’t have to feel responsible for things that are out of your control.
2. Walking on Water
One thing that has been instilled in me since I was old enough to walk is that you NEVER walk on frozen water. Ever. Of course, this is common sense in the UK where it is unlikely that ice will support your weight but it is still with some apprehension that I first stepped out on to a frozen lake in Sweden. I love the way that Swedes head out to the lakes and rivers at the weekends to ski, skate and even picnic on the crisp white plains. When my parents came to visit a few weeks ago we went to Nicklas’ parents’ summer house where we drilled holes in the ice on lake Mälaren. Drilling holes in the ice! That’s something you can’t do in many places.
Forests and lakes. That pretty much sums up Sweden. One of the best things about Sweden is that you are never far away from Mother Nature. In the summer the forests are perfect for hiking, cycling and swimming in the fresh, cool water. In winter the forests become a complex ski track. I’m looking forward to hanging out by the lakes on hot summer days for sunbathing and swimming.
4. Interesting Wildlife
Sweden is home to all sorts of exciting animals: reindeer, elk, bears, lynx and wolves. In my first weeks here I squealed loudly in excitement, much to Nicklas’ embarrassment, when I saw an enormous rabbit hopping across the road in the middle of the town centre. I was even more surprised that nobody else even turned to look at it. Nicklas explained that it was a wild hare and that they are a very common sight in Swedish towns. I have not seen an elk yet but I still love to see deer and reindeer in the wild, sometimes surprisingly close to residential areas. I don’t think I have ever seen a deer in the wild in the UK.
On the train home last week I am convinced that I saw a wolf. It was large, too large to be a dog, and gray. Its coat and tail were thicker than I’ve ever seen on any normal dog. It turned to look at the train and had very distinctive white markings on its face. There were no people or buildings anywhere in sight. On returning home I did some research and there have been wolf sightings in this area so I am pretty convinced that I saw the Big Bad Wolf.
What’s not to love about Vikings? They are the ultimate travellers—leaving their homeland in search of women, partying and a better way of life. Hoards of people who travel the world every year thinking they are doing something ‘different’ are merely copying ancient Viking behaviour.
Sweden is full of Viking history, rune stones, burial grounds and artefacts present constant reminders of Sweden’s adventurous past. Everybody loves Vikings, right?!
6. Customer Service
As a commuter I have spent many, many, hours shivering on cold railway platforms waiting for delayed trains. I have ranted in anger and cried in frustration, cursing SJ trains for their incompetence. So you can imagine my surprise when I went to buy my pass this month I was told that I am entitled to a 50% discount both this month and next, meaning that I will receive ONE MONTH FREE TRAVEL. And at a saving of £300 this is not something to sniff at. Sweden, you have an excellent sense of customer service.
So Sweden, you are a great place to live and I look forward to spending many more years here.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, please leave a comment below.