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Boats in central Stockholm on a misty day.

Photo: Jeppe Wikström

Categories: Before

20 things I wish I’d known before moving to Stockholm

Publish date: 18 March 2021

Samantha Govender, a Stockholmer originally from South Africa, shares 20 things she wished she’d known before moving to Stockholm nearly nine years ago.

1. Get your personal number ASAP

Your personal number allows you to do everything that you need to do in order to function in Sweden, so try to get it sorted as soon as you get here. You need it for almost everything, even to become a member of a gym. It also means you can use Bank ID, which is a personal identification system, and once you have that you can access services like online banking and Swish which lets you send money to other people or businesses using your smartphone.

2. Cash is not king

Sweden is a cashless society and it’s rare that a supermarket or store will accept cash. A lot of times visitors don’t realise this and end up being stuck with wads of cash that they aren’t able to spend anywhere!

3. You’ll talk about the weather - a lot

You will talk about the weather much more than you ever have before! It’s such a huge part of the lifestyle here. People are quite active so they spend a lot of time outdoors. Even when it’s cold and snowing, they have activities for every type of weather.

4. Prepare yourself for the darkness

During winter, it can get pretty dark for long periods of time. Coming from the southern hemisphere, I wasn’t used to it. So it’s important to take vitamin D supplements and work on your mental health because it can affect your mood. You can also try a light therapy lamp which really helps.

5. You’ll start worshipping the sun

I guess because it’s dark for a big chunk of the year, when the sun is out you become a real sun worshipper. You’ll often see people just standing with their eyes closed facing the direction of the sun. I thought it was so weird to begin with. But then, just a year later, I was doing the exact same thing! If it’s a sunny day, you’ll rush to go outside and enjoy it.

6. Stockholmers love keeping fit

People here like to stay in shape and so exercise is a big part of people’s routines. It doesn’t matter how cold it is, people are outside running all year around. And the gyms are full throughout the year. People often do exercise classes at home too, or at the bare minimum they go outside for a walk and some fresh air.

7. You’ll become more outdoorsy

I found that when I first moved here, that first winter I tried to stay indoors as much as possible because it was so cold. But then you realise that actually it’s much better for you to be out in nature, and luckily in Stockholm you have access to so much of it! It never takes long to find a lake or forest, regardless or where you live in the city. Even if it’s dark, there are loads of lit pathways and hiking tracks. And all the routes are colour coded so it’s really difficult to get lost!

8. The right to roam

In Sweden, we have something called Allemansrätten which is the right to access any land, as long as it’s not someone’s private garden. So you can do activities like walking, cycling, skiing and camping pretty much anywhere. I don’t think you have that freedom in many other countries.

9. Taxes are high

Taxes here are high but there are advantages to it. There’s a really good subsidised healthcare service, and great parental leave benefits. Areas are well maintained, so it’s rare that you would see a pothole on the road or other wear and tear on the streets or buildings. The country is really taken care of and you can see where your taxes are going.

10. You can’t buy alcohol 24/7

In Sweden, you’re not able to buy alcoholic drinks that contain more than 3.5% alcohol anywhere other than Systembolaget, which is the chain of state-owned liquor stores. The stores aren’t open late in the evenings or on Sundays, which can really take some getting used to if you come from a country where alcohol isn’t regulated. You adjust pretty quickly but it can be a shock to the system when you first arrive!

11. It’s polite to be punctual

In South Africa, we rock up when we rock up - nobody’s exactly on time. But here, if you invite someone for dinner at 7pm, you really have to be there at 7pm. Swedes like to be on time and it’s considered quite rude if you’re late.

12. No shoes inside

Another thing to remember is to always take your shoes off when you go into someone’s apartment. I actually really like this Swedish norm because it keeps the apartments so clean! It’s typical when you go to a party to see piles of shoes at the doorway when you come in. You soon realise it doesn’t matter what shoes you wear to a party because no-one will see them anyway!

13. Swedes make great friends

You often hear that it’s difficult to make friends with Swedes, and it’s not always easy but once you do - you have a friend for life. People might be a little more reserved than you’re used to but you have to keep working at it. When you do make friends with a Swede, you can really feel the loyalty there.

14. Embrace coffee breaks

You will never drink as much coffee anywhere else as you will in Sweden! Fika is a way of life. It’s like a social coffee break when you slow down, enjoy a good conversation with somebody and something nice to eat and drink. Favourite baked treats include cinnamon buns, of course, but also cardamom buns. I’d never had cardamom in a pastry before moving here but it works so well.

15. There’s great gender equality

When society is gender equal, you really do get some amazing benefits. Parental care here is amazing - men can take as much parental leave as their partner which is so good for them to bond with their children. Also, when it comes to workplace culture - you’re treated the same as your male counterparts. Because why shouldn’t you be? You can read more about my thoughts on Stockholm's gender equality here.

16. Work/life balance

At my first job in Stockholm, I was working quite long hours - as I would have done before moving here. And I was taken aside by my boss who said, ‘We love the work you’re doing but you need to go and enjoy your life. You don’t need to be in the office all the time.’ It’s really important here not to work later than you should and to take at least 20 days of vacation a year.

17. Nearly everything shuts in summer

Because people here take their vacation time so seriously, a lot of the bars and restaurants are shut over summer. I found it a bit strange when I first got here, but now I understand it. I see how it ties into people taking their time off seriously and how important that is for mental health.

18. There’s a big international scene

I run Stockholm Girl Gone International, which is an online community of international women living in the city. So I’m aware of how active the international scene is here. There are plenty of events and activities people can join, and everyone is really welcoming and willing to help out the other internationals living here.

19. Swedes are style conscious

Everybody in Stockholm dresses really well! Sweden in general is a very fashion-conscious society. People look quite smart and are always quite well put together. They don’t all dress the same, but whatever they’re wearing - they wear it well.

20. Second-hand shopping is encouraged

People here are really concerned about the environment. Sustainability is a Swedish value and everyone is really good at recycling. Instead of buying new things all the time, like brand new furniture or clothes, people often buy and sell among themselves. In the warmer months, there are plenty of flea markets known as loppisar and there are websites like Tradera where people sell items online.

About the author

Samantha is the Community Manager at Stockholm Girl Gone International and works at The Local. She is originally from South Africa but now calls Stockholm her home. She loves dogs, fikas and getting lost in foreign countries.

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