I have noticed that whenever I came back to Sweden after being away, I had an experience of kindness on the train from Copenhagen to Malmö… It felt like I was “welcomed back” to Sweden every time!
After living here for more than a year, I feel sad about leaving… There are so many things which I have come to love about Sweden. For one thing, it has the most beautiful summers of all countries I have ever been to. Maybe the long and hard winters are a prerequisite for that – it always feels like with the first sun rays of spring, the snow and ice melt away to reveal the perfectly freshly preserved nature with its crisp, deep blue waters, pristine and peaceful forests (so silent that you would even hear an ant moving ;)) and wide, open fields which are immersed in a sunlight inciding in a very special way… The fresh air makes you want to inhale deeply and the wideness of the landscape as well as the low population density give a sense of freedom. Maybe it is also this low population density which makes many people greet each other even if they don’t know each other personally. It’s something special to meet someone else in Sweden, after all. ;)
Another thing is the language – Sweden is the only country where I have met people who so genuinely love their own language that they even miss speaking it when they go abroad. :) And I can quite relate to that – I also love speaking Swedish, it sounds so cheerful and melodious.
Then, there is the high degree of modernity and practicability. I have to admit that I got pretty quickly used to that. Whenever I visited other countries, I was amazed at how things can be so old-fashioned and complicated. ;) It may be dangerous to get used to such comfort, even though it doesn’t really feel like a sign of inertia to me – the Swedish like it light, so they have created their environment accordingly – and that not without efforts, for sure. Just as they like it clean, and thus observe their waste separation and recycling systems very conscientiously. With the right attitude we can find that making many small efforts every day can have a big effect. People also like making things look beautiful and would rather use a curly font than gaudy colours and bold letters on their advertising posters. I even like many aspects of the food habits here – the most common pastry is cinnamon rolls, the national drink is coffee instead of beer (I don’t drink either but coffee definitely smells better! – though nothing can beat chai, of course :)) and the most common street food is falafel – very suitable for both vegetarians and vegans. :)
Last, but not least, I like the people here. The lack of formality makes contacts feel genuine – there is no need to play-act, nor to feel very intimidated by “authoritarian” personalities – how would you, when they just greet you with “hej” on the street and you can pop in their office anytime to have a chat or a cup of coffee together? :) This doesn’t mean that people behave impolitely or disrespectfully with each other – the Swedish politeness is just of a very sincere kind. Maybe part of this is a lack of sarcasm or irony, which is an important part of some other cultures. The Swedish generally say what they mean, and mean what they say – very helpful for someone like me who has difficulties to think around ten corners. ;) Sweden is also one of the most cosmopolitan and therefore both open-minded and racially tolerant countries I know. (According to a study I read, there is a surprisingly wide variation within Europe in this regard…) Furthermore, the Swedish are very patient – I have stood in many queues here and never found anyone complain…
Maybe, after this “hymn of Sweden” I should mention that there have of course been exceptions to whatever I have written. How we perceive a country depends a lot on our own background, lifestyle, preferences and expectations. Also, I would probably not have written all this after five months of winter ;) – nor if it weren’t for my imminent leave-taking. Most of all, I would not have enjoyed any second of my time here as much if it hadn’t been for my friends (both Swedish and non-Swedish :) ). I am convinced that we can enjoy any place as long as we are surrounded by kind people – and I do think that it takes a bit more time in Sweden than in other countries to get to know people. But I have been lucky to meet some of the kindest people in the places I have been to in the period of time I have been there. It is the combinations of time and locations we experience in life which make every period of life unique, as they can never be repeated.