I find myself in a very reflective mood as my last week of my first year in Stockholm draws to a close, and I am ever increasingly surrounded by mirrored objects.
I would like to share a little of what I’ve experienced, what I’ve learned, and why I would like to live here permanently, and no, it’s not just because polarbröd is the best thing that happened to me since smörbulle (which quickly eclipsed kanelbulle in late february). It’s also not just because I can say that sentence with a straight face.
Hopefully the one of you dedicated and avid reader out there (thanks mom) got a giggle out of one of my surprisingly cleverly-wrought phrases, for to me, that’s what life is all about. I get no bigger high than inducing raucous laughter (or even just a slight hiccup turned accidental chortle) from an audience, which can be a few friends, one of my brothers, or 300 new students eager to hear all about the internship program at my old university. No laughs = no fun, right? Listening to someone drone on about how important ties to the industry are for any university program is wayyyyyy better when they tell you how as soon as they realized that in their first internship they were pretty much a guinea pig subordinate for their boss to learn how to manage people, the two of them spent the rest of the 8 months speaking in military code in their emails and having better, more serious discussions on what colour to paint the walls than any work they could have been doing in a hard bid to prove to anyone that public servants use tax-payers’ money effectively.
Sweden gave me a big surprise.
Even before moving here I had travelled a LOT and lived in three different countries. I had a vast amount of experiences meeting new people from all over the world, sharing strange, sometimes strange and uncomfortable, sometimes strange and uncomfortable and downright disturbing living accommodations (I’m thinking here of the time I lived in a small house with 9 rooms, no common areas, and the guy in the room beside me who peed in jars), and finding myself in stressful, unorthodox situations that I just had to deal with (confronting a boss about his incredibly degrading and inappropriate behaviour towards women – I hyperventilated; fighting to control a wild-eyed and panicked 550 kg horse with nothing but a single rope in an enclosed stall – I shit my pants).
I figured, if I’ve stood on massive cliffs and felt the weight of the ocean crash around me, if I’ve climbed high mountain peaks in grizzly territory, run half-marathons (I may have considered taking the bus for the last 100 metres), lived my worst fear (a giant huntsman spider crawling up my leg), and survived a Montenegro Airlines flight (everyone was literally just standing around, drinking rakija with the flight attendants as this ex-soviet metal tube hurtled towards the Earth, rattling and shaking like a crack-addict in rehab), then moving to a country that is so civilized that playgrounds offer both open-air and garage parking for baby strollers seemed like a walk in the park.
And for the most part, it really has been. I mean, I live between a nature reserve and a cemetery moonlighting as a magical forest full of mythical woodland creatures, so trying not to take a walk in the park is actually kind of difficult.
What surprised me was how much I still had (and have) to learn. And I don’t just mean the Swedish alphabet or making that wind-through-the-trees sound every time s, k, and e get together and throw a party. I mean about people, about myself, about how a city can be built and run, how you can, actually, live without a car, about living in a country not built on immigration, that offers a different kind, a more tangible sort of identity. Learning that looking just like other people doesn’t mean you think or act the same way.
I had almost no expectations when I arrived in Stockholm. I had a very vague idea that it might be harder to make friends with people since the Swedes were ostensibly “cold” and “repressed”, which many attributed to the lack of both daylight and sunlight during the wintertime, that I might start eating a lot more fish (even the fermented kind! Nope, tried it once, never again), oh, and that everyone would be beautiful and know how to dress.
First of all, making sweeping generalizations about 9 million people is pretty much a terrible idea. During the winter, there are definitely people that get seasonal depression because there really is no fucking sun. I mean in Stockholm, in December, the sun sets at two forty-seven in the afternoon!!! And, the few hours you have between sunrise and sunset might just be a dismal, dreary, grey, cloud-filled poop of a sky with a ceiling at about 14 feet. It sucks. So, I get it. You’re not 178% super into life mid-January? I get it. I really do. Thankfully, I don’t get so affected by it, but when you’re surrounded by people who are really affected by it, you get indirectly affected by it. You all just kind of turn into apocalyptic zombies that go into a feeding frenzy as soon as that glowing celestial object that is the source of all life decides to make an appearance every three to four weeks.
I have to admit though, it was a teeeeeeeeensy bit harder to make friends. Since this isn’t a mathematical quandary and I can’t compute friend-making ability into real numbers (or imaginary ones, HAH), I will stick to general qualitative descriptions, like teensy. And itsy-bitsy. I’m an adult. I DO WHAT I WANT.
At first, when I didn’t make deep, meaningful connections with 15 new people who I knew would become life-long friends in the space of a week, I was somewhat confused and bewildered. How is this possible? I thought to myself. I am amazing at making friends! I shouldn’t even have to say anything anymore! You should just see me and a big flashing neon FRIEND sign should light itself up in your brain! What, English isn’t your first language, I’m a bit (qualitative descriptor inserted here) intimidating and I maybe block out the sun when you’re trying to get in that last drop of vitamin D before early October hits? This should not matter at all!
What I like to think of as personal charm can seem more like a loud, somewhat obnoxious personality, and it doesn’t work with everyone. I had to learn how to mould it so that I could still show my character, but essentially take it down a notch or two. On top of that, and despite the Swedes’ superior handling of the English language (I’m like a kid seeing the moon for the first time, every day I’m impressed, mouth hanging open, drool slowly falling to the floor, holding my blankie in one hand…wait a second), I had to reduce my vocabulary, which I honestly did mostly subconsciously. And this was a big thing for me because there is not much I love more in life than wordplay. I mean, okay, galloping on horseback in the Snowy mountains of Australia and sleeping under a sky so filled with stars your brain can’t even compute comes pretty close, and like, not living under the poverty line is pretty good too, but witty banter and I go back a long ways. We tight, yo.
I have now made a handful of really good Swedish friends (and a few non-Swedish ones as well 😉 ), and I can say with all the certainty 28 years on this planet has afforded me that every second in those 8 months leading up to it has been worth it. Yes. It took my entire time here to make them. But that’s okay! Now I know all their secrets. And as the Canadian government has zero funding to pay me to document them, I can tell you those secrets are going nowhere. Also they’re in Swedish, which I still don’t fully understand.
It’s been a really fun time getting to know them. Like anybody, they have multiple facets and they surprise me almost daily. They’re all conscientious people who research political platforms, they’re passionate about environmental causes, they’re talented musicians, great conversationalists, they’re innovative and ambitious, they are great dressers, they’re also kind of strange, and most of all, they are kind.
Now I’m just generalizing five people instead of 9 million. Who’s counting…
For most of them, making friends with them has been like climbing stairs. Sure, I’m a little (okay a lot, since most of you have seen me climb stairs) out of breath, and it’s kinda hard when you’re doing it, but the top feels amazing and you know your butt will thank you for it. I mean…
For others it has been more of a roller-coaster ride, and I’m still sorting out whether I want to get off or go another round, but what would any adventure park be without a roller-coaster? Come on, you can’t top out with bumper cars…
So, in conclusion, I do eat more fish (but I still don’t catch it myself), everyone is stupidly pretty and stuff, and it was, in a way, harder to make friends. But I fell in love with a city for the very first time, and, I think it’s mutual. ❤