May 21, 2022

A year in Sweden

About a year ago, on 16th May 2021, amidst heavy lockdown in India, I packed 25 kg of cloths, spices, assortment of itty bitty things in a suitcase and set off towards a new chapter in life. I had to apply for an e-pass from police to make this journey. All ecommerce and stores were closed. I could only bring things I had at hand in that moment. That marked beginning of a new phase in my life and career, working and living in Sweden. I had secured a job as Cloud Solutions Architect at Cybercom (which was later acquired by Knowit) in Gothenburg. A year has passed since and this is a reflection post.

It has been a journey of exploration, learnings, milestones and patience. A lot has changed since. I am no longer a lone wolf and now working at a cool EV startup-ish company, Polestar.

Moving to a new country is as good as building an entire new life. Adjusting to the new lifestyle, culture, rebuilding your social, professional groups isn't as easy as it looks. There were a few cultural shocks and many things to get used to. Below is a collection of such nitty gritties.

Things that took a getting used to -

  • Adjusting to the assymetric day-night hours. In summer, the sun shines for nearly 18 hrs. Winter has darkness for nearly 18 hrs.
  • Unpredictable weather.
  • Work Life Balance - Start work at 8 AM, home by 5 PM.
  • Drinking water right out of the tap. If you bunk at a hotel, you can safely drink the water from bathroom's basin. Crazy!
  • Toilet Paper, no bidets or jet sprays!
  • Looking at weather forecast before planning anything.
  • Dealing with dates in week number. (eg. Lets do a picnic in Week 15)
  • Booking activites way in advance. Be it social calendar or professional calendar, people plan ahead weeks here.
  • Flying is cheaper than taking interstate trains.

Cultural shocks -

  • Outdoor shoes not allowed inside of homes. Suprised with the similarity with our culture.
  • Nudity in Gym Showers / change rooms.
  • Old people living a very independent life.
  • Self service model everywhere. Grocery store, restaurants etc
  • Health conscience. Swedes do some form of phyical activity 3-5 times a week. Gym / run / padel etc
  • Clean everywhere. Even the design choices are frekishly minimal and clean.

Things I love here -

  • Punctual and predictable public transport system. A single ticket purchased can be used to travel for 90 minutes on trains, trams, busses and boats.
  • Access to green patches, public spaces. At any given time, You can take a 15 minute ride to be in a real dense jungle.
  • All services linked to your social security number - bank, mobile connections, rent, electricity etc.
  • Social safety net - seperate provisons for sick pay, parental leave. Unemployment benefits, job safety via Unions, Pension, free education for dependents etc
  • Healthy work-life balance. You can switch off your brains and rejuvinate.
  • Nearly free medical services.
  • Concept of Lagom and The laws of Jante.

Challenges -

  • Housing - Finding a house is a game of luck and patience. Housing market is centrally managed. It is a bit skewed against immigrants at the begining.
  • Paperwork - Most paper work takes weeks if not months. Limited workforce leds to delays in getting social securty number, bank accounts etc
  • Expensive Labor - Need to fix something at home? DIY most of the things! Forget calling a handyman, unless you wish to spend a fortune and wait for 2-3 weeks for an appointment.
  • Driving License - Google it :-)
  • Language - Although most Swedes speak excellent English, knowing Swedish makes it easier.

I have learned a lot of things this year. Swedes have played an incredible part in the journey. Never have I ever felt as an outsider. They have embraced nuances and cultural differences I carried. I am trying my best to reciprocate by being mindful and respectful of their culture. I am looking forward to a few more years ahead. Thanks Sweden!

PS - Trying to explain culture is like trying to talk water to fish ( Its difficult to explain unless you do it. If you are contemplating moving countries, take that jump. Its worth the experience.