If you're an expat living in Sweden, you are already packing your bags to go have a look and experience it for yourself. You know what I'm talking about.
For those of you that are shaking your heads in wonderment, it goes a little something like this. One of the most difficult things for us 'foreigners' moving to Sweden is the absence of an 'open arms' welcome wagon. In fact, breaking through the Swedish social network proves to be one of the most challenging tests of 'making it' in Sweden. I've been here 10 1/2 years and still can't say that I've made it.
Now don't get me wrong, I've made friends who are Swedish - mostly through work or my immediate neighbors. But I'm talking about the kind of socializing where you don't have to know someone to smile and say 'hi' as you pass them on the street. Or the kind of socializing where you can strike up a conversation about nothing with someone you don't know while standing in line at the grocery store / bank / bus stop. It's the kind of socializing where you don't have to schedule 2 weeks in advance to stop by a friend's house for tea or coffee. The kind of socializing where you invite your neighbor over for an impromptu BBQ and they head over within minutes (without feeling obligated to bring a gift!). Neighborhood garage sales? Forget it! Garage sales don't exist over here.
In the beginning, the closed vibe of the Swedish society and the lack of social interaction just feels rude. But eventually you come to learn that it isn't rudeness, it's just a cultural thing. A culture that is composed and slow to show emotion. It's a guarded culture - a culture where you have a few really close friends that you grow up with...and that's really all you need for life. Where does that leave us foreigners? On the outside!
Now, back to where this post started. I found the open and social Swedish people (ok, some were Norwegian, but nevertheless!)! We took a mini-vacation to a small seaside resort up the west coast of Sweden. We'd never heard of Hällestrand Resort, and ended up there on a whim decision, taking advantage of a special offer. I'll never again be able to say that Swedish people aren't social. I experienced open hospitality there like I've never experienced it before in my 10 1/2 years in Sweden! Everyone was happy. Everyone was smiling. Everyone talked with each other. Kids were running back and forth between the different cabins. Ice cream was bought for our kids by others. Plans were made to meet for activities like crab fishing. S'mores were shared with others on the beach. We enjoyed great conversation and next thing we know there's dinner set down in front of us.
For my friends back in the U.S. who are reading this, you're probably thinking, "What's the big deal? Sounds like a normal weekend here." But trust me, this is a BIG DEAL! I feel like I've experienced a revelation - a new hope for socialized living in Sweden. Of course if it only comes once a year, and we have to go to Hällestrand each year to get it - then so be it! It will be well worth it.
I want to give a special thanks to two families for breaking the mold and providing us with the most welcoming hospitality:
Thomas - Katarina - Hugo - Filippa
Märtha - Glenn - Olivia
You don't know how much your openness and friendliness meant to me. For once, I actually felt like I was 'on the inside' in Sweden. And for that, I thank you!
Until next time...
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