This post is a part of the writing project called Stories from the West that I started with Christa. We’re both currently living on the west coasts (Christa in the US, me in Sweden), hence the name of the project. We want to share our experiences living as immigrants, and every month we’ll write a post each with the same topic. The topic for this month is ‘quirks about the adopted country‘. Don’t forget to read Christa’s post, 5 Quirky Things About America.
This October marks my eighteenth month of living in Sweden, and what a huge learning curve it has been. I’ve been amazed at the brilliant things I find in here — like their queueing system for example, or the divider on the cashier conveyor belt at the supermarket that separates your stuff and the next person’s — but I’m also equally astonished at the unusual things that can either be amusing or baffling.
So here are some of the quirky things you’ll find in Sweden.
1. The frequent use of double words
Swedes often use double words when they talk. ‘Hej hej’ or ‘tjena tjena’ for hello, ‘tack tack’ for thank you, or ‘puss puss’ (meaning ‘kiss kiss’) for ending a conversation (usually on the phone, with your loved ones). I didn’t realize this in the beginning, but now apparently I do it as well.
2. Two single duvets for a double bed
When we first moved to Sweden, we spent a long time in IKEA trying to find a double duvet, to no avail. We later found out that people usually use single duvets here, so we bought those instead.
And goodness, what a revelation. We don’t do the duvet tug of war anymore, and nobody gets accused of stealing the duvet in the middle of the night. Another advantage is, since H usually tolerates a much cooler temperature than I do, I can just use a thick duvet and him a thin one, and nobody’s complaining about it being too cold or too warm. It’s brilliant, and we’ll stick to this arrangement for the rest of our lives.
3. Lines at the liquor stores
Usually on Friday and Saturday, before the closing times (7 pm Friday, 3 pm Saturday — when you live here, you’ll learn this by heart). Alcohol trade in Sweden is regulated by the government, and Systembolaget (often called ‘Systemet’) is a government-owned chain of liquor stores that is allowed to sell drinks which contain more than 3.5% of alcohol.
It’s a common view to find long lines at the alcohol store in the weekend, when people rush to get their stock before the store closes. And god forbid you forget to buy one before it closes for the weekend. Been there, and it wasn’t fun.
4. The unconventional choices of food mix
Apart from having spices in the bread, Swedes mix interesting things in their food. Ketchup with pasta, jam with cereals, peanut butter with porridge… I’d never heard of such combinations before living here. When I pointed this out to a colleague, her reaction was, “Oh, people don’t usually do that?” Peanut butter and porridge, I can imagine that might be nice, and maybe jam with cereals. But ketchup with pasta? Italians, look away.
Swedes love sweets, and if you happen to stumble into one of the candy shops like 4-Gott or even just regular grocery stores and convenience stores, you’ll marvel at the selection of candies. Rows and rows of colorful candies in boxes, sold by the kilograms and available for pick-and-mix.
Lördagsgodis, or Saturday candies, was born in the 1950s as a government program to tackle the poor dental health in Sweden. With this program, the government tried to encourage parents to limit their kids’ candy consumption to just once a week. What started as a program has now turned into a beloved tradition, so you’ll see kids (and adults!) with their bags of mixed candies on Saturdays, sometimes getting wild with their shop (but really, could you blame them?).
A (very) small selection of candies at a local shop.
6. The love for salty licorice
With food in Sweden, I’ve learned that many of them are acquired tastes, not least the salty licorice. Not all Swedes love it, but many of them do. My one and only experience with this was at the office, where my colleagues eagerly introduced Swedish candies to me. They watched in thrill as I put the whole bit in my mouth, and burst into laughter as my face crumpled with the sting. I spat it out in the end — that was the evil of all candies.
7. People wear similar clothes
I’ve seen this in Gothenburg and Stockholm. People dress similarly, usually in dark colors. Just looking at people on the street, I can make out which pieces of clothing are ‘trendy’ for this season. I’m not sure if this is because they don’t like to stick out, but it’s definitely hard to see personal styles here.
If you live abroad, are there any quirks about the country that you find amusing? Let me know in the comments below 🙂