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6 things I’ve learned after 6 months in Sweden

**Featured in The Local Sweden 23/11/2016**

It’s difficult to think that this chilly Stockholm is the same city that was basking in 25-degree heat only a few months ago. Back then was also the time when, against the fitting backdrop of Eurovision, I stumbled off a 32-hour flight, jet-lagged to the heavens, but ready to begin my new life in Sweden.

Moving to Sweden has been life-changing, wonderful and completely challenging. On the one hand, a fresh start is so exciting and energizing. On the other hand, I have often felt a bit like a toddler at a grownups party – in need of guidance, struggling to communicate and, particularly over these latest icy weeks, still figuring out how to walk.

But Sweden has been one pleasant surprise after the other. As more expats continue to flock to these fabulous Scandinavian cities, I thought it would be a nice time to share a few of the learnings I’ve made over the last six months for future Arlanda airport arrivals.

Expats and Swedes

Swedes are incredibly welcoming to expats and it’s easy to fit into society here. However, after a while of living in Sweden, you can start to notice some slight, often amusing, cultural differences. A common one (especially for us Aussies), is that we’re considered loud here. Quite loud. I’ll never forget one casual Sunday fika that somehow resulted in my Aussie mate and I squawking with uncontrollable laughter, whilst throwing our bodies back and forth in sheer hysteria… much to the silent shock of the surrounding, significantly more civilized Swedes. Be ready for that.

Coffee doesn’t mean the same thing here as it does at home

This is very, very important, especially if you’re usually a long-black drinker. Swedish coffee is a force of nature – this can’t be stressed enough. Simply ‘trying Swedish coffee’ should only be done in a carefully controlled environment – trust me, you don’t know what this hot, devil liquid could do to an un-trained stomach. If you want my advice, try one with a good quarter litre of milk and two sugars and gradually work your way to black… don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Turns out Sweden is successful at everything

This was difficult to swallow at first, but it’s something we’ve all had to eventually accept. There’s the well-known successful Swedish exports like Spotify, H&M, Ikea and Robyn, but the longer you’re here you’ll really discover how gifted Sweden is at being…well, gifted. If stunning musical artists like First Aid Kit, Laleh and Ted Gärdestad aren’t enough, Sweden has the Nobel Prize, automatically booked doctors appointments, Ibrahimovic and summer-time strawberries that will be the best you’ve ever had. Swedes are so inventive, they can take literally the most disastrously designed ship, fetch it from the bottom of the harbour and turn it into one of Stockholm’s most visited tourist attractions. Gifted.

Snow in Sweden is glorious! Until you have to walk in it…

Have you ever seen that scene of Bambi trying his hooves out on ice for the first time? Slipping and stumbling with every step, limbs becoming entangled and a steady decline in pride? You can’t get a more accurate image of what my life has been like stepping outside this month. Speaking from experience, only the first four falls are embarrassing. After that you’ll learn to let go of all dignity, so long as you try to avoid collecting other civilians on the way down. In other news, turns out MacBook pros are a lot more water resistant than you think!

Heaven on earth exists

I’m convinced the island of Gotland is a slice of utopia that toppled from the sky and landed off the east coast of Sweden. What an island – it’s a must on any to-visit list. Having said that, there’s also plenty of stunning areas in Stockholm that still make my heart skip a beat, six months in. A morning walk around Sickla Sjö can make you feel like you’ve accidently wandered through a cupboard at Ikea and ended up in Narnia.

The reason you come to Sweden is not always the reason you’ll stay. And you will stay.

As is often the tale, I originally moved to Sweden for love. And now, like a surprisingly large number of expats, I’m still here even after the relationship didn’t work out. Of course it felt strange suddenly losing the reason I had decided come here in the first place. Stranger still, however, was that I didn’t consider leaving Sweden once I’d lost it. 

Perhaps I’d started a different relationship back when Dami Im was gracing Globen’s Eurovision stage in May – with Stockholm. After all, in the last six months Stockholm has taken me in, given me adventures, a wonderful job and the start of a beautiful career in music. Stockholm is a city of innovation, creativity and it has plenty of support. It’s also home to some of the coolest, kindest and most open-minded people I’ve ever met. How could I leave?

I wonder at what stage expats start to feel like a real resident in Stockholm? Is it the purchase of the first monthly SL public transport card? The first time you curse under your breath at not being able to book the time you wanted for the communal laundry? The first midsummer? The pure joy of no longer being an alien once your personal number has been processed? Or perhaps when you make the transition from making fun at your friends using a shoe horn, to using one yourself?

In any sense, for me it happened somewhere over the last six months and I’m so happy to called this funny, cucumber-shaped country my home.

Thanks for making me feel so loved, Stockholm. I can’t wait to see what the next six months bring.

Catch Sheona at live gigs around Sweden with Swedish singer-songwriter, Jade Ell. Visit www.sheonaurquhart.com

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Life as a Swede #5 – Changes

The weather in Stockholm is shifting and the curtain is starting to descend on what has been an absolutely splendid Summer in Sweden. As I glance over blog posts and photographs of the last 3 months, I feel incredibly humbled to have experienced such a perfect welcome to my new home. My first Swedish summer was absolutely jam-packed with positive and lovely memories that I will treasure for the rest of my life. 

And so now, it’s starting to change. August is drawing to a close, taking Summer with it. Most people have returned from vacation, the trains are fuller, the clouds are darker and more layers of clothing are being begrudgingly dragged out of wardrobes. Impending Winter is already on the tips of tongues and there’s a real sense of Autumn being a sort of ‘preparation before hibernation’ period. People (mainly expats) have already started asking me what my Survival Plan for Winter is, as if it’s more important than planning for Christmas. “Have you started stocking up on Vitamin D tablets yet?” “Tablets? No, no, you have to find your local sauna and book a session a week now!” “Guys, guys, it’s all about Bikram yoga. Every morning. I couldn’t have stayed here without it.” My work colleagues have already introduced me to the electric blankets and heat-packs they have in stored in the cupboards, reassuring me that it’s highly unlikely that I will become a Sheona-shaped ice cube whilst in the office over Winter, although I’m not so convinced…

Terrifying winter planning aside, with this change comes the general feeling of everyone being a bit more settled and getting back into their ‘real’ lives again. Some could find it a bit depressing… but I think it’s nice. 

I just realised today that during the 8 months that has made up 2016 so far, I have lived in London, packed up my life in London, spent 5 weeks in Australia, moved to Stockholm, moved to a second apartment in Stockholm and gone on lots of little trips to Portugal, various places around the UK and around Sweden. Plus, I moved here a day before Eurovision, which I think a small part of me is still recovering from. It will be a welcome change to stop and chill for a bit and actually focus on being here. To truly realise that this is my world now and feel what a real life in Stockholm is actually like… albeit whilst slowly freezing to my death.

Along with the weather comes the second recent change in my Swedish life. The fact that I’m now doing Stockholm on my own. 

The world got dramatically smaller with all the calls, texts and messages – it’s nice to be reminded that no matter where I am in the world, I can never feel lonely. Naturally, many friends and family members asked me what I was going to do now, and would I be coming home? I hadn’t even considered it. 

A relationship ending doesn’t change the fact that Stockholm, and Sweden in general, is absolutely fantastic. This is a city of innovation, youth and vibrance. And, while we give Swedes stick for sometimes being hard to get to know, kindness and support really are abundant here – something I’ve experienced an incredible amount of recently. 

Stockholm is big enough to feel lost in, but also small enough to feel warm (hopefully that continues!) and familiar. I love that the barista at Odenplan Waynes Coffee knows me and my order, even though we’ve never actually introduced ourselves. It’s wonderful that the waitress at Greasy Spoon and I are now friends and are learning Swedish together. I met my new Aussie mate a day before I was actually meant to meet her… on the tube… sat opposite each other…with only a facebook profile picture and a wave of confidence on her behalf to introduce herself. One of my pop idols from the early 2000s is now one of my best friends here and the new Swedish friends I’ve made are some of the most genuine people I’ve ever met. 

Why on earth would I leave this place?

A year ago, I never would have guessed I’d be living in Sweden. To be fair, I didn’t have much of an idea of where I’d be living at all, but Sweden was certainly not on my radar. But this move has been, and still is, such a pleasant life surprise and I really do feel (at the risk of sounding like a bra-less, tie-dyed hippy) that I’m meant to be here.

So, expect many more Swedish stories and many more Swedish adventures – we’ve only just begun! This funny little country is my funny little home now and I can’t wait to see what the next funny little chapter brings…although, probably investing in some woolen jackets might make the stay a bit more comfortable!

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Life as a Swede Post #4 Swedish Summer and Gotland.

It was only a few days ago when I was sitting at my small Ikea table, sunburnt from a balmy hot day in Stockholm, known as 22 degrees. I was the colour of a ripe jordgubbe and I was dazed, probably substantially dehydrated, and truly ashamed to call myself an Australian because it seemed my skin was now barely able to survive what’s considered an average autumn day at home. Mind you, I don’t think I’ve suntanned this much since cruiseship days #NewSwedishActivities 

Man, Stockholm has been weird the last few weeks. Like, utterly splendid, don’t get me wrong – but weird. The whole country has seemingly tossed all responsibility to the wind and gone on holiday. Most Stockholmies simply disappeared to their summer houses that were peppered throughout the archipelago or on other islands, leaving the rest of Stockholm in a sort of Shock…holm.

The remaining debris of Stockholm’s population hasn’t quite known what to do with itself. Many restaurants and shops have been closed, public transport has been near empty, the streets have been eerily deserted, my Swedish school has had no interest in holding classes over the last 6 weeks, it’s been impossible to find a dry cleaners open after 3pm and so the residents of Stockholm still sticking it out have had no choice but to succumb to a forced summer holiday of our own. 

There are worse predicaments…

The general lifestyle has been lots of working from home, suntanning on lunch breaks, drinking outside in pop-up bars, suntanning after work, long morning walks, suntanning on Saturdays, being awake until 1am effortlessly, suntanning on Sundays, going away on weekends (suntanning) and sleeping with the windows open…whilst dreaming of more places to suntan. Let’s be clear, I’m most certainly not complaining about this vacation mentality, I’m loving this stress-free vibe, but it is bizarre feeling like you’re on holiday, but knowing you’re not. Definitely not a situation I’ve experienced in any other country I’ve lived in. 

I guess one of the biggest things to get used to whilst lapping up this mandatory ‘enjoy yourself it’s Summer’ mantra is this sort of pause on progression in life. It’s bloody hard finding enough friends still in the city to have a brunch, let alone to start getting new projects off the ground. No, none of that. It’s Summer, Swede, and Sweden says ‘chill the fuck out.’ So I’ve been doing exactly that. So, sorry for the delay in blog posts, but…ya know…Summer. Sweden’s orders. 

We should probably talk about Gotland. I have a feeling you’ll be hearing more about Gotland the longer this blog stays in existence.

Gotland, to put it simply, is perfection. A slice of heaven in island form. Easily my favourite place in Sweden so far, and definitely one of my favourite places in the world.

Firstly, you have the main town of Visby. A beautiful village that popped up in the 12th century and has been wonderfully preserved since. Around 3km of medieval wall is still almost entirely intact and continues to encircle the town centre. Nowadays, properties respectfully incorporate this structure, with venues featuring interiors of exposed medieval wall and homes sprouting out from the ancient stone towers. Inside the wall, multiple ruins of once grand churches, hundreds of years old, are still standing strong amongst the ocean of multi-coloured limestone houses. Dotted all around the town are these life-sized stone sheep with huge horns and no legs that look like they’ve perhaps sunk into the ground over the last few hundred years and happily remained there. Cobblestone paths snake through the old town, manoeuvering travellers past exquisite privately owned restaurants, creperies, shops and stalls. I swear every restaurant must have been put through some kind of rigorous evaluation to meet a minimum standard of excellence before being permitted to set up in Old Town Visby. Honestly, every morsel of food that’s touched my lips has been divine. A particular favourite was Surfers, which served up the most delectable Chinese I’ve ever had. This ain’t no town for Maccas.

A favourite thing to do in Visby has been to climb a section of the medieval wall and sit on top, with bottles of beers and close friends and watch a sunset over the ocean.

And all that is just Visby! Other sections of Gotland showcase beautiful farmland, rolling fields, Australian-style beaches, lush vegetation and winding roads. We even found a secret swimming spot at Smögen, where you could swim over and into an abandoned industrial quarry building, now covered in graffiti.

A particularly remarkable place in the north of Gotland is Furillen, where we visited for a special meal experience by Agrikultur, boasting one of Sweden’s Best Chefs. Furillen is an old Limestone quarry that then became a military base, which then became a nature reserve and hotel with a fabulous restaurant. The infrastructure from its history is all still there, including limestone mounds and abandoned quarry carts. It was a breathtaking backdrop to a mind-blowing meal. We just so happened to sit next to internationally acclaimed author Håkan Nesser and his wife, who were nice enough to invite us back to their (jaw droppingly) beautiful house briefly so he could gift us signed copies of his books. Incidentally, he gave me two copies of the same book – one in English, one in Swedish and scrawled ‘Your first textbook in Swedish!’ in the latter.

There’s a cool smaller island above Gotland, called Fårö, reachable only by ferries from Gotland. It was the place where Ingmar Bergman lived and filmed many of his masterpieces. The island is also home to these crazy rock formations that have eroded over centuries, similar to Victoria’s 12 apostles, that feature on the Swedish 200 kroner note. One looked remarkably like an old man’s face with droopy cheeks.

Fårö, like Gotland, feeds you like you’re royalty. A very special meal was the lunch we had at Crêperie Tati på Kutens Bensin – a rundown restaurant in a field, in the middle of absolutely nowhere, where old American cars, motorbikes, petrol pumps and refrigerators covered in rust played a ramshackled backdrop to perfected French-style galettes and crepes, whilst old soul tunes rattled out of a 50s jukebox. Completely unexpected, but it completely worked.

Perhaps the experience of Crêperie Tati på Kutens Bensin is similar to Gotland as a whole. Gotland is always so surprising, so left of centre, but then so excellent in everything it delivers. I’ve never experienced anything like it. For an island only  3,000 square kms in size, it is jam-packed with culture, history and a variety of activities, and yet it is also such an escape. I can totally see why Nesser, Bergman and other creatives were and continue to be drawn to it.

Thankfully, there’s still another couple of weeks left of the strange Swedish Summer, which includes another weekend trip to wonderful Gotland. The ferry can’t get me there sooner!

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Becoming a Swede… post #3

Summer is in full swing, the temperature is a ‘scorching’ 23 degrees these days and the tans that are being showed off by the majority of Swedes could put an Aussie Queenslander to shame. Seriously, Swedish melanin coming in contact with the slightest amount of sun results in a truly impressive, instantaneous, silver-nitrate-meets-sodium-chloride-esque reaction. I’m trying my darndest to keep up, but I still look like Casper amongst a civilisation of human Le Tan bottles. 

As I write this third installment of life in Sweden, I reflect on how much has happened since that fateful Friday night when I was alone in my kitchen, channelling Bridget Jones’ Diary. I’m feeling much more independent and like a real person now. Dare I say it, I’m feeling more Swedish. That isn’t a reflection on personal development as much as it is a reflection on the logistics of living here. When a Swede is born, before he or she takes their first breath, they are assigned a number that is their numerical identity for their entire life. This number holds access to all the fun things in life like the ability to get a bank account, a pay check, a gym membership or even borrow a book from a library. If you don’t have a personal number, you simply don’t exist. It’s been frustrating, trying to live here, but as if one foot was still stuck back in immigration at Arlanda airport. However, after many visits to the Skatteverket (only good thing about that place is the cafe around the corner), I can say that I am a proud owner of my very own Personal Number and now, very recently, a bank account! It does feel good, no longer having to look at those sickening international transaction fees peppered throughout my Australian bank account statement anymore.

Aside from existing in the eyes of the Swedish government, other Swedish experiences have included the Civil Defence Siren test this month. Yep. That’s a thing here. To any Swedish reader, you should be aware that this procedure is bloody weird and that you really should warn non-Swedes about it. To any non-Swede reader, imagine you’re going about your business as normal, with no fear of any sort of imminent death or destruction happening to you or the city you live in. Everything is nice, calm, normal. Then imagine the ENTIRE COUNTRY YOU LIVE IN suddenly bellowing out these super loud wailing alarms – all at the same time! Imagine the confusion, the panic, the fear. Then, on top of this, imagine that you’re looking around you… and no one is doing anything! Have I burst an ear drum? Has something happened to the inside of my brain? Am I Bran in GoT and have I stepped into another dimension where no one is aware of me? Does the act of being Swedishly blasé extend to air strikes!? ‘Shitting myself’ is probably the most accurate word representation that describes how I felt during the first 30 seconds of the 2 minute test, before a colleague reassured me and my heart returned to my chest from my throat.

Another, much more enjoyable, typically Swedish event that has happened in the last month was Midsummer. Ahhhh Midsummer. The reason why so many Swedes are born in March. It’s truly a remarkable experience if you follow the traditions as much as possible, which we were lucky enough to do:

  • Firstly, Midsummer is not designed for cities. Stockholm, leading up to Midsummer, became an eerie, empty ghost town with most restaurants closing down for the weekend. Knowing this, we wisely made the pilgrimage to the countryside – for us, it was Leksand. I’m so glad we did – villages provide such a perfect, picturesque setting for all the traditions of Midsummer. Also, each village has it’s own scaled-down midsummer celebration separate to the larger one on Midsummer Eve, so there’s plenty going on leading up to the main day.
  • Families, Fish and Flowers: Once at our Midsummer destination, it was time for introductions. Midsummer is for all ages, and it’s wonderful that everyone takes it seriously and there’s no air of ‘I’m too cool for Midsummer’. Our Mid-Squad was the family of a good friend and they welcomed three clueless Australians and a ring-in Swede with such warm and welcome arms that we felt instantly at home. We went straight into the first event of Midsummer which is the big, outdoor family lunch, comprising of many traditional foods like salted dill and potatoes and many different flavours of pickled Herring called Sill. Sill tastes, surprisingly, fantastic. Desert is a traditional Strawberry cake and strawberries with ice-cream. It’s a time to eat, drink, chat and laugh, while the kids dance around the home-made maypole propped up in the backyard.
  • Transport to the Village party: After lunch (and plenty of booze), it’s time to journey into the biggest nearby village for traditional Midsummer proceedings. We were treated to an alternative way of getting into Leksand, which was tumbling into town via a vine and grass covered trailer, drawn by a big, red farm tractor, alongside about 20 other drunk Swedes and Norwegians. I bought a bottle of white wine from Nagambie, Australia along for the ride, specially. All the ladies were sporting fresh flower headpieces – funnily enough, mine was given to me by a muscular viking-looking Norwegian lad who did a fabulous job of making it!
  •  The village party. Clearly the novelty of Midsummer doesn’t wear off each year for Swedes, if Leksand is anything to go by. We were met with a crowd of 30,000, who gathered in a huge arena shaped park. We all joyfully watched and cheered on the hilariously drawn out maypole (that looks like a penis and balls) erection while bands, choirs and dancers in traditional dress played and twirled around the stage. Just when I thought it couldn’t get anymore beautifully strange, the traditional dances of Midsummer kicked off, and we rushed to join the wave of 3,000 eager participants to perform around the maypole. These dances really are something else. I have to mention ‘The little frogs’, which is a song and dance that includes movements such as flapping your hands at your ears, then at your bum, before literally jumping around like frogs singing ‘ooo wha-ka-ka-ka!’ in a circle. All ages took part, and personal inhibition was left at lunch. I guess Tradition trumps Cool. 
  • After the village fun, it was straight back to the summer house for even more food, even more booze and games sprinkled throughout the night that never goes dark. When it was eventually time to hit the hay, we experienced some classic improvised sleeping arrangements. I guess that most Midsummers would occur in people’s Summer Houses, which must mean the imaginative makeshift beds to cater for everyone visiting must be the norm. It all worked out brilliantly in the end, though – we got 4 of us sleeping in a loft roof, and by that level of intoxication, snoring isn’t even an issue.

I’m so glad I’ve been able to visit different areas of Sweden, other than Stockholm. Stockholm is a wonderful city, there’s no doubt, but there is something really magical about the Swedish countryside. I’m still quietly convinced that Gotland is a slice of heaven in island form. 

I do feel like something has happened to me during the last 2 months of living in Sweden. There are some clear pieces of evidence: I am wearing sneakers to work that are so white they’re nearly blinding me and everyone around me whenever I surface from the T-bana. I now know at least 2 restaurants that serve gluten free Toast Skagen. I am now genuinely interested, strangely attracted to and actively following the career of one Zlatan Ibrahimovic (this now includes a very recent urge to want to buy a Volvo). I’m pretty sure I could now identify if a strawberry was Swedish or not. I had an alarm on my phone set to watch the Iceland vs France UEFA game. I also now enjoy middle-aged activities, such as going for morning walks around Hammarby Sjö. 

But, having said all this, never fear. There’s still plenty of concrete Australian qualities that are yet to leave me. I’m still proudly wearing a jacket in 19 degree weather, bewildered at the amount of people who will suntan when it’s lower than 20 (I’m starting to see the reason for my remaining Casper coloured). I am currently paying between $5.60 and $6.18 for a decent, drinkable latte these days – which won’t change, so long as it remains at Melbourne standard. I call the Systembolaget a ‘bottle-o’. I’m forcing Silverchair into my boyfriend’s music library and when I was recently interviewed for Europe’s largest English-speaking news source, The Local, I managed to sign off with the phrase “Happy as Larry”.

You can take the girl out of Straya…

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Stockholm sessions part II

Welcome back and thanks for reading my second instalment of life in Stockers. I’m still here, being a little too loud on trains, unable to find ham in grocery stores and gleefully enjoying the abundant amount of gluten-free options at restaurants. No sightings of Måns Zelmerlöw yet but, let’s face it, it’s only a matter of time. I’ve allegedly walked by two of the Skarsgård boys, but, like I pointed out to my companion, it’s not important unless it’s Alexander or Stellan 😉

So I’m 4 weeks into living in this incredible city now – weeks 19 to 22, for any Swedes reading this. Aside from week numbers being a legitimate method of specifying time, there’s a few more things I’ve learnt about life over here since I last wrote.

I’m starting to notice that a lot of people really like to stand while they work in Stockholm. Most offices have laptop risers that can alter to any height so workers can stand at a desk instead of sit. While I appreciate the dedication Office-Standers have to keeping healthy during work hours, it can make an Office-Sitter’s life a little more awkward when you are spending quite a lot of your work day with multiple male crotches hovering dangerously close to your ear lobes.
Unfortunately, I became quite ill during my 3rd week (week 21) here and I ended up at the clinic in Capio Vårdcentral Södermalm. My doctor, who was already the height of street lamp, conducted my entire appointment standing up with his desk raised. It was a bit jarring, especially as I’m the same size as a Scandinavian 5 year old. Aside from feeling unsure as to whether I could actually be spotted from such a height, I found myself feeling like his stance was almost summoning me to stand too. What’s the etiquette here? Should we have both stood? Should we have both pushed through the appointment as if we’d bumped into each other in the street, furiously ignoring the multiple chairs peppered around the clinic room? Perhaps a Swedish doctors appointment should take place around some kind of clinical cocktail table, set with sample cups and plasters instead of champagne glasses and canapes…

I’ve now moved from the gorgeous Södermalm to Hammarby Sjöstad, which is taking a little getting used to. I now feel a little bit like I’m in the Truman Show – everything is so immaculate – but I’m learning to love the impeccable cleanliness and I’m starting to find character around here. Separating trash is an exercise taken really seriously in Sweden, but especially in this neck of the woods. Underneath a kitchen sink here is a terrifying confusion of multiple bins with categorising instructions.  Taking the trash out is just as intimidating and I’m learning that you are absolutely not supposed to ignore the process. I’m not sure what happens to you if you mess it up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if your trash crawled back out of the categorised bins, found you and punched you in the jaw before installing some kind of rubbish categorising app on your phone.

I’ve spent the last few weeks at my new job thinking my boss had a weird Tourettes tick that made him gasp every few seconds while I speak. Like, the type of gasp you’d make if you saw someone walking along a street and spectacularly trip over. A solid audible inhale. I’ve now learned that this is actually a form of communication here. Turns out, gasping like someone’s told you your dog has just died is actually a Swedish way of saying ‘Yeh’ during a conversation. I don’t get it either, but I can’t tell you how much of a relief it is to know this now! I’ve been thinking people have been receiving terrible news and handling it extremely well for weeks!

I am starting to really get a feel for Stockholm’s size. I mean, it’s a capital city, sure, but I’m learning that it’s not as big as it seems in some really lovely ways. I find myself the only person on a street quite often, peak hour commutes no longer means inappropriate spooning with multiple strangers in a sweat filled canister and new restaurant or venue openings are a big point of discussion. I don’t even have to tell the barista at the Odenplan Wayne’s Coffee my order anymore, she just sorts it. Stockholm feels much more manageable than London, and certainly much less stressful.

People have been asking me how the friend making process is coming along here…  this is probably best answered using my Snapchat story from last Friday night when my boyfriend was at work and I had the night to myself. It’s a work in progress 😉

 

 

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Welcome to Sverige

I finished work today at 4pm (as seems to be the way here) and didn’t quite know what to do with myself, so I decided to dust off the old travelling blog again. I’m now living in Stockholm, Sweden! Now that I am making this my home for the next chapter of my life, I thought it would be nice to tell you a little bit about it.

Stockholm – the capital of a sea-cucumber shaped northern European country that generates a gene pool of such sheer perfection that it’s actually ridiculous, inducing self-pity and embarrassment in any non-Scandinavian that has to share the footpath with these people. I’m still not entirely convinced Swedes are real humans. What’s not to say these fine specimens of Aryan deliciousness aren’t actually super modern, Skype-connected, flat-packed, cinnamon-bun smelling, Spotify-playing robots? Almost daily, I find myself picking my jaw up off the cobble-stone ground in awe, whilst simultaneously looking around expectantly for the person’s entourage… or USB power source.

It’s been 10 days since I made the move to Sweden and I’ve experienced my first Swedish summer already – it was last week, it was 5 days long and hit its height at a balmy 26 degrees. I’ve learned that this is quite a good Summer and all we get – it wasn’t long after I stuffed my winter coat to the very back of my closet that I was desperately dragging it back out again.

One of the most pleasurable experiences I’ve had since moving here was, of course, Gay Christmas – aka Eurovision 2016. What a week it was! Incredible shows for six nights and enough camp that I started to fear I’d begin to fart glitter. Even the pedestrian crossing signals surrounding the palace cried out adorable midis of Loreens’ and Måns’ winning songs as we drunkenly shassayed into the Euroclub post-show. It was during this week I learned that Swedish and Australian humour was really similar (Petra Mede is my new comedic hero) and that Australia was now an accepted part of Europe – what a result for Dami! #proud

There have, naturally, been a few cultural differences I have had to wrap my head around. Firstly, everyone speaks fantastic English, which comparatively only makes my horrendous attempts at basic Swedish even more pathetic. What’s more, most Swedes seem really enthusiastic about speaking English and want to make the most of the opportunity to do so. I’ve found that conversations that should really only comprise of a basic order, an instruction of price and a goodbye, now start to include things like ‘would you like to consider adding any additional items to make up your small coffee, such as a white or brown sugar, some honey or any chocolate on top?’ or ‘I’m sorry we don’t have any gluten free muesli today, although we usually do stock it. I find people generally have good things to say about it, actually, as well as the pastas we stock’ and ‘There’s your change in notes, and your coin change can be found just here in the dispenser to the left, and here you can take your receipt. Now that you have everything, enjoy your evening and have a nice week! See you later, thanks for coming!’ Is it politeness… or practice?

I have noticed that, particularly around hipster Sodermalm, there’s a difficult-but-should-seem-effortless Swedish coolness that one must uphold in order to be accepted. Gone are one’s heeled shoes and in their place are pristine white sneakers (seriously, how do people keep them so clean?!) Trashed are one’s tailored office trousers, replaced with cool comfy jeans. Dismissed are one’s corporate blouses, in light of band tees with the sleeves rolled up to show off fresh ink. One’s workplace should probably include a trendy cafe at least one day a week. One can come and go as one likes and yet one will still manage to get everything done, whilst rarely being stressed about anything work related. One is expected to have a good and fulfilling life outside work, so one must ensure to have equally as hipster friends who come out and eat burgers with you (without putting on any weight) and who can afford the inflated price of alcoholic beverages. The more successful one is, the more one must look like they’re not – more tatts, facial hair and alternative modes of transport are recommended.

I’m learning that this cool nature of being on top of life, with an air of ‘I’ve got my shit together’ isn’t something that comes very naturally to me, and I’m becoming more and more aware of this. Take, for instance, one train trip to my new job this week. Peak hour (which means about 30% of what it does on the London tube), many Swedes with their shit together and then me aiming for an empty seat whilst distracted on my phone. Add one sudden start from the train which catapults a Sheona-shaped-cannonball through the air to then land directly on a middle aged Swedish man’s lap. The bizarre variety of shocked exclamations (none are actual words) that erupted out of this poor man’s mouth in a such a brilliantly flabbergasted way is something I’ll never forget. My reaction, mainly of loud awkward laughter and wild flailing limbs didn’t make the situation any more Swedish, and my victim and surrounding Swedes didn’t quite know what to do with the whole ordeal. I may as well have had a big fat sticker on my head that said ‘definitely not from round here.’

It’s not even been 2 weeks, but I’ve already fallen a bit in love with this funny city and with the few wonderful characters I’ve managed to meet in it so far. It will be a challenge to find my own little network of friends – I feel like Stockholm is similar to Melbourne in that most people in it are from it and therefore friendship groups have been solidified over long periods of time. But I’m ready to make this place my new home and find something in it that’s mine and that I can be proud of. It shouldn’t be too hard, right? I mean, this is a country where Eurovision is actually celebrated with such passion that there’s an even more popular song contest before Eurovision to determine their representative! If that doesn’t say “Sheona, you’re home”, I don’t know what will!

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#Tubelyf

It’s a mysterious thing, the tube. The fact that hundreds of people are still able to ingest oxygen whilst shoved onto a cramped human-sized straw which then hurtles deep underground through dark, dirty and grimy tunnels continues to baffle me. It’s ingenious, it’s horrendous, it’s hilarious, it’s strange. Not much conversation takes place on it, unless you’re with someone you already know. Heaven forbid you should start up a conversation with a stranger – this is strictly against well-known but unspoken tube policy and you will surely explode from the amount of pierced glares of confusion and repulsion of fellow commuters. Still, the wonderful thing about the tube is that it’s non-discriminatory. Anyone with a £1.45 can ride it, and it sure opens up your eyes to the wonderful walks of life that inhabit this city.

Anyone who’s travelled on the tube a fair bit would be familiar with general tube etiquette – however, I feel there’s a few human behaviours that still warrant discussion… here’s my two cents.

1. Eating on the tube

Firstly, it’s a rarity to see someone eat on the tube. I didn’t realise this until I started to really notice it when someone was. Now, like most people, I love food and I’m often running late. This equation usually requires one to snack on the way to somewhere, via bus ride, taxi, stroll, etc. However, there was always something holding me back from shovelling food into my mouth whilst sitting millimetres away from an audience of seemingly grumpy tubers. I wasn’t really sure why this was until I experienced eating on the tube myself.

It was a sunny morning in Stratford and I was running pretty late for work, so breakfast was to be a takeaway coffee and a large yoghurt with berries on top. Running to the station and settling into my seat on the Jubilee line, I prepped to plunge into awesome yoghurty goodness. It was a little awkward balancing my bag on my lap, a coffee between my knees and a yoghurt in my hands, sure, but nonetheless, I was enjoying my tub right up until the moment where train went from bathing in natural sunlight to plummeting into that long tight cave of endless gloom. With each spoonful, I started to feel different. I started to realise that I was eating in a light-less, soulless tunnel. I took note of my hunched posture, knees balancing my bag with my elbows tightly clamped to my sides as to not accidentally bump my neighbours. My yoghurt started to look different, too. It looked affected by the filthy tube walls, perhaps being contaminated by the sooty wall particles or the carbon dioxide increasingly circling around the carriage. That, in addition to the significant risk of dropping crumbs/contents of my meal onto a stranger’s thigh and the awkward disposal of any used wrappers/napkins back into my handbag topped it off. In any case, it was memorable and something I don’t think I’ll be repeating any time soon.

2. Sleeping on the tube

Oh yes, you can definitely sleep on the tube. The tube welcomes all strains of sleep, too. You can do the polite shut-eye two minute kip or you can completely pass out, flop your head back with your mouth wide open and get some REM going like a champion. No one in your carriage knows why you’re so tired – or cares. Maybe you’re a shift worker, maybe you’re absolutely hammered drunk, maybe you’re jet lagged, maybe you’re narcoleptic – either way, we’ve all been there and we’re all ok with it. Just expect to have a stranger roughly shake you awake when you reach the end of the train line. Also, hang onto your shit.

3. Kissing on the tube

Some might suggest that kissing is in the same vein as eating on the tube, but I’m undecided on this one. I think there’s room for a good pash provided some courteous steps are taken. Firstly, I’m inclined to think that all tube snogs should occur with both parties standing, not sitting. On most tube lines, sitting down means you’re face to face with a panel of judgemental commuters, and when there’s not much to look at other than the never-end tunnel of blackness rushing passed the tagged windows, you’re forcing people to watch your slobbery spectacle whether they want to or not. Standing somewhat removes you from an audience, although this poses threats of unbalance and angry bumps from passengers getting on and off the train. Occasional opening of the eyes for a quick scan of your surroundings is suggested.
Another suggestion would be to ensure you’re both getting off at the same station. I’ll never forget the night I had finished a first date with a guy and we had to catch the same train for a couple of stops and he surprised me with a tube kiss that I absolutely did not see coming. I was not only mid-sentence, but I was completely wrong in my stance and nearly went hurtling into his teeth as the train rocketed through the underground. To make matters worse, he kissed me right up until the next stop where he conveniently had to get off, said something that I think was meant to be romantic on his way out (loud enough for at least the last third of the carriage to hear), and left me stuck for the next 8 stops with a bunch of spectators stifling giggles at the awkward soft porn show they had just seen. Mortifying. Final suggestion is to make sure both parties are keen for said snog.

4. Complaining about the the tube during a Heat Wave

Ok before you Aussies pipe up with retorts like ‘you call 27 degrees a heat wave?!’… have you ever done a Bikram Yoga class where you had to clamber up and down stairs fully clothed and slide your slippery self into a stuffed cylindrical sardine tin-like sweat gland, only to breathe in other people’s BO and dodge drops of salty sweat falling from people’s pits whilst trying not to black out from heat exhaustion?? That, my dear mate, is the tube during an English-standard heatwave. The tube barely knows air, let alone air conditioning. It’s enough to make you cry, if you only had any fluid left in your broken self-saturated body when you come up from the underground.

5. Chivalry on the tube

Absolutely exists and is absolutely non-negotiable. Ever been on the tube and felt like the bodies around you are just human shells who have told their souls to meet them at the underground entrance at their destination? And then suddenly see them all spring to life when an elderly lady shuffles onto the carriage? It’s marvellous. It’s as if these pregnant or old people have 7 bums that need seats, as half the carriage quickly ushers them to various seated locations throughout the carriage.
Equally as impressive is the unity of commuters when some git is sitting in the priority seat and doesn’t give up their seat for a person requiring it. The sudden human connection bouncing around the carriage through tuts, ferocious glares and shaking heads is almost tangible. Someone will always save the day though, offering their seat loudly and accompanied by disdainful glances in the clueless git’s direction. I daresay you only make that mistake once.

6. Walking around stations in the tube

This is not a leisurely activity. It’s a sport and it’s taken seriously.
People plan their trips down to the minute and this includes a smooth transition between lines. Because of this, the walk between tube lines is a science. Don’t dawdle, don’t stroll, don’t run, don’t walk three people wide and, for the love of God, do not stop unless you pull over to the side. If you’re in a group, be prepared to lose members. If you have luggage, you will probably receive assistance with stairs – this is mainly just to keep the flow going and doesn’t warrant a conversation afterwards. If you have a pram… you’re brave.

7. Listening to music on the tube

You will want to invest in some kick-ass headphones – the tube is loud!

8. Being a tourist on the tube

I’ve been one and I think being a tourist on the London tube is very similar to being a tourist in Paris. If you don’t make an effort to abide by a culture that’s been in place for generations, you’re going to receive the rude end of the stick from commuters. Loud conversations between each end of a carriage, on a Sunday morning, before a coffee, is simply not acceptable and I daresay I wasn’t the only commuter imagining tearing the limbs off the teenage offenders that particular morning.

All this being said, I quite enjoy the tube. I enjoy its convenience and I’m fascinated by it’s culture thats come about from 150 years of existence. It’s always interesting, even when it’s insanely busy. One aspect of the tube that I find fabulous is the fact that there is no reception underground. You’re not distracted by your phone or by a view. The tube, in a weirdly wonderful way, forces you to sit/stand and just exist. I think a lot on the tube. I write set lists, think of songs for students, make ‘to do’ lists, or think about friends I haven’t spoken to in a while. I can listen to a song 8 times and start thinking about vocal arrangements. I can read books (which I would never usually do) and I can play sudoku. When do we actually get a chance to just sit and contemplate, without quickly getting bored and turning to our phones or computers for a dose of social media? It’s refreshing. If only the air was, too… 😉