Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Let's Talk Swedish Culture

Hej hej!

I leave Sweden in 4 days - that's less than a week! Being the procrastinator that I am, a have jammed a lot of things to do this week and therefore won't have the proper time to write blog posts about the adventures I've had over the past two weeks. Never fear - I promise I will write them when I land in sunny California!

For now, I'd like to talk about some cultural differences I've noticed between Sweden and America. Please note that these are entirely based on my experiences and do not reflect how everyone in Sweden or America acts!

1) Differences in English
Alright, to be fair, the majority of Swedish people learn Swedish first and then learn English at school, I believe starting at 10 years old. However, most kids learn English before that because American cartoons and TV shows are popular (to be honest, that is one of the ways I picked up English when I was younger).

"restroom" vs. "toilet" - I remember when I was on the train on my very first day and asked if they had a bathroom, the conductor looked at me and was like "we have a toilet". Not too crazy, but took a while for my ears to get used to since in America we tend to avoid using the word "toilet".

knock knock jokes gone wrong - Today at lunch someone reminded me of one of my first few weeks here. We were all sitting in the fika room exchanging jokes and I decided to do a classic knock knock joke.

Me: knock knock
My mentor: Who's there?
Me: Boo
My mentor: Who's Boo?

I simply lost it - I was laughing so hard because I couldn't finish the already corny joke just because he answered me incorrectly. So when I explained it, he said "Boo who?" and I said "Don't cry, it's just a joke" and we all had a half-hearted laugh. When my co-worker reminded me of this at work today, it took me a while to remember how the joke had gone wrong, and I was laughing so hard at the memory. I then had to explain the joke to the rest of my co-workers which was just precious. I really am going to miss working at Chalmers.

A Mixture of British and American English - What happens when a country learns British English at schools, watches American TV shows, and speak Swedish as their native tongue? They speak this adorable combination of Swedish English which I really enjoy - the accent is light enough to understand and the mixture of British and American English keeps things interesting.

I'm going to miss being the resident expert on the English language. It was cool to explain some grammar rules that took me years to learn to other people who were struggling with them as well.

2) Expenses
People warned me, Europe is expensive. But I'll be honest, I never realized how cheap things are in America compared to European countries! We really take for granted how inexpensive clothing and food is in our fine nation. Groceries haven't been too much more expensive, but eating out here is significantly more costly in Sweden (and Europe in general). In Sweden, a cup of coffee costs about twice what I am used to paying in Starbucks and it is because employees get paid more here. It works out because everyone can afford to live here (maybe not super extravagantly), if they have a full-time job (from what I understand). Anyways, I've been fortunate enough to have a great internship through UCSB's MRL program (details here) that covered housing, flight, and gave me a stipend for living expenses. The stipend was enough to cover groceries and other needs, but I did pay quite a bit to be able to travel around Europe while I got the chance.

3) Giving Compliments and Swedish Shyness
To people living in the states, I'm fairly sure we have all heard at some point "cool shirt", "cute shoes!", "That is so pretty! Where did you get that?" by not only our friends, but strangers we meet waiting in line for groceries, walking in the park, anywhere really.

I took this for granted - I didn't realize that this quality is fairly unique to Americans, or at least isn't common in Sweden. Swedes are a bit of a shy bunch, and they wouldn't want to "make anyone uncomfortable" by complimenting them, but will comment among their close friends and say "Oh that girl had such a cute dress" or something of the sort, after the person wearing the dress has already left. Now I don't mean to say I haven't received a single compliment here, I did get compliments from some of my co-workers, but it was after we had gotten to know one another a bit.

I also missed being able to talk to random people, as crazy as that sounds. I missed standing in lines and just chatting about the weather or some sports game or anything really. It was a difficult adjustment for me to get accustomed to a much more reserved society.

4) Environmentalism
Sweden has been like living in a nation where everyone is part of the "Environmental Club" in high school. Everyone sorts their trash here into combustibles, compostables, metals, glass, papers, and plastics. This means that Swedes either recycle, compost, or burn the rest of the trash for heating. Nothing is wasted. Here is the huge trash bin divider located all over the Chalmers campus.

Also, many people bike or take public transportation to work. This has in part to do with the high gas and high taxes in purchasing a car here, but also due to making less of a carbon footprint. In grocery stores here, most people have their own reusable bags, or they have to purchase plastic or paper bags. I know California is moving towards this, which is really cool.

5) Weather
I'll admit, I'm a California girl. More specifically, I've lived in the Central Valley the majority of my life, so I'm used to 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius) summers. I was lucky enough to be in Sweden during one of the warmest summers they have had, but it was funny to hear people complain when it was 90 degrees F (32 degrees C), about how impossibly hot it was. In general, Swedes like to complain about the weather. If its warm, it's not windy enough. If it's cloudy, the sun should be out. It has been really nice to experience a full Swedish summer with some cold, gloomy, rainy, and windy days along with really warm, sunny days as well.

6) Vacation and Taxes
Taxes in Sweden are ranked among some of the highest in the world, but they receive a lot of social benefits because of these taxes. All Swedes are covered by health care and only pay about $15 for a standard visit to the doctor, and have spending caps on how much they pay for medication or doctor's visits before they become free. Also, the Swedish unemployment benefits are up to 80% of the previous job's income which protects those trying to find a new job. Also, Swedes receive both maternity and paternity leave that is at least a year (I believe on 80% pay) and can be longer if you decide to decrease the percentage of money you receive each month. Lastly, Swedes get anywhere from 5-7 weeks paid vacation a year. This is on top of national holidays. I can't imagine having that much time off (well besides summer vacation I suppose), but it also explains why many Swedes have seen a lot of the world through traveling. So while taxes may be a bit high, Swedes receive a lot of benefits for what they pay. It isn't a perfect system by any means, but most people seem happy with it.

Alrighty, I promise the next blog post will have more pictures!

Bye for now,