I’m sitting in one of my favourite cafes as I write this. The walls are covered in blue and white striped wallpaper, and when you order a piece of cake they always ask if you want ice cream on the side. My kind of place.
I didn’t expect this when I moved to Sweden just over two months ago. I didn’t know about the country’s obsession with coffee or how meeting at a cafe (aka going for fika) is a national institution. I had no idea how to order in a restaurant, and to be honest I’m still too afraid to try, but I’m getting there. I didn’t expect to find a cafe right next to the river in my home-away-from-home where I can sit and work for hours, and feel like I belong.
I had never been to Sweden before I moved here for an exchange (although I go to IKEA on a regular basis, so there’s that). Despite all my research and devouring every Swedish detective series on Netflix, there are still so many things I didn’t even realize that I didn’t know before I got here.
“You never know until you try,” has been ringing in my ears since I got here. Or, in my case, “you never know until you pack a suitcase full of woefully weather inappropriate clothes and hop on a plane.” So here are a couple things I’ve learned. Maybe you can tell me some of yours, too.
(Some of) The Things I Didn’t Know:
- Tote bags and purses will hit your wheels while you bike and make steering a nightmare – use a backpack instead
- Swedes say “Hej!” but Norwegians prefer “Hei!” (both conveniently English-sounding so it’s easy to fake)
- Everyone has a black wool coat and everyone looks amazing even when it’s -10 degrees outside
- It will be -10 degrees outside at times. Pack more sweaters
- Every window you pass has plants and flowers in it. It makes the long, dark winter a little more cheerful. Also, people leave their living room curtains open a lot – stop looking in, it’s weird
- There are vegan, soy, and laktosfri options for everything here (including yogurt and feta cheese. I mean everything)
- Sweden has great secondhand shops, even if half the clothes inside are from H&M (it’s still Swedish though, right?)
- Spring in Sweden goes from 20 degrees and sunny one day to grey and snowing the next. Dress in layers and try not to be too disappointed
- Fika is everything. It basically means going for coffee, taking time out from your day, by yourself or with friends, and it will become your new way of life
- Swedish is similar enough to English and German that sometimes you can catch what people are saying. Okay, maybe “sometimes” is too strong a word
- Riding your bike home on the first warm (ish) day of spring is the best feeling in the entire world
It took me a long time before I even knew why I had come to Sweden in the first place. But two months in and I think I finally have something close to an answer: I want to be the type of person who, when presented with crazy, amazing, outlandish opportunities, is brave enough to say yes.
So here’s to three more months and a lot more learning, with love from Uppsala, Sweden.