By Isla Fynn
“A two-month placement in Sweden?” I repeated airily. “No problem at all. When do we leave?”
Oh, the naiveté.
I imagined a stereotypical green land full of blonde (and hopefully) friendly Vikings who danced around maypoles with flowers in their hair and lived in IKEA. Instead, I was confronted by a wave of nudists within two hours of landing, lived with a housemate who hadn’t cleaned
for years and got told off for eating a triple chocolate cookie in the staff room.
And I had the time of my life.
Read on to find out the five things I wish I’d known before I went to Sweden.
You are more likely to get run over by a bicycle than a car.
Honestly. Crossing the cycle paths felt like a near-death experience. These Scandinavians are so carbon neutral that they insist on taking their bicycles everywhere. Toddlers and babies are bundled into huge Dutch cycle wagons which plough through anything in their path, and woe betide anyone who ventures near those lycra-clad enthusiasts who glide past at a relentless pace. You will be flattened.
Swedish people get 480 days paid parental leave.
Yep, you heard me. 480 days of freedom to bond with the fruit of their loins, which parents can share between them as they wish. So, it’s no surprise that everyone seemed to be pregnant and there were babies everywhere. Well-groomed men pushing buggies has become such a common sight that they have now coined the term ‘Latte Papas’. Just don’t say it to their faces.
So. Much. Nakedness.
Blissfully unaware of the sauna culture in Sweden, I agreed to visit one upon my arrival. You can imagine the horror that ensued when I walked into a sauna that was jam-packed with sweaty naked bodies. Stunned, I dodged past a blur of glistening flesh and ducked into a secluded corner. However, in spite of my Britishness, it was refreshing to see all different body types on parade, presented without a hint of shame or insecurity. Such openness and authenticity is rare in my corner of the world. Needless to say, Swedish people have absolutely nailed body
Everything is ridiculously expensive.
Sweden is one of the richest countries in Europe, which unfortunately has a knock-on effect on pricing. For example, I bought some cereal, bread, cheese and milk for £13. Not joking. Needless to say, my bank account is still recovering from the trauma.Swedish people are very disciplined.
Doom upon anyone who dares to interfere with their systems. I learned this the hard way when I arrived in the staff room with a huge chocolate cookie. With affronted expressions, they all put down their salads and stared at me in dismay.
“We do NOT eat cookies in this kitchen!” one of them cried.
“Watch me,” I replied with my mouth full, thinking that it was a joke.
But no. They had a pact to avoid eating sugar in the workplace and I had trampled over their sacred vows. Still, it awakened my inner rebel, and I arrived in the staff room with a different sugary treat each day for the remainder of my placement. Bet they were jealous, really
You will see some truly stunning places.
Sweden is absolutely magical. The Old Town of Stockholm, for example, is chock full of gothic architecture and Venetian-like waterways. And even when the weather is terrible, it can paint the scenery in a way that is both bleak and achingly beautiful. If you travel further afield, you can visit ancient monuments which still hold echoes of mystery and intrigue. My personal favourite was Åles Stenar, a cliffside collection of Neolithic stones arranged in the shape of a boat. The soul of Scandinavia has always been to travel and explore new realms, and this timeless monument reflects that dream even today.
Although I never set foot in IKEA, I still had an authentic Swedish experience. If anyone ever challenges me for eating sugar again, I won’t be responsible for my actions. I know where to go if I want to have children, and I know where NOT to go if I want to have a sauna.
Sweden, it’s been a blast