Thoughts on being a Brit in Sweden

Living in  Sweden as a British Masters student is a peculiar experience and I will try my best to communicate the peculiarity with a series of analogies.

Firstly, it’s a bit like being in a giant game of Articulate; at least once a day a non-native English speaker will test your vocabulary knowledge in a highly stressful, real-life version of the popular board-game. Normally I’ll reply instantly, but as soon as my answer comes out my mouth a seed of doubt will inevitably sprout up.

“Andrew, what’s the thing called which you put in the oven and you cook chips on them?”

“An oven dish. Wait… Oven dish… Oven dish? Is that a thing? Or just, oven tray? Or… heating… tray? Roasting tray? No oven dish… oven dish. Oven. Dish.”

For a few moments I’ll doubt my English language skills and sometimes reality itself. Then I’ll slyly get out my phone and Google my answer to relieve myself of the uninvited, debilitating doubt. Oven dish.. Wait what’s that. Wait, I meant oven tray. Oven tray! Oven tray! Then I’ll realise that oven is a really weird word if you say it multiple times. Then, I’ll wonder if people knew what was meant when the person who first came up with the word oven first said it.

As you can see, this never-ending game of Articulate is a highly stressful affair.

Living in Sweden is also a bit like being in a hybrid movie between the films Superbad and Lost in Translation.

In Sweden, the only shop allowed to sell alcohol stronger than 3.5% is the government owned chain called Systembolaget. In supermarkets all you can find is depressingly weak beer and so if you want to enjoy the full delights of the world’s most popular psychoactive drug then you’ll have to trek to the nearest government owned alcohol shop. I say trek because they’re not exactly two a penny. They’re open from 10am-7pm on weekdays, 10am-3pm on Saturdays and closed on Sundays (for a nation that prides itself on being secular I find the Sunday thing significantly perplexing).

systembolaget lund systembolaget london

The pictures above show the three Systembolaget stores in Lund and what central London would look like if you could only buy real booze from three shops (indicated as blue blobs)!

I hope that you now might be starting to see the tenuous connection I’ve made to Superbad, in which a group of socially awkward American teenagers go on a tiring and lengthy  adventure to obtain some alcohol for a house party. Buying booze here takes planning, foresight, lengthy queuing and can take a lot of time particularly if you’re not in a major town. Just a few weeks ago, me and a friend had to drive 20km to get to one as the town we were staying in was too small. Admittedly I haven’t encountered any boisterous, incompetent cops yet, and I’m legally above the Systembolaget legal age- but I’ll stick with this Superbad comparison.

The Lost in Translation analogy is a bit more straightforward. I don’t yet speak Swedish and I’m living in Sweden. This means that most of the time I feel like a bewildered child who has yet to learn his first word. True, this is precisely what it’s like whenever you go on any foreign holiday. But when you’re living somewhere permanently the incessant feeling of alienation can be a tad draining. Luckily, there is a very logical solution to this conundrum: learn Swedish! Unfortunately, languages aren’t easy, particularly not when you also have a full-time masters course to worry about. Having said that I will give it a go, but I firstly need to sort out a load of paperwork…

So there we go, if you’ve ever wondered what studying in Sweden as a Brit might be like- you’ve got an incredibly inaccurate, subjective and incomplete description right here!


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