7 Unexpected Surprises from Sweden
Whenever moving to a new country, you can expect a certain level of the unexpected in your new surrounding. There's the surface level stuff, like the language and the food, but there's also the smaller cultural quirks that the local populace takes for granted, but can make foreigners cock their head in confusion like a dog running into a glass door for the first time. It wasn't difficult for Sweden to produce a number of these oddities to me because 1. Canadians know next to nothing about Sweden, and 2. there's a helluva lot Swedes take for granted that makes little to no sense to anybody else.
Here are just seven of the many Swedish idiosyncrasies that I see everyday that make me think "Wait, what?"
1. Swedish Speed Bumps
You might be wondering how a speed bump could possibly be surprising. How's about no bump?
This is the Swedish Robotic Speed Bump, and if you're not careful, it will ruin your day and your suspension. First off, speed bumps are incredibly important in Sweden, because in the two months that I've been here, I might have seen a total of 4 police cars. Practically the only crimes that happen in Sweden are on TV crime shows, so a heavy police presence just isn't required. This does however, require the Swedish government to get creative when it comes to dealing with speeding cars, especially with the ridiculous amount of bikes on the road.
The trick with the Swedish Robotic Speed Bump is that it's only a speed bump IF you're speeding. Swedish speed bumps are binary! There's a radar about 10 yards in front of this steal plate, and if you're going above the speed limit, it drops about two and a half inches, which doesn't sound like much but makes you feel like you just drove into a ditch. Even if this is the most technically impressive speed bump in Sweden, it's far from the only creative way they force drivers to slow down. I've seen round Swedish speed bumps arranged so cars have to slalom around them, and sometimes roads go down to one lane for no other reason than to have cars wait for each other.
2. Bomb Shelters Everywhere
Imagine my surprise when taking my laundry to my apartment facilities for the first time, and I passed a two-inch thick steel blast door capable of withstanding all conventional military weaponry in my basement. After living in America for 20 years, and Canada for another 10 or so, I've never seen a bomb shelter, and now I was living on top of one, because Sweden is absolutely littered with them.
This in a country that hasn't seen a full-scale war in over 200 years, is hundreds of miles from any fault line, has about a 0% chance of being hit by a hurricane, and where floods are as prevalent as fatal sunburns. Sweden is practically the safest place in the world, so it's particularly strange that it contains 65,000 fallout shelters capable of housing 7 million people, and is planning on building more. It honestly makes me wonder if Sweden knows something that I don't?
The shelters are capable of protecting anyone inside from all conventional weapons, including shock waves, shrapnel, biological weapons, fire, and ionizing radiation. Sweden as of now can shelter 70% of its population in bomb shelters at any time, and is planning on building more, so humanity can ensure that all the survivors of a nuclear apocalypse are ridiculously attractive Swedes.
3. Ya'll Don't Cut Your Pizzas
Swedes love pizza enough to make every third restaurant in this country a pizzeria. They are also incredibly open-minded regarding pizza toppings to the point that if something is edible, chances are you can find it on a Swedish pizza somewhere. I wrote more about that here, if you're interested in that weirdness. Just don't expect your Swedish pizza to come sliced, because that kind of opulence just doesn't exist here.
If you plan on moving to Sweden, include the price of a pizza slicer into your moving costs, because it's absolutely essential to enjoying Swedish culture. Recently I heard a Swede defending the practice of non-sliced pizzas, saying he enjoys deciding on the size of his pizza portions. This is obviously some kind of psychosis caused by Sweden's long, dark winters.
4. Renting Craziness
Most practices in this country make so much sense they make me wonder why the entire world doesn't just wholesale adopt Sweden's love of practicality. Everything's streamlined. Everything's simple. It's an entire culture built on the pretense of clean elegance, expect one thing: renting.
In order to rent an apartment in the town where I live, you have to create an account with the apartment authority, then wait in line for an apartment of your choice. And how long must you wait, you ask? A month? Maybe 3? Try 5 years. Yes, it's incredibly difficult to find a decent apartment in Linköping without waiting in line for 5 years. This is why many parents put their children on the waiting list the day their child is born, and it gets even worse.
In Gothenburg, you have to wait for about 8 years, and pay about $10 every year to remain on the list. Sure, it's just $10, but that $10 to NOT rent an apartment.
5. So Much Mini Golf
In North America, mini golf courses are relegated to big cities and tourist towns. In Sweden, mini golf courses are wherever they have a free square kilometer to play with. I seriously doubt any country on Earth has a higher mini golf course per capita than Sweden. If putt putt ever becomes an Olympic sport, I'm immediately going to Vegas to place my bets on Team Sweden, because they take this stuff seriously.
They just love putting mini golf courses beside things. University? Mini golf. Castle? Mini golf. Swimming complex? Mini golf. Old church. Well what would an old church even be without mini golf! Come to think of it, Swedish people take almost all hobbies and pastimes incredibly seriously. Nearly every diversion has a club or association with a schedule and a website, because if you file your recreational club with the Swedish government, they'll pay you for it! It's something about investing in the general welfare of your citizens, but as someone who lived in America for two decades, I just can't seem to wrap my head around the concept.
6. Condiment Madness
If I've learned one thing from moving to Sweden, it's that North America really has to step up it's condiment game. Sweden has every condiment that we have, and about a thousand others we've never heard of. Actually, scratch that. They don't have mayonnaise. They have something way better. Bearnaise sauce, which is mayonnaise with artistic license, and it's amazing.
This picture was taken at my local corner store, and it's only half of the Bearnaise section. In larger stores, I've seen Bearnaise sections cover entire aisles, because Swedes put it on everything, as should you, because it's amazing. Pizza, fries, chicken, vegetables, chips, bearnaise on all of it. But ok, you're thinking "I've heard of Bearnaise sauce. That's not very exciting." Ok, well what about American Sauce.
They also have some sort of bizarro tartar sauce that is full of fish eggs, so you can efficiently commit a whole fish genocide in one sitting. I'm starting to think Swedes hate fish.
7. No Karaoke
You might think that a lack of karaoke in a new country wouldn't be so surprising. It's just something they don't do, and that's fine. Except for Sweden, there's one particular reason it's so strange. Everyone in this damn country sings. The most popular sport to play in Sweden is soccer, with 240,000 players, but 500,000 Swedes belong to official choirs in a country of less than 10 million people.
After living here for over two months, I have found Swedes to be some of the most talented people I've ever met. It's just painfully difficult to discover that without a pint of Snaaps in them. It's possible this self-imposed entertainment handicap is a godsend to the rest of the world, because if Swedes ever did decide to be awesome one day, they would probably take over the entire entertainment landscape within the month.
Also, your country is adorable. Thanks for letting me in.