Thursday, 28 January 2016

The first days in Sweden

When talking about exchange students and culture shock, people often refer to the The W-Curve Adjustment Model created by Gullahorn and Gullahorn in 1963. It gives a visual description of a traveller's possible experience of culture shock when entering a new culture and the re-entry shock experienced when returning home. It looks a little something like this.

I think I looped through the entire curve at least once every hour during my first days in Stockholm. As Sir Dickens would say: It was the worst of times, it was the best of times. (Well, if he actually was here, he'd probably come up with something better for this scenario. But you get the idea.)

Everything was new and exciting... and new and scary. Around every corner, an adventure was waiting... and probably also another problem. Combined with the stress from the last few weeks and the exhaustion from travelling, that makes for a very fragile emotional state. I smiled a lot, and I cried a lot. 

Hello, Sweden.

So, what did I actually do those first few days? A lot of walking. Most of it was voluntary, because I wanted to explore my new neighbourhood. But a substantial amount of walking was also done trying to find my way back after getting lost once again. Luckily, Stockholm is a very pedestrian friendly city, as long as you're not afraid of a bit of a climb now and then. Stockholm is a lot more hilly than Hasselt.

Södermalm in a nice, fresh snow jacket.

I had to learn how to cross a street again, though. It seems that traffic lights are just a suggestion here - at least for pedestrians. Everyone just crosses the road when it's free, no matter if the light is red or green. Most drivers here are so used to that, that they will usually halt even if you just slightly glare at a crossing, and wait very, very patiently while the silly Belgian girl convinces herself it's safe to walk.

I also had to get used to people talking to themselves all the time. Well, they're not really talking to themselves. It seems that most people here, when on the move, are constantly on the phone. And since they all do it hands free (you don't want to take your hands out of your pockets when it's -20°C), it looks quite funny. At first I kept thinking people were talking to me, which they of course never were. It still feels a bit odd sitting on the bus surrounded by all those people in conversation with invisible counterparts. Like a scene from a really bad film about the loony bin.

In Belgium people usually keep to the right, and things mostly move clockwise. In Sweden things seem to be completely random. In one metro station, the escalator to go up is on the left, and in the next station it's on the right side. When passing somebody on the street, you never know if they're going to pass you on the left or on the right. And I still wonder every evening why my food won't cook, until I once again realise I put the stove on the lowest temperature and not the highest. I don't know why the Swedes choose to live their lives in this state of chaos, but perhaps it has something to do with the fact that up until 1967, they drove on the left side of the streets?

I am sure I'll get used to it all in time. I hardly get lost anymore, and in a month's time, I'll be a pro at crossing roads the Stockholm way (and then get run over by a bus on my first day back in Belgium). I might even get one of those hands free sets so I can maintain my friendships over the phone while roaming the streets of Stockholm, preferably counter clockwise. Who knows? 

A view like this is definitely worth a small climb.

Vi ses!


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