Saturday, 20 February 2016

Welcome to Sweden

Before I left, I did some basic research so I knew where I was going. So let me tell you a little bit more about Sweden.

First things first. Sweden, officially named Konungariket Sverige, is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. As you can see on the map, Sweden is not the same as Denmark...

Okay, you might think I am silly or even obnoxious for pointing that out. But I have noticed that a lot of people in Belgium mix up these two countries - ouch. I'm not sure what causes this confusion. Perhaps I just meet a lot of people who really aren't that good at geography. However, considering the fact that almost every Swede I have met so far seems to have quite the extensive knowledge about Belgium, I felt the need to set this straight. So there you go: In green, Sweden, the country of Abba, Astrid Lindgren and Volvo and its capital Stockholm. In brown, Denmark, the country of Aqua, Hans Christian Andersen and Lego, with its capital Copenhagen.

Sweden has been a member of the European Union since 1995, but they still have their own currency: the Swedish 'krona' (crown). 1 Swedish krona, or SEK, is worth about 11 eurocents. The constant converting from krona to euro and euro to krona gave me quite the headache when I first arrived. If you're not a fan of juggling foreign coins around, don't worry: you can pay with card everywhere: supermarkets, restaurants, coffee shops, bars, garage sales... I have even seen public restrooms where you pay electronically! People here don't use a lot of cash anymore. I found out first hand when it took me 20 minutes to find someone who had change for a luggage locker.

Järnpojke might be the only person in Stockholm
who always has cash on him.

Summer days in Sweden are extremely long... and so are the winter nights! Even though Stockholm doesn't have neverending days and nights like up north, winters here are quite dark. When I arrived days were already getting longer and it still was pitch dark at 3 in the afternoon. It's quite confusing - I was sleepy all the time. Swedes tackle the darkness by hanging on to their Christmas lights until Easter comes around. I have gotten used to the darkness now and as February rolled in evenings arrive notifiably later and later.

One question people keep asking me even if I don't drink alcohol is: Is beer really that expensive in Sweden? And I guess the answer is: Yes, it is. Alcoholic drinks don't come cheap, and you can only buy them at bars and restaurants to be consumed there. Supermarkets only sell a few beers with a very low alcohol percentage. If you want anything stronger you have to go to Systembolaget, the government ruled liquor store. There are no promotions and the opening hours are limited. On Fridays after work you can hear the glass bottles clunk around in people's backpacks on the rhythm of the metro's movement. According to international research, getting rid of the government monopoly would cost 1,580 extra deaths, 14,200 more assaults, and 16.1 million extra days of sick leave per year...

If you would like to read more about Sweden's love for electronic payment, this is a good place to start. If you have any specific questions about Sweden, leave a comment and I will try to answer!

Vi ses!


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