Monday, January 20, 2014

Sweden v. USA: Nonathletic Edition

This is a post I have been itching to write ever since I got here a little over a week ago. While I have spent much of my time trying to decide if Karlstad feels exactly like home or nothing like home, there are definitely many differences to note. This is part of the exciting stage of living in a new country, even the little things, such as different toilet flushers, are exciting! Sorry if this gets political, these are my own opinions and don't reflect the views of neither all Swedes nor Americans. This is a long list, so I put them into categories so it is easier to follow.

***Before I begin, here are 2 links that showcase Swedish culture. They are informative and hilarious at the same time, so I promise you won't be disappointed :)

Social Norms

*Swedes don't want to disturb you- even if you are crying into your map because you are so lost, nobody is going to walk up to you and help if you do not ASK for it. I mistook this for rudeness at first, as I come from a place where people go out of their way for strangers all the time.
*On a similar note, if someone bumps into you, they will not say "excuse me" or "oops". I thought this was rude at first as well, but again with the leaving you alone thing.
*Take a number. Queues are a way of life.
*No, not everyone has blond hair.
*Relaxed personalities-this must go for most Europeans because I have yet to meet someone who is especially loud or has a "look at me!" attitude
*Punctuality-being even five minutes late is considered to be very rude.
*They are very in touch with what is happening around the world, especially America. The first Obama election was a huge deal in Sweden, which I was very surprised to hear.
*Public transport is the most common way to get around, and with good reason. Especially speaking for the bus system, it is very user friendly and organized. It is super nice to get into a warm bus equipped with wi-fi on a cold winters' night! If people do have cars, they are almost definitely manual.
*Gender equality...taken to an extreme. I was trying to explain the differences between sororities and fraternities (biggest difference: most fraternities have parties while sororities cannot) and was told that idea would be forbidden here. Most employers offer 1 year parental leave when you have a child, and if it is not split equally between moms and dads, it is seen as "going against the movement". That's right, dads with strollers. Everywhere. Melts my heart.


*Short boots are more common than tall boots, and they especially love their high top white converse.
*Any jeans besides skinny jeans=gtfo. Even for guys. Colored pants are also encouraged.
*Boys style their hair just about every day. No rolling out of bed here, and if they do, they sure have fooled me!
*Wedding rings are very simple, most often just a gold band with small stones in it for women. You won't see any rocks here.
*Makeup tends to be more natural for girls, but with an emphasis on filling in the eyebrows.
*People overall look nice here all the time. Even when we went to IKEA on day 2, we did not see a single adult in any sweatshirt-materialed article. The style is simple, put together, but relaxed and effortless at the same time. Nobody is trying to be a barbie, which I have to admit is refreshing.


*YOU DON'T HAVE TO PAY FOR IT. Through high school, even your food is covered. So unfair. On top of free college, the European international students here get a nice chunk of change every month as an incentive to study in another country. Can I have my citizenship now?
*Classes are typically taken one at a time, often for just 4 weeks. There may only be 4-5 lectures for a class. Travelling friendly :)
*Compared to American universities, I have heard the difficulty is also very low here.
*Bilingualism, even trilingualism is very common. Swedish students begin to learn english at a very young age and are at least close to being fluent by the time they graduate.
*Education has a very high priority placed on it here, so student discounts are everywhere. I have even seen instances where someone asked for a student discount, and even though there was not one listed, they created one.


*Practically free healthcare and school. Need I say more?
*They have a monarchy, which makes 6 year old Lynsi so happy. There is a building in Karlstad with a huge gold crown over it, symbolizing that the royal family stays there when they visit. It is like a fairy tale, I love it.
*The alcohol-only stores, the only place you can buy hard alcohol, is called the Systembolaget. This is the government owned liquor monopoly they have in place to not only control prices but accessibility. They have limited hours and locations, but it does not seem to affect people very much. The party culture here is even more intense than home, which was shocking coming from a resident of the #1 binge drinking state..
*At least here in Karlstad, there is this huge sense of community pride. All city buildings have a sun symbol, which the university also uses as its logo. Even city workers have it on their clothing. This is because Karlstad is (apparently) the sunniest town in Sweden, fun fact!
Seriously, how cute is it?!


*All of it is American. Which, it is fun to have a piece of home and all, but I was excited to get introduced to new music. I even brought blank CDs to swap new stuff and, yeah, I can pretty much kill that dream :(
*If it isn't American, it is (mostly) crappy techno with no lyrics. Meh.
*Even the TV shows. Most people watch the regular shows we do (Lost, Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men) just with Swedish subtitles. I would get so annoyed.
*The dancing, however, is definitely something to adjust to. Our first night at a club, us Americans and Canadians were just watching everyone and saying "Are you serious?" To put it lightly, we are used to the touchy feely type of dancing. In Sweden, you essentially stand in a circle facing your friends and fist pump. Boys and girls don't even touch one another, unless on accident. So awkward at first but it was fun when I got over it :)

This huge American influence on their culture maybe explains why some Swedes are so excited to meet us. They have dreams to go there, and see what they watch on their screens and hear on their radios. They view America as a place to get rich and famous and to follow your dreams. There are expectations that we see celebrities all the time on the streets or know someone who dropped out of high school to pursue acting or singing. 


Okay, so this might be a weird one, but you know you were wondering...
*Toilets are not filled with water. The water is added when you flush.
*Flushing either involves pulling a rod up or pushing a button that specifies if you went #1 or #2, denoted by smaller and bigger sides, respectively.
*Except for really big places, there are often several small bathrooms to choose from, all include a sink and a full size door. It is not nearly as common to have stalls. Privacy is important here.
*My personal bathroom has a towel warmer to hang my towel on..big fan of that.
*I bought some TP at a grocery store and came home to find it had this bright red flowery pattern on it. Wut.

Food and Drink

*Root Beer and graham crackers don't exist here. Peanut butter does, but not the same, which for me is a problem. There is a big fascination with maple syrup and pancakes, however. They have it in the international section. Isn't that crazy? 
*Eating out at a sit down restaurant is insanely expensive. I have heard rumors that it is not uncommon for dinner out to set you back $50 USD. 
*Everything in tubes. Sauces, cheese, fish, you name it, it is in a tube in a Swedish grocery store. I am talking toothpaste tubes. Definitely going to have to ease into that..

*Groceries are at least 1.25 to 1.5 times as expensive as Grand Forks, whereas alcohol is over 2x as expensive.
*Beer and wine can be drank as young as 18, but you have to be 20 to enter a Systembolaget.
*The love! This is the name for the coffee breaks the Swedes much enjoy. You often eat a cinnamon roll or other pastry/cake while sipping on a cup of Swedish coffee, which is practically espresso it is so strong. 1 cup is all you need usually :)
*The garbage cans in public here...omg. The most confusing thing ever for a foreigner. The one I could find a picture of online is mild, the first one I saw in Stockholm had about 7 different slots with no picture. I played it cool and seperated my garbage in no particular method and speedwalked away I was so embarrassed. It really is a good idea, just not user friendly in many places. Never thought I would experience culture shock via garbage recepticle, but hey. The second garbage area pictured has been extremely useful, on the other hand.

I am really making the effort to omit the word "weird" from my vocabulary when I am here. It isn't weird, it is just someone else's normal. Different is a better word for it, and "different" is why I am here. I am learning to adapt slowly but surely to things that seem like a big deal, but really aren't. I may be using different methods to go about my day, but the day is going to happen either way. Not with just Swedes, but with my fellow international students, I am really learning to accept and even enjoy others' different ways of life. I am unexpectedly learning more about home, hearing peoples' reactions to things I explain as being normal. So, I need to remember that when they say something I find to be ridiculous. We are all normal in our own ways is maybe the best way to think of it :) Either way, I am loving my time here and the fact that everyday tasks can turn into adventures. I will leave you with a collage of pictures I took of my beautiful city!

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