I read many sweet stories about magical Scandinavia, the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, that it is a beautiful area with abundance of natural beauty so naturally I wanted to visit it. Somehow I visited many countries but couldn’t get my feet on that soil, until 2008 that is. I was offered a job in Sweden in 2008 so I came to Sweden and lived here for two years.
Sweden Sweet Sweden
A country of Beautiful Landscape, very decent good-natured people! Sweden is the largest country in Scandinavia among Norway, Finland and Denmark situated in Northern Europe.
The whole Scandinavia is stunning; full of jungles, mountains, lakes, a lot of sea & snow. Proximity to north brings long harsh winters & with the same token long pleasant summers too. Heard of 6 months long night and 6 months long day?
65% of Sweden is covered with forests. There are numerous Lakes (approx. 95000 Sq Miles) and sea shores; no surprise Swedes love nature. Sea food and boats are part of their life. People usually own a boat and a summer-house which are extensively used during the summer months. Whole Scandinavia shuts down during July & August.
Taxes are very high here but public services and social welfare is commendable. Living in Sweden is a bit expensive compared to Germany, France & Britain.
Sweden is a cold country as it is not far from North Pole.
Sweden’s winters are a bit depressing as days are too short; it hardly gets 6 hours sunlight if weather is not cloudy, and summer days are hugely long with up to 21 hours long sunshine! It is difficult to sleep during summer nights as there is always light on the horizon. I had to paste black plastic sheets on the windows to make room dark.
Winter was quite mild the year I arrived. But the next year it snowed and snowed and snowed….Temprature remained around -20C or low for weeks on end. It broke the 100 years record of coldest and snowed winter; so much so that even Swedes started complaining.
After few days I started enjoying it. Walking in empty streets with everything white-washed is an experience that can not be explained.
Swedes love nature; this is why natural material such as wood and stone are used commonly in buildings & decor. Metro (underground train) stations are adorned like caves.
Swedes; Tall & Handsome:
Tall, handsome, healthy, straightforward & polite –Swedes in a nutshell, and this behaviour is common among Scandinavians.
Swedes know how to live life to max; longest life expectancy, short working week, longest maternity leave, excellent child care and great work-life balance!
Working with them is an excellent experience; they are the most cooperative people as colleagues or customers. They would keep promises and always be on-time. Women are more empowered than men though! Smallest gender-gap between men & women in terms of salary & number of people in employment.
Sweden is only a small country in terms of population; only 10 Million people.
Swedes have generally been isolated from the rest of the world. They were officially neutral during both world wars.
They start work early around 8 am. Lunch starts at 11.30 and people would pack up for home round 4.
Let’s have a Fika:
It literally means a coffee break & is common in Sweden. We used to have an afternoon coffee break whereby employees would gather in groups, have coffee or tea with biscuits, cakes etc.
Offices buy a basket of fresh fruit for its employees every day; I made good use of it. 🙂
Swedes used to look at immigrants with curiosity as they haven’t come across many. Things have changed now. More foreigners entered Sweden in the last 15 years. But last year saw unprecedented number of migrants entering Sweden after Syria crisis. This has caused friction in some areas.
Immigrants collectively make 15% of the population.
Riots in 2013 after police shot an immigrant caused anti-immigrant sentiments. These feelings are strengthened due to recent events in France & Brussels.
There are approximately 500,000 Muslims (5% of total population) in Sweden, mostly from Arab nations. Pakistanis are only few thousand.
Nobel Prize was started in Sweden after the name of Swedish scientist Alfred Nobel who donated his wealth for it. It is awarded every year since 1895. Why did Alfred decide to start Nobel Prize? Read Here.
Ericsson is the most famous and one of the founder companies in telecommunications.
Ikea is a famous name in the world of furniture making.
Sweden is a technologically advanced country; 573 Nobel prizes are won by Swedes.
Country is quite green too; 52% energy generated through renewable sources.
Here is an email I wrote to my friends four days after arriving here for the first time:
“I am very well and I hope all is well on your side.
Swedish speak English as Germans speak English [Once I said to my Swedish manager that Swedish language sounds similar to German; he was not amused and replied why can’t it be other way around?]
I am here in Sweden for about 4 days now. One of my friend joined me at airport and now I am staying with him till I rent my own place which I am looking for.
In general Sweden is a beautiful lush green country. It has well-built infrastructure (roads, rail, buses, general amenities) just like any other European country e.g. Germany.
I have joined the new job. Work place is fine. There are four people in my team; one Sicilian Italian, one Palestinian, one Chinese and managers is Swedish. Rest of the company is mixed, mostly Chinese. Environment is friendly; lots of empty desks and space; a big dining room and two tennis table rooms.
I avoid playing as Chinese are very good at ping-pong game (my Italian colleague calls it ping-pong). He has accepted a challenge from a Chinese and I fear a disastrous result for Italy tomorrow. 🙂..”
There are ample toilets and are always free. [I don’t know why I said that?? May be I was coming from Pakistan where toilets were always queued up. One good thing, toilets in Scandinavia have sinks inside the toilet room!!]
Weather is cool & pleasant here, mostly rainy & windy, much like UK. Days are bit longer than UK. Prayer times are really difficult. We pray Zuhar up to 7 pm, Mughrib starts around 10.30, Isha after 11.30 and Fajar at 2.30 am. Therefore most of the night is spent in cycles of waking, sleeping and waking again. Nights are not completely dark; a small light always remains on horizon.
The place I am residing in is called Kista (pronounced as Sheesta, I fear they will call me Shaashif too !!). There is a local halal grocery shop which has every edible thing a desi might think of.
Kista is full of technology companies, you name it, IBM, Ericsson, Tele2, Compaq, Phillips, I have seen offices of each & every tech firm. There are more foreigners here than Swedes. Many are here to work but there are lots of immigrants too, mostly from Somali & Arab / African background. I am going to Stockholm city centre this weekend especially to see some Swedes.
Sweden’s biggest city is Stockholm which is its capital too. It is built on 14 islands connected with 57 bridges. The biggest city in Nordic area, still this city airs the feel of a small friendly city. Stockholm was originally formed as capital in 1252 on a small island in the middle called “Gamla Stan”. It is still preserved with it narrow cobbled streets; nowadays buzzing with tourists and littered with souvenir shops and restaurants.
Stockholm is the cultural, political, social, economic and educational centre for Sweden. Nobel prize ceremony is held here annually.
Free Education for Foreigners:
Sweden offered free University education to foreigners till 2012. A lot of students from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India etc benefitted from this. Most were genuine but many abused the system just to get in the country. The genuine students really excelled and made good use of the facilities offered. They had very little money to maintain themselves but they did. They would work on temporary jobs which were in very short supply anyway. And then resourcefully utilise whatever they had. They completed their degrees and now employed on decent jobs all over the world!
We spent many evenings eating, sipping tea and chatting together; fond memories!
Drottningholm Palace is the official residence of serving King. Part of it open to public now. There are big houses behind the palace originally used by the servants of Royal Family but now sold on to ordinary people.
I was once invited by a Swede whom I met on the plane during my journey to London. He lived in the houses behind Drottningholm Palace. He had no connection to Palace, rather employed in a bank. As I arrived; there was a massive dog eagerly waiting for me on the door. Oh nooo.. I was ‘Dog-o-Phobic’. I was scared to death seeing such a huge dog. But there was no escape here. I was moving away from him but that dog was too eager to sniff me so he was ushering me all around. Soon the owner realised. He taught me a trick and hey… I coexisted with that dog for the whole evening and my phobia was (almost) gone!!
On one warm summer day we had one of the best BBQ parties of my life in lush green jungle near Kista. Government has prepared small huts in the wild; just bring your hardware and off you go!
There was a frizbee match too.
Famous Swedish food include meatballs and fish dishes (raw, cooked & pickled). But the one I liked most is no other than Princess Torta Cake; a delicious traditional cake that is eaten year around by Swedes. Heavy on cream yet refreshingly tasty. This was my family & friends favourite while in Sweden.
One day in August my Swede manager invited us to his summer-house on a beach for Crayfish party. It was a wonderful experience. We spent the whole day on that island, wandered around & played Brannboll. It is a Swedish sport similar to baseball. The key difference is that batsman tosses the ball in air by himself and then hits it rather than a bowler shooting at him. At the end we had a Crayfish party. But eating this small fish is not easy because it resembles to a lobster and one needs to crack open it to extract tiny meat inside.
Stockholm Central Mosque:
There are many mosques in Stockholm but the central mosque the most beautiful inside & out. It is a beauty!
There are many more memories from Sweden but perhaps some other time!