SwedenLaurie Mitchell

Välkommen till Sverige! (Welcome to Sweden)

SwedenLaurie Mitchell
Välkommen till Sverige! (Welcome to Sweden)
I'm checking them out, I'm checking them out
I got it figured out, I got it figured out
Good points some bad points
But it all works out, I'm a little freaked out
Find a city, find myself a city to live in
I will find a city, find myself a city to live i
-Talking Heads "Cities" from Fear of Music (1979)

I've got to give it to the Talking Heads for nailing my exact sentiment in moving to a new city.  As Mr. Byrne melodiously notes, I've got it figured out, err, wait, I'm a little freaked out, err, I will find a city.  Four weeks after arriving in Gothenburg, Sweden, I feel like I have found my city and I am very happy here.  (It helps that the weather is still nice and I currently don't have a job, aka, my days now consist of attending Swedish language classes, reading books on grassy knolls, taking relaxing evening bike rides, and drinking craft beer on patios.)

In this introductory post, I will answer the burning questions: Why move to Sweden?  What is Gothenburg?  Are Swedish people really that beautiful?  (I am going to go ahead and just answer the last question: YES.)  As I continue to explore the country, I will report back here on my experiences from the view of an urban planner.


Why move to Sweden?

When people ask me this question, my knee-jerk reaction is an incredulous "Why not?" and I mutter something about the abundance of separated bike lanes here.  While living a car-free life was a major factor in my decision, I mainly chose to come to Sweden because this country offers me everything I want in life and struggled to have in the US, such as:

  • Good work/life balance: Swedes generally have one job and that allows them to live comfortably, thus giving them free time to enjoy life in the evenings and on the weekends.  Swedes get five weeks of paid vacation a year, and new parents receive generous (like, 480 days generous) paid parental leave, letting them adjust to and bond with their children.
  • Taxes that go towards useful services:  The average tax rate of 30% is very similar to what I had in the US, but here it goes towards services that I need and use, like quality healthcare and public transportation.  Education (including universities) and daycare is of course free or heavily subsidized. 
  • A well-educated and active population:  So far, I have found Swedes to be an educated bunch, as in they are informed of current events and worldwide history.  This is thanks in part to a more transparent media and government, proximity to the variety of languages and cultures in Europe, and free education.  Almost everyone here speaks at least one second language (usually English) due to it being compulsory in school; this is a real double-edged sword for people like me trying to learn the language.  Swedes also have pretty healthy lifestyles, being physically active (bikes!) and eating less processed food.  Bonus: Swedes are good-looking and dress well.
  • A public transportation system that works: Transportation here is an egalitarian service, meaning that anyone and everyone uses it.  Rail here is faster than driving long distances, not to mention the trains are super nice and offer surprisingly good food options.  And although I haven't traveled out to the suburbs here, it's my understanding that these areas are even connected by transit.  But my favorite part of Swedish public transportation is that dogs are allowed on board (!). 
  • Gender equality:  While I'm no raving feminist, I do appreciate this country's great strides in leveling the playing field for women in the workplace, home, and government.  Not to mention the Swedish fathers on parental leave are pretty easy on the eyes :)
  • Family-friendly environment:  This was probably the main reason why I came to Sweden, because I would like children (as a single parent even) and want to be able to provide the best for them.  Sweden has good free schools, supportive government programs (as mentioned above), unlimited sick days, child-friendly public areas, and more. It is interesting to note that in Sweden, spanking is banned as is advertising geared towards children.  Did you know that many young fathers stay at home with their children during their first years, and swarm the streets during the day with their Bugaboo strollers?
  • Stay-at-home Dads:  Just in case you missed me mentioning this (twice), I am putting it as its own bullet point.

So, those are my main reasons for coming to this lovely country.  And while I may still be in the honeymoon phase, I recognize that Sweden has some qualities that others may not like, such as "unfriendly" people and cold, dark winters.  But hey, no country is perfect, and dealing with minor issues such as those are well-worth what I get in return for living here.


What is Gothenburg?

With a population of nearly 550,000 folks, Gothenburg (Göteborg) is located on the west coast and is Sweden's second largest city.  To summarize the city's Wikipedia page, Göteborg is a port (the largest in Scandinavia!) city founded in 1621 and most famously home to Volvo, ball bearings, and Ericsson.  The city is considered to be "working class" although you will find plenty of fine restaurants, shops, and cultural venues.  The tourism industry is strong in Gothenburg, with Europeans coming from all over to enjoy this city of canals and cobblestone streets.  But the best part of Gothenburg?  That would definitely be the vintage blue and white trams careening down the streets in tidy slug formation.  Or, some may say in jest, it's the city's trademark palm-to-the-forehead-inducing corny puns.