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Why Would Anyone Move To Sweden?
Since the end of World War II, Sweden has been open to refugees from all around the world. Peoples have arrived with different religions, colors, and traditions. And in doing so, they have joined the dominant Swedish culture with varying degrees of success in regards to assimilation. But Sweden is not only open to foreign refugees. There are also large numbers of people coming to Sweden for reasons other than to flee persecution.
I will say from the start that few people immigrate to Sweden solely for economic reasons. The Swedish tax-structure makes most other Western countries more attractive for earning income or achieving entrepreneurial wealth. As a matter of fact, some would argue that economic ambition is almost frowned upon by most Swedes. There is a saying in Sweden, “Swedish jealousy allows no tree to grow to the heavens.” This mentality is engrained in the Swedish society and indeed in the Swedish tax-system. Despite this mentality, it is possible to become rich in Sweden but the road is seldom clear and often difficult. (It should be noted that I have yet to find the road.)
In addition to the unwelcoming tax-structure, one also has to contend with the weather. The harsh winter is followed by an 8-month period of rain and cloudiness with only occasional glimpses of sunshine. And the endless darkness of the winter is only partially offset by the endless daylight in the summer. Approximately one fourth of the country is north of the Arctic Circle but, thanks to the Gulf Stream, Sweden still has a relatively temperate climate compared at least to Siberia.
And finally, while most Swedes are polite, people in Sweden would generally rather be left alone. So if you choose to move to Sweden, do not expect to be greeted with open arms. Some peoples are more popular than others but all are expected to assimilate and to NOT complain – about ANYTHING (unless it is the same things that Swedes complain about like high-taxes, bad weather, and shiftless foreigners).
So Why Would Anyone Want To Move To Sweden?
This is a question I have asked myself for the last 16 years. Unfortunately, I have not come to a definitive conclusion. Nonetheless, I will try to highlight some of the more positive aspects of Sweden that at least keep ME in the country. This list is obviously for the benefit of anyone contemplating a move to this dark and strange place but it could also be handy for visitors:
1. Swedish Nature. Sweden is an amazingly beautiful country. Not in the spectacular sense. There are few “biggest”, “best”, “highest”, etc. in Sweden. But there are literally thousands of lakes and thousands of kilometers of forests. There is skiing in the winter, swimming and camping in the summer, hiking all-year, boating most of the year. If you enjoy the outdoors, there are few countries in the world that match Sweden.
2. Culture. I have lived in many places around the globe but I honestly think Sweden is one of the countries that offers the most access to art and music any day of the week. Many large cities have opera houses and broadway musicals but few offer the multitude of plays, concerts, poetry-readings, musical–jams, etc. that are available in most cities in Sweden.
3. Sports. Swedes are almost obsessed with sports of all kinds. They love football (soccer), hockey, track & field, swimming, handball, table-tennis, tennis, yadidee, yadidee. They are a nation of only nine million but seem to be represented in every major sport tournament in the world. I am convinced that it is their love of sport and their organizational skills that make this possible. Furthermore, they have multitudes of publicly financed sport centers ranging from public swimming-pools to public golf-courses.
4. Allamansrätten (The Public Rite of passage). This is the right of all people to travel freely over undeveloped private property (out in nature) and temporarily stay there (usually not more than one night). With this right comes the responsibility to leave the area untainted by your presence - leaving nature, animal-life, and all natural resources unaffected. Norway, Finland, and Island have similar laws (as do other countries in the world) but this “right” is deeply ingrained in the Swedish psyche. (This law applies to undeveloped natural habitats. You do NOT have the right to camp in anyone’s backyard or to pitch a tent in front of the local city-hall.)
5. Lagom. The term lagom is probably unique to Sweden. (Pronounced “log” + “oam” as in the word “roam”.) The term basically means “just right; not too much and not too little.” The joke in Sweden is that everywhere else in the world, “Best is best”. But in Sweden, “Lagom is best”. This one word accentuates Sweden’s propensity for moderation. People strive for balance in all facets of life. Work lagom. Play lagom. Spend lagom. In short, try to live “lagom”. This deep sense of moderation is a natural combatant to the kind of stress so prevalent in other developed and developing nations.
6. Consensus. People in Sweden do not like conflict. Sweden’s last official war was a minor skirmish with neighboring Norway in 1815. Besides sending some peace-keeping forces to Afghanistan, Sweden and Swedes are generally extremely averse to open conflict. Conflict is seen as a failure by all participating parties. Most countries view conflict as inevitable. In Sweden, conflict is viewed as barely an option. This holds true at the international level and at the micro-level in the Swedish workplace. While it can be frustrating when trying to resolve conflicting interests, it generally makes for a more quiet life. If you want to argue, may I suggest France, Germany, or the United States? I’ve also been told that the British and Irish are quite good getting into rows but I do not have personal experience with those cultures.
7. Rational thought. Swedes are generally very rational people. Secular empiricism is king in Sweden. There are religious groups in Sweden just like everywhere else but they are generally moderate and quiet about their beliefs. A Swedish friend recently said to me, “Religion is like a male organ. It’s ok that you have it but nobody wants it waved in their face.” That sort of sums up Sweden's view of religion.
8. Economic security. Everyone in Sweden has access to healthcare, unemployment benefits, and, in the worst case, welfare. The social welfare system in Sweden is not nearly as generous as it was in decades past but there is still enough security left in the system that you should never have to lie awake at night fearing homelessness or starvation.
9. Nobody hates Sweden. I have roots in both America and Germany. I jokingly tell people that my roots insure that I am deeply hated on every centimeter of the planet. Nobody feels that strongly about Sweden. It’s nice to live in a relatively insignificant country. Only the wackiest of terrorists would come up with a plan to kill Swedes.
10. English. You can get by (for a while) with only English because almost everyone from the age of about twelve and up speaks English. Unfortunately, many foreigners mistakenly believe that they do not actually have to learn Swedish. This is not true. If you do not speak Swedish, you will always be an outsider (which you may be anyway). Nonetheless, the proficiency of Swedes in the English language opens many doors to new arrivals.
11. Anonymity. Swedish people go out of their way to avoid unnecessary contact with strangers (including neighbors, co-workers, foreigners, etc.) While this is a little disconcerting in the beginning, I have come to appreciate the anonymity in Sweden. There is very little unnecessary communication. You probably will not hear a waitress in a restaurant say, “Hi! My name is Anna and I’ll be your server this evening! If there is anything I can get you, just let me know!” If you like that sort of service, move to a different country. In Sweden, the waitress assumes you know why she is standing at the table with a pen and paper. She is probably not interested in establishing a personal relationship with you before taking your order. Rude? Perhaps. Expedient? Definitely.
12. Life-long learning. Swedish people love to go to night-school and weekend-seminars. They learn everything from Basket-Weaving to Macro Economics. Since I moved to Sweden I have taken classes in Art, Business-German, Spanish, Jazz-Improvisation, Tile-laying, and a few seminars that I would rather not discuss with strangers. The atmosphere of learning is fantastic in Sweden. If you move to Sweden, seize the opportunity!
Few people around the world see their own culture and country in the same light that foreigners see them. By the same token, it is difficult for foreigners to understand the traditions and circumstances that give rise to seemingly peculiar or averse traditions and customs. After so many years in Sweden, I now consider myself more Swedish than any other nationality. But this does not mean that I have completely forgotten what it was like to be a new immigrant.