What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear about Sweden? Hmmm, for me, when I first learned I will be sent to this country, I had no idea what to expect. I admit, my Europe geography is so poor, I didn’t even know where the relative location of Sweden is! (I have never been out of Asia before this, and I thought Europe would be a dream to be fulfilled in the faraway future… So no, I didn’t bother familiarizing myself with European countries). The only things I knew about Sweden was that: (1) I love Swedish massage; (2) My favorite vodka, Absolut, came from Sweden; (3) it’s capital is Stockholm; and (4) hmm, my abundant wealth of knowledge stopped there.
And yeah, it didn’t help that when I ask people about Sweden, they kept confusing it with Switzerland! At least I know that the Swedes are different from the Swiss, but I understand the confusion.
A few clicks in Google and I found some pretty interesting stuff. I was also able to grab a nice handbook from the Swedish embassy in Japan when I applied for my Schengen visa. These are some of the interesting things that I found out about Sweden:
– ABBA came from Sweden! Hah! And here I was singing Dancing Queen to every karaoke session and memorizing all the songs in Mama Mia without even knowing that. And I call myself an ABBA fan. Tsk.
-IKEA, Volvo, & H&M are Swedish brands. OK, I guess I really was ignorant :))
– Go, Vikings! The Vikings are from Scandinavian countries (Norway, Denmark, Sweden) and it was during their time that Norse mythology fluorished. I knew they were Europeans, but I didn’t care much for the specific country (poor, ignorant me).
– On a more nerdy note, I learned that the country is home to the Nobel Prize, since Alfred Nobel (inventor of the dynamite) was Swedish. Also, Swedes have discovered more elements in the periodic table than any other nationality (this came from the handbook at the Swedish embassy, and I have no patience to confirm this). To give you an idea, the elements discovered and named by the Swedes include Holmium (Latin for Stockholm), Scandium (after Scandinavia) and we have Erbium, Ytterbium, Terbium, Ytterbium, Yttrium (all named after Ytterby). Among other notable Swedes were Anders Celsius, who devised the Celsius temperature scale, and Carolus Linnaeus (he studied in Lund University, where I am now!), the father of modern taxonomy (he started the Latin scientific names for organisms).
When I came here, I found a lot more interesting stuff. It really is a different thing when you’re in the place itself, and you are immersed in the culture. You learn a whole lot more compared to what can be read in books and off the internet. Well, these things might be the norm in all of Scandinavia or Europe, not just Sweden, but what do I know? This is just a list of the things I found interesting or different from what I was used to, when I was living in the Philippines and Japan. I found out that:
– They don’t really have what we call the Swedish massage. I found a lot of Thai massage centers, though :p My friends here tell me that they were also surprised to find Swedish massage centers during their trips abroad.
– They don’t drink Absolut vodka very often. They prefer beer. Well, they said Absolut is pretty darn expensive and serving them at parties or at the dinner table is not really a cheap option. They think I have drunk more of that stuff than they have 😉
– The most popular brand of car here is Toyota, not Volvo. But then again, I guess Toyota is popular everywhere.
– Most restrooms are unisex. They’re just marked WC for wash closet. I was totally confused the first time I looked for the toilet. (This is not unique to Sweden, of course. I think most European countries have common toilets)
– The light switch is located at the waist level. The first time I used a restroom in the university, I was in total darkness. I couldn’t find the light switch and assumed that the automatic lighting was just malfunctioning (ah, I miss Kyushu University’s automatic lights!).
– They wash the dishes using a brush, not a sponge like we normally do in Asia (well, I think this is the way Europeans do the dishes; but it’s my first time to encounter it :p). The first time I tried doing the dishes, I was very skeptical of this method. I was not convinced that it got all of the oil and dirt away. This is a more hygienic way to wash the plates, since the hands are not directly in contact with the dirty stuff. Ah, but who cares, most of them have dishwasher machines.
– Sunday is silence day, not shopping day. Most shops are closed, and the ones that are open, only do for a short period. What am I supposed to do on Sundays, then?!
– One of the things that really amazed me was the working hours. People here arrive around 8 or 9 am, have a 30-min coffee break at the lunchroom at 10 am. Then they come back for lunch from 12 nn to 1 pm and have coffee again at 3 pm and return home before 5 pm… Really amazing!
– The alarm system for my department is just annoying! People have to remember that after 5pm, you should remember to push the blue button above the door locks before opening any door. If yoi forget this minor detail, the building’s alarm will go off and people have to suffer from the irritating alarm noise for 15 minutes! And then, since we hear the alarm go off almost everyday, people won’t respond if there is a real emergency. We’ll just think some idiot forgot to push the darn button before turning the lock. Really effective alarm system, wouldn’t you say?
– I can never figure out whether a door should be pushed or pulled (well, at least in Lund this is the case, both for the University buildings and dormitories). Sometimes I open the door and pull it and then the inner door needs to be pushed! A little consistency is all I’m asking!
– IKEA is love! It’s pretty neat how you can just buy all the stuff you need for your house in one big building. I enjoyed watching the people test out the beds, looked fun to just lie on the bed for a while (after all, IKEA is pretty big. You might need a rest in between choosing the lights and the pots).
– H&M is a very big temptation! Every time I go into that shop, I can’t resist the urge to buy something from the sale rack! Ack!