1. You say bra, fart, and slut without dropping your poker face.
The hilarity of the Swedish language never gets old, but with practice, I’m able to suppress that nose-snorting laugh when childish humor strikes. When Plopp‘s spotted at the checkout, I zen it out and grab one without so much as a self-indulgent snigger. Billboards advertising Mäster Kock (Master Chef) no longer make me hyperventilate like a lunatic, and slut sale (end-of-season sale) and slut station (end station) only warrant a faint smirk from time to time.
2. You throw a tanty if you don’t fika at least three times a day.
More than coffee n’ cake, fika is THE social glue helping Swedes survive dark winters. Forgo this life-giving institution and pandemonium ensues. To them it’s a human right, and nothing happens unless one’s consumed their above-average daily dose of gluten and caffeine. We’ve learned to distinguish between the pre-fika fika, the pre-lunch fika, the post-lunch fika, the awkward-first-date fika, the I’ve-been-Christmas-shopping-in-three-meter-deep-snow fika, and the I’m-bored-let’s-fika fika.
3. You drink “real” coffee now.
Sweden is a land that snubbed Starbucks — the only branches are at the train station and airport. Swedes are proud of their prolific homegrown cafés that serve cups of joe Scandinavian-style — black, bitter, and so battery-acid strong it dissolves our mouths. Sweden’s high in the coffee consumption rankings. Six cups per day is standard here, and we’ve started using it to help us sleep.
4. You’ve gained 10kgs of “insulation.”
No wonder I’m getting thick around the middle with all this fika hysteria. The Swedish love for bread-based sugarbombs extends to dedicating calendar days for consuming said baked goods. I’m socially obliged to stuff myself with kanelbullar on October 4th. I’ll eat a stack of waffles on March 25th and gorge myself to diabetic bliss with semlor from Vetekatten on Fettisdagen. King Adolf Frederick of Sweden famously died after polishing off 14 of these babies. You’ve been warned.
5. Food out of tubes don’t phase you.
Kalles Kaviar, shrimp-flavored cheese, dill mayonnaise, and crayfish pate in aluminium tubes are now fridge staples. Solid food is soooo overrated. Why not live a little and squeeze it out instead? Spread said substance on knäckebröd, an open-faced sandwich, boiled eggs, or straight into your mouth. Because waiting until retirement for liquid food takes too long.
6. Questionable food choices are no longer questionable.
Rotten, fermented surströmming that smells like a corpse? No biggie! Falukorv stroganoff (mystery-meat luncheon)? Three nights a week! Blodpudding with a side of jam? Yes please! Plain macaroni with ketchup? It’s basically haute cuisine! Ingesting calories in liquid form, Viking-style? Of course!
7. You know holidays = alcohol and sex.
Viking heritage is taken seriously, and boozing is approached with full-body commitment. All religious holidays are lubricated with silly amounts of alcohol, followed by circumstantial sex (plus copiously drunk, slurring Swedish drinking songs and earnest eye contact that lasts a few seconds too long).
8. Friday afternoons are reserved for Systembolaget.
The government monopoly on alcohol means planning our intoxication days in advance. Saturday-night booze runs are nonexistent. Systembolaget is the ONLY place we can buy a highly taxed drink outside of a bar. With super handy opening hours of 9 – 5 on weekdays and 11 – 2 on Saturdays, Friday afternoons are a mad scramble to stock up on the strong stuff before the weekend. This well-intentioned policy to curb alcoholism means Swedes have an alcohol-hoarding mentality, which leads to more alcoholism because, “Hey, here’s a bottle of wine lying around; I’ll just drink it.” It’s a lose-lose situation, but after two years here, I accept it and hand over too much cash in the name of self-medication.
9. You recite “reindeer are food, not friends.”
A Sami traditional food, reindeer have been herded and semi-domesticated in these parts since forever. Smoked Rudolph, Rudolph steak, roasted Rudolph, Rudolph stew, and Rudolph salami are eaten with gusto and liberally paired with lingonberry jam. (Yes, jam. Jam goes with everything here.)
10. You don’t do “fashionably late” any more.
I used to waltz in three hours after a party started, casually air kissing the host and acting like I’m hot shit. Now, I drive three times around the block just so I can ring the doorbell at precisely 19:00. Just like it said on the invite card, invite email, invite phone call, and invite text.
11. You use laundry day to bail out of social situations.
Communal washing rooms are a necessary evil in Swedish apartments. Booking an ideal time is near impossible if you work 9 – 5; it’s the equivalent of, “I have to wash my hair.” No one bats an eyelash if I miss work drinks because I gotta do laundry on Friday night (even if I’m lying).
12. You no longer believe in impulse.
Popping ’round uninvited for a coffee is social suicide; the friend will get all shifty-eyed and sweaty. Asking the neighbor for some sugar will likely be met with, “Why didn’t you telephone in advance?” I’ve learned to starve out spontaneity and keep to myself. Want to surprise your new date? Double-check with him first that it’s ok.
13. Passive aggression is something you’re now proud of.
I give people serious side eye when they push on the subway before passengers get a chance to get off. Unforgivable sins to me now include making eye contact on public transport, talking loudly at a restaurant, not lining up your grocery items with the barcode facing me, jaywalking, and talking/smiling at strangers.
14. You avoid getting sick during summer.
In the land of generous social welfare, everyone’s entitled to five weeks of summer break. Downtown Stockholm shuts down like a zombie apocalypse. Restaurants close early, public transport dwindles, and the medical system grinds to a halt. Try having a baby or kicking the bucket from June – August. They’ll say, “Return when the doctor’s back from vacation.” True story.
15. It’s not weird to go to a nude sauna with the in-laws.
Getting your kit off with kin is socially acceptable. Add drinking to the mix and you have yourself a fine Swedish shindig that’s completely R-rated. Just make sure you know where to look.
16. You know death-by-icicle is no joke.
Warning signs appear every winter in case we forget the icicle’s wrath. Spades for clearing snow off rooftops are sometimes forgotten, and falling ice has crushed people to death on more than one occasion. We’ve nurtured a habit of looking up and avoid walking near tall buildings when the mercury plummets.
17. Sucking tobacco doesn’t diminish anyone’s hot factor.
It’s totally okay that, mid-sentence, a Swede will casually pull out a wad of salivary snus, spit it out, and stretch open the top lip to shove another bit up there. We find this perfectly ‘normal’ behavior performed with ninja-like finesse at work interviews, before the gym, during sex — and we’re not phased any more.
18. Your whole wardrobe is black or grey.
Swedish minimalism extends to fashion; everyone looks like they’re attending a permanent funeral. When we’re feeling festive, we may branch out and wear blue. We’re forced to channel basic bitch because that’s all they sell at H&M. And, yes, black leggings are now an acceptable form of lower body wear. Pants not required.
19. You laugh at fobs that can’t dress for winter.
I’ve taken to parroting the Swedish saying “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes.” Several winters of face planting taught me that fugly snow boots are the ONLY shoes appropriate. We also gloat knowingly in our ridiculous Fjällraven down jackets as nose icicles form on the newbies.
20. You develop a serious case of cyclist’s rage.
63.7% of Sweden rides a bike, and we’ve embraced two-wheel mobility to the max. Puffed with a sense of “pavement entitlement,” we traffic weave, run red lights, and liberally apply our bells to any pedestrian making the mistake of walking in OUR cycle lane! A trip home from the pub necessitates an ‘exhilarating’ ride in stiletto heels, and any Swede will assure you bicycles are sensible transport even in snow. Apparently.
Photo: Raphaël Labbé