Even though I’ve only been in Sweden for a day and a half, I feel like I’ve already gotten a good glimpse into the country’s cultural norms. My short time here has felt so eventful because I’m experiencing everything for the first time, which is incredibly refreshing after being in a monotonous routine of online classes for so long. It feels as if I’m viewing everything through rose-colored glasses– everything is so exciting and new to me, whether I’m just going to the grocery store with friends or visiting the Swedish Parliament building. Because I’ve only been here for 36 hours, I haven’t been able to fully immerse myself in Swedish culture yet, but I’ve been able to put together a few of my first impressions of it so far.
Sweden has the best public transportation system I’ve ever seen.
I’m used to the traffic jams and car accidents that happen so often in Philadelphia, but there seems to be so little traffic in Stockholm that we were able to walk in the middle of its cobblestone streets. This is probably because many Swedes rely on public transportation to commute to school or work, even if it takes longer than driving a car. My first time on public transportation here was an eye-opening experience for me; the trains were so quiet and clean compared to the SEPTA that we are accustomed to at Temple. Stockholm is also known for its metro art, as the walls of the train stations are covered in colorful mosaics and murals. My friends and I felt like the biggest tourists when we stopped to take a picture of the metro station, but we had truly never seen anything like it.
There are more people that don’t wear masks compared to those that do.
The approach that Sweden has taken to combat the pandemic is very different and more relaxed compared to the United States. While masks are mandated in all public settings in Philadelphia, and restaurants are requiring proof of vaccination, there is no mask mandate in Sweden. Based on my experience thus far, the majority of individuals do not wear masks in public spaces, which was surprising to me because of how normalized mask-wearing has become in the U.S. The staff at my study abroad program have shown us public health data that shows that COVID-19 cases are not as severe here compared to the U.S., so I hope that cases remain low in the coming months.
The architecture is beautiful.
Today my friends and I took the train from our apartment in the outskirts of Stockholm to the city center. We walked around Stockholm and ended up in Gamla Stan, which translates to ‘old town.’ We walked past the Swedish Parliament building and the Royal Palace, which were both adorned with enormous pillars and ornate sculptures. However, the attention to detail in Swedish architecture wasn’t just limited to these Neoclassical and Baroque government buildings. The architecture throughout the entire city was beautiful, from the carved wooden doors to sculptural fountains scattered throughout Gamla Stan. We also noticed that there were no skyscrapers in that part of Stockholm; it was so nice to be able to admire the city’s architecture with the bright night stars in the background.
Swedish and English are more similar than I expected.
As part of our apartment building’s orientation, our residential advisor gave us a tour of the neighborhood. Part of the tour included her bringing us to the mall across the street, which is where the grocery store was located. While grocery shopping took longer than usual because all of the food labels were in Swedish, many of the words were somewhat similar to English. For example, honey is honung, fish is fisk, and coffee is kaffe. I’m sure the language is much more complex, but we can make do in the grocery stores for now. Good thing my Swedish language and culture class begins later this week!
Through everything I’ve experienced so far, one thought keeps coming to mind: I’ve never felt more American in my life. I’m not sure if it’s because I haven’t left the country in years, but exploring Sweden has made me realize how different Swedish culture is compared to the United States. While it can be overwhelming at times, I’m excited to continue learning more about cultural and societal norms here.