Expat Blog

Expat stories - A User's Guide, part 2

Posted by staff alexander on Jan 8, 2017 2:30:00 PM

Not long into my first winter in Sweden, I was working away at my desk one afternoon, when I looked out the window, thought to myself, ‘goodness the time has flown - it’s evening!’ I packed up my things and headed home… only to discover that it was half past three in the afternoon.

Expat life1.jpgThere’s no getting away from it: winter is dark in Sweden. This winter has seemed particularly dark thanks to the dull weather: it has barely got light at all before it’s dark again. Once or twice, I’ve noticed the clouds clearing at 3pm or so, so the sun comes out… just in time to set. Sigh.

And it can be hard going. Just the other day my friend and I speculated as to why winter in Sweden compels us to eat our own bodyweight in cinnamon buns on a daily basis. Is it a craving for comfort food to stave off the winter blues? Or some biological imperative to gain as much insulation as possible?

I also find myself much sleepier in the months of darkness, at times finding it hard to keep my eyes open much past 9 or 10pm. I’ve often wondered if this is because my body clock is aware that it’s been dark for several hours, ergo it must be bedtime. Conversely I’m often wide awake long past midnight in the summer.

It’s my belief that this is the reason Swedes are a bit obsessed with cosiness. Cosiness is a big deal in Sweden. I have never in my life heard so many things described as cosy until I came here. Food, TV, a night in with a friend… eating crisps on a Friday. But it’s hard to deny that when it’s dark and miserable outside, it’s lovely to be cosy indoors.

Candles are a big part of this. You’ll notice as soon as you arrive in a coffee shop, restaurant, someone’s home or even a surprising amount of offices in Sweden, that there are candles everywhere. You might think this would be a fire hazard (indeed, I once rather startlingly set my lunch on fire in a cafe with the candle on my table), but presumably any risk is worth it for the cosy effect. Knitted throws, chunky sweaters, a good book and particularly yummy meal are other survival tools for making it through a murky winter’s weekend.

However, a bit of fresh air is in order now and then.

Cross country skiing is a big deal here, and after a couple of winters, I am a convert. Make no mistake: it is exhausting (you can more than justify all the cinnamon buns after an afternoon on the tracks!), but there is something wonderfully exhilarating about swooping through a crisp, snow covered forest. Well, ‘swooping’ if you happen to already be Swedish; wobbling precariously and shrieking every once in a while is more likely for the rest of us, but it’s still lots of fun.

Unlike downhill skiing, it’s rare to be able to rent equipment, so you do have to take the chance that you’ll enjoy it enough to make that initial investment, but after that, the majority of tracks are free so you just have to hop on the bus or T bana, and don’t forget water and a thermos of something hot.

There are also several ice rinks around Stockholm, which are free to use if you have your own skates. Many of them rent skates, but as you can buy them for around 2-400SEK from most sport shops, it’s probably a worthwhile getting your own. Kungsträdgården is particularly pretty with all the Christmas lights around it, though it can get busy; the rinks at Östermalms IP and Zinkensdam are better if you’re looking for a workout.

I’ve been a bit nervous to try skating on open water so far, as the risk of an inadvertent swim doesn't strike me as appealing, but there are plenty of smaller lakes around which seem to be fairly dependable. My rule of thumb is that if there if there are Swedes on the ice, it’s okay. I’m not sure why I’m so convinced that they all have an innate sense of whether or not ice is safe, but trusting them has kept me above water so far!

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