- Bridget Borden was originally from New Jersey and moved to Sweden with her boyfriend.
- She was surprised by was how dark it gets in December. The sun will sometimes set at 3 p.m.
- She was also surprised by the work-life balance in Sweden compared to the US.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Bridget Borden, an American who moved to Sweden. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I’m originally from a small town in New Jersey. But when I went to college in Connecticut, I met my boyfriend. We both went to the same school, which was known for being small in size. He is from Sweden and he was there to play soccer.
When we graduated in May 2020 during the pandemic, I was offered a temporary teaching job in Madrid, Spain. I went there to teach English, and my boyfriend followed me there. While we both knew our stay in Madrid would be temporary, we wanted to be together long-term.
To do that, we had two options: we could either move back to the US, or I could follow him to Sweden. We chose Sweden because it was easier for me to get a visa there than it was for him to get one in the US.
Since moving to Sweden, I’ve noticed some differences that have surprised me. Some are small, but others have really stood out to me.
1. Swedes can be really quiet
When I first moved to Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, I was shocked by how quiet people are. For example, when I take the metro, our metro car will be silent — even during rush hour. Instead of talking like they would in the US, Swedes will usually sit quietly and try not to bother others.
The grocery store is another good example of this. In the US, you might strike up a conversation with the cashier — but here in Sweden that isn’t common. Instead, the people often keep to themselves and don’t participate in “small talk.”
2. Swedes leave their strollers and babies outside
Sometimes when I walk past a cafe, I will see an unattended stroller parked outside with a baby napping in it. Before moving here, I always saw Sweden as a safe country, where people trust each other. But when I saw this for the first time, it made me feel even safer. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this happen in the US, and it says a lot about the trust Swedes have in each other.
They also believe the fresh air is good for babies’ immune systems and that it toughens them up for the winter.
3. There’s more work-life balance in Sweden
Here in Sweden, they want you to take your vacation days. After you work for a company for a full year, you are entitled to 25 working days of paid vacation, or five work weeks.
In the summer months, you’re allowed to take four of those weeks off consecutively.
Back home in the US, I have friends who are only allowed to take 10 days off a year. So I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of time you can take off here in Sweden.
Then when it comes to maternity and paternity leave, new parents in Sweden are able to take 480 days off combined for each child they have. This time off is also paid and allows for both parents to stay home.
4. It gets dark early in December
One big thing that really surprised me in Sweden was how dark it gets in December. During December, we get very little daylight each day. In Stockholm for example, we get roughly five to six hours of daylight, and the sun sets around 3 p.m.
But even during the “brightest” part of the day, it’s usually so cloudy and gloomy, you can’t see the sun either way. I remember experiencing it for the first time and wondering if I could go through it again.
But I did, and I made it through a second time. This year, however, I’m hoping to escape it and am currently looking for flights to somewhere more warm and sunny.
5. Swedes remove their shoes at the doctor’s office
In the US, you might take your shoes off when going into people’s homes, but here in Sweden, there are other places where you must remove your shoes. The doctor’s office is one of them.
I remember heading to the doctor, and when I realized I needed to remove my shoes, I felt weird about it. I had never done that before and it felt funny standing in my socks.
But I see why they do it, it’s for hygiene. And if you have to remove your shoes, they will have a rack for you to put your shoes on.
Since leaving the US
There are other things that have surprised me, like the alcohol is more expensive in Sweden, and you can’t buy alcohol on Sundays.
Swedes are also really into their candy here. Every Saturday they have what’s called “Lördagsgodis,” which means “Saturday sweets.” Everyone goes out and buys a bag of candy, and I think it’s a cute tradition.
There are things I miss about the US, of course. I miss my family, my friends and I miss the beach I used to go to.
But mainly, I miss the small conversations and the small talk, the kind you have when you’re at a grocery store, or when you’re out running an errand. While it’s not a bad thing that Swedes don’t make small talk as much, I do miss it.
If you left the US for another country and want to share your story, email Alyshia Hull at email@example.com