The darkest time of the year will soon be upon us. If you moved to Sweden recently, brace yourself – you’re probably in for a bit of a shock.
My first fall and winter in Stockholm were difficult, even though I’m from Canada and everyone assumed that the weather back home must be fairly similar. It’s not – at least not in northern Manitoba, where I grew up. The winters of my childhood were full of clear blue skies and blinding sunshine reflected on the seemingly endless snowdrifts that dominated the landscape from November to March. Back home, people think it gets dark early in the winter, but I’ve discovered that there’s a huge difference between living just north of the 53rd parallel and living just south of the 60th. To make things worse, not only does it get dark ridiculously early here in the winter, many winter days are grey and dreary so you don’t even get to see the sun at midday.
First tip: Do not haunt the doorway!
The reality of Stockholm winter weather is particularly problematic if you’re here because of your partner’s career and you don’t have somewhere to go to every morning. If you haven’t already, you need to make some friends, pronto. This is not easy in Sweden, particularly during the winter half of the year. It’s going to require some effort and bravery on your part. If you dare to step out of your comfort zone, you’ll find it easier to meet people and create your own social circle. If you don’t, chances are you will quickly become a shadow of your former self, haunting the doorway late every afternoon, desperate for your spouse to return home. He or she might be flattered by all the attention at first, but take my word for it – over time it can put serious strain on your relationship.
Det finns inga dåliga väder, bara dåliga kläder
It’s vital that you get out every day for some fresh air, exercise and whatever sunshine is available. No matter how horrible the weather is, you’ve got to get out there. As they say in Swedish, Det finns inga dåliga väder, bara dåliga kläder – meaning, ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather; only bad clothes.’ So get yourself some good warm, weather-proof clothes and get outside. Failure to do this, every day, will put you at significantly higher risk for seasonal depression – an ailment that is all too common in Sweden.
Another really good way to fight off the winter blues is to join a fitness center. The one I go to – Drivkraft – has a great assortment of workout classes that includes everything from yoga to Zumba to Crossfit. The people I’ve met there are of all ages, shapes, sizes and nationalities, and quite a few don’t speak Swedish. Shop around for a gym near you with a similar profile.
Dare to get creative
Consider signing up for a course. Thankfully, this is much easier for non-Swedish speakers today than it was back in 1998 when I first arrived in Sweden. Nowadays there are a variety of courses you can take in English, which will get you out of the house, stimulate your brain and expose you to others who are on the market for new friends. For starters, I can recommend Folkuniversitetet, which offers a wide range of courses – creative writing, acting, singing, painting or photography, for example – in which the language of instruction is English.
Another fun option for courses is IT’S – the International Theater in Stockholm. They offer improvisational theater courses at all levels that attract expats of all ages and abilities. If you’re interested in dancing, almost any dance school will be able to accommodate you in a regular (Swedish) class. Don’t be shy – call and ask! The worst that can happen is that they say no (which they probably won’t).
If courses aren’t really your thing, check out the English Bookshop online and in real life at Södermannagatan 22 on Södermalm. Join one of their book clubs and/or sign up for their newsletter to receive invitations to their events. You might also want to keep an eye on the events calendar at http://www.yourlivingcity.com/stockholm/ as well as signing up for The Local newsletter to stay informed about cultural activities in Stockholm that are of interest to non-Swedish speakers. While you’re at it, check out your embassy’s website as well – they might have information about local meetups organized by some of your fellow countrymen.
Depending on how long you’ll be staying in Stockholm, you may even want to take a Swedish course. Learning to read and understand Swedish actually isn’t that difficult if you already know English, and it’s a great way to meet other expats. Case in point, I met my dear friend Karol in my very first Swedish class at Medborgarskolan back in the autumn of 1998. Back then, both of us were new arrivals and had no friends of our own (only our partners’ friends). We hit it off immediately. Over the course of that first winter we helped each other through some dark times (literally and figuratively). Nearly 20 (!) years later we’re still here, still friends, and thriving.
Photo credit: Birgit Walsh
A little about me
I moved to Stockholm in 1998 after meeting my Swede at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver (where I got my first taste of grey, rainy winters). Nowadays we are the parents of two darling bi-national children whom I have stubbornly spoken English to, plied with maple syrup & pumpkin pie, and hauled to Canada for visits at least once a year since birth. (So far we’ve visited every province except Newfoundland.)
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