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9 Things That Surprised Me About Sweden

(Kalmar)

Nick and I had the absolute privilege to travel to Sweden during the Midsummer holiday. It was my first time visiting the country, my first time traveling outside North America and my first time experiencing 24-hour daylight. Being such a newbie, in addition to getting a little too excited about my passport stamps in Copenhagen, I must confess to a few things that surprised me about my experiences:

(Our train car en route from Copenhagen to our final destination in Sweden.)

1. You have to pay to use a public restroom
After a 10+ hour flight overseas then a 4-hour train ride after downing the largest cup of to-go coffee I could find in the Copenhagen airport, I was faced with a dire emergency when we arrived at our destination. So while waiting for our ride I ducked into what I thought looked like a public restroom, only to discover the door was locked. It would not open until I deposited 5 Krona into the coin box. I was nearly in tears when I told Nick. He suggested I try talking with the clerk in the convenience store across the street. I walked in, I smiled, and I explained my situation. Without knowing exchange rates, I offered him a couple dollars of American currency. He became very excited, proclaimed he loved Americans, and gave me 10 Krona so Nick and I could use the restroom. I insisted he keep my money offering - perhaps out of desperation, perhaps because he was genuine; but it was really hard to read the conversation. 

I never realized just how much you can get for free (bathrooms, refills, etc) in America until I left the country.

Also - the toilets in Europe are like a closet rather than a stall. Full walls. On all four sides. 

2. Grocery shopping was an adventure!
Sweden bans the majority of the crap on the shelves of American grocery stores because it doesn't meet their high health and quality standards. We recognized very few brands; Lays and Doritos being two (side note: Cool Ranch Doritos are called "Cool American" overseas). And unfortunately, save for a very slim Swedish vocabulary, Nick and I do not speak the language. We were, however, able to find a store employee who spoke English, understood Nick's dietary needs, and helped us select the best gluten-free products. 

All of their bottled water is carbonated! It is very hard to find still water (key label wording there) because their tap water tastes exceptional.
(There wasn't any air conditioning - we'd open the windows but with 24 hours of daylight it made sleep difficult; and we'd blast the hotel-supplied fan. It was hot and bright trying to sleep.)

3. Bigger is not always better
This emphasis was especially seen in the size of the living space and our hotel room. We had a very nice room at a historic hotel in Kalmar - a queen size bed, a sitting area, a wardrobe, kitchenette, and bathroom was configured into a space no bigger than Landen's bedroom. You take only what you need and nothing more. 

4. The Swedish consume a lot of coffee - like, A LOT 
... And that's coming from someone who enjoys coffee! One night, while Nick and I sat on a patio (during midsummer, so at 10 pm it was still broad daylight) drinking cocktails to unwind, patrons at tables nearby sipped coffee. It was too late for me to consume caffeine because it'd keep me up all night. 

While in Europe, I got to drink Cuban wine. That trade embargo really closed Americans off from incredible things. Now, I don't intend to sound insensitive to the plight of the Cuban people under dictatorship and what the revolution did, but I also believe the embargo benefited no one. It remains one of my dreams to travel and explore the island of Cuba.
(As you can see, Nick and I did the majority of our exploring at night. Or at least, what you call "night" during midsummer ...)

5. That there was life prior to 1776. 
We explored the grounds of a castle built in the 1300s in Kalmar with its cannons still pointed into the bay to safeguard its harbor. It makes you realize just how "young" a country America is. It also makes you realize how isolated North America is from the rest of the world, considering we are separated by a major ocean. The castle we toured had incredible architecture and engineering considering the centuries it withstood.

6. They're fluent in multiple languages, and are so humble regarding their English. 
I felt like such an asshole for only speaking English, which is more a reflection on me than them. Americans view the English language as superior, and therefore close their minds off to learning others. However in other countries and even specific business sectors like aviation, English is considered universal. Do you see the difference there? I fully intend to learn a few more basic phrases in Swedish before my next trip.

7. Wine is cheaper than soda at restaurants.
 
8. Everything is within walking distance, or people ride their bike. 
The highways were EMPTY - no one used a car until it was time to retreat to their summer homes for the Midsummer holiday. We had an electric Prius in Sweden that we drove around Kalmar and PĂ„ryd and were often the only car on the road. 

Also - Celsius and the metric system really threw me off. Why does America insist on being so difficult?! Again, it's the whole superiority complex ...
(We happened to be in downtown Kalmar when the Swedish soccer team played its elimination match in the World Cup. They unfortunately lost, and I've never seen a major city go from bumpin' to ghost town in 5 seconds flat. This photo was taken just before midnight - look at how bright it still is.)

9. You savor. 
I confess to overscheduling my day into oblivion, so when I experienced Fika in Sweden, I felt out of place. Fika loosely translates to "take a break," and I witnessed an entire factory shut down at 2 pm for a coffee break that included sweets and a lot of conversation. Yes, people need to work in order to afford their essentials but their emphasis is on living life to its fullest with the people in it.

I cannot wait to take my children to Sweden. I believe allowing a passport to help raise them will unlock their minds and their curiosity.

Traveling cashes a cultural paycheck we all can benefit from.

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