Why I hate living in Sweden

6 April 2013

I write, or at least begin, far more blog posts than I end up publishing, mostly because I don’t want to subject you all to the same sort of whining that you’ve been hearing for the past three years I’ve been in Sweden. But usually the act of writing is therapeutic, and reading your comments even more so, giving me outside perspective and a feeling of being understood or appreciated. I should really write more.

Now that I am in actual weekly therapy with a psychologist with whom I have a rapport I am not at all feeling less full of thoughts and insights to share. And while I am currently feeling even more unhappy about my life here than usual, and it’s miserable, it’s good to know why, at least.

First let me tell you about time with my Swedish therapist. For one thing, we speak in Swedish. That has some benefits, such as the therapist probably understands me with less effort and, when she talks to me, can focus more on the content than the form of what she says. It also means she is experiencing me as the majority of Swedes do, which is helpful since a good deal of what we talk about is how I relate to Swedes and Sweden. I am also more succinct in Swedish since I usually only have one way to say something. I guess this way I get more bang for my therapy bucks. It’s also kind of neat to know that I can manage a sociolinguistic situation so complex as talk therapy in another language.

Of course, what’s not good about speaking Swedish is that I fucking hate speaking Swedish, feel like a childish idiot when I do, and can’t always explain myself and my feelings as precisely or fluently as I’d like. Nevertheless, when the therapist hasn’t seemed to have quite understood my intent at first, it seems like the problem is more cultural (e.g. expectations of behavior for an American from the south).

In general, this woman really seems to get me. She understands my feelings, my situation, my reactions. I can’t tell you how novel and valuable it is to feel like a Swedish person gets and appreciates me. She doesn’t think that all my problems with feeling at home here in Sweden are all my fault, or that I’m doing something wrong, or that my life is a series of mistakes that sounded like a good idea at the time. The therapist is good at pepping up my self-esteem by telling me various of my solutions to problems or my initiatives (e.g. volunteering at the library) are creative. And she has had some great insights into psychological and societal processes that are affecting my state of mind:

• I don’t actually having any sort of anxiety or depression disorder as I was beginning to suspect, according to her, but rather am just uniquely unsuited to my current status of being an unemployed educated immigrant from the southern part of the United States living in a rural working class Swedish village, and am thus having an especially difficult time adjusting to the change of living here. The facts of who I am just don’t mesh at all with my environment and for assorted reasons I am particularly sensitive to this discord.

• It’s probably not that the ladies in the village don’t like me (especially since they don’t really know me); rather they’re not interested in making the extra effort to communicate and connect with me, given my foreignness and my accent. They are comfortable with known entities, and don’t want any new friends or even acquaintances. This is a very strong phenomenon in a rural Swedish village and my therapist advised I straight-up give up trying to be friends or even all that friendly with the mommies in the village. Theoretically if I stop trying, I’ll stop being disappointed (shout-out to Facebook, for facilitating much of this disappointment!), which is wreaking havoc on my self-esteem. I’ve never had trouble fitting in or getting along with people before, and I really like socializing, and I feel very alone out here in this village, so this bit is very hard for me.

• Where I come from it’s your social class, education, and work accomplishments that provide status and context for an individual, whereas here it’s who you know and where you grew up. I don’t know anybody and didn’t grow up here, so I’ve got no cache. Though I could of course take personal and professional satisfaction in having an appropriate job and doing it well, and thus compensate for my lack of social capital, I still have no such job.

• My map/guidebook for interacting effectively and winningly interacting with people and institutions (e.g Little Girl’s school) is of no use so besides the language difficulties, which still arise, I feel bereft and powerless in these contexts.

• In my “previous life” in the US, I did everything a girl like me should: played the piano, rode horses, did well in school, went to a good college, got married before living together, worked a professional job, had a baby, stayed home to care for her. It was all by the book for my milieu. And then I went off and moved to Europe, which was totally off the rails, and this one major life decision that was the first which was entirely my own isn’t turning at a) at all how I’d hoped and b) very well for me personally at all. This is apparently why I can’t seem to feel comfortable with any decisions I now make, about issues big or small; I don’t trust myself to make good ones.

• My marriage is now direly unequal, since I rely on Husband more and more (instead of the expected less and less) for so very much as I am emotionally dejected by previous failures and in practical terms not interested in repeating them (e.g. not securing a refund on a defective item at a store; unable to convince school personnel to take me seriously). Now I try to get him to call or be present at appointments for everything, having no faith in my ability to manage them. This makes e feel the opposite of capable and adult. Being an immigrant is like being a five-year-old.

• I feel super-guilty, apparently (as evidenced by all the crying in therapy), about having left my mother and grandparents behind in the US. When I moved, my grandparents were both in serious decline, and my mother had left her work to care for them full-time. Very shortly into my time here some things happened I am not comfortable detailing here, but they were pretty horrifying and necessitated my return to the US to deal with the fallout. My having moved abroad was one reason they occurred. GUILT.

• Additionally, I am a good southern girl, and we are supposed to take care of our families, sometimes I of course am not at all doing from another continent. MORE GUILT.

• Much of my expectations have been met with disappointment. We were supposed to come to be near Husband’s large extended family, but we hardly ever see anybody except his parents. The country life was supposed to be idyllic, but the villagers ignore us and there are a couple of men who drive around our village and others trying to convince schoolgirls walking home to hop in their cars for who knows what terrible purposes. Apparently Little Girl’s sweet little country school is crappy. The long winters and unreliable summers are taking a toll on me. The graduate degree I got in the US with the explicit purpose of being more employable abroad has turned out to have no practical value in Sweden. I had expected to travel within Europe a fair amount but we don’t get around to it too much, what with the never-ending house renovation using up our time and money instead. And, not to be too middle school about it, but nobody wants to be my friend, at least nobody Swedish, and that’s disappointing.

• I feel like a culturally incompetent parent and I hate that for my children’s sake. They deserve someone who knows what’s what and can work the system on their behalf.

• There’s a fair amount about Swedish culture I just don’t like and now I’m going to make some big assholish generalizations here in discussing them because I am in a bad place about Sweden at the moment and don’t feel like being fair: Swedes don’t appreciate how good they have it. They take advantage of their social welfare mechanisms and expect to be taken care of entirely in a very entitled way. Everybody wants to look the same and do the same things (preferably in a group) and buy the same crap and it’s boring as fuck. Swedes hate change and innovation unless it relates to their iPhone. They are too casual about sex which I personally think is part of why their rape culture is so strong. The typical foods are boring and bad for you. Adults are rude and unfriendly and children indulged and undisciplined. They don’t value education beyond trade school, which they sometimes call university even though it is not. They think everything about Sweden is automatically the awesomest and are incurious about everywhere else. Extended family has little value, and neither does staying home with one’s children. Swedes are suspicious of and/or uncomfortable around anybody who is different. The only books they read are cookbooks, and then they just go ahead and fry up ready-made meatballs all the time anyway.

• My point about the above diatribe is that a lot of what I see as common Swedish values I do not like and I do not share. It’s tiring and frustrating and demoralizing to run up against them, to work against them in raising my children, to see them at work everywhere.

So now that the therapist has figured out why I am having such a hard time, we need to figure out how to make it better, because I can’t go back in time and not have moved, and even though we could and might move back to the US (something I think about many times a day), that’s not going to happen for a few more years for practical and ideological reasons. I want to be happy here, but how?

48 Responses to “Why I hate living in Sweden”

  1. nothanks Says:

    It fells like much of your feelings and reactions to typical Swedish behavior are related to how it are in a smaller rural location which to be perfectly honest only are adequate to at most 1 fifth of the Swedish population. My advise would be that if possible you could move you and your family to at least middle to large sized city in Sweden where still much of the cultural aspects rule but not in the same big context and where much more other influences are important as well.

  2. Kristina Says:

    Wow, that seems so powerful to be clear about all the reasons you are feeling sad and frustrated right now – very good reasons! I’m so glad you have a therapist who gets you and can help you sort through things. My two cents/thoughts at the moment are that the best you can do is the best you can do…I like the idea your therapist had of not making further effort to be friends with the moms who are not available for a variety of their own reasons (some which sound very limiting to themselves but oh well). So maybe make a list of things you’ve done that have helped/been positive to your life there (taking language classes, volunteering at the library, therapy, travels, etc.) and decide if and how you will keep doing them and then maybe another list of things you want to try or do that you think might have a chance of meeting some needs you have (for friendship and a sense of competency for example) and do what you can to check them out when you feel up for it. From my perspective, you’re very skilled (your language skills are vastly above what others would have in your position for example) and are doing a lot! I have a last thought that maybe you can use this experience as an immigrant in some way down the road – maybe help others or write about it or something… Sending lots of care and support, Kristina

  3. Anonymous Says:

    When I moved to Boston with husband, baby and a toddler,,,,we were there for a certain time period,,,, we were there for post grad studies,,,, made friends but we will never ever be part of the town,,,my boys grew up there ,,,popular in school. ( I always volunteered,,,bought gifts for the kids in class,,,had really nice birthday parties -with themes..I tried my best) I was always sad and lonely,,,hubbies family live 4 hours away,,,so my kids are part American but because I. Arab,,,my kids are not entirely like the other kids. All in all, my kids came first,,,,library,,,activities,,, after school martial arts,,,soccer ,,,swimming etc etc
    now we are back in Saudi Arabia,,,, I don’t even try ,,,my kids still come first,,,still have awesome parties ,,,,,they are Saudi,,,I grew up here,,,,I am from here,,.i went to the schools here and Uni,,..my kids and I fit in even though the hardly speak Arabic.,,but I’m their mom,,. Aonautomatically they fit,,,,mothers call me for play dates,,,(I feel like an asshole because I don’t even try,,,they are instantly popular and everyone wants to come over and the moms like me)
    The take home,,, u have to stop being sad,,, throw nice parties.,,,have cooler play dates,,,,show off with it post grad degree,,…. You just have to try harder..,if not for ur sake,,,for your children’s sake,,, That’s what I did,,,,,but I always told them they were also half Arab and should be proud of their culture.,,,so your kids are half Americanhalf Swedish,,,
    Be proud of who you are,,,speak English,,,speak Swedish,,,tell your daughter to tell them she is bilingual,,,you are a smarty intellectual, you are only there for a period of your life,,,make the most of it,,,enjoy their culture…but keep yours.

    When you return to the States,,, you won’t pick up where u left ,,,it will be a little hard,,,it’s a fast pace there ,,,,but you’ll be HOME,,,,u will pick up where u left off with ur school friends,,,and ur kids and their kids will get along,,,,Ull be happier there,,,but then ur husband will feel lonely,,,it’s hard,,,being sad wont help,,,,maybe u should go home for a visit,,,go out with friends and then Ull appreciate what u have back in Sweden.

    GGood luck sweetie

    may

    • Ana Carlsson Says:

      Loved your text. Enjoy the time…I am now in a mood: annoy the swedishes…forget your problems. And is working well. My son speajes three languages, portuguese coz I am brazilian, English and swedish.My son is blond with yellow eyes since I am a bit tanned just…maube weak blood. But now I do push more my will and my swedish husband dies not like sweds so he teaches me how to have confidence. I have been suffering a lot….Not anymore!!!

  4. alejna Says:

    I’m so glad that you are working through all of this with someone. It sounds like a big complicated place to be, and I’m glad you are not going at it alone. It sounds hugely stressful, and I really feel for you.

    I also want to second that at least some of what you describe about Swedish culture may be small-town culture. It actually sounds similar to what I have seen in small-town US. I have not managed to make friends with the natives of the town where I live–and I’ve been living there 13 years. However, I have finally made contact with other outsiders in my town. Unlike in your case, we aren’t foreigners, but we often feel that way. My new friends have also had their attempts to make friends in town rebuffed (or at least not reciprocated). Even though there is not the language barrier, there is a (sub)culture barrier.

    For that matter, as someone who moved around a lot, I experienced this (sub)culture clash in other towns in the US, also.

    But that’s not to say that I think it’s all totally the same. Everything is probably multiplied and magnified by the (perceived) language barrier. (I felt that, too, to some extent when I spent a semester in Brazil as an undergrad. The locals–and this was Rio, certainly no small town–had no patience for my slow and accented Portuguese. But I bonded with others from outside Rio, mostly other expats, but also even other Brazilian natives from outside Rio. But I was mostly miserable in Rio.)

    Sorry, I’m rambling. (And possibly incoherent.) I guess I just mean that I hear you, I’m here to listen to you, and I hope that you figure out a way to be more satisfied with your life. You are a very cool individual, and you deserve to be around more people who want to hang out with you.

  5. Mia Says:

    Move to a city! I am an educated Swedish woman from a larger Swedish city and I would NEVER move to a rural working class Swedish village. It takes generations to get accepted there, it’s common knowledge. My husband’s parents moved to a village in the early 70s and they are just about starting to get a sense they belong there now.

    Also, sell the house! I realize it’s the family home of your husband, but it’s not worth this unhappiness. Sell it or let it and rent/buy something in a city, which will hopefully enable you to go traveling a bit more. There are so many great sights in Europe, and if you live in a city with good flight connections they’re not all that far away, and not all that expensive either.

    If you move to a city you may vastly improve your chances of getting a job.

    My only advice for you, should you choose to stay in the village, is to develop interests that correspond to what surrounds you. Get involved in the byalag or vägförening or whatever organization is the most important there, whether it interests you or not – it’s a great source of information and will allow you to rise a bit on the status scale and get to know people (though if will perhaps not get you friends), or going the church choir. Get a hunting certificate. Actually, activities that are centered around nature are great in many ways – whether you dislike the Swedes or not, accessible nature is one of Sweden’s great assets and it might prove to be a rewarding contribution to your wellbeing. Take up canoeing or orienteering or hiking or become an avid camper. Any social setting that does not focus on being Swedish or being a part of community would be great – bird watching, sports, a political party? Somewhere where the participants are forged together by a stong mutual interest, rather than family ties or geographical proximity.

    I have lived abroad for a few years (so I can obviously relate to the hardships of being an immigrant, but that’s beside the point here) and when I returned to Sweden I really hated it here, much for the same reasons you stated (though I’d lie if I said I wasn’t wildly provoked by them). So my husband and I opted for a diverse, multicultural suburb – yes the schools face problems, and yes there are heaps of social issues, but the ambience is great, we have neighbours from all over the world, we meet and talk without ever knowing what topics will be discussed (or in what language) and without knowing whether we will agree or not – threatening to some but liberating to us. The divide between educated/not educated and urban/rural cuts through every nationality and ethnicity – given my and my husbands backgrounds, we get along best with those who are urban/educated, be they from Iran, Uruguay or Sweden. So if I were you I’d seriously reconsider the location… your husband will have to adjust to you here, it doesn’t make sense that you’re this unhappy.

    Best of luck to you.

  6. Youma Says:

    Rough. A job might help, best friends are often collegues.

  7. cpalsson Says:

    I can relate 110%. I lived in Kiruna and your story could almost be my story, except I didn’t have kids at the time. Being an educated woman, I expected to be able to do something in regards to education and the English language. It was very soul-damaging to be told I was only good for cleaning hotel rooms. As you state, I felt like a five year old. I was a child to everyone around me and a child in the society, even though I had been a functioning adult before the move.

    I’m glad you are seeing a therapist and hope she can help you find a way to find your happiness. I didn’t want to be a downer before you moved since it was your plan and it sounded like you would at least have family near by. . . but I couldn’t help but worry this is how it would go. I’m just so sorry it went this way for you. I am crossing my fingers that a way back to the US will open up for you.

  8. Sara Says:

    Thanks for writing this, because it has given me some insights into what my husband is going through in the USA. He hasn’t tried nearly as hard as you have to engage himself in the community, but still, the five-year-old thing rings true. It’s hard.

    We live in a very small town in the southern USA, and honestly, some of the same things go on here. It does sound like you’ve got the perfect storm of small town problems and Swedish problems. I do wonder if you’d find life in a bigger city a bit easier if you decide to stay in Sweden.

  9. hanna Says:

    Your rant isn’t about swedes, it’s about small town people. Move to a larger town! Is the house really worth it? I feel for you, and hope you’re in a better place (in both meanings) soon!

  10. Marie Says:

    I agree with the commenters above me – most of your frustration stems from living in a small village rather than a larger city. It is hopelessly difficult to live in a small village in Sweden as an outsider – my parents are both from Stockholm and moved to a tiny village on the west coast right before I was born, and my family was never really accepted into the community. We all had a different accent than the locals, and my parents both had university degrees, which was a strange and rare thing in that village. I got out of there as soon as I graduated high school and moved to a much bigger city, where people are (to put it bluntly) much more civilised and intellectually curious. It must be a hundred times more difficult to live in such a village as a non-Swede. I really do think you would feel more at home in a large to medium-sized city, because it doesn’t sound like you’ll ever fit in where you live now. It doesn’t sound very reasonable at all to stay in a place where you’re unhappy, even if your husband does have familial ties to it.

    Lastly, while I understand most of your complaints about small town Swedes and Sweden in general, I feel that I really must address your comment about rape culture. Sweden doesn’t have a stronger rape culture than any other western country – it has a broader legal definition of rape than pretty much any other country which means that more sex crimes are defined as rape, but rape isn’t more common here than in any other country. As a feminist, our openness and casual attitude towards sex is one of the things I like best about Sweden, and the way American culture views sex (and especially women who have and enjoy sex) is honestly horrifying.

    • Antropóloga Says:

      I’ll concede any opinions I have about Swedish rape culture are based only on hearsay and random newspaper articles, and I appreciate your clarification about it.

      I in fact totally agree that it is a good thing when women’s sexuality is not feared or considered shameful. Though as I have seen plenty of misogyny and the consideration of women purely as sex objects in, say, the comments sections of newspaper articles in Sweden, I’m not sure a casual attitude about sex leads to feminism. I do know that’s not the precise equation you were making.

      My issue with the casualness about sex is regarding teenagers, basically. I am appalled that it is normal for teenagers here to have, not uncommonly, live-in boyfriend/girlfriends or a variety of sexual partners already in high school. Of course, when it comes right down to it the reason I think this is so horrible is just because it is so contrary to how I was raised and it makes me uncomfortable. I guess if the teenagers involved practice safe and mutually satisfying and respectful sex (though I kind of doubt this is usually the case) there is no real reason for my objection other than my just thinking it is super-tacky, which is, I agree, a dumb reason to object since informed teen sex doesn’t hurt anybody and is pretty natural.

      At any rate, this issue is an example of my lack of agreement with Swedish social norms. I will certainly not want my kids having sex-sleepovers in high school, no way. I do realize how I am in fact the one with the stupid opinion if I think hidden, shameful sex is the preferable option for teenagers.

      As for my particular situation, we do actually live near a medium-sized city that I should start trying to think of as my own, and consider the village as just a suburb. It’s not like in America I thought I had to be friends with everybody in my neighborhood; that sounds kind of moronic. I guess the reason I felt differently about the village was because my kids would be growing up with their kids, and I thought it’d just be, I don’t know, idyllic, to be friends with the other moms.

      As an immediate mental health measure, I think this is what I will do: block the village ladies on Facebook so I don’t have to see all the pictures and reminiscences of gatherings to which I was yet again not invited. Why people love to post all that publicly I will never know. Are they being mean or just thoughtless? And I will also prepare very well for the meeting I have coming up about my offering some classes in the fall. And I will take longer walks in the forest and see my (immigrant) friends and go out to eat.

      >________________________________

      • Annika Says:

        In terms of the village ladies, I want to reinforce what the therapist said. It is probably not an active dislike on their part. Chances are that they are friends since school or childhood, that it is a close-knit, closed and longstanding relationship and, to them, just not worth the trouble (or would even occur to them) to extend it to any “outsiders” regardless of how friendly. Having children the same age or living as neighbors – which makes Americans cultivate new relationships – does not necessarily make a difference. Based on my experiences with smalltown Sweden,many social networks are set up like this and that makes it extremely hard to come in from elsewhere. By this reasoning they would not expect their fb-postings to hurt you since by their standards you would never expect to be part of that group. Hiding them on facebook seems like a smart move!

      • Youma Says:

        “block the village ladies on Facebook so I don’t have to see all the pictures and reminiscences of gatherings to which I was yet again not invited.”

        Haha, I’ve been there. If you’re feeling lonely, stay the hell off facebook. It’s been scientifically proven even: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/05/is-facebook-making-us-lonely/308930/

  11. loulouloves Says:

    Sorry to hear you have been having such a bad time here. Great you have a good therapist to talk to about it all.

  12. Annika Says:

    A few thoughts:
    1. Wonderful that you have a good therapist , can get some perspective and have figured out that this is NOT your fault.

    2. I burst out laughing at your rant even though I feel desperately sorry for you in the situation you are in. I grew up in a Swedish smalltown and most of what you write about Swedes resonates with me. I am also highly educated but not in a technical field and, you are right again, this is awarded NO respect among most Swedes I meet.

    3. I agree with most everything Mia said and then some! I know you have invested a lot in that house but since your life where you are is sucking your soul dry, rent it out and live in the nearest city. You will not escape all of the issues you have mentioned but you will have more options, more people from the outside to relate to, more activities outside of the house and hopefully a better school system.

    4. I was you two years ago except in an American small town. Terrible job opportunities, no social life, a constant feeling of failure, no shared values (for me it was the other way around – this was a churchgoing community built around family and I have no kids and don´t go to church. This is also a town where you basically only hang out with family – everyone lives close to family), becoming unhealthily dependent on my husband while being unable to be a good spouse to him since I was so unhappy and as a consequence seriously endangering my marriage. So I know this feeling of awful and the toll it takes on everyone.

    Hang in there! At least now that you have the larger perspective, you might be able to formulate some kind of strategy for survival but there are limits to where and what you can adjust to. I hope you and Husband are able together to figure out some intermediary and longterm plans for change.


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  14. Alyssa Says:

    None of this is easy. I don’t know how you managed to live in a place with almost no social support (other than family) for as long as you have. It is certainly wonderful that so many people here have offered advice and choices for you to think about. Your therapist sounds wonderful and it’s great you’ve found her. Hang in there.

  15. Christy Says:

    All of the comments to this post make your situation seem hopeless, until you are willing to move to a larger city. I’ve never lived in a place where the social norm is to ignore all outsiders, but I have to admit, it sounds awful.

    I have an idea! Move back to the US and hang out with me! It will be awesome!

  16. thebankes Says:

    Wow, I could have written this from next door in Denmark. There are a lot of similarities culturally (of course, a Dane would be horrified to think that was true, how dare I suggest they might share something with those crazy Swedes). I am impressed you have managed for so long in that environment. I have only been here about 9 months now and it’s a daily struggle for exactly the same reasons you listed. (And for the record, we’re in the 2nd largest city in the country — not a small village.) I have found a group of other ex-pats online who have helped validate that I’m not alone in my experiences and feelings here, and that has helped tremendously, but doesn’t offer any real solutions in terms of managing my daily frustration and depression about being here. (And again, even those in Copenhagen seem to echo the exact same sentiments as those of us in smaller locales…while moving to a bigger city might indeed open up some more options for you, I don’t think it will in fact solve many of the challenges you’re already dealing with.)

    I’m glad you are able to see someone locally to discuss everything and I hope you’ll find a way to tolerate the time you’re still there and hopefully things may turn around. But I think that what you’re feeling is more the rule than the exception for most of us who have similar backgrounds and end up in this part of the world, to be totally honest.

  17. Mina Says:

    I think it is a set of circumstances against you, an expat living in rural Sweden. I hear anyone living in rural Germany is pretty much shunned unless they speak perfect German, go to church and join all and any communal activity. So, practically, you have to be a German confirming to the small community norms. And not even then are you guaranteed acceptance. This I am being told by a German, nonetheless.
    Living in a larger, cosmopolitan city, I can say that some of the issues are less so, especially if you are active in doing somthing about them beside complaining. For example, I expect I could find some sort of employment if I needed one. Even though they have this weird attitude, I am overqualified for a job I could get as a foreigner and underqualified for a job I could get as a specialist. Humdeedah. Curiously, I find older people more welcoming and open to talk to me than people my age over here. People my age are ignorant and rude, but rudeness is such a plague, I am having trouble deciding what exactly is the nature of it, are they rude and behave like barbarians because they lack manners, as in are unable to appropriate manners, or they are not taught, or it is their too literal nature of everyone for him and herself, or perhaps it is genetically encoded, or what?!?
    Anyway, I think that you would find it less opressive in a larger city. At least you would have more things to do, and people would be more exposed to dealing with foreigners and your feeling like a five year old would disappear. And so you could reclaim some of your independence back.
    I am sorry to hear about your hard times. I hope you find a solution soon. Life is too short to be lived in a state of unhappiness when you can do something about it. Good luck!

  18. Alexis Says:

    I can’t comment on Sweden, but village life is very tough. I know I could never live in my in-laws’ village, even though there’s no language barrier and they’re not quite as unfriendly as your village seems to be. I would never, ever be one of them–I could join the WI and send my kids to the village school (except not as it’s C of E) and I still wouldn’t fit in.

    I don’t know that moving to a city would solve all your problems—the cultural issues are still there, just as I still had difficulty adapting in London—but there are at least more people and it’s not quite so closed-off.

    Also, when we first moved back and things didn’t go well, I blamed myself a LOT, even though it’s not as if I had dragged my husband kicking and screaming over the Atlantic. It did get better as we settled in and things got better for us.

  19. Yo-yo Mama Says:

    “Boring as fuck…” was admittedly my favorite part because that sums up your situation quite succinctly.

    I use to work with a young woman who was from Detroit’s inner city. Imagine whatever stereotype that goes with that and then take that young woman and marry her off to a Caucasian cattle farmer who lives on his parent’s farm in Bum Fuck Nebraska 100 miles from anywhere and 800+ miles from any relatives. Her situation mirrors yours. BTW, they met through an on-line dating site because how in the world would these two have ever met!

    She is trying, but struggles daily. Her in-laws treat her with disdain and racism. The closest black person is a half-day’s drive away. Their children are treated as curiosities. She can’t even go out and simply get her hair done because there’s no one around who can do it.

    You two are fish out of water. Finding another ex-pat is only part of the issue since there’s no guarantee that you’ll even like her. Having the US of A as common stomping grounds won’t simply be enough. And I know that moving to a city isn’t in the realm of possibilities or else you’d already had done that.

    There’s no way to even imagine what you (and my ex-coworker) is going through, but I’ll continue to hope that seeing a counselor helps even just a little. Of course, that means you can write more here and I don’t think any of your blogging friends will object to that.

  20. a Says:

    It sounds like everyone agrees that it’s small town more than Sweden. But, that’s where you live. What can you do? It’s frustrating, but now you have confirmation that it’s them and not you. I hope that’s helping.

    I guess your best bet is to a) adjust your strategy as far as making friends and b) consider private education for the kids if possible. The only thing you can really do is have patience and hope that you can find your niche. I’m sure it’s out there.

  21. Melissa Says:

    Wow, all of that sounds really tough. I’m glad you have your therapist, and I have to say you deserve huge kudos for going to therapy in another language!

    What does Husband think about all of this? Does he like it there? Everyone is telling you to move, but obviously you’re not the only one making that decision. I hope you guys can figure something out that works for both of you, because it’s no fun being so miserable day in and day out.

    In my opinion those Swedish village ladies don’t know what they’re missing. :)

    • Antropóloga Says:

      My husband and I talk about moving sometimes. When I am feeling bummed, he always offers to move back whenever I want, to wherever I want. And he does like it here in Sweden; he’s just a good guy. Anyway, I am doing okay at the moment. It helps when the sun shines! Plus I have plane tickets OUT of Sweden booked for some trips. That always helps. Even if we were to move, it wouldn’t be soon for a variety of practical reasons I’ll have to write about sometime.

      >________________________________

  22. Bamboo Says:

    Hi. I really appreciate your ‘rant’ – it is exactly on point about what it means to be in Sweden. I would say, though, that it isn’t small town living that makes it difficult, it is Sweden itself. I have lived in 8 different countries and this is the first time I have found it impossible to have a social life and friends outside of work. I live in one of the larger towns in Sweden and it feels like social Siberia. Until I read your blog I really thought it was me and my new-found inability to fit in with the the zombie like behavior going down here. My strategy is to move when I am financially able, to a country where I can feel human and involved in at least a small part of what is going on. Saving saving saving those SEK!

  23. Daniela Says:

    I found your blog in the midst of a fit of rage for the people of this country. I empathize with what you are going through, even though I am an expat living in Stockholm. However, I have given up trying to make friends with swedes a long time ago. It’s just not worth it. They are boring as hell.

  24. Simon Says:

    I think the Swedes are taking some mind control drugs… they are all the same, show no emotions, so boring, they all talk about the same crap.. mostly money… we have been here for 1 year and every single day has been tough, every single day I have wanted to leave. my depression is getting worse.. Sweden has to be the most boring place on the planet…. the food is boring, the country is boring, the people are boring… I have to leave soon before I crack up…

    • Jay Says:

      Hi Simon,
      Sooooooo true. Especially the money thing. It’s all they talk about. How much this costs. How much he earned. Money money boorrring. I often think I am cracking up.

  25. paul Says:

    Thank you guys for all your posts,ive been in sweden for 2 years now in a smallish town and I’m getting seriously depressed, I only have one person to talk too my partner , i really miss small chats with strangers but thats not allowed here , I asked for something in the shop the other day and because i have an accent the lady just stared at me like i was an alien,then whilst walking around the lake i said greeted another lady walking her dog and she ran ahead scared then stopped and looked back at me wide eyed,it placed a chill in my heart, Now i don’t even bother trying, I met a woman in the library ” your not from sweden” she said when she heard my accent, ” most people arnt” i replied yet more staring….. I spend all my time regretting all the major mistakes ive made …. What makes things worse for me is ive lost touch with everyone back in the Uk including family, ….. In the winter i spent my time kicking lumps of snow down the road, thats how bored i was, sorry for moaning

    • Jay Says:

      Know how you feel Paul. I’ve been here 2 years and feel the same. This place can crush the most confident people down into a wreck.

  26. Black Carpenter Says:

    I don`t like sweden either.

    • Not a Swede Says:

      Exactly. Sweden is the most depressing place to be for a foreigner. I feel like I’m surrounded by smug paternalist zombies, repeating the “lagom” mantra of mediocrity. What a boring place!

  27. Amanda Says:

    As a fellow American, I hated living in Sweden too. I lived in a large suburb minutes away from Stockholm and I can tell you that the problems you talk about aren’t small-town problems – they’re Swedish problems.

    Glad I got myself out of that place. I’ve never appreciated the US as much as I do now, after having lived in Sweden. Sweden is just cold, boring, and miserable, and I could use exactly the same words to describe the Swedes.


  28. I’m a Swedish man on 24years. I’ve now been away from Sweden since 4years, traveling the world, living and working in Aussie and New Zealand. And NO I do NOT miss Sweden. People who “trust” their government wholeheartedly, are insane.! I couldn’t imagine to live there again except during the nice summers in Stockholm. one of the most miserable countries I’ve seen so far and I have been working myself through most of the continents on this planet. Now trying to get a carpenter apprenticeship in NZ… I left Sweden depressed unemployed without hope and hadn’t even finished secondary school. Now been through so many different jobs in Australia and over here in kiwi-land. people think I’m not serious when I say that I’ve never worked in Sweden but that’s the truth. I’ve got nothing to hide like Sweden do…. Sweden does indeed know how to make up the perfect lies for the outside world, but the truth always shine! I like reading this blog and the comments because not many people ever understood when I said I don’t like Sweden especially Swedes..sometimes they just walked away from me quietly and said nothing.! Please add me on FB: Christopher Mattias Oberg blessings! /Chris

  29. smartfarts Says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I came to Sweden a year ago from Germany for studying and I didn’t think that the cultural differences would be so big. I make similar experiences in a not-so-rural city and keep thinking “what am I doing wrong?”. Apparently I am not the only one feeling like this. I also have a boyfriend here and can totally relate to the feeling of getting more and more dependent on him, and I can’t stand that. I really hope things will get better for you. I’ll finish my Master in Spring and would really like to move back to Germany but at the same time I don’t want to leave my boyfriend. Maybe I’ll have to stick around for a few more years.

  30. Jay Says:

    I’m from the UK, been here two years and know exactly what you mean. Even speaking the language, I know people think I’m a silly foreigner. You can see that look on people’s faces when they stop listening after your second sentence. This place is borrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrring!

  31. Robert C. Says:

    I’m an American who stupidly moved to Sweden 3 years ago (Swedish wife) and completely understand what you’re going through. However, it has nothing to do with living in a small town. The same rudeness and unfriendliness prevails in Stockholm as well.

    I also feel like a five-year-old who has to rely on his Swedish partner for everything and she is also my only friend here after all this time. My university degree and 20 years of experience in Corporate America means absolutely nothing in Sverige (still haven’t gotten a proper job here despite being in the largest city and trying my damdest).

    No one seems to like Americans or Brits here: I’m convinced Swedes naturally hate people who are from English speaking countries.

    I fantasize all day/every day about having a time machine so I could go back to December 2010 and convince my then fiancée to move to California instead if me insisting we start our lives together in her homeland.

    I always wanted to live in Europe and I was convinced that I would fit right in and it would be a grand adventure. Instead it’s a nightmare that I can’t wake up from (and the six months of Winter and darkness only adds to this dread).

    The only good thing that has come from me moving to Sweden is that I now appreciate the USA so much more than I did in 40 years of living there. Hopefully one of these years I can live in my beloved California again. :(

  32. jjsdrbrg Says:

    I am so happy to have found this post. I thought I was crazy for feeling exactly the same! I grew up in the US and lived in the UK for years. I now live in Sweden with my Swedish husband and I hate it here. I look at flats online in London everyday. I dream about moving away. And I have a PhD and still no job. I can’t stand it here.

  33. kike Says:

    Lived in sweden for 30 years.Was exile with family to sweden as a kid.Probably hated every day i lived in tha country.All houses look alike.No one out in the streets.I had a job with much stress and after work i walkt out of the working place and it felt i was in marz no one out.I probably gonna be damage for life mentally after living there.And i lived in a big cityThank God i moved from sweden 8 years ago.I sometimes look at videos from sweden to see how good i have it now not living there any more.But looking at videos from sweden makes me depress so i better stop it

  34. Laura Says:

    Dear Antropologa, there’s no difference between living in a rural town or in a big city. Sweden is always the same, with the same rude, flat people, living only for money. This is the reality and the only thing I can suggest you is to come back to your beautiful, sunny homeland or you could become a Don Quijote… Don’t lose your energy! You deserve to be happy, you deserve a real LIFE, for you and your family.

  35. Alison Says:

    Holy crap, you are practically writing my story. I’m here in Sweden for my husband’s job and as hard as I try to like it- I hate it. I can completely relate to you- and esp the part about not trusting your decision making skills anymore- the same thing is happening to me. where do you live? I’m in the southwest and I have a 3 year old little boy. Maybe we could get in touch and commiserate!!!

  36. Ana Carlsson Says:

    My friend….we are going throw the same problem…I did all well in my early life in Brazil…catholic school, law school, child after marriage…but I tolerate Sweden, I am bipolar and here is getting really bad. I think we should talk more

  37. Ana Carlsson Says:

    Please add me on facebook Ana Paula Sampaio Carlsson.

  38. Cat Says:

    Glad to hear I’m not the only one. The rainy weather doesn’t help either and I often feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone with barely anyone walking down my street. Also being an incredibly independent person, I too have noticed how I have to do everything with my SO, instead of just doing it myself. What is wrong with me? lol I say, we all get together at some point for coffee or at least exchange emails for the time being and chat. I think nothing is more important than having a support system. Life is too short for all of us to be sad and depressed. Might as well enjoy our time of “freedom” with others that understand! :) Let me know if you’re interested in chatting!

  39. Someone There Says:

    I can completely relate to you and have similar story with life turning into nightmare. This is my 15th year in Sweden. As someone mentioned before I have a strongest support in my life, wife and 5 year old. Happy looking family. Now when I look back, I had a friends with same problems as we now. I had a constant feeling of failure. I blamed me and only me and tried “Harder” Friends told me “You will never be like sweds, you will have hard time here” . I ignored warning and decided to go study with sweds and to integrate with more effort. More education means better people. We decided to move to bigger town as this means more friends and social life specially friends from country of origin. Some of these friends integrate well as they enjoying good jobs positions and some of them not.
    It is much related to job as it is really hard or impossible to make this cold, jealous and childish people to like you. The rules are simple. Job list goes like Swedes, Scandinavians, fancy US-UK. To now I changed 15 jobs and I know what I´m talking about. Everything here is seen by my own eyes and makes hard to live with. They sing, you dance and do not dare to compare to them or be different, especially have your own idea about something. You will be evaluated 10 times a day with large dose of suspicious. Good part is that I cant categorize and some of them were friendly and made me laugh. 1-2% of the population, so find them. Even if you find them don’t think you can make friend of them as these are colleagues. Now the bad part. Wherever you go you will see same situations. One day we ended up in hospital, we waited for 10 hours and while waiting I saw an american crying of pain and shouting “I will get help more quickly if it was from Los Angeles ohhh I hate this country” Another one changed his surname to Carlsson. Show goes on as many took this lifestyle as granted and do as the Chinese – If you cant win against them then join them. Everywhere you go you will see unhappy, frustrated people. I tried everything to make those people like me. After 15 years I have zero friends here at least not Swedish. I have been studying and working with them. I tried to share same values, being cold like hell included. I failed. Life is not bed of roses anywhere I know, but at least I have been living in another countries so I have strong background to relate to. Yesterday I turned radio on and I hear president speech “More Swedish language for immigrants and harder legacy” This was like hammer hammering my head after my university and efforts here. Maybe I need to speak only English? And forget my fluent Swedish. Maybe then they will be more friendly.Now I´m trying to figure how to end this nightmare without to loose my family as I seen families that Sweden turned to a wreck. And now the scary thing. If I manage to live in isolation will this affect my child? Will he be accepted as I see here that even the third generation is not accepted. I have friends here born in Sweden but they still hang with immigrants. Have hard to find jobs etc. Can I serve this for my child in silence knowing this? Can I? I will apply for a job in US, anywhere far far from Scandinavia, separate with family for a while and maybe migrate and start again. I will try or die trying. Depression is standard here and my best friend is Iphone. At-least some values to share. My best time here is not being here and many swedes think the same. They all live to travel 3 times a year, have nice job,house,dog and to move to Spain when 60. I hope this will help you at least to be more careful if you decide to fight this problem as I did for 15 years.
    And one thing more.. do not ever loose contacts with outside world, friends etc. You might need them as the life is too short.
    Good luck!


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