Sweden and Unexpected Changes

The 3 unexpected things that have changed in myself since moving to Sweden.

When I set out to move to Scandinavia 3+ years ago, I knew that I would change as a person. In fact, one of the main reasons I wanted to live abroad was for personal development. But moving abroad has also brought some unexpected changes in myself, which I want to share with you today.

Your English will get worse.

Being a native English speaker, I never expected that living abroad would make my English worse. In fact, I sort of expected it to get better, as I imagined I may become a go-to person for non-natives on matters of speaking English. And while I was right in that respect (I often get requests from colleagues to proof presentations), I was dead wrong in thinking my English would improve.

Being surround by non-native English speakers has definitely made me sound less native at times (although my American accent is unmistakable). I, more often than ever, find myself making simple grammatical mistakes when conjugating irregular verbs into the past tense – such as saying, “creeped” instead of “crept” or “catched” instead of “caught”. The mistake almost always flags as soon as I have heard myself say it aloud, but I probably wouldn’t have made the mistake in the first place had I not moved to Sweden.

I also find myself speaking in a way that better caters to the Swedes around me. For example, when we first moved here and I was working at a local rock climbing gym, customers would approach me in Swedish and I would reply with, “Sorry, I am still new to Swedish.” The Swede would almost always replay with, “No worries, we can take it in English.” I think they said take it instead of speak because it better translated directly from vi kan ta det på engelska in their minds. Despite that I knew it should be “Can we speak English?”, I soon after found myself saying, “Can we take it in English?” when someone approached me with advanced Swedish.

I also speak more simply now. Though I am an avid reader and believe myself to have a pretty good vocabulary, words like juxtaposition and flagrant just aren’t as widely understood here. I find myself keeping things simple instead.

Also, Swedes use UK English, not US English, so be prepared to start replacing your Zs with Ss and adding an “ou” to flavor and color when writing.

You’ll start limiting eye contact.

Swedes are a reserved bunch (read more on making friends in Sweden here). And with this reservation comes a limit to eye contact and to saying hello to strangers passing on the street.

Growing up in friendly American, I have always acknowledged the people I passed by. Acknowledgement of others came in many forms: Be it a cheerful “Good morning!” on the street, a “Isn’t this the best weather today?!” during a hike, a smile to someone at the grocery store, or just the simple nod we give to a passerby.

But a lot of this has stopped for me since moving to Sweden! At the start, I continued my American ways and acknowledged people I passed by, but my acknowledgement was often met with weird looks or avoidance. Soon, I stopped altogether.

This has been one of the sadder unexpected changes I have seen in myself and I have worked to bring back some of my American friendliness. Now, I push myself to greet others during hikes and I am still trying to crack my local grocery store cashier (spoiler: it isn’t working). Even so, I always offer her a Hej! and a Ha det bra! (Have a good one!) when I checkout.

You’ll pick up the local filler words

Swedes are pretty good at not saying “ummm” constantly when they speak. According to a Swedish friend of mine, it is because Swedish schools drill it out of their students when learning public speaking skills. Instead, Swedes will carry a word longer while waiting for the rest of the thought to come. Such as, “I alsoooooooo agree” My American partner has definitely adopted this.

Swedes often use a mmhhmm or mmm sound to indicate agreement or that they are listening. I think it is so much more pleasant than the yeah or totally we typically interject in the US and I have fully picked this habit up myself.

Similarly, Swedes say “Oj!” when they drop something, bump into someone, or generally make a mistake. I use this constantly now, so much so that my Swedish friends and colleagues have even noticed a difference.

Swedes are also a very consensus driven society and don’t love to rock the boat. I often hear Sweden make a statement of personal preference and end the sentence with “…or?” Such as, “I’d rather watch Love and Anarchy tonight, or…?” This is their way of showing that they are open to other ideas and to show their willingness to avoid conflict. Now I find myself doing this too, mainly at the workplace. “Let’s go with this decision, eller…?”

I think it is a human adaptive quality to assimilate into the culture we find ourselves in, so I am not totally surprised to see these new changes in myself. But they definitely were not things I anticipated when I set out to move to Sweden!

Fun Facts:

  • Oy! it is not seen as a phrase to express frustration here, as it is in the UK. That being said, it is a habit I will need to be careful of when I visit the UK next!
  • Many find that they unexpectedly like lakrits once they move to Sweden. That wasn’t the case for me though. Want to learn more about why Swedes love licorice so much? Read here.

Tess’ Tips:

  • My personal style is also something that has changed much since living in Sweden – although I expected this to be the case. Back when I lived in LA my style was much more summery (it was 75F/23C all year round!). When I lived in Oregon my style was more athletic (yoga pants to grab a coffee sort of thing). But since Sweden is much colder than LA, and much more dressy than Oregon, my style has definitely shifted to match a more Swedish standard. Curious to know my must-have Swedish clothing pieces? Read here.

Hope you learned some new Swedishness today and I’ll see you in the next post!


4 thoughts on “Sweden and Unexpected Changes

  1. good post but so sorry to hear that your sweet friendly Americanness (our best feature, possibly) is on the wane. Dang you, Swedes, for being so standoffish!

    Liked by 1 person

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