On living in Sweden when you're not Swedish

A few people have asked me what it’s like to move from Australia to Sweden to do this job for Saab Automobile. The obvious answer for a Saab nut like me is that it’s a dream come true! The more considered answer, however, is that there’s a lot of things to adjust to and a lot of local ‘stuff’ to get your head around.

For example, what do you do when you get on a bus for the first time only to find out they don’t sell tickets on the bus? Get off and walk?

Thankfully, I have a Malin and was spared that ignoble experience. What’s a Malin, I hear you ask? Malin is a colleague at Saab, a Trollhattan local, and she’s made the whole experience of settling in at Saab much easier. She’s been there for 20 years and has worked, it seems, in just about every division within the company. I like to joke that she knows where the bodies are buried. Seriously, if you’re coming to work at Saab, get a Malin. She’s the reason I know you have to buy a bus ticket from the ticket office in Trollhattan (or elsewhere) before you get on the bus system because the drivers aren’t allowed to carry any cash.

If you ever move to somewhere new, there are always things like that to consider. You have to learn how the place works. You need to know how much can you draw from an ATM at any one time (which is important if you’re living outside the Swedish banking system). You need to know how the supermarket checkout works. You need to know how to dispose of your trash properly at a McDonalds (true!). You need to know the right-hand rule when you’re driving on side streets. You need to know what sort of identity documents you will need in order to buy a car, rent a flat, get an internet connection – all of which I’m doing next week.

There’s a lot to get used to. Thankfully, Sweden’s a very nice place to have to adjust to and the English-speaking world should feel grateful that the Swedes are very well educated when it comes to our rather complex language. There are all sorts of little traditions and customs in place. Like Fika, for instance, perhaps one of the most important customs of them all (it’s coffee and cake). You have to learn these things as you go along.

I’ve written a little on this site already about my need to get some wheels. I absolutely love to drive and it makes me crazy when I’m immobile due to the lack of an accessible vehicle.

I’m pleased to say that that particular problem may be behind me. This weekend I’m going to take a look at a classic Saab and hopefully, all going well, I’ll buy it. That’ll be the car I’ll use to tootle around Trollhattan for the summer, though I might be wise/merciful to put it away and get something more modern for the winter months as they arrive nearer to the end of the year.

Some have already guessed as to which car I’m looking at. I won’t put it up on this site until the purchase is confirmed, but suffice to say that it’s something I expected to look at in some ways, and something completely unexpected in others. The car is 40 years old, for starters, which is some small cause for concern. I’m assured that it runs like clockwork and hopefully the five-hour drive I’ll have to Trollhattan this weekend will confirm that. But if you see a large, poorly dressed and tired looking guy with a little old Saab by the side of the road this weekend then please stop to help 🙂

The end of that drive should see me back in Trollhattan, where I’ll pick up the keys to my new rental apartment. Organising that has been an experience, too. Most of the rentals around town are managed by corporate agencies that own the entire building. In Australia, you might deal with a realtor, but the properties are usually privately owned. In Sweden, you get an internet ad with the basics of the property and maybe one generic photo. In Australia, you’ll get a photo of each room, as well as the surrounds. It’s just a different feel, I guess.

It’s going to be great to get my own place, though. I’m looking forward to some more regular living – just the little things that are more difficult to do when you’re living in a hotel. Simple things like having the facilities to wash your own clothes, and storing food so that you can do something as trivial as making a sandwich. It won’t be home, of course, but it’ll be a space I can live in and work in, and that’s important.

On another topic……

Of course it continues to weigh heavily upon everyone that Saab is still sorting out the solution to its current financial situation. The pieces are all in place, however there is still some red tape involved in getting things moving. The noises are very encouraging, however, and I can only hope that the various outlets that have been so active in covering Saab’s difficulties can find reasons to report its recovery with equal vigor.

I’ll repeat what I’ve said before – there is way too much good stuff going on at Saab, and way too many people interested in being part of that journey, for this company to do anything but continue to grow.

We are working incredibly hard to plan and execute the future for Saab and the best part is, we’ve got the cars to pull it off. The initial feedback on the Saab 9-4x test drive in Washington this week is evidence enough of that and soon we’ll have the 9-5 SportCombi to add to that. The Saab 9-3 Griffin is going to prove itself nicely, too, I think, with that direct injection engine from the 9-5 up front (and just wait until you hear what I’ve been hearing about the Hirsch version).

I’m heading back to Sweden this weekend and it’s going to be a very exciting little chapter in the story of Inside Saab, and hopefully a great time for Saab Automobile as well.

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12 Comments

  1. Good read Swade. My wife and I moved to Kyrgyzstan from northern California in August to teach for a couple of years. Yes, it’s the little things that seem to take some getting used to. Here, you pay for the buses when you get off of them, in cash (everything is in cash here… including our “paycheck”).

    Aside from friends and family, driving might be the thing I miss the most. It’s at least right up there with being able to go skiing, hiking, biking, etc. without having to learn how to navigate your way through the processes required to be able to do those things.

    Cheers from Kyrgyzstan, and all the best in the process of getting “settled.”

    ~Peter

    (the same PGAero from TS and SU… I sold the Aero, kept the name. I’ll regret selling the car.)

  2. Nice. Always wanted to know a little bit more about life in Sweden. Now nothing holds me back to pay a visit to the SAAB Museum and factory this summer 🙂

    1.  You should definitely go!  We went last year and had a great trip.  We didn’t get to tour the factory, as they weren’t doing tours due to everyone being busy with the 95 launch, but we visited the museum and ANA.  Everyone was great, and of course the cars were too.  One highlight was seeing a 95 “in the wild” in Gothenburg before we went up to Trollhattan.

  3. There’s a lot to learn when moving to another country.
    Good luck in Sweden; hope to take the same step in a few year’s time.

  4. Great story Swade! I hope you move goes well.

    I remember my first trip to Sweden….what a great place. We were there for the Motocross of Nations, and stayed in Stockholm the first couple of nights. I remember teasing the gorgeous young hostess in the hospitality room at our hotel, that I would like a Corona beer…..”I bet you don’t know what it is!” I said…..”of course I do……I am just back from studying at Cal State Northridge for 2 years” she said. My wife loved her putting me in my place. That University was less than a mile from my then home, and I bet lots of young Americans bought Corono for HER!!.

    Back then everyone under 30 spoke great English…..so now everyone under 50 should do so.Have a great time and all the best of luck to you.

  5. Glad to hear things are going well with getting settled in Sweden, Swade, and here is hoping things go well for getting that 40 year old car this weekend (hmm… same age as the Sonett I told you about last fall…still need to send you some photos of that, I know 🙂 )

    On thing I guess I may have missed, though, is when you first told us about your new job with Saab, I thought you said you would be working primarily out of the Saab Australia offices (Melbourne?), but now it sounds like when you are not home in Hobart you will be in Trollhattan? I am sure it is exciting to be there at the center of all the activity, but does Mrs. Swade get to come and spend any time there in Sweden with you? Hope these questions are not too personal, but since you did share this information before, I was just curious.

  6. Hi Steven,

    I totally know how you feel about moving to Sweden, not speaking the language, and adjusting to cultural differences. I am in the same situation. Although I live in Toronto, Canada, I spend a lot of time in Albertslund, Denmark. We keep a home there, but I do not speak Danish. It’s kind of embarrassing for me that my little kids speak the language so fluently and have to translate for me at the grocery store, school, etc…Thank goodness English is a common language in Scandinavia and everyone is so patient. Good luck on moving to your new flat and picking up your car. Can’t wait to see what you have chosen.

    Regards,

    Saxel

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