At a first glance, you could say that Switzerland is very similar to Sweden in terms of culture. They’re punctual, exact, calm, polite and not big on small talk. If there’s a line, everyone silently waits in the order they arrived and on the street, cars stop for people to cross. The place at university where I encountered the most Swedes was floorball practice. A sport that every Swede knows how to play and they take it very seriously, it’s basically their national sport. Two times a week I’ve been going there and I still don’t know the names of all of them. We just play and don’t talk much. I guess this is also on me but that underlines the fact that Swiss and Swedes are similar in some ways. Not to say that everyone is like that but in general we rather stay to ourselves and are hesitant to approach people. Not interested in small talk.
There are however some interesting differences that can be observed in everyday situations. For example, in most places bathrooms are not divided into men’s and women’s rooms, they are just used by everyone. Urinals are rare. This is due to the fact that in Sweden gender equality is a very important aspect in politics and Swedes are proud that they are far advanced on that subject. They even have a gender neutral personal pronoun, hen. There is also the habit of paying everywhere, everything with credit card or by mobile payment, no matter how small the amount. While we’re introducing new banknotes in Switzerland, they will probably abandon their cash soon as many places have gone cashless already.
The most striking sort of distinction I can make between my life in Switzerland and how I experienced Sweden so far is how active my lifestyle has become. This is of course to some degree due to me being abroad and wanting to make the most out of the experience. But I would argue that this has also a lot to do with culture. If I had one word to describe the Swedish lifestyle, it would be active.
There are a lot of gyms everywhere and it feels like a membership in one of them is almost mandatory for every Swede. People are outside in sport clothes running and biking even in the ice-cold weather. The university (and I would guess also a lot of workplaces) offers many different sport activities you can sign up for every week. Like the floorball practice mentioned before. There’s also Volleyball, Football, Badminton, Basketball and a Rowing Team. You just pay 200 SEK (around 23 CHF) for the semester and then you can go to any sport at any time.
Health in general is important to the Swedes. In most grocery stores, there are salad-bars that are very popular. Every Tuesday at the local community house, there are delicious vegan soups as much as you can eat for only 20 SEK, freshly baked bread included. It serves to build community as they also have an open mic and it is all made possible by volunteer work. Me and my friends go there every week and we also helped out a couple of times. I also count that as part of an active lifestyle, interacting with your community and meeting new people. The university makes that very easy and fun. Nowhere was that more apparent than in the first week of the semester. It’s called the Kick-off Week. Every new student, so called zeros, get assigned to a group of fadders, seasoned students who become your guides to the student life and look out for you during the introduction week. There are fun activities every day, like escape rooms, haunted house, a dodgeball tournament and various challenges where you compete against the other groups. During that week I met all my friends here. But even after that week there are a lot of activities that promote social life on campus. Taco Friday, Language Café on Mondays and every Wednesday the Student Club is open. Additionally, there are many events like seminars with apéros, mingles, challenges and special student parties as well as several trips. All in all, there is a big effort made to include everyone. There’s even an integration committee and they are doing a good job.
So, when studying in Sweden you never run out of things to do and the university makes sure of that. I’ve been participating in that Swedish active lifestyle more and more, but I don’t feel tired yet. In fact, I feel like I have more energy than ever and that’s maybe how Swedes survive the cold dark winter. I hope I will be able to take that energy with me and continue being that active back home. But for the moment I’m just waiting for spring to finally arrive, which will probably expand the possible activities here even more.