Exactly three weeks after arriving to Stockholm as an international student, Natalia Londoño is ready to speak up about her first impressions of the city and most importantly its people. But first… some context.
Judging from the title, I think you already know why I am here. Attracted by a great academic program, and with the firm intention of living in a vibrant city, I have chosen Stockholm as my residence for the next two years. Coming from Canada, I figured the winter shouldn’t be too big of a shock, and the curiosity of living in Scandinavia and immersing myself in a new culture was too good to resist.
Whenever I read about Stockholm before coming, there was a pattern in the articles I read. I was ready to meet polite, but “closed” people and I was warned not to give up on them as they would eventually warm up to me. I was also told the landscapes would be breathtaking, the history of the city would still present wherever I walked, and that the people’s organization skills would be impeccable.
And now that I am here, I must say my experience has been different. Yes, the landscapes are absolutely breathtaking, the history is completely alive and in the making, but the people… Well, read on to find out.
I arrived in Stockholm with no place to live, and no knowledge whatsoever of the city. I had never been in Sweden before, and I knew maybe 10 words in Swedish (thank you, Duolingo). I also arrived the day before my classes began, because I had been doing some field work in Brazil. So, you can imagine, given my circumstances, I was ready for some things to go wrong. And they did.
However, what I didn’t imagine was how incredibly helpful the Swedes would be. As my first week in Sweden came to an end, so did the days in my hotel. I was faced by the dilemma of spending a lot of money in more hotel nights, moving to a hostel, or choosing a place from a Facebook group and hoping for the best. While the Facebook group seemed like the way to go, there is a lot of pressure in the housing market here and finding a place in a week seemed highly unlikely. Not knowing what to do, I asked for advice from some people from my program at Stockholm University, and the response was overwhelming. Two people offered me a room in their buildings, they contacted their friends and even went apartment hunting for me. They asked around from their friends and basically made sure I had a place to go after my week at the hotel was over. One of them also offered to lend me her bike for the entire semester, so that I could have a mode of transportation and so that I could get to know the city more easily.
I don’t know about you, but letting a complete stranger stay with you and giving your bike to them… that doesn’t seem remotely cold or distant to me. But this wasn’t all.
As a student from outside the EU, and staying here for over a year, I need a residence permit and a personnummer. These processes take time and while I had everything ready before coming here, processing times are not overnight. So even though I have permission to live here I still don’t have my personnummer. This means I was limited as to the number of things I could do until I got it. For instance, I had heard that most phone companies ask you for your personnummer to get a cellphone number and plan with them. So, I had to find another way to get a cellphone number. After talking to some other international students, I realized a “re-loadable” sim card where you pay for your usage of the month in advance was the perfect solution.
Determined to find the best deal possible, I did some research and managed to find a place close to the university that seemed to sell what I needed. The company, ServeYou AB, said they sold sim cards and they were closeby.
I took a bus there and quickly found my way to this office. When I got there, I realized it didn’t look like a regular phone provider’s office, but hopeful I still went in and asked. A man opened the door and I explained my situation to him. He told me that unfortunately they only provided sim cards to companies, not to natural people.
As I got ready to turn around and leave, he told me to come in anyway, and he started thinking about what he could do to help. He went on to look for a spare sim card, but couldn’t find one. When it was clear he couldn’t do anything for me, he brought me to his desk and together with his colleague they did some research and found a commercial phone store close by. They showed me the directions on their computer and set up that location on my phone’s GPS.
As I left to find this new place, I stopped to think about what had just happened. These people, who were clearly busy with their own business, let me into their office and took the time to help me without getting anything in return. I haven’t been around the world, but I don’t think this type of kindness should not be taken for granted, and I think someone who helps another person like that is most certainly not “cold”.
Anyway, getting on with the story, I am glad to say this is still not all. As I got to the proper phone store and talked to the salesperson there, he told me what he offered and warned me that there were other stores closeby that might have better deals for me and that I should check them out. Listening to his advice, I visited another telephone company, where the salesman also told me that there was one more place worth checking out. There was yet another store that offered better prices for the type of phone plan I was looking for.
Allow me to stop once more and say how mind-blowing this is. The fact that a sales person takes the time and has the honesty to look out for the consumer, instead of just selling them whatever they offer (but doesn’t necessarily fit the consumer’s needs), is admirable. It should be the standard, but we all know it isn’t and I appreciate these people’s honesty.
Needless to say, I got a great phone plan, which offers me exactly what I was looking for. But all of this goes to show that people in Stockholm can truly be nice and helpful, even to strangers and expecting nothing in return. I hope this changes your perspective of Swedes a little bit and encourages you to come here too.
Pictures: Image Bank Sweden / Simon Paulin