That was sixteen years ago. I was just about to move to Sweden, to Kärrtorp in South Stockholm actually, the same place I live today, although we’ve moved a few times over the years. It seemed I had a few things to learn about life in Sweden. How times have changed. As have I. I’ve been assimilated. There will always be a little bit of Britain in me, I’ll always drink tea, for example, but sixteen years of Swedish assimilation has made me realise that certain elements of British society are mental. Such elements that never caused as much as a batting of an eyelid before I left the place.
A tragic example is that just mentioned: littering. If you take a promenade around my hometown you’ll be shocked by the sheer amount of trash lying around the place. Crisp packets, beer cans, kebab-remains everywhere. And then there are more trivial matters…
One always keeps one shoes on indoors. I was very strict with my parents the first time they come to visit, I made a big deal of them taking their shoes off at the door before entering ours or anyone else’s home. Even today, my dad is still prone to stroll right into my apartment with his shoes on. It drives me mad. But the fact is, in England this is completely normal behaviour. Fuck knows why really? Maybe the fact that it’s so fucking cold everywhere indoors that your feet freeze if you take your shoes off. Funny that, considering the fact that “freezing” isn’t normally anything the folks on the island worry about otherwise. We were home last Christmas and there was a storm howling for a couple of days. Despite this fact, I saw a woman at the local cornershop wearing flip-flops and a miniskirt. We joke here in Sweden that as soon as the spring sun pokes its face through the clouds, people sit outside cafés drinking coffee, wrapped up in thick clothes, but still desperate to sit in the sun. But in my hometown, we’re talking bare torsos and shorts. At least the men.
Another thing is taps. One cold, one warm. No mixer. And no plug. Especially the toilets in the pub. Somewhere one spends a fair amount of time. Before I moved I visited the pub pretty much every day. It’s the British version of what the Swedes call “fika,” which is socialising over coffee and a bun. Sixteen years later I’m still struggling to explain Systembolaget, the state-run booze shop, to dad. When he’s here visiting he’s constantly fooled by the supermarket “people’s beer”, which is in 3,5% alcohol, the legal limit of sellable booze outside of Systembolaget. “This stuff tastes weak as piss!” I’ve heard fuck knows how many times.
And that thing about “over serving”? It barely exists. In Sweden the responsibility for over consumption of alcohol lies largely with the selling establishment. A regular at my dad’s local in Corby, someone we call Iommi because he looks the Sabbath legend, totally floored my mate Viktor when he was in town with me on one occasion. Iommi was so fucked when he ordered his pint that he’d fallen asleep before the drink was even poured. The bartender simply slid the jar under his nose and woke him up. No problem. If I had been caught doing that whilst working behind the bar in Stockholm I would have been arrested.
All that said, I have to admit that I miss the pub culture in the UK sometimes. And chips. And by chips, I don’t mean “crisps”, but fat, greasy, fried spuds wrapped in paper. I’ve said for a long time that if an authentic chip shop opened up in Stockholm it would be a real hit. There are over ten thousands expats living here after all. It was actually the first thing my Auntie Barbara said to me in her review of Stockholm, during the one and only time she’d been here on holiday, “It’s a nice place, but where’s the chip shop?”
Since time of original printing an actual chip shop has opened in Stockholm! I'd like to think maybe my column was influential in some way.
Also since time of original printing my hometown was found as the UK's most depressing place to live in a national survey.