A reader asked me a good question about Swedish residence permits today.  If anyone has any questions about the countries I’ve visited, whether it has to do with visa applications, culture or what have you, please feel free to ask.  I’ll feature questions and answers that could help out potential wanderers as a post!


Crossbeams asked: 

Hello! I’m about to study abroad at Uppsala starting in the fall and I’m currently combing through your blog for helpful tips (so please excuse an abundance of “likes” on old posts). If you don’t mind me asking, how was your residence permit approved in only ten days? Did you apply in person? I’m just waiting (somewhat impatiently) to hear back about my residence permit, and then I can finally buy my tickets! :) thank you for your help and also blog!

Hi!  Uppsala is awesome; they have student nations just like Lund, so make sure you join one! It’s the inside lane into Swedish culture…and booze.  

Ok, regarding the residence permit.  All that documentation was a pain in the ass, right?  I did drive to Washington, DC to apply at the embassy in person.  I live in North Carolina, so it’s a 5-hour drive and isn’t necessarily convenient, but I felt a lot more comfortable handing the stuff in. Plus I think I had to go if I remember correctly.  They needed to take biometric data (fingerprints, photo, and electronic signature) to store in their system.  It took 20 minutes including waiting, which left plenty of time for sight-seeing.  

Ten days later I had an email from them saying that my residency was approved, but it would take a bit to get the card to me.  They attached a document saying that I was a legal resident just in case I didn’t get the actual permit before I entered Sweden, which is what happened. Because I flew into Denmark first, it didn’t really matter.  Honestly, I only had to use my residence permit at the Systembolaget (state alcohol store), and if I didn’t have it there I could have used my passport.  Because you’re flying into (I’m assuming) Stockholm-Arlanda, you probably will have to show it.

Email them if you are getting worried.  You paid the fee, jumped through the hoops, and the person processing your case has a duty to answer your questions and give you updates.  At least that’s how it should be in a perfect world.  But always be pleasant when someone has your visa application in their hands.

Thanks for reading (and the likes), and definitely do not hesitate to ask if you have anymore questions about Sweden!  As people know here, I’m always eager to talk about it.

@spartanwanderer

I don’t dance.  I stand awkwardly by the bar, that’s my move.  A sort of “build it and they will come” strategy, if you will.  But tonight, as with a few crisp Swedish nights before it, I feel compelled.  Once Ricky hands out shots of aquavit to Bjarni and I, it seems imminent. The three of us raise our glasses in a ritual to invoke the spirit of the nations to surround us.  ”Skål!”  It has begun.

It started out tame enough, as most of my wilder nights do.  You can’t plan these things.  We met at Kalmar Nation, my own, and queued up to get inside and eat some hearty pub food and drink some cheap (for Sweden) beer.  I jokingly asked my friend Anna, the drink-slinger, to recommend me something.  I ignore her completely and get the usual and reasonable, the abundantly mediocre Spendrups (Sweden’s Yuengling).

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Okay, hold on.  I know that I’ve mentioned the nations in passing before, but I think it’s time to describe these student party-hubs in detail before we lose too many inhibitions.  Picture an oasis of cheap food, alcohol, and thrills.   Well, relatively, considering a beer at a normal bar will set you back as much as $10.  

But not only do these student unions make Greek life, already terrible, look excruciating by comparison, but it also gives exchange students a chance to integrate into Swedish culture much more quickly.  Every member is allowed to work in different sections of their nation.  I worked as a bartender and as a designer in the media section.  This opportunity allows foreigners to pick up the language and norms rapidly.

There are 13 of them, each named after different regions or cities in Sweden.  Traditionally a student would join the nation representative of where he/she came from.  Someone from Kalmar would join Kalmar Nation for instance.  I joined Kalmar because it’s cozy and has a lot of international students.  It’s a great place to make lasting friends.

The nations are also communities rather than just a cheap way to party.  Most of them offer student housing, a blessing in an increasingly crowded Lund.  There’s always tons of events to take part in, from plays and sports to movie nights and tandem bike races (but of course only after 36 hours of partying with no sleep allowed).  

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While I was filling you in about the nations, my friends and I were accumulating an impressive amount of bottles at our table in Kalmar Nation.  ”Wonderwall” was playing in the background, which confirmed two things: 1) I feel pretty good, because a song that I usually considered horribly overplayed sounds like a 90’s epic, and 2) my good friend James just put on his 90’s playlist signaling last call.  Time to hit the club.

Lund’s late night party convoy is something to behold indeed.  There’s something mystical about watching the glow of the red cycle tail lights through a light layer of Skåne fog as students bike from one nation to the next.  Maybe it’s the double-vision.  We mounted our own bikes on Biskopsgatan and set a course for Hallands, one of the better clubbing nations.  Engage.  Don’t drink and cycle, kids.

Of course there was the one fallen soldier on the journey there.  We stopped to help and she was no worse for wear, but proof that drinking and any form of transportation other than public is a bad idea.  Do as I say and not as I do.  We arrived at Hallands safely, experts at boozin’ and cruisin’ ourselves.  There was a fairly large queue, not out of character for Hallands on the weekend.  A very drunk Finn offered us a cigarette for the wait, and we obliged.

Once in, we paid the cloakroom fee, shed our coats, and made a beeline to the bar.  As I mentioned before, Seth’s dancing fuel is ethanol-based.  At least I’m environmentally friendly.  Halland’s beer selection is pretty pitiful (I am an alcohol snob though, the type of person that will look on you with unabashed pretension if there’s a PBR in your hand, which thankfully can’t be found in Sweden), but the dance floor is pretty sizable, and the DJ’s are great.

We did a shot and hit the floor.  Something I do like about clubbing in Sweden is that you’re expected to actually dance instead of lazily finding a girl to grind on you for the duration of your stay.  I like the eye contact and grinding is frankly publicly acceptable dry-humping.  What can I say, I pride myself on being a civilized human being even when drinking.  So we joined a circle to start off.

That’s right, group dancing is pretty popular at the nations, at least when you’re first getting on the floor.  It’s actually a great way to survey the room while you get in the mood.  And if you’re a guy wondering what the talent’s like, all I can tell you is that it’s Sweden; your stereotypes about the women are not far off.

I pull a girl from our little group and we dance.  ”Vad heter du?”  ”I’m Seth, you? Where are you from?” “Something in Swedish!”  My Swedish isn’t terrible but the THUMP - THUMP - THUMP doesn’t make this easy.  The exchange is labored at best.  I’m looking for something where too many words are not needed, you know, club language.  Clubbish.  Bjarni senses my distress and swoops in with a beer.

After buying a few rounds for each other, Ricky quickly disappeared for the rest of the night into a burst of manmade smoke and strobe lights while Bjarni and I went into tight formation.  The Yank and Icelander were now short a Spaniard.  We flew to the “other side” of the dance floor and separated a couple of cute, but lonely-looking Swedish girls.  We danced like hell to the Bassnectar remix of “Lights” and…

…I stir in a crowded bed.  I kiss her, and the kiss tells me in a language of its own that we were both looking for the same thing.  The sun shines far too brightly on my shoddy but efficient bike, a reflection of the magic of last night that somehow teleported it to the bike rack, locked no less, outside of Random Apartment Block on Whateversgatan.

I begin the morning where the night began and shakily cycle to Kalmar Nation for Saturday brunch, effectively building energy for a repeat of last night.   

Just be.  Such a vague, yet beautiful notion.  Before I went to Sweden, it was hard to grasp at.  I’ve always been a task-driven person, and at times feel uneasy sitting idle, doing nothing.  Europe has helped me feel less guilty for relaxing and soaking in the moment.  Perhaps it’s mostly due to lagom and fika.  It’s been hard to maintain this feeling since I’ve been back in the U.S.  Maybe it’s simply because we view time differently.

Whoa, what the hell does all of that mean up there in the title?  I don’t think I even want to read Seth’s new post because of the big, scary words.  Don’t worry, it’s easy.  You know how time flies when you’re having fun?  Well, that’s polychromatic time.  You know how it seems like you feel each agonizing minute go by when you’re doing your 9 to 5?  That’s monochromatic time.

These two ways that humans perceive time vary across countries, regions, and cultures, with varying blends and strengths thereof.  Americans mostly live in monochromatic time.  Europeans seem to drift in polychromatic time, while still recognizing the importance of task completion. 

There was less of a point A to point B mentality throughout the day-to-day life in Sweden.  Of course, people are going about, running errands and such, but they seemed to be in no hurry and actually rather enjoying it.  That’s in huge contrast with even my university campus.  We run laps around the clock here while in Europe, they simply tend to forget that there is a clock.

Just based on how we culturally perceive time, we look down on the European way as lazy.  This is far too quick of a judgement, I think.  We race through life here, but what’s at the finish line?  Death.  So why are we in such a hurry to win?  Sounds like a shitty prize to me.  We should experiment with polychromatic time, or at least try to find a balance between the two realms.

Our culture does not have complete mastery over us, and it is possible to break free of this boring monochromatic, linear way of living.  Like most frames of mind, we sometimes just need a trigger.  Here are a few things that can help you expand your perception of time in all directions instead of straight ahead, task by task, important date by important date. 

1. Lighten the Load - The worst blockage in our polychromatic pathways is a loaded schedule.  How can we “just be” if we have a huge list of things to do looming in the back of our minds?  We’re all busy people and we have stuff to do, but an even distribution of the stuff would certainly make life more enjoyable.  Also, we should really take the time to see if some of the tasks we have on our plates are necessary at all.  I know I always tend to bite off more than I can chew.

2. People Watching - Watching people live their lives is entertaining, even if they’re merely cycling some groceries back to their apartment.  I found a lot of serenity in the center of Lund, just sipping a coffee and watching people go about from a bench.  Eventually I seem to fall in a state of deep reflection (or daydreaming) when I do this.  Maybe watching people living their lives makes me think about what I’m doing in my own life, or what I’m meant to do.  

3. Sensory Awareness - No matter how new and exciting an environment, eventually we let large portions of it fade into the background as white noise.  That’s a bit sad to me.  We let the general business of life sap the energy and enjoyment of something that used to be thrilling.  Take a moment to sit in the midst of your environment and actively use all of your senses.  Listen to the noise of everything moving around you.  Smell the food being cooked.  Feel the wind against your skin.  Sip on a coffee.  Truly open your eyes to the world around you.

4. Talk to People - Spending time with friends and family can make time go by in a blur (and depending on the friends, a very patchy blur in which you wake up somewhere you didn’t expect the next day).  I think we need to distract ourselves from ourselves sometimes.  Besides, sharing a moment with someone is about as nonlinear as it gets.  Sharing an investment of time is like building a cozy campfire to the side of our monochromatic time trail.

5. Go for a Hike - Hiking and running are two things that I have always turned to so that I might escape the all-consuming black hole of business in my life, even if for only a half hour.  I feel like I’m in an alternate dimension when I’m out on the trail.  Time is somewhere off in the real world, as is my to-do list.  I’m simply out there for the pure enjoyment of nature, reflection, and the strange love for living out of my backpack.

These are just a few things I’ve been doing lately to try to experience time in a multidimensional way.  It’s good for you.  We can’t freeze time, but we sure as hell can distribute it throughout our lives to make it more savory, rather than always living at a breakneck speed toward our graves.  

A good traveler has no fixed plans.  Lao Tzu’s musing resonates greatly right now, and I feel conflicted all the time with my natural type A personality getting in the way of trying to live at a slower pace.  We’re not all born with that ability.  Just as some leaders are born and some are made, spontaneity is sometimes a learned trait.  Thanks Europe, I’ve learned a lot about time because of you, and I’m a saner person for it.

“This one feels nice, I think I’ll have him.”  I’m kneeling against a wall with a blindfold on.  Rather than the cold steel of a gun barrel being placed against the back of my head, a Swedish girl begins to massage my right earlobe.  She finds it desirable, and removes her own blindfold.  We are now partners for this most wondrous exercise in revelry: the Swedish sittning.

The “sittning,” which doesn’t make a huge translingual leap to the English “sitting,” most often refers to a student dinner party.  Let’s be fair; it’s about 20% dinner and 80% party.  It doesn’t matter exactly how you classify it, just make sure you have a pep talk with your liver beforehand.

Step 1: Eat a hearty lunch.

Sittnings and copious amounts of alcohol go hand-in-hand like a bicycle and its chain; the night will go nowhere without it.  In order to act like you can hold your booze, be sure to have a nice, absorbent meal beforehand.  

Usually, there is a small förfesten (pre-party) prior to the sittning in order to loosen everyone up for an evening of fun.  A nice lunch (with plenty of water) will help you succeed in this goal, and maybe you won’t make an ass of yourself before the first song.  Oh yes, there will be singing.

Step 2: Adhere to the traditions.

Every nation (basically a fraternity, but with clubs, pubs, and less pointless hazing) has unique traditions when it comes to sittnings, but there are some common similarities.  There is always a boy-girl seating arrangement, and the guy and the girl to the right of him are “partners” for the evening.  Typically, a fun game is played to determine the selection, my ear-market being a prime example.  

Sometimes, the couple draws a mischievous task from a hat, which they must execute during the course of the evening.  This may or may not include: collecting shiny objects, pilfering booze from others, or doing 10 push-ups after every song.  These fun traditions add to the festive energy of the sittning, and have a 100% chance of resulting in hilarity, or minor injury (or both), at some point.

Step 3: Brush up on your Swedish.

A cornerstone to a successful sittning is the singing of several songs, each of which are followed by a snaps (a shot).  A song booklet is present for all guests, and the tunes are selected by the sånganförare (song master).

Trust me, it’s definitely more fun to belt these songs out with your Swedish friends than half-heartedly and awkwardly humming the tunes.  A good effort will get you some hearty back slaps and perhaps even a personal toast.  Careful not to overdo it however, or the sånganförare may invite you to lead the next song.

Step 4: Make a proper toast, or suffer the consequences.

After each song, glasses are raised for a toast, or skål.  The intricacies of the skål are hotly debated among student nations and even towns, some finding the other’s method outlandish or even absurd.  A common if not complex methodology is to first raise your glass, say “Skål!,” nod to your table partner, then to the person on your other side, and finally to the person seated across from you before knocking that bad boy down the hatch.  

You then nod to everyone in reverse order.  Legend has it that if one should not adhere to this, they will enjoy bad sex for the next seven years.  If you slip up, try to brush off the finger pointing and laughter, and seek comfort in the fact that bad sex is better than none at all.  And perhaps try to trick someone else into your boat as well.

Step 5: Och gamla klang och jubeltid!

You’re almost in the clear, but an intense challenge yet looms ahead.  At the end of every sittning it is customary for everyone to stand in his or her chair and sing “Och gamla klang och jubeltid.”  This can be extremely problematic considering how much you’ve had to drink at this point.

Just stand in place for a bit to gather your faculties, and slowly step up, using the chair and table as leverage.  Maintain your balance, and sing.  Once the song is over, so is the sittning, and you are not supposed to take your seat at the table again.

The Next Day…

Wake up, find an ibuprofen.  Drink two glasses of water.  Go back to sleep for two hours.  Turn on the Swedish news and order a pizza.  Lounge about and await potentially damaging photos so you can delete them as soon as they appear.  Once you’re able to endure doing your laundry, you’re out of the woods.  You survived your first sittning!

A couple of nights ago, I dreamt that I was still in Sweden.  I could feel the uneven texture of the cobblestones beneath my feet, heard the melodic rising and falling of Swedish conversations, and saw some of the people I came to know and love there.  I awoke to the sound of my alarm, thinking I was in my bed at my apartment in Lund.  It’s been three weeks, and my readjustment to life in America has not come as easily as I had hoped.

I had heard different things about reverse culture-shock before I left.  Some said the transition only took about two weeks while a handful of others reported that it took months to overcome depression brought on by the drastic change.  Both of these outcomes sound terrible to me.

My time in Sweden (and Iceland) has so far been the pinnacle event of my life.  I don’t want to brush the memories off or jettison the cultural tendencies I picked up there.  I don’t want to forget about it in two weeks like it was a trip to Myrtle Beach or something.  It’s a part of me now, and not just something I can “get over,” as if it were a bad breakup.

On the other hand, I definitely would prefer not to succumb to depression from my intense kanelbulle withdrawals.  Sometimes I’ll close my eyes and “walk” from my apartment in Lund down to Kalmar Nation, or one of my friend’s apartments.  This reflective form of meditation brings up such intense feelings of longing I can’t begin to describe.  I can see how one would be depressed.

Neither of these are the answer.  I’m trying my best to continue my life in America while accepting that Sweden will forever be a part of me.  The lifelong friends, the memories, new ways of thinking, the language and Swedish mannerisms are simply a part of my being now.  I can live with that.  Problem is, these have been getting in the way of becoming an American again.  

I’ve brought back several new traits from abroad, almost like a cultural organ transplant, and American antibodies are rejecting it.  Yeah.  I just went with that metaphor.  Here are some pretty distinct clashes that I’m still trying to overcome.

  • There’s a ton of cars!  In Lund, 45% of the population commute by bike and there’s amazing infrastructure for it.  There was hardly any traffic ever, even in Malmö.  I would love to commute by bike here, but Americans do not share the same respect for cyclists that Swedes have.
  • I’ll never get used to eating America’s ginormous portions of food again.  Whenever I could afford eating out in Sweden, I was always full but not bursting, yet never needed a doggie bag either.
  • You don’t tip in Sweden.  You do here.  Enough said.
  • When it comes to dating, Swedish girls, like most Europeans, are pretty straight forward with you.  Now it’s back to always having the first move responsibility.
  • I can’t stop saying “skål!” when I raise a glass.  Cheers just doesn’t seem right to me anymore.
  • I’m having the same problem with “tack.”  I guess it could sound like a muffled “thanks.”  I hope so anyway, because I’ve totally used it on accident at least five times since I’ve been home.

There is no silver bullet for reverse culture shock.  Everyone has to deal with it in their own way at their own pace.  I think perspective does play a major role when it comes to getting reacquainted with one’s home country.  My favorite way of looking at it is that I have multiple homes now, and I’m just in the process of bouncing between them.

After all, we are a generation that is increasingly mobile.  It is easier than ever to establish multiple homebases with networks of amazing people all over the world.  I’m selfish.  I’m not satisfied with the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains; I want the plains of Skåne, the streets of Copenhagen, the northern lights over Iceland.  And I can have it all.

Like I said, it’s all a matter of perspective.  I’m not home.  I’m at home, and I’ll be visiting the others again soon.

I just lowered the Swedish flag on my digital flagpole in the top left-hand corner and replaced it with the stars and stripes.  It was a little painful.  It’s the first indication that I’ve made to anyone, including myself, that I am indeed back in the USA.

Sweden seems like a dream now, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.  I couldn’t imagine a better country to test the spirit of this blog.  It was expensive to live there, and therefore really challenging.

For those of you who are late to the game, I studied at Lund University in Sweden for nearly six months.  After this amazing experience, I feel like I should give the skinny on this beautiful Scandinavian kingdom, in case anyone is thinking about heading off.

I want to be completely objective and list both good and bad things, because every country in the world has them.  So please don’t be offended my Swedish friends, this is simply what I walked away with.

The Good

Sweden is calm.  No one shouts, no one honks their horns.  Everyone seems to be more patient and relaxed.  It’s lagom.

The infrastructure is great.  There are bike paths everywhere, and the trains and buses make it easy to reach any part of the country without too much trouble.

Everything is extremely clean.  I’ve never seen such pristine streets anywhere.  There’s even a guy who’s paid to walk around with a mini-flamethrower to burn the moss that grows between the cobblestones.  The country almost has OCD or something.

Don’t forget to NOT tip.  There is no minimum wage required in Sweden.  Wages are instead set by collective bargaining, and unskilled labor wages are extremely high, comparatively.  Consequently, tipping is just not part of the culture, aside from rounding up to the nearest kronor.  

The food is better and healthier.  The government has high standards for what is in the food, so you can expect lower amounts of steroids, hormones, and other crap in what you’re eating.  Most of it is also sourced locally.   

The Bad

As I said before, it’s expensive.  The standard of living is higher than America’s, and you pay for it.

It’s mildly difficult to talk to Swedes unless you’re drinking with them.  Of course this isn’t the rule, and it depends on how much effort you put into befriending Swedes.  It’s true that it can be hard, but it’s definitely not impossible.

Alcohol will be the scourge of your bank account.  Buying a beer can be as much as a $10 drop in the bucket.  Even at the Systembolaget, the government liquor store, it’s not as cheap as what I’m used to.  Enjoy singing snaps in moderation.

The Ugly

In recent years, Sweden has had a large influx of immigrants and asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa.  This has become a very controversial topic in the sociopolitical dialogue.  Some Swedes that do not like the government’s immigration policies can be rather racist, and quite blatantly so.  You can color me disappointed.  Coming from the American South, I expected much more progressive thinking.  Fortunately, this is truly the only “ugly” thing I found in Sweden.

The Awesome

Fika! Fika is an awesome social institution in which everyone takes a break in the early afternoon to enjoy coffee, something sweet, and good conversation.  Expect to see packed coffee shops from 1-4 PM.  Fika is enjoyed by most employees, in addition to lunch.  Even the government observes it!

Sweden has one of the largest remaining wildernesses in Europe.  In fact, most Swedes are nature freaks, and can be seen doing something outside no matter what the weather.  As a self-aware nature freak, this is great.

Concluding Thoughts…

Sweden exudes that special Scandinavian atmosphere that you can’t quite describe no matter how recognizable it might be.  The atmosphere is calm, and life is an exercise in practicality.  I’ll miss the moments out with friends when we would see something “that’s so Swedish.”  

Like guys wearing tight red pants while sporting Sting’s hairstyle from the early years, or even Bowie’s if they’re particularly trendy.  

Or the ease of which a Swede uses his/her iPhone on the train, almost like an instrument, putting even the most adept US hipster to shame.  

I will definitely long to hear melodic Swedish conversations in the background, patting myself on the back whenever I can understand something.

It will be difficult to yell “Hej allihopa!” to a crowded room and receive confused expressions instead of laughter in return…

…and now I’ve shot off into a reflective diatribe.  It’s just as well.  I’ll try to keep the bitching about being back in the US to a minimum here.  It will be interesting to see how long it takes me to readjust, and what thoughts the whole process will provoke.  Hopefully it won’t be too soul-crushing.  I’m looking upwards and onwards, at any rate.

The nation pub* has only been open for a couple of hours, but I am not surprised when the rumblings of a snaps begins.  My Swedish is obscenely terrible for someone who has been here for so long, but the song is familiar, so I belt out a few words and smack the table at the appropriate intervals.  The song ends with a drumroll, at the end of which everyone throws back their drink of choice.

When I leave Sweden, the snaps will fly home with me, tucked away in my cultural luggage compartment.  I’ve grown accustomed to the natural rhythm these drinking songs give the night both musically, and for the pacing of alcohol consumption.  It is a cultural institution in Sweden that can be observed at the nations, bars, and even at dinners.  Above all, the snaps is fun, and a great way to unite everyone for a brief period during the night.

Experiencing this receiving end of cultural exchange is always a pleasure.  It should be actively sought after.  Actually, I collect them.  The whole concept of souvenirs kind of clashes with the idea of living a minimalist lifestyle without too much stuff, so the culture itself is a worthy replacement.  How can we “collect” such an intrinsic thing as culture?

When we travel, I don’t think we can claim an entire foreign culture as our own, and set it on a shelf beside our native cultures.  Too many things would clash.  However, in our digital era, I definitely believe a new multicultural being is emerging.  We have never been as interconnected as we are now, and the Web has made it possible to get tiny bits of foreign culture without much effort.  We are more mobile in the physical realm as well.  It has never been so easy to travel to a different place, and to make that place a part of who you are.  So how do we do it?

How to Collect Cultures

1) Don’t Resist

Everyone is their own individual and shouldn’t throw away their identity just to fit in, no matter where they are.  That said, you will naturally encounter situations throughout your travels that would almost be inconceivable back home.  Don’t fight your way out of them.  Embrace them.  Of course you feel a bit apprehensive; culture shock is a real thing.  All the more reason to let the culture you now find yourself living in swallow you whole.  When’s the next time you’re going to dance like that in the US?

2) Try Anything

The willingness to be an observer rather than a participant of your new home’s culture will be the Achilles heel of having a great experience.  Eat the food (even if it’s gelatinous, fermented fish).  It is true that McDonald’s is everywhere, but really?  Don’t cling to what is comfortable.  You can be a Whereveryourefromican when you go back to wherever you’re from.  It’s already a big step to go to a different country for a while.  Now you just have to take a few tiny steps at a time to really get to know your new home. 

3) Meet New People

I cannot deny that I became overly excited during the first two weeks when I heard someone speak English in an American accent.  I’ve made some great American friends here.  They probably make up a healthy 5% of everyone that I’ve met here.  The more people you meet, the larger the net you are casting to find awesome opportunities.  There are just some things that are not in your Lonely Planet guide, and there are people out there that know about them.  Some of the best memories I have of Sweden are of chilling in a Swede’s home with Swedes.

4) Explore Thoroughly

The classic Eurotrip is something I’ve never really understood.  What is really being gained by doing the monuments, museums, and shopping in Berlin for two days, and then going on to Paris or London to do the same thing?  There is so much to be found in the other thousands of square miles beyond a nation’s major metropolitan areas.  Some countries have regional public transport passes that are good for two days are more.  These things are great and make hopping from town to town to nature reserve to wherever cheap and easy.

5) Reciprocate

In return for the different culture you’re experiencing, you have the duty to be an ambassador for your own culture.  People will definitely ask you questions about where you’re from.  Now’s the chance to dispel myth and confirm truth.  I welcome questions about the U.S. and my home state of North Carolina.  It seems that only the extreme elements of American culture somehow find their way into the psyches of Europeans.  Actually, that’s true of any culture.  Only the extreme, sometimes fringe elements are ingrained into the minds other cultures.  It’s nice to have a chance to clear the air.

Of course, I am talking about collecting cultures from a hobbyist’s perspective, because it’s an easy analogy.  I believe it’s much more serious than that.  To truly experience culture encourages dialogue between two or more parties, and dialogue fosters understanding.  A general lack of understanding seems to be one of the biggest problems we face in the world today.  No, chatting over a kanelbulle and coffee will probably not result in world peace, but attempting to collect cultures forces us to at least explore and try to understand each other, and that’s definitely a step in the right direction.

*The nations here at Lund University are basically student unions that have their own bars and clubs.  They coordinate different events for different days of the week, such as lunches, brunches, live music, pub nights, and even plays.  Some of them offer housing options for students.  It is a great system, far superior to the lame and superficial Greek life in America.

Cycling through Lund at night (4pm) is nothing short of bewitching.  Maybe it’s the sound of friction as my tires bounce over the cobblestones, or being transported back in time as I pass the imposing cathedral.  I jolt back to the present when a SJ-2000 screeches along the tracks of the bridge I am currently gliding under.  Probably coming back from Malmö or Copenhagen.  Surely it will be picking up revelers eager to celebrate lilla fredag.  I’m craving a drink myself, but not one containing ethanol compounds, no, not tonight.

Tonight I’m after a different compound, one that has been near and dear to me since before alcohol had passed my lips: glorious caffeine.  Tonight is my regular social fika.  I think I’ve only missed one since I’ve been in Lund.  And why would I?  Coffee, sweets, good company and music are to be had, and on a bitterly cold night with icy rain in the forecast, I can’t think of a place I’d rather be.

The sheer novelty that this particular fika is hosted by a metal band only improves the atmosphere.  There is slew of international students here, comprising an eclectic group of Chinese, Germans, Austrians, Slovenians, Americans, and of course, Swedes.

Everyone brings something to contribute.  Dark Times impresses by pouring darkness, death, destruction, and love into a different Swedish baked good every week.  The coffee is as black as the music they play, but as sweet as their hearts.

The iPod is passed around, but only after the inaugural playing of “Rockin’ in the Free World” at 17:30 sharp, every week.  We swap different tastes in music as we talk about our days and study each other’s differences.

The coffee, the sweets, music, stories, languages, and laughter come together to fuel an amazing microcosm of cultural exchange I have come to love and enjoy every Thursday.  The Facebook event gives the night a 2-hour time slot, but everyone always stays late.

I don’t know if Dark Times intended to create such an institution to further international understanding, unity, and friendship, or if they simply wanted to be the most unique metal band in the world.  One thing is certain: x number of years from now when they’re famous, every face-melting note I hear will remind me of kaffe, kanelbullar, and kompanionship.  See what I did there?

But Seth, What is Fika?

I can brag on Sweden all day.  Rather, I have, if you’ve been reading at all.  What’s not to like about free healthcare, zippy public transportation, and the joy of actually seeing your tax dollars go to work?

However, the enigmatic Scandinavian atmosphere would be lost without the coffee culture.  Sweden trails behind only the other Nordic countries when it comes to coffee consumption per capita.  I’ve never consumed caffeine at such a rate as when I was living in Lund.  This is mostly due to an awesome social institution known as fika, or kafferep in some circles.

Similar to the Spanish siesta with opposing results, the goal is the same: take some time in the day to decompress, get your shit together, and start the latter half of the day with a clear mind.  

Between 1 and 4pm, the coffee houses are packed and Swedes are chilling in the park with the sweet, caffeinated goodness.  This is in addition to your lunch break, I should add.

Lazy Europeans, right?  Oh contraire.  While Sweden has its fair share of companies that are doing poorly in these crazy economic times, they are doing so well right now that economists and entire nations are studying them as a model to figure some way out of the Eurozone crisis.

Everyone needs a sanity hour, and it seems to work for the Swedes.  Maybe if more employers recognized the perfectly human need to power down for a bit, we could be more productive as well.  HINT, HINT.

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