Stockholm, The City That Won’t Let You In

Posted on 10. Apr, 2013 by in Destinations, Europe Travel, Sweden

I was really looking forward to visiting Stockholm. It’s one of the cities I always idealized, imagined to be a certain way and predicted I would fall in love with, and never want to leave. And while this isn’t entirely different from the reality of my visit, it’s also not exactly the truth.

Stockholm blew me away on certain levels, and sorely disappointed me on others.

Stockholm was amazing. Don’t get me wrong. A city so beautiful and so hipster-cool can hardly be disappointing. But the way I see it, it will never make you really feel welcome.

Feel free to talk to the locals, shop in the many fashionable boutiques, eat in fancy-pants restaurants and hop from one island to another. The city is one of the most varied, interesting and beautiful ones I’ve ever wandered in. But don’t make the mistake of getting too comfortable. Don’t let your mind wander to the idea of living there, of being an expat, of living the cool Swedish life.

Chances are, it’s never going to happen.

My experience in Stockholm showed me that there is always a wall, albeit a very tiny but still omnipresent, that kept me from truly feeling comfortable. I can’t really put my finger on a name, or on a superlative. It was just a sealed, not quite penetrable barrier that kept reminding me not to get my hopes up.

Despite my Nordic-looking facial features and being accosted in Swedish more times than I can count, I still couldn’t tell myself “Hey, this could be it“. The wall was always there, ever-so slightly present, and a constant reminder that I would never be part of this. It turned out to be a big damper on my much-awaited Stockholm experience, as you can imagine.

moving to stockholm

Perhaps it’s just in my head, though.

I do know a few people who moved to Stockholm and succeeded quite well. But for me, even though I loved the city with all my heart, I just couldn’t get the welcome feeling I was expecting, and that would have made me feel right at home. On paper, I connect with Sweden in general, and Stockholm in particular, quite perfectly. But the reality was abruptly different and did not waste any time in crushing my expectations.

Maybe it’s because I was already aware of the notorious housing problems Stockholm faces, or that I was just deterred by its expensive cost of living for tourists.

Is it the Swedish attitude?
Is it the Swedish system?
Maybe I have weird social skills and interpreted everything in the wrong way?
Is it really all in my head?

Did you also face a similar situation when you visited Stockholm or another city in the world? What’s your go-to solution when this happens?

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16 Responses to “Stockholm, The City That Won’t Let You In”

  1. Adrienne

    10. Apr, 2013

    Oh man, that’s really disheartening. Living here in Germany I feel quite at home (I’m from Portland, Oregon). I’ve been to Finland and only really feel at home there because I have relatives there. Didn’t do too much touristy stuff, but I could see how it *could* feel intimidating to live there.

    I too am Scandinavian. :). I haven’t visited Stockholm yet, I hope to this year. I will try to not think of this and keep an open mind about it! haha.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      15. Apr, 2013

      Apparently it’s nothing to take personal, just a Scandinavian thing. Takes a bit of getting used to :-)

      Reply to this comment
  2. Andrea

    11. Apr, 2013

    It’s a Scandic thing - I definitely wouldn’t take it personally…

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      15. Apr, 2013

      That’s what I kept telling myself. Coming from Canada, it just takes a bit of adaptation!

      Reply to this comment
  3. Travelthom

    11. Apr, 2013

    Hey, good article! Is it the cold icy face that we Scandinavians puts up to all strangers, you were met by?

    We Scandinavians are not personal with strangers. We are not good at small talk either.
    You “over there” are so good at making people feel good in your presence. We on the other hand, are quite and do not speak unless we have to, and by all means if you open your mouth say something meaningful.

    But once you get to know a Scandinavian, you have a friend for life, and his door is always open. But it take time, so don’t rush.

    T:-)M

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      15. Apr, 2013

      It wasn’t icy per se - it was friendly, but not too much so. It clearly made me feel like I would never be part of it, you know? Next time I will try to stick and perhaps it will develop in that friendship for like you talk about. ;-)

      Reply to this comment
  4. scott

    25. Apr, 2013

    Hmm, don’t remember a ton of this from my visit in 2010, but I could have missed it. Do you think if you visited in the summer things would have been different? Looks like you caught some gloomy weather.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Billy

    26. Apr, 2013

    This is definitely a Scandinavian thing. You need to earn that kindness, it doesn’t come for free. I think it’s a good thing, really. Helps you sort out your good friends more easily.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      26. Apr, 2013

      Thanks for mentioning this! Makes me feel better :P

      Reply to this comment
  6. Flora

    26. Apr, 2013

    As a Canadian, I had a hard time too. I felt like people were being mean, and it took me a couple of days to realize they’re just not as friendly as Canadians, but not in a bad way.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      26. Apr, 2013

      Same here! Definitely requires some getting used to.

      Reply to this comment
  7. Paul

    29. Apr, 2013

    I perfectly relate to your experiences with Stockholm! And you describe this “wall” very well. It’s like taken out of my own thoughts. The weird thing is I’m from Scandinavia. Denmark. I must argue with this beeing a Scandinavian thing, it’s very much a Stockholm thing! If you are not from here you’re in for a challenge if you want to live here. I’ve been to other places in Scandinavia like Oslo, or my native Copenhagen, and it’s so much more laid back and easier to get a grip on. Swedes are stiffer. They don’t want to discuss certain issues they behave as “civilized” as they can and they have in general a quite peculiar and idiosyncratic way of seeing the world. I’ve been living here with my swedish gf for some years and have never really fitted in anywhere in Stockholm. And…I’m from Scandinavia.

    Reply to this comment
  8. Jason

    21. May, 2013

    Though the majority speak English, perhaps you should try to learn Swedish. As @Travelthorn said, once you get to know Swedes, you do indeed have friends for life.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      28. May, 2013

      Since I already look like a Swede I should definitely try and learn the language then :)

      Reply to this comment
  9. Jim

    13. Sep, 2014

    Thanks for this article, when i go to Stockholm for the first time I will use reverse social psychology and give the cold shoulder during encounters, well see what happens.

    Reply to this comment

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