I'm currently coughing up a lung in Stockholm (annoyingly enough I'm sick once again :K). Every country I visit, there's some strange medication you can get. I had to settle for a codeine-like product (alkaloid) and no Pseudoephedrine, which can only be given with a doctor's prescription. I also bought Bromhexine, which I've never heard of. It's an expectorant and it ended up costing about $7, which is not that bad at all.
So far, Sweden is obviously very expensive. A basic coffee is at least $3-4 (even if it's not good) and if you don't want to spend a lot of money on food, you should go to LIDL and get lunch there. I do that after my class sometimes, and I pay about 20 SEK (a little over $2) for a bean salad, which is pretty good and healthy.
My hostel is such a mess, so I cannot wait to get to Uppsala this weekend. Some lady decided in the middle of the night that she should tell me I'm in her bed, when in fact, she couldn't figure out which bed was hers in the first place. She had me get up, remove my sheets and comforter, and take her shit, and then refused to apologize to me and continued talking to me even after I told her I had class the next morning and I reminded her that other people were sleeping in the room. I've been very lucky throughout my 8 months of traveling with annoying people at the hostel, but unfortunately, I can't get away from weird and inconsiderate ones here. Blegh. I have been sleeping awfully and just don't feel like myself! It's crazy how much something as simple as where you sleep affects your health! I've been feeling nauseous, exhausted, and even had a fever this morning! Gross. There's also tons of people at my hostel looking for work here, which is crazy because a lot of them don't even speak English. I know this is incredibly callous of me to say, but I would expect that people would try to go to a country that wasn't so expensive to live in. I know Sweden gives out a lot of benefits to the poor, but I am pretty sure it gives special treatment to people of certain countries (e.g. Somalians and Eritreans) and refugees. A lot of people are just looking for work, say, from Morocco. Unfortunately they only seem to speak French and Darija, so I'm not sure why they didn't go to France when there's already tons of migrants in Sweden looking for work that do know English or have a leg up with their citizenship.
So how is learning Swedish? Fun! It's such a funny language because a lot of the phrases don't make any sense to me (some sound quite passive aggressive when translated into English). It also has a very particular intonation. It goes up-down-up-down-up-down. If you want to simplify that idea, think about how people speak exaggerated Italian. I love that when you ask someone how they are (which by the way, there are millions of ways to ask), you can say "Fint!" Which means "fine!" In English if you asked me the same and I responded "fine!" you would know I was pissed off.
Some of the words are SOOOO hard to pronounce. Some of the sounds really remind me of French (like how you pronounce the letter "r," which has a guttural rolling sound that starts low in your throat. Some hard words are "självklart" (which means obviously) and "säger" (which mean say) and tjugo (which means twenty). Even the word for engineer is crazy, because it sounds very Spanish with the way you pronounce the "j." There are a lot of "yuh" sounds on consonants and honestly, I think those are harder to pronounce than the vowels (once you learn how to properly speak the vowels).
I find myself talking in a "froggy" voice like when I do in French, but of course no "uhmmmmmm....ouais...." sounds! I don't think that Swedish is as "fluid" as French, rather, it's more like English in how the words stop, but not nearly as bad as talking with sticks in your mouth, like English.
Swedish has three unique letters in their alphabet, which are å, ä, and ö. You pronounce them "Oh," "eh" and "ooh" (like book), but for me it's incredibly hard to describe linguistic sounds over a blog post.
In Swedish, it's not common to say that the time is 1:20. Instead you say it's 20 past one or a quarter to 12. It's annoying for me, because I feel like an old person (only old Americans tell the time like that, as if they're reading an analog clock 😜).
It's crazy how many different accents the language has! Even certain words are not spoken in different cities. For example, saying "Hallå" instead of "hej" in Stockholm comes off as aggressive, but it doesn't in Gothenburg. While the US has a lot of dialects (because we are an absolutely enormous country) I would argue that places like Italy, which is far smaller but far older, is more diverse in the language!
In Swedish, there is a verb (fikar) for taking a fika, which is basically a coffee break. Or you can say "fikapauser," which is the name of an amazing Scandinavian restaurant I worked at back home. For me I don't "fika" because I drink coffee at my desk all day.🙈 My favorite part about learning languages has been seeing the different cultural aspects that are reflected in words and phrases.
My professor is very boring and does not have much of a sense of humor. He is almost always scowling and does not really know how to laugh with the class, so I wonder if he has a socializing disability, which is hard when you're teaching people a social subject and not chemistry or math. He is VERY by the book, and honestly too much so. While I am a big advocate of not speaking English when learning a language, sometimes it's necessary when you're absolutely lost. Also he cannot stop class EVER to answer a simple question, which really irritates me. I had a much better experience in Italy with my course. Also, my class is a bit larger than I like, so when we all repeat what he says, he cannot really hear who mispronounced something. My class would be so much better with a different professor, but at least I only have him for two weeks.
All in all, Swedish is an easy language to learn (it's pretty straightforward because there's very little masculine/feminine agreement and NO conjugation (😱), but I do think the pronunciation is quite challenging and it's going to be a LONG time before I nail it, just like it was for French. I am very happy to spend time in Stockholm, although I've been so busy I haven't seen much. I've visited bars and cafes and while many of the service workers are kind, I have to laugh at how "Scandinavian" people are. Some people are very direct, in a way that comes off as either harsh or awkward. For example, I lost my shoes on my flight to Stockholm from Madrid and the ticket counter lady basically said it was my fault and too bad for you (instead of answering my question if there's anything we can do). There was no "sorry, that's too bad because we don't have a tracking number" (a stereotypical customer service demeanor) but rather a "sucks to suck" attitude with a strong note of finality. There's definitely a stereotype that Scandinavian people are aloof, and oh boy, I feel it. To be fair, I can only talk about Swedish people, and only Stockholm. While I was VERY happy to get away from the annoying pestering of Moroccan men, Sweden is totally on the opposite side of the nosiness spectrum. I don't like chit chatting with people unless I connect with them (e.g. Something funny happened between us), but I have to say, Swedish culture is either socially awkward, very wary of foreigners, or all of the above. It doesn't bother me much since I don't live here, but man I think I would be annoyed if I did. That's why I really like places like Germany or Vienna; I fit in in the middle, as I think Spain or Portugal are too friendly for me but I don't like the coldness of Scandinavian culture. I'm very social and straightforward, but I'm definitely not fake and definitely don't want to be friends with everyone. I can't pretend I like you if I can't stand you, so in some ways, I get to be more direct here and not feel guilty like I would in Minnesota.
To describe to you how strange it is to interact with some people I'll tell you a story. I sat down at the bar and asked the bartender for recommendations about what to try. He was quite aloof (though not what I consider rude, just not cheerful which is so taboo for American bartenders) and gave me one of his favorite beers. 15 minutes later he asked me how I liked it and we got into a conversation. He totally lit up and we spent five minutes exchanging beer recommendations for each other. Of course not everyone in Stockholm is like that, but it does seem to be the typical idea. People come in all shades and flavors, so it's fun interacting with different cultures and seeing what "makes them tick." I am excited to meet some Norwegians and see how their language compares to Swedish! :)
Finally, I'm going to get something off my chest that absolutely drives me bonkers about some of the people in my course and some of the people that talk about Scandinavia, particularly on online sites like Reddit or among people back home (this doesn't apply to Scandinavians themselves). They have such Scandinavian fetishes due to the successful socialist reputations of the countries. I have people in my course that live here because they have spouses or significant others or are going to school here, which is cool. There's a girl in my course who absolutely fetishizes this country and acts like she knows everything about the culture, which is hilarious to me because Swedes are quite modest and would not look favorably upon this kind of bragging. It's also uncomfortable for me to listen to her, talking about how "she's so embarrassed she doesn't know the articles "ett" vs "en" and that her kids will be embarrassed for her." Mind you, she's 20 years old and is not even married, so why she envisions herself living here with kids is beyond me and cringeworthy at best. I am so sick of people pretending Scandinavia is such a haven. Yes, the government seems to be quite fair, the healthcare and education systems are awesome, and it's a very orderly and flawless system of public transport and societal functioning. Things work, unlike some countries I have visited. That being said...
I see so many people moving here who have NEVER even visited before, expecting free hand outs (someone at my hostel actually asked if they could come with me to my class because he thought it was free!!!! If only he knew how much time and money went into organizing my course!). They don't know anything about the culture or lifestyle. I would love to study here (because the quality of medical school graduate programs are amazing in Scandinavia) but I am almost 100% I could never live here. The weather is cold and rainy like Seattle now, but it's April! It's dark and depressing, so I started taking my antidepressant and Vitamin D pill again 😂. I bring up these things because it doesn't seem like anyone talks about the negative aspects of these countries. The food is very boring, though it is good comfort food. It's so fucking expensive, though yes, Norway is definitely worse! There's a feeling of exclusion within the culture, which is good if you're an introvert like me, but is bad if you're an extroverted introvert like me and you just want to bond over a coffee or some beer. Of course, I understand if people who grew up in Scandinavia and love it and want to stay (just as I have a love/hate relationship with the weather and people in Minnesota).
People in general dress quite stylish, but not a very "put together" stylish like Italians. I went shoe shopping (idiot me lost my Converse on my flight over here in my checked bag pocket) and I had to work hard to avoid platform shoes. I'm too much of a tomboy to not buy Converse or high tops!!! People are so fit! Swedes are very healthy, and some are scarily tan, especially younger men.
I have only been here three days so I look forward to updating at the end of next week, before I leave for Oslo! I like walking around Stockholm and find it to be a very clean and beautiful city. There's so many nice cafes and restaurants, and I find the random parks I stumble upon really charming. I cannot wait to start looking for farms to work on. I look forward to stuffing my face with more pastries and recovering from the virus!√