The Motley News

The Phone to Nowhere: Swedish Frustration Stage

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There is a phone, next to our bathroom, that has puzzled me for the first month living here. It doesn’t have buttons or a dial tone.


The Phone in Question

I’ve checked it a few times and marveled over its uselessness, wondering what kind of game our apartment building was playing with us. After a month, it dawned on me that the phone could be a way to buzz down to the front door of our building. I haven’t tested the theory, but I’m certain that’s what it has to be. In short, the phone is a metaphor for all of the tiny Swedish bullshit that I should just know.

I realize that I don’t know every tiny culture difference. I realize that it’s pissing me off. Like the phone situation, I feel like Sweden constantly playing with me. This is commonly known as the Frustration Stage of Culture Shock.

Culture Shock Diagram_1_0.png

World Relief Durham lists my stage as the “Rejection Phase”

Noah and I felt the Honeymoon Phase for the first two weeks of living here. Which wasn’t a surprise, because that’s about how long most of our vacations last. Two years ago, we spent a couple of weeks in both Helsinki and Tallinn, just enough time for us to bask in European charm, fall in love with each city’s quirks, all that shit. Last year, we spent nearly a month in Ireland and were ready to cast everything aside to become sheep herders.

This time it’s different. We live here now. The time for enjoying the European sidewalks and quiet parks is taking a backseat to the many mounting frustrations that plague me daily. Just so I can bitch about this and then let it go, I’m going to write a list of things that I’m struggling with. Understand that Noah and I knew that the Frustration Stage was coming; we tried to prepare for it as best as we could. We know that we’ll get over this, look back, and laugh at how rough it was. . . but I need a good whinge right now.

  • Being recognized as an actual person in Sweden: I don’t think I fully understood the importance of the personnummer before coming here. It’s the Swedish social security number and you need it FOR EVERYTHING. What’s more, you really need a personnummer to get a Swedish ID card. Here are the simple steps in order to secure your own Swedish personnummer:
    • Go to the Immigration office to get your biometrics recorded. Photo, fingerprints, and signature (it obviously helps to have work permits like we did).
    • Wait about two weeks to receive a Permanent Resident Card.
    • Take your Permanent Resident Card to your local tax office, fill out an application for your p.nummer.
    • Wait about a month to receive your number in the mail (you’re not done yet)!
    • Book an appointment apply for a Swedish ID card (pay $40 in advance).
    • Return to your local tax office with p.nummer and payment receipt in hand
    • Wait about two weeks for a mail notification to return to your local tax office to pick up Swedish ID card!


(Note: Noah and I are extremely lucky that this process has not taken as long as the average immigrant. We have had help from a relocation office. We also know that in the current U.S. political climate, we have absolutely nothing to complain about.)

  • Signing up for a bank account is a headache: Sweden recognizes that the United States has it’s issues with tax evasion and fraud, so everything must be checked and then double-checked. I get it. But we won’t have full bank services until we get Swedish ID cards. Our current account is a very temporary “fictive” place to put Noah’s salary. It was explained to me a few times, but I’m still unsure what “fictive” means in regards to our money. Also, we have to pay for the pleasure of a debit card.
  • The grocery store is stressful: This sounds lame, but everyone seems to know where they’re going and there is no idle strolling through the bread aisle. Every time I got to my local Maxi ICA, I feel like I’m competing in Supermarket Sweep. Shoppers do not say “excuse me” (ursakt mig) when they move around you, which is hard for me to get used to. I end up shopping so quickly that I always forget something.


  • Making an appointment to do laundry: Swedes love to form an orderly line and my apartment building’s laundry facilities are no different. We’re lucky to finally have laundry services so close to us (no more coin-op laundromats!), but the appointment system is divided into two hour blocks. For example, if you need to use a washing machine, you have a full two hours. Why so long? Because the machine is so small. Like, 3×3′ small. There are two washers and two dryers, so we have to plan ahead. Don’t plan your dryer time at the same as your washer time because you are literally locked into those times. The doors lock if you accidentally spill into someone else’s time and they’ll have to unlock the machine for you.
  • State monopoly on alcohol: If you come from the Southern Bible Belt or Utah, you already know about restrictions on alcohol purchases. Even in Ohio, hard liquors were only sold in state-ran stores and open at certain times. In Sweden, this monopoly is call Systembolaget, it’s regulated by the nation’s government, and ALL alcohol over 3.5 abv. is sold there. Nowhere else. These stores usually close at 7 pm, Monday thru Friday and completely closed on weekend’s, so plan ahead.
  • Everything is expensive: Food, alcohol, clothing, and electronics are all expensive. All I can say is: Taxes. If you want a socialist country to give you universal health care, free education, and dependable infrastructure, you gotta pay for it.
  • The sun won’t go down: It’s summer time and the it still looks like dusk at 1 a.m. The sun “comes up” (I guess) at 2 a.m. On the flip-side, the sun will hardly be out during winter, so. . .

So that’s the short-ish list of things that have been bugging me. These complaints are just the growing pains of being in a different place and learning life all over again. I have to come to grips with not being the same Charish anymore. These complaint are also not life-shattering abuses. I’m not being oppressed, I’m just being pushed out of my comfort zone. Which is the beautiful thing about travel: It forces you to see the world in a different way.

Like the “Phone to Nowhere,” these things will eventually be sorted out. We’ll eventually get past the Frustration Stage and onto something a little less irritating. And when that happens, I’ll have fun and happy things to report on.

Until then, I’m going to grouse a little.

Author: charishreid

Writer and Educator.

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