Sweden – Farewell Umeå

Yesterday was my last day in Umeå and Sweden.  This morning I traveled to Oslo, Norway.  I’ll be spending the next week traveling around Norway with Victoria.

I wasn’t sure how I would feel when I left Umeå but oddly enough it feels very much like a hangover (that may have something to do with the farewells last night).  It still hasn’t sunk in and likely won’t for awhile longer, that many of the people I said goodbye to I may never see again.  Luckily though, many of them I KNOW I will see again.  So, now that I am leaving Sweden I will share the 5 worst (and 5 best) things about Sweden/Umeå.

The 5 Worst things about Sweden

  • 5. BLAND FOOD – While in Sweden I cooked for myself a lot, but when I did go out, more often then not I was disappointed.  Granted a few steaks, reindeer or the occasional pasta were great, most of the time I found the dishes lacked flavour, or at least the flavour I am used to.  They use a lot of white sauces (which I despise!), and a lot of the more timid spices like sage.  But the worst part, is that theres no spicy food.  While in Stockholm I went to a Vapiano (I am going to miss the hell out of these when I am back in Canada!) and they asked, out of 10, how spicy I would like it.  I knew the culture didn’t eat spicy food so I said, 10… the next time I ordered I said 15.
  • 4. THEY’RE TOO GOOD LOOKING – And I’m pointing this at the guys.  Men in Sweden would likely be considered a little feminine in North America because they take such good care of their appearance.  They look like they get a haircut and style everyday.  They’re always dressed very “fashion forward.”  Guys, you’re making the rest of us look bad!  I felt underdressed all year long; Like the savage, uncivilized, North American I am haha.  They are all extremely fit and committed to going to the gym as well.  Me? I get bored on a treadmill and rely on competition in hockey to keep me fit: which I missed out on this year… (number 2).
  • 3. DANCE, HOUSE, CLUB… WHATEVER, MUSIC – It seems like the same rotation of super pop dance songs are played in rotation hourly at every club, all year long.  The hockey games I attended replaced the traditional rock songs you hear at north american games with dance music (the rock songs suck anyways).  However, the worst part of all of this is because these songs are played so much, everyone knows them, and then they drink…  Quite a few nights during the week, and every weekend, around 2 to 3 am I would get woken up by the normally, quiet, calm and polite Swede (Dr. Jekyll) transforming into a group of Eurostar singing lunatics (Mr. Hyde).  There was one night in particular where a group of lads sat outside and sang (“sang”) the same tune for about 2 hours (thats not even an exaggeration…).  Again, this was particular to where I lived since I was in the neighbourhood of Ålidhelm: a student ghetto and a “most dangerous” place according to urban dictionary haha (thats not true).
  • 2. HOCKEY – Winter back in Alberta is long and dull but playing hockey with some local kids and sometimes parents helps keep the spirits and energy up.  I thought Sweden was a hockey nation but the outdoor rinks were generally abandoned.  There is also virtually no recreational teams.  This could have been because of the particular city I was in, and the particular neighbourhood, as it was a lot of international students.  The few times there was a group at the outdoor rink (ODR, Oh-dee-ar, in Canada) they wouldn’t play a game.  In Canada, you drop a stick at centre ice and that signals a game is going to start.  Everyone else throws their sticks in and then someone splits them up and you play 3v3, 6v6, 9v9, whatever.  I tried this and I guess its not part of the culture (they just stared at my hockey stick at centre ice like I was crazy).  Additionally, when even asking people to get a game going they aren’t interested.  It was a surprise to me.
  • 1. THE DARK – This one is particular to Umeå.  Coming from Edmonton, I am used to brutal winters and was expecting the same.  However, it was the mildest winter I have ever experienced (thank you Gulf stream!).  It was even frustrating at certain times because the weather was too mild to play hockey (“ishocky”, if you prefer).  However, it was brutal in a whole other respect.  The dark!!  Trying to live when you get 3 or 4 hours of daylight, and during that time it is overcast, for 3 months straight is a challenge to say the least.  It drains your energy and sours your mood.  Then on the flip side is the other part of the year, it never gets dark and makes it very difficult to sleep at night but you feel energized.

THE 5 BEST THINGS ABOUT SWEDEN

  • 5. SAFE, SAFE, SAFE – I always felt so very exceptionally safe in Sweden.  No one seems to go out with the intention of looking for a fight, or raging with redneck pride and needing to justify it.  Back home, certain bars/places have to be avoided because people will go there just to fight (if anyone knows the Old Bar in Stony Plain, they know what I mean).  In Sweden, something about the culture is just so very non-aggresive and relaxed.  I never encountered what seemed like a “bad neighbourhood.”  I wasn’t worried about drunk drivers (and I’ve had  extremely close calls in Edmonton).  This is partly because hardly anyone had the need to drive (city planning! infrastructure! yay!).  I’ll likely have a better opinion on this when I’m back home and have more perspective.
  • 4. CITY PLANNING/PUBLIC TRANSIT – This is a big one for me and probably a lot of North Americans.  Edmonton’s city planning seems like it was done by complete airheads or by those airheads children.  Swedish, and most all European cities, encourage people to walk and usually have centres with outdoor restaurants, pubs, shops, monuments: a place for the community to gather.  Edmonton’s closest thing would be Whyte ave or Churchill Square. I guess.  But again there is no real centre or communal point for pedestrians.  The city suffers from a sprawl problem.  The whole city is very automobile emphasized.  You should drive everywhere, really in most case, driving is actually your only option.  Whereas in Europe (and some Canadian cities: Vancouver is one) streets are closed for pedestrian use and a cultural focal point tends to form.  The city planning emphasizes walking, biking, public transit and makes it unnecessary to drive.  If I could live without a car I would, but that’s near to impossible in Edmonton and much of Canada.
  • 3. MUSIC CULTURE – Just like number three in the 5 Worst Things list, this one is about music.  The fact that I was an international student, being compensated to afford playing and performing music says a lot about the emphasis and availability of artistic expression in Sweden.  Youth centres exist with fully equipped music rooms for kids and adults to practise and learn.  On top of that, the government will help fund the renting of these rooms because you are committing you time to art which enriches the culture and is the backbone of its identity.  I badly wish something like this existed back home and even made me think it would be a profitable business venture.  There were constant music festivals in Umeå and randomly a stage would appear downtown every now and again with a band performing.  They also have an unbelievable jazz club and a world class guitar museum.
  • 2. FIKA – Easy one! Get a break in class to have coffee?  Sure!  Meet up with friends on a regular basis because it’s part of the culture to go for fika?  Sure!  It also helps that Scandinavian coffee is great!  For those that wonder, fika is basically a break in the day to have coffee and sweets.  This is a good part of the “don’t over-stress yourself” that is emphasized in the Swedish culture.  No only are fika breaks a large part of the culture, but employees have to be allowed additional breaks to exercise as working (sitting in an office) for long periods isn’t healthy.
  • 1. UMEÅ – This city has a lot going for it!  The only draw back is that it is a little disconnected from the rest of Europe.  You can go on hikes just 5 minutes from downtown.  It’s a chance to meet people from all over the world with a massive international student body.  There are plenty of opportunities for artistic expression.  I’ve made a lot of lifelong friends here and I have grown up a lot and had a real shift in perspective.  It was an incredible experience and this city will always be a special place for me: Even if I had sour days, because we all have sour days no matter where we are.  I hope to visit the home countries of all the friends I’ve made.  Maybe one day!
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