If there could be two lands and cultures that are a total opposite of one another, then surely Sweden and India are it. India is a nation of 1.26 billion, baking in temperatures upward of 40 degrees; Sweden has just 9.6 million residents and chills out below -15 degrees.
Crossing the road can be a challenge. People drive on the “wrong” side of the road here. Swedes drive on the right hand side, while Indians drive left, which means I look on both sides of the road while crossing.
What’s that? On Mumbai trains you need to search where the rest of your body is, since you have poured yourself into every crevice possible.
On Sweden’s public transport, by contrast, you are at least a minimum of two feet away from the next person at the bus stop. Swedes would rather stand than sit extremely close to a stranger. In India, we plead with people to squeeze just a bit to allow exactly 2 inches of prime space for the fourth person for a seat made for three.
The crescent moon is vertical in Sweden and horizontal in India. The switch is “on” when it’s off! In Sweden you press a button up to turn it on, while in India you press it down. This symbol √ means you have a wrong answer, not a right one as in India.
It’s hard to move around in a new country. But it can also be fun because you see everything with new eyes so to speak. I laughed out loud when I saw signs, such as UTFART. Kaka means cake in Swedish and poop in Hindi.
Gasping for air while talking is ok; in fact it shows that you are Swedish. Swedes gasp at you, when they agree with something you say. I thought my husband was choking on his food when he gasped loudly in the middle of a conversation at the dinner table.
People & Culture
Yes, you can kiss in public, what a relief ! And you have flowers, fresh air, chiming church bells and the scent of freshly baked breads to add to the moment. No crow droppings, staring aunties or car honking to deal with.
On the other hand, Swedes are not really known to be outgoing or spontaneous. Christmas events and party invitations begin floating weeks, even months in advance.
Spontaneity and friendliness in India goes to another level. Calling up a friend at 2 am on Saturday for a chai is not uncommon and popping up at a house party with three friends is cool. When you ask someone for directions, they may even walk with you to your destination or offer you a ride.
Swedes take punctuality to another level. We had guests last month who arrived 10 minutes early and just waited in their car. In India, we would still be getting ready while telling friends that we’re on our way. It can be a stress when my Swedish husband prepares to leave early to the bus stop, which is two minutes away, “Herregud, the bus leaves in one hour!”
It hit me that you have to do everything yourself when I landed in Sweden with seven bags between me and my husband and no porter. Try assembling a cupboard from IKEA. You could get an assembled one at half the price in India.
Standard of Living
You know you are in a country with the highest standard of living when you can buy dishwashing detergent in strawberry, peach, cucumber, green apple and ocean breeze flavors. Slums are ugly buildings, not open sewages with houses around it. Seagulls are considered a nuisance by some Swedes; they seem pretty exotic to me.
Snow! I have only dreamt of snow, seen it in the movies and used cotton as a substitute on the Christmas tree. I saw and touched snow for the very first time ever this year. We went to a glass front sauna and jacuzzi later and sat in a warm wooden cabin watching the snow fall outside.
When you come from a land that has three seasons — hot, hotter, hottest, it is nice to experience four very distinct seasons in Sweden.
My mouth waters when I hear the word curry. I miss Indian food and mangoes. It wouldn’t hurt to have more flavor in Swedish cuisine; knäckebröd that almost tastes like cardboard doesn’t help.
Salt and candy? Yes, it goes together in Sweden. You can buy salty and sour liqourice candy. It has a funky taste, as if it is rotten. I really don’t know how people can eat it, or liquorice flavored ice cream for that matter.
Really big beards. Now a little bit of stubble is hot, but a long beard that could host a bird’s nest or maybe two? It is apparently hot in Sweden to explore the Viking look or the Hagrid Harry Potter look. There is even a book on Swedish beards, Skäggboken, published last year documenting the history and various styles of Swedish beards.
So there you go, just some of the differences between India and Sweden. As much as I miss the colors, food, music and liveliness of India, I love also the peace and quiet, stunning landscapes, proximity to nature and the orderliness of Sweden.