My first winter in Sweden: A few lessons…
Picture : Ice Hotel, Jukkasjärvi, Sweden
If you are planning on moving to Sweden, this is probably a word that most likely frightens or fascinates you. Either way, you’ve been thinking about it, and you tried to prepare yourself to the best of your abilities ( and if you haven’t been doing so… trust me, you should have ).Of course, before moving here I was no exception to that rule.
Before arriving in Stockholm 7 months ago, I was really apprehending the winter time. As you guys already know by know, I grew up in Cameroon. This meant no winter, and temperatures above 20 degrees celsius all year long. Then I moved to France, but French winter was okay. It really wasn’t bad, especially in the Paris region. Needless to say that, at 19 years-old, I had never experienced something even close to a Scandinavian winter. And I was quite apprehensive. The fact that every time I mentioned to someone I was moving to Sweden the first response was « oh, but its super cold there ! » obviously didn’t help.
So while I was packing my belongings to move, the only thing that I could think of was : winter, winter, winter. I packed loads of sweaters, jackets, boots, gloves, hats… hoping that it would be enough to keep me warm and going during those challenging months. Looking back on everything, the amount of clothes I took with me was definitely excessive ! But you know how the saying goes : its better to be safe than sorry.
On the other hand, and despite the fear and anxiety that invaded my mind, I was also fascinated and thrilled by the idea of living such a unique experience. After all, one of the reasons I wanted to move to Sweden, was to experience all of that. I wanted to see for myself the snowy landscapes, the frozen lakes, the ‘snowstorms’… yeah I know, very cliché ! But still. As crazy as it did sound to most of my relatives, I wanted that.
Being the adventurous person that I am, I somehow convinced myself that if I could make it through a Scandinavian winter, I would be extremely proud of it, and that my self-esteem would be unmeasurably pumped. Maybe others would even admire me for it ! I imagined myself coming home, and telling my friends and relatives stories about me, defeating the monstrous Swedish winter in an epic battle ( yeah… that’s not really how thins go but whatever ). I could at least definitely add that to my list of accomplishments.
Bearing all of that in mind, when I arrived in Stockholm during the summer time, I enjoyed every tiny ray of sun, and soaked up every bit of warmth that I could get. And I’m glad I did !
Around October, the days started to get colder, and shorter. But at a very slow pace ( at least that’s how it felt ). So I eased into those colder days, and didn’t even really see the change happening. At least ( at first ) it wasn’t a drastic change. I even remember thinking to myself, sometime around the end of October : «Well, it’s not that bad ! I could get used to this.».
Well, I guess I completely jinxed my luck !
I woke up one day, in the beginning of November to a huge snowfall. The amount of snow falling and accumulating outside was impressive. And I remember opening my shutters in the morning, and standing in front of my window in shock. I was unable to leave the area where I lived to go to university, because the roads and certain bus lines were completely shut. Students in my housing area were sending messages on Facebook, reaching for advice on how to get home, since they had already left and were stuck in town.
After hesitating for a while, I still decided to pop up my boots, my warmest jacket, a pair of gloves and a beanie. I wanted to have a walk around my neighborhood. Honestly, I was just curious to see how the swedes would behave in such circumstances. After all, this is what I came for. I wanted to discover their ways. People were playing outside in the snow, kids were sledging, throwing snowballs and building a few snowmen. I remember seeing some people still trying to go to work by bike (which wasn’t really successful but I salute the effort and the tenacity).
I went home that day, feeling cold, but excited as well. There was no turning back possible. I was in it for the whole ride. Winter had come. (If you want to read more about that crazy snow day, here’s a link to an article that was published by the local: https://www.thelocal.se/20161110/stockholm-just-set-a-new-snow-record)
After that episode, I started being more careful of what was happening around me. Being more aware in a sense. I really started noticing the shortening of the days for instance. It struck me once, when I got out of a lecture at university around 4pm, that the night had already hugged the city. The sky was dark, the street lights were on, and the buildings stood out from a distance with their yellowy windows projecting the inside lights out on their facades. I got used to it, but it was quite weird in the beginning.
I also started noticing the more regular snow days, and the cold settling in. On weeks when it wasn’t snowing, I remember getting really pissed at the brown mud accumulating on the sidewalks, and the little rocks (placed on the ground to avoid slipping I guess) getting stuck in my boots. I even remember calling a friend one day, and complaining about the snow and the aftermath of it. She pointed out to me how ‘Swedish’ that probably was, since in France, whenever we got snow we would be really happy and excited about it. I guess that was part of the process of getting used to things. I wasn’t really amazed at the city’s white coat anymore, but really bothered by the unwanted side-effects of it.
One thing that I would also say, about winter in Sweden, is that the temperatures (in the Stockholm area at least) didn’t drop as low as I though they would. But the wind is crazy here. I think that was really the most difficult thing to deal with during the winter. The strong and cold wind, that gets under your clothes and under your skin, freezes your ears, your nose, and makes your eyes tear-up. That was a hard battle. Especially since no matter how layered-up you were, that breeze would still make its way to your skin. Ugh…
Another thing that I didn’t anticipate, was the effect of the shorter days, and the lack of light, on me. They really took a toll on my body at some point, and I had to make some lifestyle changes. I’m usually not someone who likes to wake up early. So in the beginning, I kept my rhythm and woke up quite late. But by doing that, I only had between 2 to 3 hours of daylight before the sun vanished and the night took over again. It didn’t bother me at first, but I quickly started to feel more tired, lazy, and found it hard to be motivated. Needless to say I had to do some changes! I tried waking up earlier (which was more or less a success) or going out during the day, even if it was just for a walk or to the grocery store. I tried going to the gym more and more, to keep myself active. A friend also recommended taking Vitamins, which was a life savior honestly! I think overall, the best way to get through all of this, is to constantly find ways to fight the desire to hibernate…
As I am finishing this article, it is the end of April. The winter is not far behind us, but I think I can finally say that sunnier and warmer days are coming. I wish I could say it is completely over, but temperatures do not really rise above 10 degrees right now (at least not often) and Sweden also taught me not to have any certainty about the weather (I woke up on Easter Day this year, to snow falling on my balcony so… I won’t take anything for granted).
Despite all the tough times, and the techniques I had to develop to make it through the winter, I would say that it was still a great time. It sounds weird to say this, but I almost miss it. Stockholm especially is a very beautiful city during the winter. The look of Gamla Stan (the old town) on a freezing day is so precious. And there’s nothing like walking around Slussen, where the boats are usually departing for archipelago tours, and see the frozen water just being so quiet and peaceful.
Around Christmas time, the city gets so lively and fun! All the lights, activities, foods… all bring something special to the scenery. I do understand why tourists from across Europe often rush to spend their Christmas Time here in Sweden. I did not miss on the Christmas markets, the glogg and the pepparkakor of course!
I also did an amazing trip to Lapland for my birthday in February. I will talk about in a separate article, and include some pictures, but it was definitely the highlight of my winter. It’s such a unique experience. I’ll end up this article by saying that if you are anxious about moving here because of the winter time, don’t be. Of course prepare for it, because you want it do be as easy as possible. But don’t stress out too much ! You’ll be just fine.
In my next article, you’ll be able to read a list of tips that I’ve combined to help you prepare and go through your first Swedish winter. I hope it’s helpful!
Until next time, take care !