70 Days in Sweden
Today I have been in Sweden a total of 70 days.
Mankind is continuously trying to explain human behaviour. We understand theories and laws and “rules”. We like the boxes – ticking them, placing others in them and trying to think outside of them. One of these often contemplated general rules is how long it takes to form a habit. Recent studies suggests this magic number is 66 days – this is to have a habit become automatic. Looking at “easier” habits, like drinking a glass of lemon water in the morning you can argue to be accomplished sooner. More “complex” habits can take up to eight months.
What does this have to do with my 70 day mark? Well, I have to argue that moving to Sweden from South Africa comes with its fair share of new habits. I also have to agree to some extent with the study – some habits are in line with your way of thinking and therefore easier to adopt. Other habits are so different to what I am used to that I suspect it will take quite a bit longer than two months.
Over the next couple of weeks I will post a series elaborating on everything from weather to buying groceries. In this post however, we’ll only touch on some appetisers as I’m reliving my first 70 days.
Moving to Sweden
Moving is always stressful. So much to do; so little time. I had a bit more than three months to really plan. The curveball: I could bring 46kg. Throw into that mix that I have only been to Europe once before (not Sweden though). For those of you that don’t know South Africa – we have a lot of sunshine and nice warm weather, don’t get (real) snow in large areas of the country and rain is something typically limited to a season. So what do you pack – swimwear and sundresses or a parka you bought from the Russian import shop?
I opted to bring mostly jeans and tops and get the warmer clothes here. In hindsight, this was a good choice. In the past 70 days, days have gotten shorter by about 5 hours, temperatures dropped from early 20’s to around 14°C average and it rains at least 3 days a week. Don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely loving the weather but it takes some getting used to. Something else to get used to is how warm it is indoors. This brings me to some habits I have developed:
Habit #1: Never leave the house without checking the weather first. Preferably the hourly forecast on your phone. Added effort is opening the window and getting an idea if you should add another scarf.
Habit #2: If the weather says rain (anytime during the day) take the rain coat. Don’t hesitate – you will need it.
If no rain is predicted, take the small umbrella in your bag. Just always take the umbrella.
Habit #3: Layer. Yes like an onion, or Shrek. This does though mean that you have a whole undressing session when walking into a building. I haven’t mastered this yet, but I am catching on (I am also up to at least three layers).
Living in a new country
We all have those favourite stores – for groceries, for clothes, a favourite restaurant or even pharmacy. Then you get here, and you realise that IKEA is probably one of the most amazing places you’ve ever visited. It is also almost an hour by bus to get there, so I should be safe on the budget end of things. Getting used to new stores (and figuring out labels in Swedish) was one side of the story – the other side is getting everything you bought back to your apartment. See in South Africa I have my car waiting outside. Enough boot and seat space to take home half of the mall. If I want to take an extra sweater, it is no problem just leaving it on the back seat “just in case”.
Now I travel by bus. For my state of mind this is brilliant – it keeps me off the road and thus my road rage is far less (no, sadly not yet gone – I still end up in busy shops behind trolleys and baby strollers). Thing is, you can only take what you can carry. Like one of those 60 second game shows, but you pay.
Habit #4: Buy groceries often and in moderate amounts. One bag – preferably a nice sturdy one.
Habit #5: Always take your shopping bag with you if you might possibly pass by the shop. Otherwise you end up with a hundred rather costly space fillers in your apartment.
Habit #6: Figure out the English names for the things you want to buy. I’m not talking about confirming if the red thing you are holding is in fact a tomato. I bought filmjölk instead of milk twice. For those of you that don’t know: filmjölk is found with the milk. It sounds to the newbie like it could be “full milk” but in reality it is sour milk. A great alternative to yoghurt; not so great in coffee.
Habit #7: If the local bus service has an app – get it. It will give you a good indication of the bus schedule and any delays. In Sweden (at least up until now) I have found the public transport to be quite on schedule. O, and check the schedule when you plan your day – maybe while you are busy checking the weather.
Doing the laundry is also a rather new thing for me. I know, I have been spoilt in this most my life, but it is not the act itself that gets me. It is understanding the machines (which are in Swedish) and planning your laundry times so you will have clean clothes to last you. I think I have this figured out now. I am always in clean clothes and I have only shrunk a shirt once (maybe twice, I haven’t checked it after washing it yesterday).
Habit #8: Plan your laundry times – if possible, book ahead for the next two weeks.
Random tip: If you shrink something, you can save it! Wash it in hair conditioner, then stretch it back to size and lay out to dry. There are a lot of how-to sites and YouTube videos explaining this better.
Fitting in and making friends
This one is easy:
Habit #9: Get earphones. Plug them into your phone. Listen to something or nothing, as long as you have the earphones in your ears. Stare at your phone whenever in a public setting.
Habit #10: Always talk on the phone using your earphones. Speaking on the phone with it held against your ear is a clear sign that you are likely not Swedish (if the darker hair and skin and lack of Swedish skills didn’t give it away).
I know this is quite strange to newcomers – apparently Swedes are very antisocial and prefer the company of their phones. This is true… in public places. Walking around the mall or campus or on the bus, most people will be on their phones. Probably reading up on something or doing something with data. For context, data is unbelievably cheap compared to rates in South Africa. However, if someone tells you that the Swedes are cold, you can call their bluff. I’m not going into details now – I’ll elaborate in one of my upcoming posts. They are however not as “polite” as some people may expect – saying “sorry” to move past you or because you bumped into each other (regardless of who was at fault) is rare. They aren’t being rude per se, they are just minding their own business.
So, I have been here 70 days
I am still getting used to some things, like the weather. I have already had some great experiences. Every day is an adventure, and if you go out and take a new turn, you will end up seeing something amazing – be it a lovely park or a spectacular or building or a quant shop. I have also made some amazing friends. People from all over: Sweden, Italy, France – well from all over Europe – but also from Africa, Asia and even one or two from the Americas. In a week I will be writing my first exam and I’m not ready (so at least I know I am already back into being a student).
I have gained some great new habits, like walking everywhere (it’s a lot of walking), not drinking a lot of soft drinks and doing yoga often. I am also drinking a lot of coffee and having fika regularly. Yes, I count the fact that Swedes LOVE coffee as a big plus and I will elaborate on fika soon. I am still working on the recycling thing, but I am now in the habit of turning off lights wherever I go (I mean, some public restrooms have a light switch inside and it is usually off when you enter, so I think they are trying to send a message).
Back to the question: is 66 days enough to form a habit? Well I now go nowhere without my earphones or shopping bag. My weather app gets nervous when I even look at my phone and I am shuffling laundry times like a pro. Using public transport changed from an absolute experience to just something you do (yes, sometimes even without thinking about it). I’ll have to check back later on the recycling thing though.
It is quite a fascinating experience – moving to a new country. And I think Sweden is turning out to have been a great choice. If you are thinking of doing the same (or if you already did) let me know of any topics you want me address in the series to follow, or tell us more about your own experiences. Keep an eye out for my next post on the process of Moving to Sweden.
Have a fantastic week!