"Telling old stories, and singing songs, that make me think about where I came from"

By my lack of blogging you’d be forgiven for thinking I’d disappeared and become one of the unfortunate characters of a Swedish crime novel. The last few weeks have spared me hardly a second to think. It has been the business end of our ‘period’ – mini-semester for those of you not versed in the Swedish academic system. At 1am this morning I put the finishing touches to the last piece of coursework for this period, so all that is left to do is present my latest work on Friday and then run to catch the bus to Arlanda, jump a plane headed to Copenhagen and, after a short stop off in what I’m informed is the most expensive airport in the world, I’ll be boarding a plane for Edinburgh.

In the intervening time since my last post I have turned 26, which I’m still trying to figure out my feelings towards, Julie has visited – around the same time – and I received my surprise present of flights to Belfast to visit Gary and Maeve. As I’m sitting writing this it has just dawned on me that this has been the longest period of time in my life that I’ve been away from Scotland and the longest period of time in 4 years that I’ve not seen my old uni pal Gary Cocker. So it’s nice to know the remedy to both of these issues is close at hand.

Gary and Maeve

It’s funny how the things that once seemed strange, new, exciting, or just plain annoying, have now become daily life. It has become the norm to understand nothing that is going on around me, to not see beggars, and to narrowly avoid being run over by bikes. It no longer seems strange that you can’t buy alcohol in the supermarket, that you have to take a ticket to join a queue, and that people leave work at 4:30pm – except on a Friday when you’ll be lucky to see anyone working beyond 1pm. There’s something bleak about Sweden; cold, damp, misty, and almost a little sinister. But that is counteracted by fashionable orange trousers, crazy hair, the fact it’s cool to wear glasses my grandparents would be embarrassed to sport, and the warm, welcoming nature of the Swedes.

A particular highlight was my first visit to a Swedish person’s home. One of our lecturers had invited the class to his apartment for a post-seminar and a general get together. In true stereotype the shoes came off at the front door, there was an array of weapons on the wall, and food and drink was provided. It was really nice and informal, which made me see the benefits of Sweden’s egalitarian system. Don’t be fooled, Sweden is by no means the land of milk and honey, and you can’t help but get the impression that a lot has changed in recent years – almost a loss of innocence – but the idea that a university is a community, with the professors all the way down to the first year students on an equal footing, is not just senior management rhetoric which appears in the latest recruitment pamphlet, the Swedes really mean it.

I get the impression there’s a lot more to learn about this country and the transition it’s going through. I’ve been surprised by some of the views I’ve encountered in what is supposed to be the home of liberalism and equality. I’m looking forward to better understanding Sweden during my time here, and it’s got me thinking that Scotland’s desire to emulate our Scandinavian cousins – to become a free social democracy in Northern Europe – might be chasing phantoms. Perhaps we’re aspiring to be the Sweden or Norway of twenty years ago, but things seem different here. It’s in off-hand comments and under-the-breath remarks that you pick up this air of disquiet.

Maybe people just like to gripe, but I have a feeling it’s more than that.

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