First Impressions Of Snowy Sweden – Part I: Travel Cards, Shopping, And Shampoo

It has now been a week since I relocated East and North of my former homestead, Sleepy Suffolk, to the unforgiving, snow-capped lands of Sweden where temperatures give a fresh and crisp new meaning to Jack Frost’s doings. The last few days have been times of new discoveries, astonishments, surprises, and early mornings one could do without. Here are a few recollections of the past week.


I don’t frankly know what I expected but I was surprised to see the entire countryside was covered in snow as Ryanair’s flight FR052 initiated its descent on Skavsta. Naïvely, I thought that if snow had melted in Ipswich, it would have also given way in other places of Northern Europe. Only, of course, it was not to be. The bus that took me to Stockholm filled slowly with a mix of locals returning home and tourists headed out to what guidebooks don as the capital of the Nordics. The scenic route on the way reminded me of America in Winter: red barns and white fences in a pristine landscape, a mixture of pine forests and wintry fields. Much later, Babak took Ryan and me on a quick tour of northern Stockholm suburbs whose layout, large houses, and backyards reminded me of Kansas City and the Midwest. Northern German and Swedish immigrants must have taken this architectural style in their luggage when traveling to the New World.

When in Stockholm last November, I had been struck by the number of candles in cafés, streets, windows… As I stepped into my new home, a suburban apartment, I was equally struck by the amount of candles, tealights, and electric candlesticks lying about. This would be a haven for a 1666 revival, enough to give a UK Health and safety inspector a heart attack three times over. Mental note to self: never invite Thomas Farriner, the royal baker who started the London ‘66 blaze.

The apartment is cozy, large, and spacious. Windows are equally large but well insulated avoiding a ‘Bar XIX’ type scenario where the large single-glazed antiquated windows invited every last draft from the street into our house. I am surprised to this day that Fadi, a fellow friend from warmer climates, hasn’t frozen yet. It sure felt like these windows hadn’t been renovated ever since the original planner, none other than Wolsey himself, had ordered the houses be built.


The week started off with a series of company meetings and brainstorming. I already knew most of the team so there were hardly any new names or faces to learn. I got registered into the system which took a fraction of the time it would have taken in my previous job – thanks to the small size of the new company. With an access badge, an email, and a shiny new laptop, I was good to go.

Lunch was a novel, interesting, and I dare say delicious experience. My colleagues seemed surprised when I told them so. But by comparison to hub food, this was heaven for Gargantua. A salad bar, drink, bread and butter (yes Rubén that’s butter), and a main course compose a Swede’s daily lunch. With a choice of 3-4 main courses and twice as many types of bread, what else could one ask for? Coffee? Yes, it’s also included though on a scale from Italian to English, Swedish coffee ranks alongside the Insular variant.

On Monday evening, I sorted out a monthly travel card, nearly twice as expensive as Ipswich’s travel card but at least valid on more services than just SuperRoute 66. Traveling back home was a near-blissful experience with trains and buses in sync. It took me a little over 30 minutes to get from work to my home stop and possibly just as much to walk from the stop to my home as I tried to recognize – in a pitch dark night – which of these darned buildings was mine. As my wee toes were giving way to the bitter cold, I eventually found the door to two-ten, my new home.

Tuesday followed quickly. I managed to get up much earlier than I would in Ipswich (and much much earlier than Amaia would). I had forgotten early mornings existed with their lightly hued blue skies and birds singing glorious hymns… Heck, who am I kidding? The sky was grey, and overcast, and if birds there were, they must have been as deep frozen as Birdseye, the sea captain’s famous food brand.

The highlight of the day was my attempt to learn the intricacies of Sweden grocery shopping. On my way home, I stopped at the nearby shopping center and stepped into Hemköp – pronounced Hemshop by the way. It looked much like any grocery store one might find in the Western world. Potatoes, a staple food here, are sold in bulk and customers are welcome to grab a small shovel and dig in various stacks of the tuber. Chorizo sold here is made in Denmark, Aalborg to be specific, but it didn’t refrain me from buying a pack. Chewing on a slice would certainly bring me back to Bull Rd. I managed to avoid linguistic mistakes by not reading any labels. I stocked up on local cheese and even a French bûche. As I left the grocery store, I felt happy I’d managed to handle that first experience smoothly.


Fresh out of bed, I headed straight for the shower, grabbed the shampoo bottle I’d bought the previous night, and started to lather it in. Only, it didn’t foam, it felt odd and didn’t actually feel like shampoo. I glanced at the label. Fructis, yes so far so good. Normal hair. Yes, boring old hair. Only, in lieu of shampoo (which equates to schampo in Swedish), the label spelled out BALSAM which Google Translate later told me meant any of

  2. BALM
  3. SALVE

or possibly all of the above. I had managed to buy conditioner. Lord, I would have pulled my hair out at such stupid blindness. Even statistically if I picked a bottle at random in the hair care department, odds would be I would pick shampoo. There is bound to be more of that than conditioner, right? My ineptness, however, saw to it differently.

With half the week under my belt and no major mishap, I was ready to take on more of Stockholm and Sweden. Coming in the next episode, a visit down at the immigration office, drinks in Odenplan, an unwanted detour, and Sunday washing.