Thursday, September 4, 2008



Hanging out with the Swedish community, aside from some pleasant flings, led us to study their language in order to be prepared to move to Sweden.

Our silly conviction was that learning Swedish was going to increase our chances to have a better life there, to get a proper job and enter their culture.

That’s why we chose Göteborg instead of Stockholm.

The philosophy beyond this choice was partly the same as the Cork choice: a small city, easy to get used to, more friendly. But on the other hand the drawbacks were overwhelming: narrow minded people (as far as Swedish standards are concerned) and no way to get a job even the shittiest.

We invested a quite significant amount of time and money to learn the language: it didn’t work bad but not so well either.

The most disappointing thing was despite all our efforts our capacity to understand and enter the Swedish culture was exactly as when we didn’t speak Swedish at all!

There was not too much to realize: in Ireland they needed us, here they didn’t because they were at home they had their friends (in their “own way”) we were neither useful nor functional.

Nevertheless we managed to have a funny year especially thanks to our language course and a cafeteria called Språkkaffet which means the Language Café where we met the most interesting people by exchanging languages with one another.

Once again a year was enough to leave since we couldn’t work down there and our savings were almost over.

So I did exactly what I hadn’t planned to do: moving back to Stockholm.

Do you know the feeling when you are afraid of ruining the memories of the best time of your life by going back to the same place?

I knew from the beginning that living in a place were you used to be an Erasmus student can be very risky and spoil the image of that city.

But I had no choice; the only alternative would have been to move back to my native soil as I didn’t feel like staring all over again in a different country.

And that would sound like losing, referring to the opposite thought of Frank.

It didn’t take a genius to predict precisely what happened: Stockholm seemed different from when I was en exchange student down there

What was not so unambiguous was whether it depended on me or on itself.

It partly depended on me, since my mood was not the same as a few years earlier: I was not a member of the Erasmus world any more so, not being a party animal helps not to enjoy your life.

It also depended on the city itself: all my friends who had visited me there in the past noticed something different those days, more melancholic less joyful.

Nonetheless Stockholm was still my favourite city, I just needed some good influence from external factors to be back on track.

Everybody kept asking me if Stockholm was better or worse than Göteborg.

I used to answer the same way Sanna, a girl from Göteborg, explained the difference to me: how can you compare a place were people walk with another where people run?

She was right, the capitals are always more stressful and more interesting than the “other cities”, less friendly and more open minded.

The Swedes in Sweden are very strange; that is probably due to the historical non contact with the rest of Europe, so the continent didn’t influence that much the Swedish life stile.

Being in the economic centre of the nation made it quite simple to work.

After a couple of temporary jobs I was employed with a stable contract and I managed to get Hector employed there as well.

Basically we recreated the same situation we experienced in Ireland.

We had a honest job, a decent salary, we worked in the Italian team where our team mates shared the same problems and feelings we had.

But we were in a more evolved country with higher standards and objectives.

The life style at the beginning was not so different, we just didn’t drink so often as I did in Göteborg, Ireland, England, Stockholm (when I was Erasmus) because we had to work 5 days a week and Swedes are not Irish, they are not used to working when they are completely hung-over.

There was something we couldn’t actually catch, everything was better in Sweden than in Ireland: standards, flats, supermarkets, girls, public transportations but for some reason we were happier in Cork than in Stockholm.

Probably because we were demanding much more from Sweden since it was a more evolved country but still we were unsatisfied.

We had the somewhat crazy impression that Sweden was a great scam: the illusion to be in one of the most advanced countries in the world which hides the truth.

The country lacked something priceless: a soul.

If people could live without any need of strong feelings or warmth Sweden would be the best country in the world. For certain Swedes it is, those who have those needs decide to open up themselves and move abroad, at least for a while.

The funny thing was that when I was in Ireland I used to look at Irish people as something very distant from me but not so far away as the Swedes in Sweden.

That was simultaneously uncomfortable and fascinating.

It’s never been easy to connect with those who come from the country you are in when you live abroad, or at least that is what has always happened to me: when I was an exchange student most of my friends were other Erasmus students, In England I had no English friends and in Ireland only two Irish friends even though I used to hang out with loads of people.

Why is that?

It’s easier to associate with those who share the same issues as yours: other foreigners who have the same needs and that makes it simple to connect.

The consequence?

You and your friends create a micro society which is very different from the official one and they are parallel, they never meet.

You can bring members of the other into yours but you can never make them mix.

That’s not necessarily a drawback: all the aspects you don’t like about that country can be minimized in you micro world.

Besides, you know that those who move from the other to your world are the ones interested in your life style, the others can just fuck off.

The main issue is it doesn’t feel so real: it’s like the sort of protection you feel in Sweden, on the one hand that makes you feel safe, on the other it’s feel like being in a glass bell.

It’s like confrontations: skipping them can avoid unpleasant situations but the down side is it doesn’t make you feel so alive.

Sometimes I have the good teacher complex: I demand more from those who have potentials.

Sweden had potential, I don’t know how well exploited.

The country was more civilized than Ireland and England but it wasn't so based on meritocracy as the islands.

Being a kind of social democratic nation didn't help the develop of competition, a serious renovation of the system was out of question even with a right-handed government which was not much less conservative than the social democratic one.

I never understood if Swedes were aware of the advantages and drawbacks of their country, they knew what the aspects were but I didn’t know if they realized them fully..

I also didn’t get if they really suffered of their non social attitude (as I suspected) or they just couldn’t care less.

When I was in England I was pretty sure many English people were really proud of all their shit (but not the smart ones) so different from the rest of the continent but in Sweden it was harder to understand.

It looked like people were more committed and loyal to the country than to the other people, under the principle that being a good citizen was more important than being a good person, while my personal culture was the other way around.

Still I have to say we were given enough space to enjoy our lives, I couldn’t spare my criticism towards the country because it’s the human nature which leads us to pay more attention to the drawbacks than to the advantages.

Despite all Sweden was the best country I had ever lived in even though not exactly an ideal country.

Speaking of negative aspects the food was definitely not one of them: in the malls I could find everything I needed to cook almost exactly what I was used to eating in Rome.

The weather was not so terrible either, the summer was warm enough and the winter was not so cold as I was afraid of before experiencing it .

What was really depressing was the dark during winter time, when the light disappeared at 2.30 pm: those days were very miserable and hard.

However, the real downside was the lack of local friends.

I had many friends there but almost all of them were non Swedes, because it’s always easier to like whom you need.

Local acquaintances I had a lot, more than anywhere else: it was easy to get in touch with Swedes, almost impossible for a foreigner to turn an acquaintance into a decent friendship.

Still it was very cool to hang out, especially in the summer during week days.

You could meet up with your international friends on a Wednesday night and drink a few beers having a good time. Then when almost everybody left you might have been asked to join the few ones left to have a final drink at somebody’s place, but you turned that down because you felt cool enough to continue the night on my own.

So, it could happen that you decided to go a club called “The Baser” to dance rock & roll.

It could also happen that you were really enjoying yourself drinking the last beers dancing something like Hives, Clash and even Billy Idol.

And when you went out for a cigarette a girl approached you asking a “tändare” (lighter) starting a conversation you didn’t want to continue.

The girl was pretty but you told her you didn’t speak Swedish (and it hurt when it was not true but you had to say that) and then when she continued in English you told her there was your “girlfriend” waiting for you so you actually needed to leave.

Don’t take me as a poof (with all the due respect for my gay friends) it’s just that those days I didn’t want any confrontation during drunken moments but I couldn’t tell that girl “excuse me but I am a sort of narcissist boy so if we have this conversation tomorrow when you are sober and I am sober too you are more than welcome to ask me whatever you want, right now to you I am just one of the hundred wankers that are in this club so pick somebody else for you drunken openness”

The day after I might have regretted the decision of not giving her a chance but still I was who I was because of certain decisions and feelings, otherwise I would have been like anybody else, begging for a girl in a club.

The loss of ambition was probably the worst things: if the best someone could do was a monotonous job the whole week waiting for the weekend to get pissed maybe at a very good party, all that started to feel redundant and pointless.

It was the general atmosphere everyone could sense: nobody cared that much about improving their career as long as they had their certainties.

Ambitions in other fields were not much more developed.

Nothing was gonna change: the girls liked the system because they could always choose whatever they wanted.

Boys didn’t complain either because they always had a chance to be chosen by some pretty girl.

Time went by like that: one day I was sure I wanted to live there, the day after I would rather move ten thousand kilometres away.

I could hear the voice of the 57 year old man in Göteborg who once had told me “Don’t stay here, this is not a real democracy, here the state has already decided what your life will be like and you don’t even know that. This is not the US, this is not Berlin either: you are not the creator of your destiny in this country ”.

Sometimes I made an effort to send that voice away.


When I had a few days off I used to go to Italy on holydays. Being there in a different perspective changed the way I felt; basically I liked being on vacation there, I could really enjoy those days, especially because I knew I could go to Italy whenever I wanted and leave shortly.

There was not enough time to get pissed off only to enjoy the good things that still existed down there.

It also helped me think if I really wanted to stay in Sweden, it was easier to see the positives and negative sides of the country by not being in Stockholm.

One of the questions I was more and more often asking myself was “is it more unoriginal to live your whole life in your own neighbourhood (typical Italian) or live a semester in Australia with a long vacation in Thailand (typical Swedish)?”.

The difference was the typical Italian didn’t think to be original but to live the best possible life while the Swede thought to be very alternative by doing what every other compatriot did.

They were obviously both wrong even though neither would ever understand.

Exceptions are always the best.

The other question was about the rules: to be followed (Swedes) or to be ignored (Italians).

The ideal was always in between.

I’ve always thought that the unquestioned respect of “certain” rules leads to sad and disgusting life styles but the complete lack of any rule leads to something worse (think of Napoli for instance).

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