Culture Shock: The Swedish Honeymoon Phase

Having left my native land of Northern Ireland more than 20 years ago now, I have experienced a few culture shocks along the way; some unexpected such as when I first landed in Australia as a 20-something year old and assumed that because we all spoke the “same language”  that it would be an easy adjustment, which in fact it wasn’t, for a number of reasons: first, Australian English and Northern Irish English are worlds’ apart, and secondly, because the working life was so different. Australians have a beautiful way of getting work done whilst not running around too much, and so I learned to relax a bit at work. Other culture shocks came in places like the United Arab Emirates and Japan, where I was ready for just how different life would be, but never realised I would fall in love with these places quite as much as I did, the UAE in particular, where I returned twice to live for 12 out of 15 years. the culture shock when I left both these places was completely reversed.

Now I am someone who throws myself into whatever work I do, and my husband has often referred to me as a bit of a workaholic, whereas I prefer to think of myself as someone with a lot of energy and passion for whatever I do. So, my biggest and most unexpected culture shock has come in Sweden where I moved 17 months ago. Now to give a little background on this, I fell in love with Sweden upon visiting some 11 years ago in the middle of a wild winter. Since moving here in late summer of 2019, I have studied the language, and now have managed to find a job quite by sheer determination and a hefty dose of luck. So here goes my latest culture shock, which I should have been ready for, but perhaps given my background and “workaholism”, I just didn’t comprehend that working life in Sweden could be quite as different as it is. My husband who had been working here longer than me had tried to explain it, but it just didn’t stick in my brain. I mean, all this wellness, “take time for family”, soft approach; well, those who know me, and especially those who have previously worked with me, will understand how different this is for me. That is not to say that those things are not important to me, they are, and as a leader, I have always made sure that my team follows a good worklife balance. It has always been about quality work and not how many hours you do. If a team member needs to go to their child’s school or take a trip to the doctor, then I have never been a clock watcher. But like many of us, I am good at giving advice, and not quite as good at following my own advice, so often forget to stop and think about life outside of work when I am working. So right now, here in my new job, in a new organization, I am going through the stages of culture shock. I am definitely still in the “honeymoon” phase where everything is wonderful and I am embracing the wellbeing approach as much as I humanly can, but I wonder how long it will be before my old self tries to kick in, and my A-type personality comes calling wanting to know where I am. My new Swedish boss has already described me in a positive way (I think) as a “storm”, but for me, it is more of a moderate breeze right now…

Is my new team really ready for the challenge to get me through the culture shock, AND can I jump over the stages of culture shock in a way I never have, and embrace the lighter breeze of working in Sweden? Only time will tell…

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