Saturday, 1 February 2014

The Transition Period.

Every time I move to a new city I go through a kind of ‘settling-in’ process. It involves me returning to what I had up until now assumed was a kind of depressive state. I become surprisingly productive creatively but I also become completely withdrawn and think deeply. I lose myself entirely.

I arrived in Stockholm about a month ago. I don’t really know anyone here and I don’t have much money. Although social, it takes me time to form deep bonds and I don’t particularly enjoy the stages in a friendship before those bonds are formed, so I can often be lazy. As a result, I begin to explore the city alone. I start to walk, I get lost and as I get lost I pay more or less attention to my surroundings and I begin to think. Invariably this type of thinking leads me back to the same topic – my dad and my best friend. Two people’s opinions and presence I crave, but can no longer have.

Each time I move, I move further away from them. I come to an environment in which they cannot exist, unless I make it that way. It doesn’t make me sad, but it does make me miss them more. I think about them and I analyse what happened to them and I remember them, and it makes them relevant and real. So that when I’m lost in this new city, creating an exciting part of my life that they’ll never get to see, I’m surrounded by them. Their presence makes me feel happy and comfortable and with them by my side, I can never be alone.

That’s the beauty of it.

Friday, 20 December 2013


I'm feeling uncharacteristically cheerful about Christmas this year. Having thought that I wasn't going to be able to go home, I actually am. And quite honestly, the idea of not being able to spend Christmas with my family made me realise how much I actually appreciate those five days spent in captivity.

So to follow a trend, here are:

Seven things about Swedish Christmas

1. Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve.

2. They eat ham, not a turkey.

3. They have a Christmas... goat.

4. Swedes have a Christmas Menora. Originally a pagan tradition, it was stolen by the Christians, who claimed that each light represented one of the days of the creation of the Universe (there are seven candles). 

5. Each Sunday of Advent is very big event. Friends and/or family get together, light candles, eat and drink mulled wine. But some important advice, don't be fooled by anyone who tells you that it isn't going to be a formal event and don't listen to them when they tell you there will be drinking. For a few hours you're going to sit around a beautifully dressed table eating equally beautiful food, sipping mulled wine from miniature teacups and struggling to understand what anyone is saying. Then you'll watch the Christmas Calendar.

6. The Christmas Calendar. A cult television series which screens only in December and works a little bit like an advent calendar. Cult, except that everyone watches it. Each day you get a 15 minute episode which adds to the story of the previous day and by the time you reach December 24, the story is complete.

7. Dancing around the Christmas tree. It looks a bit like this, only indoors, around a Christmas tree. And everyone does it. 

And a cheeky bonus number 8. Merry Christmas in Swedish is 'God Jul'. Jul pronounced like the English 'Yule' (and God pronounced like God.) 

Sunday, 15 December 2013

How to be broke in Sweden.

I am no stranger to being a bit strapped for cash and sometimes I quite enjoy it. There's an amusement and a challenge that exists when you're trying to work our how you're going to do something without spending any money. And I am fortunate in that there has only been one short period of my life where I was struggling to pay rent and financially in a horrific way. However, a few miserable months working in a nightclub, having no social life and living off cereal fixed that. And I did (sort of) learn my lesson, so when I came to Sweden, I had put some money aside to make the transition a little bit easier. But as we all know money doesn't last too long, and so, as I wait for my first paycheck, I'm going to tell you how I have been getting by.

Emma's Swedish Survival Guide:

1. Buy a bicycle
It's a key investment and one of the first things I did when I got here. I count the number of times I have taken the bus on my hands. Sure, it gets cold and it rains, but at least I know I'm never going to be stuck without a bus card or any money and have to make that long walk home. It's also an excellent way to explore the city.

Swedish buses only take mobile phone tickets or their equivalent of an oyster card. (I could rant about that failure of a system for hours).

2. Dumpster Dive
This is something which is borderline legal and there's also a lot of stigma around it, but it's nowhere near as grim as you might think. The food shops throw away is actually EDIBLE. That's right, completely edible and usually very good. Since I've been dumpster diving, I've been eating things I could normally never afford and there's a whole community around it too. People go dumpster diving together and then cook a large meal at someone's house with all the finds.

More info for Malmo based citizens here:

3. Pants
No, this isn't some weird allusion to underwear. In Sweden Pants are recyclable bottles and cans, worth 1 - 2 SEK depending on the size. If you're really stuck, you can spend an afternoon wandering around university libraries and the town itself and collect enough cans to buy something small that you want/need (falafel/milk/deodorant/toilet paper).

4. Language 
Whether you've got money or not, if you move to a new country you need to learn the language. Scandinavia actually makes it very easy for you. They have a free Swedish course provided by for the state for any immigrants who have just moved to the country. They even decide on what kind of class you'll be in based on if you've had any formal education before (that is truly accommodating for everyone). However, I also highly recommend getting drunk and just talking to people.

5. A Good Night Out 
Before you attempt this one, you do have to do some groundwork. Make some connections. If you know people, they can get you in to places for free, or they can get you some 'small' work inside the club/bar which will mean you work for a couple of hours and get some free beers out of it.

6. Daytime 
There are a lot of free events in and around Malmo, covering a range of different subjects and often with fika included. They provide good opportunities to network with people who can help you bring your own ideas to life, get involved in the city and even find a job.

Here are a few examples:
CykelKoket is a free space to build or fix your bike.
STPLN is an open office area, for people who work from home that want to work away from home.
Cinema Politca organise weekly, free film screenings.
Bryggeriet Skatepark is a free indoor Skate Park and CafĂ©.
Kontrapunkt is a social space and cultural center which holds a variety of events.
Connectors are a group of people who'll help you find all these places through monthly salons and events, which allow you to bring your ideas to life.

7. Creature Comforts 
My number one piece of advice is just to make sure that no matter what, your rent money is there. In Sweden it is not acceptable to pay your rent late, something that I did pretty frequently in Paris (where the tenant is protected, not the landlord). If you're worried about food, or transport or anything like that, it can follow. Rent = a home = a place to sleep, a place to chill out and all the basic comforts.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013


It's now more or less two months since I first arrived in Sweden and I'd like to think I've come quite a long way. I've secured a job, albeit with somewhat precarious hours, made a nice network of friends and begun to work on several art-based projects (where my heart truly lies) and as that autumn/winter buzz sets in and the air becomes icily cold, I find myself feeling bizarrely contented.

My boyfriend has been staying in a different town, busy making a film (Excuse me whilst I drop a little publicity bomb here: and so I've pretty much been left to my own devices. I've quickly discovered several hubs of artistic activity, all of which are free and open to the public - you pretty much just drop by one day wanting to create something and they give you tools, means, basic education and space to do so as well as numerous places for a good night out and some small cinema collectives. All of this aside, there is still a lot I have to learn about this city and there are still a lot of things I haven't found yet, which often leaving me longing for London, or even Paris. But it's a feeling I know well, the realisation that some of those home-comforts won't be there to comfort you anymore and when I notice it creeping up on me, I know how to shake it off.

But one thing is for certain, I am missing England more than I thought I would six years after having left. Whether I like to admit it or not, I am very much an Englishwoman. There is something about the culture there (both good and bad) which is so comfortable and easy. Unlike most of my international friends, I don't look at London with starry eyes but with a dull ache in my heart, like an old love I'll never be able to forget. When I think of visiting the town, I don't think of national landmarks, the river or the football teams. I think about back gardens tucked away in the south east, Oxleas Woods (which I know inside out), bus routes I love to loathe, the cheap pubs my friends work at and even cheaper cafes. I simply cannot help myself, even though I've been fighting to leave and have always been yearning to travel, there is something keeps drawing me back to the town I grew up in. And although I don't think I'll be returning for a while and I certainly can't see myself with a family there I know at some point, I'm going to have to go home.

Sunday, 29 September 2013


I've noticed a rumor doing the rounds. It's a rumour that says Sweden is an expensive place to live. And whilst it's true that the taxes are high and that if you want a good night out you're going to wake up the next day with a hurty wallet, things that you actually need (and want) to buy seem to be inexpensive.

The standard of living is high. So I'm currently paying a very small amount of money to be living in a good sized, modern, comfortable flat. The big cities are small and virtually every road has a bicycle lane and so traveling by bike is a cheap (and common) alternative. I recently bought a second-hand bike for around 200 euros, which new would have cost 700 and because everyone in Sweden restores old things, I actually bought it 'like new'.

Food is cheap and there's a larger variety of it. Living in Paris I had to limit myself to very specific fruit and vegetables because I simply couldn't afford to eat whatever I wanted to. Here I can walk into a supermarket and be faced with a whole range of inexpensive and imported products.

And finally, my greatest learn about living in Sweden - The flea market. Knowing that another empty Sunday lay ahead of me, I did some research and found that there was going to be a flea market today, in the city center. So I woke my boyfriend up bright and early and dragged him in to town. Unlike most flea markets/car boot sales I have been to, people weren't trying to get a lot of money from what they had for sale. They weren't even selling it for it's face value. To them it was all old junk they wanted to get rid of and they just wanted it gone.

So for a total price of 8€50. I picked up the following:

Burberry trench coat - when the woman told me the price, I ran to find my boyfriend to make sure I'd understood her correctly. (5€)

An old phone. This phone isn't really anything special, but I've always wanted one and never been able to bring myself to spend the 20 - 30 quid people usually ask for them. I couldn't help myself. (3€50)

And for any action figure geeks, my boyfriend proudly came home with this 12" Uncle Sam. (15€)