The surprises of living in a new culture come in two kinds: First there are extreme shocks; things that are done in a radically different way from what you’re used to. Then there are small, daily life details. The ones that are subtle, require a little bit more observation but tell you a great deal about the way people in a different culture approach life.
In my time here I’ve been able to observe many essential but small details that are present seemingly everywhere. I had previously talked about the fondness towards surveys, and today I’ll tell you about one you’ll definitely get to experience every day. In other places it might be called “Work hard, party hard”. Surely the Swedish version is “Work hard, break hard”.
The first time I came into contact with this is when I started classes. Opposed to the “Start 10 minutes later – 2 hours lesson – Finish 10 minutes earlier” structure I was used to, here you might spend 4 hours taking lessons for the same course, but there will always be a 15 minutes break every 45 minutes of classes. I can see many advantages to this, from the opportunity to refresh your brain instead of trying to stuff everything in at once, to the chance of indulging in the beloved tradition of Fika. If you come to Sweden, you’ll surely have at least 5 Fikas per week: the basic idea is to gather with friends, have coffee and possibly a sweet bun. I can tell you, it is very easy to get used to it. The same working-break time ratio can be found pretty much everywhere, be it an informal or planned activity.
On a bigger time scale, longer breaks are also scheduled in the academic year. So far I’ve experienced around 20 vacation days for winter, and it’s now time for an Easter break. The Easter break consists of one completely free week and a “Self Study week”. To the risk of sounding geeky, having scheduled time to catch up is what I’d call awesome. And, in a few months I’ll have my officially longer break in years: A 2 month long summer vacation. Most people around me choose to visit their families and friends, have a summer job or travel around Europe. As a stereotypical Dominican, I’m still not sure what I’ll choose to do.
I’m convinced that this break culture plays a big role in the laid back nature of swedes and in their disposition to work timely. In my case, knowing that I can have a break often allows me to concentrate in the task instead of suffering about the prospect of having no free time and procrastinating as a consequence. And thinking on a year perspective, longer vacations allow people to have their personal time and feel sharp when it’s time to return to work.
It is easy to see that Swedish culture aims towards a balance between work and leisure, and this is one of the many aspects that allow people to achieve so. Most definitely this is something that I’ll implement in the rest of my life!