Sweden’s relationship with time

Arriving into a country for the first time is a continuous shock; the minor cultural differences will turn every day into an exciting journey. But eventually, what initially seemed surprising starts becoming part of your routine, to soon be so ingrained into your lifestyle that you may not even remember it used to be surprising.

I was reminded of this mental shift today, when to mitigate the hunger I decided to go on a hunt for a place to eat. The first step was to decide on a restaurant, but when I tried to find something in Nordstan – the mall at the city center – I was faced with reality. The place I had chosen was closed! This is the kind of situation you might encounter often in your first days here. Opening times (or Öppetider, a crucial word to learn) in Sweden are very particular; shops close early, offices a little bit more, and if you’re in a night club the lights will surely be turned on before 3. On Saturdays and Sundays the opening times will be even shorter, and on vacations it will accentuate to the point where some places may not open at all for a few weeks.

The opening times poster wishes you a nice summer!

The opening times poster wishes you a nice summer!

One of my first impressions of the city involved going for Sunday Fika with new friends, and by the afternoon the café closed on us. We settled for meeting another day after facing difficulty to find a new place. While this is a minor setback, the problem arises when you need something quickly, only to realize that the shop has already closed.

It is also true that the moment when the clock turns to the closing time, cashiers, vendors and employees won’t be very lenient to give you a few extra minutes. Now, the upside is that your planning skills visibly improve, since you always have to check that the place you need to visit is open by the time you can be there. There won’t be much place for improvisation, but if, as me, you need some more organization in your life, this will be the push towards it.

Considering that there is even a website for it, surely a lifetime of planning around Öppetider has influenced the punctuality of the common swede. I had a good surprise when I first planned a party in Gothenburg. In my country, saying 7 pm would be an euphemism for “Come around 8:30”, but not in this party, madam/sir! I said 7 and precisely then people showed up. In turn, I got to share for longer with my friends. The same goes for teachers, who will not waste your time by arriving late to class.

The thing is, finding that the place you need is closed may be off-putting at first, but it might also become an adventure on its own. You will put to use your resourcefulness and creativity each time you stumble onto such a situation… which is what makes us grow so much when moving to a new place. I wish you have fun on the ventures you will live when you get here!