Before I moved to London I had been here quite a lot as a tourist, but being a tourist never gives you a true feel of what daily life in a country really is like. During the year I have lived here, certain differences between Londoners and Swedes and life in London vs live in Sweden(and yes, I am comparing the Greater London inhabitants (8,308,000) with the Swedish citizens 9,658,301), as the numbers are fairly similar. This list is by no means extensive, I have only tried to highlight some of the issues I have found after more than a year here…
Below I am trying to list some of the differences I have discovered so far:
- Levels of formality: the level of formality in London is so much higher than in Sweden. Almost regardless of where I go (be it a grocery store, a cinema or a museum) staff members address me as Sir, even if they are twice my age.
- Applying for jobs: Since September 2013 I have applied for more than 400 (and I am not exaggerating!) jobs in London. It’s not only the process of applying that is slightly different – it is much more common here with special application forms, so applying for one job can take you more than an hour… Interviewing for a job is also extremely different – almost all employers (even if you are applying for a job as a bartender or a barista) expect you to be suited and booted for your interview.
- Banking & money in general: No, not the fact that we use Pound Sterling here rather than the Swedish Krona… Most Swedes, and especially those who, like me, have lived a long time in one of the bigger cities, are used to using their cards everywhere, from the corner shop to the hairdresser to the café. In England, not so much. Even if things are a lot better now than on my first visit in 2001, it still doesn’t compare to Sweden. Smaller cafés and shops (for instance my dry cleaner!) won’t accept credit cards at all. A lot of the machinery in the banks (for instance deposit machines for coins, notes and cheques) is much more modern than Sweden, but then again such a thing as paying by cheque still in 2014?!?
- Pricing and availability of booze: alcoholic drinks are available in most corner shops, all supermarkets, and of course in specialised shops here in the UK, whereas in Sweden the only retailer of booze is the government controlled Systembolaget. While the prices in stores are about the same, even if the availability in the UK is much better, what really surprises me is the prices in bars and restaurants. In a local pub, you can get a pint for less than £2.50, whereas you will have to go to a really shady place in Sweden to get something for less than £4.
- Staying Connected On The Go: In Sweden, 3G is of a fairly good standard, and available almost everywhere, including on the tube (they have even installed signal amplifiers in the tube tunnels to ensure that everyone can stay connected everywhere). Thus – public WiFi is rarely needed, and is mostly found at educational institutions etc. This is not the case in the UK. So far, I have found UK mobile providers to be unhelpful, only interested in sales and not in customer service, and they have terrible reception. This makes people rely quite a lot on public, free, WiFi, which can be found all over the place.
- Higher Education vs Professional Qualifications: In Sweden, most companies demand that (if you apply for a job on that level) you have a university education that matches the job you are applying for, and very few employers (in my experience) pay any attention to what grades you have. In the UK, however, it is much more common that the demand is for a degree in any discipline, but almost always a 2.1 or higher. You then move on to do a professional qualification in your area (e g Chartered Accountant), and that qualification is usually horrendously expensive – not uncommon for it to be £5,000 or more in tuition fees.
- Public transport: While (at least the London) public transport system is more extensive than its Stockholm counterpart, all rail bound traffic stops completely around midnight. This forces those who stay out late on a weeknight to use a night bus – a word you can use to scare most Londoners. It has now been advertised that the underground will run on a reduced scale 24 hours a day during weekends from September 2015 – something that I imagine most Londoners look forward to 🙂
- LGBT Venues: In Stockholm, the LGBT venues are scattered all over town, and there is no real “gay district” as such. In London, we can see a few rather obvious gay districts: Soho, Clapham and Vauxhall. These are areas full of restaurants, bars, nightclubs and shops that caters almost solely to the LGBT community, and I believe that such areas exist in many other British towns too.