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Not even just the pizza: 10 things that surprise Italians about Sweden

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Welcome to the cashless society

In Italy you almost feel guilty when paying by card and sometimes even apologise to the shop owner for the inconvenience of them having to pay the commission fee for using the car reader. In Sweden it’s the complete opposite. Many cafes and shops display endast kort (card only) and will not accept cash, or even if they do they would rather you pay by card or Swedish mobile payment app Swish

Curry, kebab or tacos – on a pizza?!

Many Italians have heard a lot about British cooking and the eyebrow-raising Carbonara with cream, but Sweden brings the Italian cuisine abroad experience to a whole new level.

The moment you walk into a Swedish pizza place and look at the menu you first see ordinary pizzas, perhaps with some exotic ingredients such as pineapple – not entirely approved yet still tolerable. When you keep scrolling down you find unusual combinations such as Taco Pizza (minced meet, taco sauce, sweetcorn and tortillas) or Kebab Pizza – literally an entire kebab on your pizza with slices of meat, jalapenos and kebab sauce. Perhaps the most off-putting is the extremely popular Curry Pizza, often served with extra banana slices.

So can you find good pizza at all in Sweden? Yes. In the big cities you find pizzerias, often run by Italian expats, which only have the classics, however they tend to be more expensive. For many Italians, it is still a price worth paying to avoid surprises.

How much did you say that espresso was?

The price of an espresso coffee in Sweden is what Italians would overdramatically call un furto (a robbery). The 30 cent overcharge at Italian airports alone is considered by many Italians to be “morally questionable”, so you can imagine the reaction when asked to pay 35 kronor (3.42 euros) for a single espresso.

If you know where to go, you can find some Italian espresso bars where a good espresso can cost only 15 kronor, but there are not many places nor are they easy to find.

Waiting in line

The best comparison is at the airport gate for a domestic flight at Stockholm airport versus the one in Rome. In Sweden there tends to be an orderly line that might be very long but that everyone seems to respect. You tend to understand who stands in front of you and who is behind you; this differs greatly from many lines in Italy which look more like a mass of people desperately pushing to get in front. 

Noise levels

Even during rush hour, Stockholm is considerably quieter compared to non-rush hour Rome. This is partly due to there being fewer cars and more people on bicycles and public transport (even if it’s cold!) but it is also the style of driving and the amount of socially acceptable beeping that makes a whole lot of difference.

People forming an orderly queue to a festival in Sweden in 2013. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

Talking to strangers

Perhaps the hardest thing to get used to for an Italian is that small talk is very rare in Sweden and often frowned upon unless there is a purpose for initiating the conversation. If you start talking to a stranger in Sweden their immediate thought would be “what does this person want from me? Are they trying to sell me something?”.

The exception to the rule is Gothenburg which is famous in Sweden for people being open and friendly to strangers; even starting a spontaneous conversation on a tram is not unusual there. Could it be because many Italians moved there in the 50s to work for Volvo?

A trusting society

People in Sweden tend to trust each other a lot more than in Italy. Even in the very busy central station in Stockholm you find pastries and coffee on display at a kiosk at a considerable distance from the cashier’s gaze, yet there is no real concern that someone would grab a pastry and walk out without paying for it. This also applies to forgetting something on public transport, you often tend to find it at the lost-and-found office the day after, even if you forgot your wallet or a bag with your computer in it. 

Tobacco

You tend to see fewer people smoking on the streets in Sweden and it is illegal to smoke in restaurants and bars (even outdoors). This comes as quite a shock to many Italians who especially in summer enjoy smoking a cigarette on the open-air dance floor, while in Sweden you would need to go to the designated smoking area outside the venue, leaving your drink inside.

On the other hand many people in Sweden use snus which is a nicotine-rich pouch that you put under your lip and keep there for a while. Many in Sweden are addicted to it and you cannot buy snus in Italy or in any other EU country. The prospect of switching to a snus+coffee combination as opposed to sigarette+espresso is something many Italians find odd. Then again, winters are cold and fixing the nicotine addiction indoors is somewhat efficient if you look at it that way.

A man puts ‘snus’, the Swedish tobacco, underneath his lip. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

Trust in authorities

Many Swedes have a deep sense of trust in the authorities and the government. They feel that those who work there are experts or the politicians have been elected to make decisions, so it is up to them to think of the best solutions. This might be due to the fact that corruption is not seen as a problem in Sweden (at least in general, which is not to say it is not a problem at all) and the rare times something pops up everyone vividly remembers it, like the Toblerone scandal – more than two decades ago. 

Unfortunately this cannot be said for Italy, which over the past decade has had much bigger scandals such as the Bunga Bunga saga or cases of politicians receiving bribes from the Mafia. Therefore, Italians tend to be more critical towards the government and authorities in general, as there is a sense of mistrust because of the many corruption cases that have been exposed. When the mistrust is not due to corruption, a preconceived bias of incompetence kicks in; this is partly due to suspected nepotism in hiring the people working there in the first place. That’s why many in Italy also listen to their gut feeling and that of their family, beyond what the authorities say. 

Swedish-Italian pop culture

Once you familiarise yourself with the language and popular culture, you find that quite a few Swedish celebrities actually have some Italian in them. The queen of Swedish pop, Veronica Maggio, was born in Uppsala to an Italian father and included a few words in Italian in some of her most prominent hits.

The Ingrosso family in Stockholm brought to the spotlight TV star and influencer Bianca, her younger brother Benjamin, who is a singer-songwriter, and their cousin Sebastian Ingrosso, who is part of the Swedish House Mafia trio. Other notable musicians are pop singer Oscar Zia, born in southern Sweden to Italian parents and world famous DJ, Alesso (full name Alessandro Renato Rodolfo Lindblad).

So what have we learned from going through ten things that surprise Italians about life in Sweden? Though they are located on polar opposite sides of the continent there is a two-way fascination of Italians who move to Sweden and Swedes who do the opposite both in search for something they do not have at home. After all, they say opposites attract each other.



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How the cost of renting an apartment in Copenhagen compares to other cities in Denmark

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With the arguable exception of second city Aarhus, Copenhagen is significantly more expensive to rent housing than anywhere else in Denmark.

But the extra cost in the capital depends on where else in Denmark you compare with, as well as the type of housing you rent.

Private or general housing?

First, it is important to note the difference between the two main types of rental housing in Denmark: private rentals and almene boliger (literally, ‘general housing’), a form of subsidised housing.

For almene boliger, local municipalities put up 10 percent of building costs and in return have the right to decide who is allocated one in four available apartments, enabling them to provide housing to municipal residents who need it. The housing therefore plays a role in the social housing provision.

This type of housing is normally managed by a boligforening or housing association. Rent goes towards costs of running the housing and to pay off the housing association’s loans, which means property owners aren’t profiting from rents and prices are controlled.

Aside from housing assigned by the municipality, almene boliger are open for anyone. However, to get one, you must get to the top of a waiting list, which you join by signing up with associations which operate housing in the city where you live (or want to live).

In Copenhagen or Aarhus, it can take years to get to the top of these lists, while in smaller cities you might get an offer in weeks or even days.

As such, many newcomers to Denmark must turn to the private rental market if they are living in one of the main cities.

READ ALSO: Deposits, complaints and registration: Five key things to know about renting in Denmark

Private housing: Copenhagen clearly pricier 

A study conducted by housing research centre Bolius in November 2020 found the cost of a 56 square-metre apartment in Copenhagen’s Nørrebro district to be 8,536 kroner per month.

The study, which was based on data from 2019 and 2020 from rental platforms boliga.dk and boligportal.dk, shows the average monthly cost of non-limited private apartments on Nørrebro, compared with 16 other locations in Denmark.

The cost takes into account the cost of a deposit (normally three months’ rent) and adds it to the average cost of renting the housing for five years (thereby assuming none of the deposit is returned to the tenant).

In comparison to the price in Nørrebro, the study found rent in Hillerød north of Copenhagen to be slightly less (8,218 kroner) for a slightly larger apartment (65 square metres).

Moving further out from Copenhagen, costs begin to drop even more.

In Kalundborg on the west coast of Zealand, you can rent a 71-square-metre flat for 5,167 kroner per month. Næstved, a commuter town between Copenhagen and the Great Belt Bridge, comes in at 6,039 kroner for an apartment at 72 square metres.

The cheaper rents are consistent further to the west, exemplified in Jutland cities Aalborg (5,544 kroner for 62 square metres), Vejle (6.696 kroner for 84 square metres) and Esbjerg (4,399 kroner for 54 square metres).

Although Aarhus is not included in the study, third-largest city Odense is. Here, there is still a significant saving on Copenhagen, with 8,488 kroner, a similar rent to that in Nørrebro, getting you an apartment over 50 percent bigger at 82 square metres.

General (almene) housing: closer, but still higher in Greater Copenhagen

Rent prices for almene or subsidised housing were most recently analysed in a 2020 report by Landsbyggefonden (National Building Foundation), a support institution for the social housing sector.

According to that report, the rent for family housing (meaning housing not reserved for students or seniors) is “on average, approximately 100-200 kroner per square metre higher [per year, ed.] east of the Great Belt Bridge than west of it”.

Of the five administrative regions, average rent for family subsidised housing is highest in Greater Copenhagen at 906 kroner per square metre for a year’s rent.

The lowest rents can be found in South Denmark, where the yearly cost is 722 kroner per square metre.

Zealand is the region that comes closest to Copenhagen on the costs for this type of regular housing. Here, tenants can expect to pay 859 kroner per square metre in a year. The equivalent costs in Central Jutland and North Jutland and 778 kroner and 747 kroner respectively.

The study also places Greater Copenhagen as the most expensive region when rents are presented as the median monthly rent for family housing.

Here, the median values are split into five categories based on apartment size, with Copenhagen coming out as the most expensive region for each category.

For example, the median monthly rents for apartments between 50-60 square metres are as follows: 5,039 kroner (Greater Copenhagen); 4,913 kroner (Zealand); 4,541 kroner (Central Jutland); 4,388 kroner (North Jutland); 4,236 kroner (South Denmark). The national average is 4,667 kroner.

Sources: Domea, Bolius, Landsbyggefonden



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Officials pushed for State to buy direct provision centres from private firms

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The Government should buy a number of privately-owned direct provision centres as a “priority” as it would be more “cost effective” for the State to run the facilities for asylum seekers, international protection officials have said.

The savings arising from owning the accommodation centres rather than paying private contractors to do so “could be considerable”, departmental briefing documents provided to Minister for Children and Integration Roderic O’Gorman last year state.

The vast majority of direct provision centres are currently owned and run by private companies, with accommodation providers having received some €1.6 billion since 1999, including €183 million last year.

The latest figures show some 7,150 people are in the system of seven State-owned sites and 39 private centres. A further 24 commercially-owned premises are being used to provide emergency accommodation for asylum seekers.

The briefing document, released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act, says that housing people seeking asylum in State-owned centres would provide the “best protection from the vulnerability of present market reliance”.

“They are also much more cost efficient to run, and the State owns the asset,” it notes.

The document suggested that State centres should aim to accommodate 5,000 people, and “allowing the private sector to supply the rest is regarded as an achievable and reasonable target”.

The purchase of existing centres from private providers “to immediately boost the State’s footprint in this area should be considered as a priority,” the internal document said.

“Some service providers may be open to this and the market appears to be favourable at present,” it said.

The internal briefing suggested the department could then seek private companies or NGOs to run the centres, which would be a “competitive cost option”.

‘Badly needed’

Ongoing maintenance for centres owned by the State was also “badly needed,” as current pressures on the Office of Public Works (OPW) meant it was not possible “for immediate repairs to be done if required”.

“In exploring the model of more State centres, we need to agree and acquire a capital budget,” the briefing stated.

“State land does not require planning permission for new centres as the Minister has a power under the Acts, whereby the OPW can grant the planning permission and this is usually a three-month process. It is not subject to appeal.”

The document says that State centres “can also have a bigger footprint as it will be a permanent fixture in the locality”. In recent years a number of plans for private providers to open direct provision centres in regional towns have been met with protests from locals and anti-immigration activists.

Mr O’Gorman’s department has sought to reform the direct provision system and is seeking to replace the network of centres with a new system of accommodation and supports by the end of 2024.

New centres

A department spokesman confirmed the State has not bought any new centres since the briefing note was written. The spokesman said under the planned overhaul of direct provision, asylum-seekers who arrived into the country would initially be housed in a number of reception and integration centres.

Asylum-seekers will spend a maximum of four months in the reception centres before moving into housing secured through Approved Housing Bodies.

“These centres will be State-owned and purpose built to provide suitable accommodation for approximately 2,000 people at any one time, to cater for the flow-through of the 3,500 applicants over a 12-month period,” he said.


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IN PICTURES: French daredevil takes hair-raising Seine tightrope walk

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Attached by a strap to a safety lanyard, 27-year-old Nathan Paulin slowly progressed barefoot on a line stretched across the river between the Eiffel Tower and the Chaillot Theatre.

He stopped for a few breaks, sitting or lying on the rope.

Paulin holds an umbrella as he performs, for the second time, on a 70-metre-high slackline spanning 670 metres between the Eiffel Tower and the Theatre National de Chaillot. (Photo by Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP)

“It wasn’t easy walking 600 metres, concentrating, with everything around, the pressure … but it was still beautiful,” he said after the performance on Saturday.

He said obtaining the necessary authorisations had been a difficulty for him, plus “the stress linked to the audience, the fact that there are a lot of people”.

Photo: (Photo by THOMAS COEX / AFP)

Paulin, holder of several world records, performed the feat to celebrate France’s annual Heritage Day – when people are invited to visit historic buildings and monuments that are usually closed to the public.

He said his motivation was “mainly to do something beautiful and to share it and also to bring a new perspective on heritage, it is to make heritage come alive”.

He had already crossed the River Seine on a tightrope, on Heritage Day in 2017.



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