On Gothenburg — the City of Volvo

Creation is scary. Well, putting our creations out into the world is scary. This is why despite being self-proclaimedly fearless I have taken a long time to actually publish my first real blog post.

I have spent the past two months traveling and gathering a lot of information from startups, and drinking a lot of coffee, and have now got to the point where I realise how selfish it is of me to keep this to myself, so I’ve got over my fear of producing inexperienced writing. I apologise in advance for this humble jumble learn-as-I-go-along blogging, but otherwise this will never happen and I’ll be annoyed at myself for not making a note of all the valuable experiences I’m having (other than illegible scribles in moleskines).
 Let’s start with an easy one. Right now I am sitting in Joe & the Juice in Gothenburg Landvetter airport, part way through an excellent cappuccino.

Sweden has disappointed me by not disappointing me. The idealised view I (like, I imagine, many of you) have of Scandinavia seems to just be true. I worked in the offices of Doublesearch, a Digital Marketing company run by my buddy Fredrik, where half the staff have standing desks, there are two different coffee machines, light, modern, elegant furniture (with the Macs to match) and CHERUBS PAINTED ON THE CEILING (no, really, see below).

The working hours are reasonable, healthy lunches are provided by a range of nearby restaurants which seemingly all include a free salad bar. Homes are just as beautiful as the offices, obviously like many European countries’ second and third cities Gothenburg is plagued by the “effective” architecture of the 70’s, but this doesn’t affect the city’s overall beautiful centre and suburbs.

Then obviously you have all of the great people. Swedes are, like a lot of Brits and Canadians, too polite. Most sentences include a couple of Tacks and Varsågods, and they are very generous.

In my time here I have had a few nights out, and it’s fair to say the alcohol tax is absolutely ridiculous. I had the opportunity to visit the famous Systembolaget, the government-run alcohol monopoly, only open 10:00–18:00 Mon-Fri and 10:00–13:00 on Sat. This is the only place you can buy alcohol above 3.5% in Sweden (so good session ale still available in normal retail outlets).

Wave upon wave of alcohol at the Systembolaget

Rather than consuming holidays I prefer experiencing travel as/with a local, so helping one of Fredrik’s friends move house was a great way to get immersed in normal life here (other than sacrificing myself to have a bumpy ride in the back of a lorry), particularly when Swedish beer and pizza are provided (the last of which they eat with cabbage).

I also experienced some Swedish stand up comedy at an Afterwork (Swedish people like their colleagues so often choose to drink with them after working hours, I know, crazy right?). This was a great excercise in laughter anticipation, as I don’t speak Swedish. However, being British I do speak stand up, so had a very interesting discussion on the origins of Swedish stand up with Ludde Samuelsson, who told me that he loves touring the Swedish villages as he becomes an instant celebrity just by being something to do other than chop trees, hunt deer and swim in icy lakes.

Although it may seem like a bit of a superficial assessment I believe climate does fundamentally influence how effectively people work. From my experiences living in Spain and Newcastle I see the difference there, but also from a macro-economic point of view we see northern Europe support southern Europe. I don’t think climate is all of this, but from a very neanderthalean point of view => if it’s cold, you need to move to stay alive. You need to build a bigger shelter, and need to work in more concentrated bursts to collect enough food to survive the winter.

On a more philosophical level I think the Swedish understand things pretty well; in a discussion over Pilsner Urquell on the topic of time, a colleague of Fredrik’s said he thinks time only heals all wounds because there are no wounds in the first place.

The only reality is now. Emotional pain is just unhappiness of what has already happened and stress is just a fear of what is to come, either through lack, or perceived lack of control over the future. Don’t just live for the moment, that is ridiculous. But understand that the only thing you can influence is what’s happening now. Be adaptable. This is particularly important for our generation.

Fearing the future is futile, put yourself in uncomfortable situations that will prepare you for more uncomfortable situations. Little passage that I have seen throughout my life in my grandparents’ house, where I stayed for a couple of weeks while I’ve been traveling around the country:

“I returned, and saw that under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11)

Fredrik thinks we shouldn’t have a work-life balance, we should get ourselves to a place where we don’t need balance between the two but where we just enjoy what we are and do. I believe I am there now, and if you’re not try to work out why not.

Well that perhaps went more philosophical than I had intended, one has to start somewhere I suppose. I have realised I didn’t mention Volvo once, this is because the Swedish will when you visit Gothenburg. Also, visit the Universeum. It’s amazing. To finish a bit lighter; yesterday I arrived back in the UK 35 minutes early, as opposed to the hour delay I had flying to Gothenburg.

Sweden has even been able to make cheap Ryanair travel pleasant.

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