The Endless Dream on a Winter Night

I can be sometimes slow about catching up with all the blogs in my reader. Luckily though, a fellow expat, Giorgio Paoletti, from Italy, sent me an email about a movie on foreigners in Sweden.

You might be wondering, oh dear some boring moving about sad refugees. Far from it. Giorgio and his friend made a movie based on their lives (melded with others too) about work, academics, bar visits, parties, and Swedish girls. Oh, and how to make Swedish friends.

For us “immigrants” and Swedes, this is a must see. The movie is raw and emotionally satisfying. We can all relate. To how to talk to someone at a party to dealing with the winter misery, there is a little of bit of everyone of us in the main character, Alex.

Here is the video. Be sure to click on the button twice because it will turn from red to green.

Giorgio has also been kind enough to give a one on one interview (and the first official interview) with me by email. I asked a lot of tough questions of course.

Sapphire: Where are you from?
Giorgio: I am Italian, from Rome

Why Sweden?

I won a scholarship to be an Erasmus student in Stockholm; besides, my dad had lived in Stockholm in the early 60s so I was curious to go there because he had told me a lot about this place.

How long were you here?

More or less 5 years, 1 year as an exchange student in Stockholm, 1 year in Göteborg, and then other 3 years in Stockholm.

A long time in Sweden. What did you do?

During my first year I was an exchange student in Political Science; the year I spent in Göteborg I studied Swedish full time. In Stockholm over the last years I worked in different companies and fields, many jobs, none particularly pleasant aside from teaching Italian in schools.

Why did you leave?

I got a bit bored of Sweden, especially my last 2 years seemed to be the replay of the previous years, nothing particularly new and cool. Moreover, I needed chaos, to feel alive; peace and cleanliness around
started to create some anxiety in me.

What do you like doing?

I like writing, no matter if it’s a short story, a novel, a screenplay or even an article for my blog. It helps me point out concepts which are in my head but not completely clear yet.

At the university, was it easy to learn Swedish? Was it necessary and did it help make more friends?
Swedish is a language that is easy and hard to learn at the same time: easy because there are very few rules and after 6 months you can speak it. Swedish is hard because after 4 years it’s rare to speak much better than 3 and half years earlier; the risk is to reach a low–medium level and then stick to it, without improving.

I don’t think speaking Swedish helps make more friends but it allows foreigners to understand the society a bit better.

So, what inspired you to come up with this documentary? Why make one?

After a couple of year I was living in Sweden there were things about that society which were clear and others unclear. I decided to investigate, analyze and understand Sweden from my perspective. I started attending seminaries about subjects related to the Swedish culture and when I thought I had the answers I was looking for, I wrote an article about Sweden in my blog, which analyzed the main cultural aspects of this country.

I knew many other foreigners had similar thoughts and questions so I thought I could try summarizing my “guide” throughout a movie, which was partly a normal film and partly a documentary.

I was also curious to see if I could involve some Swedes in the project, to see how they would react to something critical towards their society. Those who have participated showed me to be much more open minded than I had thought, I was expecting reactions like “who the fuck you think you are to come to our country, judge us and be so critical?”; on the contrary, they have been very interested and professional.

Enjoying Sweden…no Germany with friends…
Giorgio with friends in Germany

Part of the movie deals with dating Swedish girls and meeting friends.
Personally, how was it for you to make friends/meet girls?

Making friends in Sweden is something appalling, frankly speaking. People are respectful and polite but when it comes to personal relationships it’s hard to find someone that let you get close. It’s easy to make acquaintances (I know loads of Swedes) but I have very few friends in the way I intend a friendship, without barriers and distances. Usually my Swedish friends have lived abroad and learned to live also (but not only) in a non-Swedish way: there’s no difference between boys and girls in that.

Swedish girls are usually very attractive, not my favourite in terms of beauty but almost my favourite; they can be the best or the worst as far as meeting is concerned: I love the emancipation they’ve reached which allows them to pick you up openly if they fancy you.

I never saw in any other country this freedom for women, which is great; on the other end they are quite narrow minded when it comes to knowing a person in a non standard way (parties or common friendships): I like to meet people in the streets, to talk to complete unknowns; this way I met the main Swedish female character of the movie we made. It means there are exceptions to the usual “Swedish rules”.

Who is Alex?

Alex is the typical foreigner who moves to Sweden without knowing what Sweden is.

Why do we never see Alex’s face?

Because it doesn’t matter what he looks like or what country he is from; what does matter is his thoughts and his feeling which are the thoughts and feelings of many foreigners who live in Sweden.

You moved now to Ireland, what do you miss about Sweden?

The beauty and efficiency of many things.

What do you not miss?

That in Stockholm I could talk to loads of people in a week but I was often feeling lonely; in Ireland I can been on my own most of the time but I never feel alone.

Alone in Sweden in the winter
all alone in Sweden
If there was one piece of advice you could offer a new foreigner, what would you say?

Don’t feel like a freak or a Martian; if you feel strange it’s not your fault. Furthermore, whenever you have a chance to enjoy Sweden, do it: it won’t happen again, at least for a long time.

Most importantly, what’s your thought on fika as an Italian?
I really like the fika concept, it something that we paradoxically don’t have in Italy.

And really how is the coffee in Sweden?
Usually the coffee you can drink in Sweden is not good, but it is not worse than the one you can find anywhere else in Northern Europe!

For more information about the movie and who is Alex check out: Who is Alex.

Fellow Americans and Brits and all my lovely readers. What did you think of the movie? Love it, hate it, laughed my ass hilarious, winter does sucks too.

74 thoughts on “The Endless Dream on a Winter Night”

  1. I didn’t see the movie but I read his blogpost and find it true in many ways, that is how Sweden works. And being a native Stockholmer, I laugh every time I read about “making friends in the street”. That is so true, if a person would come up to me in the street and try to make friends with me, I would probably think he’s a drunk or a tourist. Which is, in many ways, kinda sad.

    However, I find his analyzes that Swedes doesn’t have a close relationship because we haven’t had any wars to be wrong. And because we don’t have close relationships, we can have a well developed society. That essentially means that a country with close social relationships like, for instance, southern Europe, can never be well developed. And that just sounds like a bad excuse. And I’m half Finnish, and their “close relationships” are just like the Swedes, maybe even more so when it comes to being reserved, and they’ve had alot of wars.

    I also find it interesting that people think gender neutrality means that men aren’t men and women are calling the shots everywhere.

    Otherwise I find the analysis being fairly accurate, and I think you can apply it to both Norway and Finland. And one of the reasons for that is probably the weather, simple as that. Cold country, cold people. (And you cannot compare to like Alaska or Canada, since they are old Brittish colonies, which essentially means they still retain a very “English” way of acting. And that include being very polite and social.)

  2. Well Erik, I may agree with you on that, but to me it’s not so automatic that cold countries determine cold people. I consider Poland and Russia cold countries, but Polish and Russians are everything but cold people to me.
    Dont’ t you agree?

  3. I found the video really interesting, it scared me a little though since I’m planning on moving to Sweden in August! I’ve been to Sweden before but with a group of Americans and Brits, so I had a tight knit group of friends built in so I didn’t feel lonely. Of course, I’m interested to see how accurate this depiction will end up being!

  4. The coolest thing about this movie is, that is sums up things I have seen with my own eyes in Sweden and experiences that have kept happening in the exact same way as my friends and I have been discussing over the years. The insight is powerful, uncomplicated, straight to the point. In my opinion, it casts some light on a usually overestimated model of society and brings it down to earth, considering the difficulties in interaction with a quite remote, enclosed society, so to speak.

  5. Yes, there is a popup but it is only one. Since the video is hosted on megavideo, they have ads. Just let the popup open and then immediately close it.

    No no, it’s not 1.5 hours, some mistake on the megavideo side. It’s only 65 minutes. :)

  6. “You have watched 72 mins of video today.Please wait 54 mins..blah blah bollocks etc”
    So it’s more than 65 mins long…or they’re cheating me? (it stopped when he was talking to his cheating Italian mate who boffed his girlie!)

    As i’m just a very down to earth Englishman,i’ll be honest. It depressed me! It made me want to fly south for the winter. It made me feel dismal and cold and had i not already been living here and saw this..i wouldn’t have bothered coming!
    It’s what everyone expects Sweden to be i guess,but there’s so much more to the country as a whole. In summer it’s like a different world! I think it would have been better to have made this film in summer and maybe tagged a bit in later about the winter. Maybe because it was filmed in black & white it made it even more miserable i don’t know.
    Everything was so…strained and forced kind of. Where was the sense of fun,the jokes, the silliness? Maybe it’s just me and my way of meeting new people,but yes i understand it doesn’t always work here in Sweden.
    I just think if i saw this and didn’t know better,i’d have expected the title to have been “Why i killed myself in Sweden”!

    Sorry :(

  7. Dear Dano,

    had I made a movie about my Erasmus year in Stockholm you would have seen happy people everywhere, parties, picking ups, instant flings, hot girls and fairy tales.
    This is not a movie about what good things Sweden can offer, which can be appreciated mostly if you are on holidays or if you are an exchange student. I don’t know what you are doing in Sweden but I can guarantee you my feelings in the country changed drastically when I moved from being a student to when I became someone who was living in Sweden for real, working and trying to make ends meet.
    At that point you don’t measure yourself with exchange students, you confront yourself with routinized life which can be depressing in some ways.
    I do believe I have been associating with way more Swedes than all the ones who defend Sweden and Swedish people from the negative image that this film is supposed to give about the Swedish culture. Frankly speaking I know many more swedes than all the other foreigners I know.
    Besides, the majority of people who worked on this project are Swedes, and that should mean something.
    If you live in Sweden for real you should recognize sensations like the ones expressed by Alex like very common, you probably don’t feel like that if you surrounded by other foreigners like you most of the time; the problem is if you live in Sweden (and don’t spend just a period of your life there) you are not surrounded by many foreigners after a while. And then the real life begins, and the problems too.
    So to speak

  8. @ Giorgio – I have no idea to what Russian or Polish people you have been speaking to, but I find them being very rude and blunt (maybe not the Polish so much, but definitely Russians).

    And I understand that the life in Sweden, or in any other country for that matter, is not for everyone. But I do believe life is what you make of it. If you make a movie that is black and white and say “well Sweden is really depressing and it sucks”, then the life you’re gonna live here will reflect that. Or if I move to Italy and say, “well everyone is acting a certain way, this sucks”, then of course, everything will suck.

    I think you will have to be that “strange” foreign guy sometimes that asks people in the streets or ask your co-workers for an afterwork beer sometimes. You have to take chances, otherwise it will be boring. As a Swede, I don’t speak to people in the subway because I don’t feel I have anything to say to them, I have nothing to add. Or I don’t ask you certain things because I don’t want to be intrusive and bother you. Then you will have to be that person that asks or speak, people will mostly respond and be polite and talk with you or answer questions.

    It feels like a lot of people are like “well, no one smiled at me in the streets or spoke to me on the subway so this country sucks”. Then I don’t feel you have made an effort really. Isn’t it better if a smile means something instead? Like take London for instance, everyone is very polite and say “oh sorry” or “excuse me” if they slam a door in your face or step on your foot. That however doesn’t make them stop, they can still stand on your foot and say “sorry” a thousand times but still they don’t get off. Is that being polite? Does “sorry” really mean anything if you say “sorry” and don’t really mean it? Sure, I can walk around with a big grin on my face all day, but does that really mean anything then? Am I really happy to see you or is that just my standard face? (And of course not everyone is acting like that in London, but a lot of people are).

    I think a lot of people might think our way of acting is cold and rude, but it’s really just out of respect. Like if a person is lost and want to ask someone, they might think “well, that man seem to know what he’s doing but he looks kinda busy so I don’t want to bother him”. Of course, that is a “problem” for us, but you see, we do it out of respect, not cus we wanna be rude or we don’t care.

    However, I do understand that this might scare people and of course it’s not for everyone, especially if you’re not used to it. Everyone can’t like everything.

  9. Definately, Eric. I’ve pondered on it. Sweden’s alot about respect, making the disrespectful things also contrasts and makes a black-and-white mentality possible. The fact that it’s a big part of Swedish society can lead to great confusion(could it even be a culture crash as there’s a difference in psychology?). There are some conventions or norms in other societies which are failsafes to break these respect-standoffs as Erik mentioned before.

    Swedes don’t need these norms, or we have a more limited areal of situations where you may be little or more disrespectful. I do as Erik mentions, take initiative. It’s not difficult or anything, I think the thing with knowing Swedish culture and initiating is to do a balance act where you balance the act of breaking the norms and to respect the silence. You compromise; more written about it right below.

    I think Sweden’s partly called “the land of compromises” because we need them to balance out our behaviour with the norms in Swedish society. You could call it an idealistic society at some levels, with the new discoveries on human psychology show we’re still deep down egoistic the natural behaviour, I would say, is to ignore the norms and act as we wish. The cultural schooling counteracts that though, being quiet because of your cultural upbringing indirectly contributes to society with less frustration; helping someone because it’s rewarded with great respect.

    Another example is it’s quiet on the busses because you respect those who want it quiet. Could the respect-thing be an agreement between people to ease up the amosphere in this cold climate?

    Talk can lead to misunderstandings, silence doesn’t. Therefore silence is gold? Very blunt, yet I think it underlines the matter of talking.

    As usual this sounds very abstract and pretentious; I might be wrong.

  10. I couldn’t watch to the end, too depressing. It made me wonder why, if it’s really like this, anyone would stay? Luckily I have no plans to move to Sweden only visit again during the summer so I won’t have to worry about these things.

  11. I only watched about half an hour and then saw that it took 1.5 hours (Sapphire mentioned that it does only take 65 minutes) but I did find it very heavy going, especially due to the black and white. I could not believe how cold the documentary was, all that snow!! It certainly made me think twice about going there for my studies. I still want to go though, I have seen enough gorgeous photos out there of Sweden in the summer :-)

  12. to Jessica:

    even Giorgio wrote that life in Sweden is good if you stay there for a while; I think it can seem even too good, sort of misleading.
    You shouldn’t have any depression if you don’t decide to stay longer; on the other hand if you make up your mind about living there, only in that case those problems shown in the movie could arise

  13. @Mario – They could arise yes, but positive people also come out of here. We’re more positive than most people in certain way. If we weren’t why would we stay in a country(which i’m proud of, very unswedish) like this? And we’re friendly, many who meet a swede realize that in a very short time :)

  14. To be honest i think these problems can be found in any country in the western world, and definately all those that get snow!
    If you’re an outgoing happy go lucky kind of person,then you’ll struggle to make friends in other countries if you hold yourself back because you’re told it’s “just not right” to chat people up!
    Come to yourself…and what will be will be!

    I didn’t realise the film was MEANT to be gloomy and miserable and designed to give Sweden a bad “rep”. You could sell this to Migrationsverket who can show it to all prospective immigrants.It might make them change their minds and they’ll bugger off elsewhere!

  15. The movie is very, very well done!! I loved the storyline, the acting, the way it was shot…. basically everything. And I don’t agree it is depressing per se. BTW: it really is only 65 minutes.

    @ FV: Hi :)
    I think the problem with silence and lack of eyecontact is that it is also a type of communication. Outside Sweden it is a clear sign that you like to be left alone. It would be EXTREMELY rude to disturb someone if they so strongly communicate they don’t want to be bothered. Out of respect, non-Swedes will leave others alone in that case. Plus: they would probably be confused (and hurt) why they get this perceived ‘cold’ treatment. There would therefore not be a great desire to reach out to the Swedes.

    Non-Swedes among eachother don’t have to talk all the time. Silence is golden indeed, but only if it is a comfortable silence. The key to comfortable is that you acknowledge the existence of others and show that you are not hostile. After that, you can still chose to be silent with others around. That will not be considered rude at all, actually it would be a sign that you feel comfortable. I guess it’s all in the subtle nuances. Body language and eyecontact are very important to establish the context.

    On the other side: silence is definately not always appreciated. Opposed to the public space where you don’t know anyone and no-one has any expectations of you besides general curtosy, it would be considered weird if you meet with someone you know and then slip into introvert mode. In that case silence is seen as if you don’t appreciate the fact that someone is making time for you. So a quiet person in that case would either be a lunatic or an a**hole. :)

    But I have to agree with Erik that as soon as you know that others (=Swedes) have another ruleset of good behavior, I think you should try to adjust to it instead of imposing your own rules… If you can’t do that I think the only thing to do is to to hang out with non-Swedes or move to a place where you feel more comfortable.

    @ Erik: I agree with you that there are many false smiles given, especially in the USA. I can’t stand it if I get a ‘Have a nice day’ from a clerk while at the same time they have the most bored and uninterested look on their face.
    But still: the quantity of smiles given does not say anything about their quality. I like to smile a lot, but I can assure you that all my smiles are sincere. I think I would miss it a lot if people don’t smile back. You feel like you reach out to someone, and they don’t appreciate your effort.
    Like I mentioned to FV, reassurance is an important part of communication outside Sweden.

    Also, I think that you don’t know what you have to add to a conversation / what another person can learn from you, until you give it a go. I’ve never met anyone that was so boring that I would not like to talk to them on the bus for 10 minutes. But that may be different for other people.

  16. @Summer – Hello :) Hmm yes, I see your point clearly with the silence and how it can be perceived.

    Leads me to think that swedes have a wide understanding that even if you’re quiet you respect each other’s company. And if you’re quiet because you’re down you don’t need to get chatted up because everyone respects you being down(it’s a part of life after all, you see it as a second state equal to happiness), you don’t want to break the conversation to make it awkward(which makes it less awkward for the guy being down as well), you usually weave it into the conversation until it reaches it’s goal as the main part of the conversation.

    If it’s a heavy subject swedes weave it in in periods during the conversation, filling out with common talk as a fresh breath, then breathing back in on the heavy subject until it’s resolved. Then there are closer bonds between close friends which you tell while the others are listening, letting the other friends join in and help you or just listen.

    Reassurance is not a part of the swedish “cool” mentality though(cool being the positive cool). If you want to take something cheezy as the Fonz for example(little exaggerated example but still a symbol for “cool”); he reassured people in his own way, he didn’t exactly epitomize reassurance, but people knew “Everything’s all right” anyway when it was the Fonz..

    We’re not imposing many rules, we’re imposing less rules than we’re exposed to in foreign countries. I think we’re less complicated in social situations than you think, I could even dare at calling Sweden less socially complicated than most countries.

    Happy to see you’re joining into the conversation, Summer :)

  17. PS.

    @Dano – I don’t think so either mate, the movie’s made to contrast against the good image of Sweden, but it’s not necessarily the bigger part that’s bad impressions, not at all. Often you have a healthy low number of bad impressions, unless someone gets pissed off at some of our customs.

  18. I agree with Summer about the smiling part. I smile at people to acknowledge them, even if I do not know them and appreciate a smile back. That is just a common courtesy. If someone does not smile back, I find it rather rude and am a bit taken aback. I also mean my smiles, I do not run around smiling like an idiot. It is just to say hi to someone and then leave them in peace.

    About the weather… I am lucky I have had time to adjust to the cold and definite lack of sun here in Holland. I know that coming from sunny South Africa I was depressed as hell for the first two years in Holland and absolutely hated it. I have now come to enjoy the different seasons (though I really do wish it would rain less!) I think that it is especially difficult for people to adjust to a cold environment and ‘unfriendly’ people if they come from a place that is 180 degrees different. I think that this is something that influences their perception of Swedish people. If you live in a country long enough, then you do appreciate their differences and can see that what you first thought of as rude is just their way and not meant to be rude at all. In Friesland, the northern part of Holland where I live, people always greet each other in the street and say hi, even if they do not know you. I found this incredibly rude in the beginning as I did not talk to people I did not know. After 16 years, I now find it incredibly rude when someone does not say hi back ;-)

    Dano: I agree to just be myself when I finally get to Sweden :-D I hear such a mixture of things from people on this blog, I have decided to make up my own mind when I am there. A friend of mine studied in Uppsala for six months and loved the Swedes. Said they were very kind and friendly. Another friend of mine went to visit him for a long weekend while he was there and said he had a great time there with the Swedes. So I shall just be my happy, charming self and keep you all posted! Maybe I will start my own blog and you can all spam me there :-D

  19. Lol..i’m a “terminator” – “saving private Ryan” kinda guy.Never have been the type for the “best foreign film” at the Cannes film festival. As stated at the beginning i’m a “down to Earth” guy…a “trucker”! Whazza hell do i know?

  20. I am from Ukraine and was visitng Sweden last spring. Re. silence topic. You know what? I still feel very ashamed for being once asked to make the TV less loud while my staying at Sweden. Honestly, I just didn’t realize it as here we have different standarts of noise level. Plus I am living in the overpopulated capital and it has it’s influence. But since I do feel ashamed, I respect and accept some rules of the other society. After coming back I felt weird during next few weeks – people where “too much noizy” and girls where loughing out “too much open and loud”. Now I don’t feel it. But I always had some story to tell my Swedish friends after just going outdoors – some nice conversations, funny situations etc. Being asked: “