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STOCKHOLM

Swedish stereotypes: The residents you’ll meet in Stockholm’s districts

Curious about the cultural ins and outs of the Swedish capital? Well, look no further! This is writer and marketing professional Mikael Barclay's insider’s guide to central, and quite central, Stockholm.

Swedish stereotypes: The residents you'll meet in Stockholm's districts
Inner-city Stockholm and its adjacent districts may seem like they're all "the same", but there are different nuances of posh, semi-posh and we're-just-pretending-to-be-posh. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Östermalm: Posh people 

This is “the right side” of Birger Jarlsgatan. If you sport a coat of arms on your Sunday china or want to declare that you have made it, this is your go-to area. A comfortable labradoodle stroll from the Royal Game Park, Djurgården, it is as close to Mayfair or le 16e that you will get anywhere north of Berlin. Another perk for the true Östermalm resident is that one will constantly bump into aunts of one’s old school chums who will tell one that they saw one’s mother just the other day. 

If you feel that good park benches are the hallmarks of any first-rate local entertainment scene, and are confident that your surname won’t dilute the prominence of the nameboard in your building’s entrance, Östermalm might just be the perfect neighbourhood for you.

Gärdet: Poor posh people 

Gärdet is somewhat of a natural child of Östermalm, and although part of the same district, local etiquette has residents specify Gärdet or Östermalm “sort of”, whenever asked where they live. From being lower middle-class, Gärdet is now the home of Dowager Countesses and cash poor children of polite society. The former will invariably insist that a modest ceiling height is no reason not to keep hefty family heirlooms such as chandeliers and large ancestral portraits. 

If you feel that vast open fields are about as exciting as it gets, then surely this is the ideal neighbourhood for you.

Vasastan: The middle class 

With its imposing buildings and chic parks, Vasastan is the bourgeois version of its aristo’ neighbour Östermalm. If the latter is an elderly colonel, the former is a multitasking young career mum, living the middle-class dream. With a well-groomed husband, Instagram-friendly  breakfasts, smart looking children, a holiday home near the sea, regular yoga sessions and a beautiful kitchen, this is everything one needs to be happy, it really is! 

If you love Swedish minimalist clothing brands and go “deliiish!” when you think of overly complicated lattes-to-go, Vasastan might be your perfect match. And, oh come on, it really is! 

Vasastan. Photo: Bertil Ericson/TT

City/Klarakvarteren: Youths 

Untouched by the Second World War, it was decided that the centre of Stockholm nevertheless ought to be demolished to make room for a more modern and bold architecture. To this very day the new buildings continue to be admired and cherished by tens of people, most of whom are architects living in Södermalm. Others have abandoned the area in favour of tourists, pickpockets and youths in tracksuits. 

If you are one of the people who believe that eventually all architecture will look good, this area might be your ideal pick.

Kungsholmen: Practical people 

People who live in Kungsholmen enjoy stressing that Kungsholmen is part of inner Stockholm, a notion underlined by the naming of the anonymous shopping mall Västermalmsgallerian*. This is an island where tendencies of any particular neighbourhood character are deemed unnecessary or pretentious. Instead residents emphasise the closeness to nature and how convenient it is to live so very very close to the city centre (did we mention that Kungsholmen is part of inner Stockholm?). 

If you have yet to come to terms with not wanting to live in a city in the first place and love interior design magazine inspired done up kitchens, this could very well be the island for you.

* The name Västermalm refers to the western inner Stockholm district, harmonising with the already established names of its southern, eastern and northern counterparts.

Stora & Lilla Essingen: Sturdy islands upon which a motorway rests 

No one really cares.

The motorway on Lilla Essingen. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

Gamla stan: Tourists 

At some point it was decided that this historic gem would be best used for the vending of historically inaccurate miniature Vikings and bad coffee. A predicament that has skewed the tourist-to-local ratio, making it nearly impossible to stereotype its residents (who most probably exist… most probably). 

If you love history and are no taller than a 17th century cobbler, an apartment in Gamla Stan might just be for you.

Södermalm: Journalists 

This former working-class district is long since gentrified. Cockneys will still come over for the weekend pint although most of the island now caters for middle-aged journalists and young hipsters. While some residents secretly pretend to live in Berlin, others will swear on their vintage Vespas to be living in Palermo. Solidarity is a hallmark to this island and locals would gladly consider inviting members of the poor into their homes (just not this weekend when the parquet floor is being refurbished). When in the neighbourhood, why not swing by the local Farmers Market, an event yet to be visited by an actual farmer. 

If you think “what is that supposed to mean?” when you hear the expression “liberal elite”, you too might want to consider moving to Södermalm.

Södermalm. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

Danderyd: Business class passengers 

This prestigious suburb is the dream of CEOs and other members of the mercantile classes. In fact, it is so prestigious that young people growing up in its crown jewel, Djursholm, regularly state that they live north of the city, in an attempt to avoid getting judged. And who could  blame them? Apart from its exclusive golf club, stables and huge villas, the area has its own country club, called Djursholm Country Club, in English!

Solna: The common man 

Trying to characterise Solna is like trying to characterise the Swedish cheese hushållsost. It’s not so much a particular kind of cheese as a cheese. But despite not being able to articulate exactly why, locals remain highly sentimental about their borough. A predicament that has led it to be not only Stockholm’s premier producer of common men and women, but also of football hooligans.

Solna, home to venues like the Friends Arena football stadium and shopping centre Mall of Scandinavia. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

Bromma: Petite bourgeoise & bourgeoisie 

This is suburbia. Lush, idyllic, conveniently close to the city and during the winter months filled with branded down jackets. Houses range from large seaside bourgeoise to small formerly working class but now shut-up-mortgaged-middle class. Unlike people from Danderyd, residents will take every opportunity to mention where they are from. They are from Bromma and they are homeowners. 

Söder om Söder (south of Södermalm): The Marimekko middle class

This down-to-earth type area is ideal for everyone from subtenants from the north who put down “craft beer” under “interests” in job applications, to ordinary families and homeowning bobos (bourgeois-bohèmes). The common denominator being a profound appreciation for teak furniture and the modest lines of Scandinavian 50s design, a style invariably referred to as “good taste” (god smak), by Swedish architects. 

Nacka: People in sailing shoes 

It simply doesn’t get more New England than this in Stockholm. People in leisure class Nacka strive to look like they just got off their sailing boat. And if they are from Saltsjöbaden, or “Saltis”, they might actually just have. Good to know is that local regulation stipulates ladies to wear crisp pastel canvas sailing shoes and men worn down leather ones. 

Nacka is close to the water. Photo: Bertil Ericson/TT

Lidingö: Homeowners with premium priced watches 

With its characteristic French sounding i-vowel, the name Liiiidingö has become synonymous with Swedish wealth. Just like Danderyd, Bromma and Nacka, Lidingö, residents prefer local trains (bana), running on separate tracks from the rest of Stockholm’s commuter trains and underground system. This keeps family members’ watches safe. As an extra precaution, Lidingö is surrounded by water.

Mikael Barclay is a marketing professional, keen social observer and serious dabbler in writing. Born in Stockholm to a Swedish mother and a British Jamaican father, he felt destined to have a go at living abroad for himself. After venturing to Milan, Tokyo and London he is now based in Stockholm. 

Member comments

  1. Love the dry humor of this article. As a jaded New Yorker who, pre-covid, has visited Stockholm every year since 2009, it really made me miss my little getaway city that I love exploring so much. Can’t wait ’til we vaccinated Americans are allowed back in! 🙂

    1. And as a New Yorker living in Sweden who is hoping to bring his girlfriend to experience American Thanksgiving, I can’t wait until vaccinated Swedes are allowed in to the US! 🙂

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OPINION & ANALYSIS

What’s in a name? Getting to grips with the Swedish postal system

OPINION: I'd never thought before moving abroad that something as simple as the procedure for delivering a parcel could differ so much between different countries. Oh, how wrong I was...

a woman collecting a parcel from an ICA supermarket
Good luck persuading postal workers to deliver your parcels if they're addressed to your nickname. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

In the UK, where I grew up, parcel delivery regulations are relatively loose. Friends have sent letters to me addressed to all manner of nicknames based on my name, Becky, with “Beckminsterfullerene” a particular highlight. These letters always reached me without issue, as the UK’s postal service, Royal Mail, is relatively unbothered about whether the name on the post matches the name of the recipient.

I suspect that this is partly due to the fact that the UK has no up-to-date records of all residents, with their full legal name tied to their current address.

The closest we have to this system is a census is carried out once a decade, supplemented by the electoral register, listing registered voters’ address and name. This means that the British postal service, Royal Mail, does not have a country-wide population register against which they can check addresses against the names of the people who actually live there.

Sweden, however, could not be more different. The name on your parcel must match the name on your ID, or they will refuse to hand over your parcel. This isn’t just postal service workers being difficult – their IT system will not approve parcel delivery if this ID doesn’t match.

Here, parcel delivery and the postal service is closely linked to the folkbokföringsregistret – the population register, where everyone living in Sweden with a personnummer (a Swedish identity number) is listed with their name and current address. Not being listed on this register is the reason why some people living in Sweden without a personnummer sometimes may have trouble receiving post.

This can be extremely irritating, but actually makes sense in my opinion – if the postal service can’t confirm that the recipient lives at the address, then how do they know that important post isn’t being delivered to the wrong person? With vital documents such as bank cards and pin numbers still being delivered by post, this is actually a smart protective measure against identity theft and fraud.

As you may expect, my friends and family at home find this hard to believe, as they are used to a system where the name on the parcel is completely unimportant. This has led to some infuriating discussions at my local supermarket where I pick up my parcels, with postal service workers refusing to hand over my post for a number of seemingly trivial reasons. Scroll down to read some of my best (or worst?) stories.

1. The Christmas present saga

Last year, my dad sent me a pair of trainers as a Christmas present. To make postage easier, he decided to order them directly from the website to my address in Sweden, rather than ordering them to my parents’ home in the UK first.

In theory, this was a good idea, saving postal costs for him and saving the environmental impact of two journeys instead of one.

In practice, I didn’t get the parcel until February, two months after he ordered it.

The reason for this was that he, without thinking, had addressed the parcel to Becky. Unfortunately, my legal name is Rebecca. The parcel arrived at my local post office in good time for Christmas, so I dutifully grabbed my Swedish driver’s licence and my ID card from the Tax Agency and headed out to pick it up.

When I got there, they refused to hand it over. I patiently explained that I was, in fact, Becky, and that Becky is a common nickname for Rebecca.

“I understand,” said the postal worker, “but I still can’t deliver the parcel to you, as it doesn’t match the name on your ID. You’ll have to call Postnord [the Swedish postal service] and ask them to change the name on the parcel in our system before I can hand it over.”

She helpfully gave me Postnord’s phone number and sent me on my way.

Later that day, I called their number, and was met with a 45 minute phone queue – understandable, considering this was just before Christmas, and just before the UK was due to leave the EU, so they were undoubtedly bogged-down with calls asking about customs information.

Eventually, I got through and explained the issue. “We can’t change the name,” they informed me. “You’re not the sender of the parcel, so you’ll have to ask the sender to change the name instead”. I sighed, thanked them for their time and called my dad. He doesn’t speak Swedish, so I drafted an email for him to send to Postnord.

My shoes were on a shelf like this five minutes away from my apartment for two months. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

A few days later, he got a reply. “According to the system, this parcel was sent from a shoe company, not from you. You need to contact the shoe company and get them to change the name instead.”

At this point, we were getting quite annoyed. There were only a few days left to Christmas, and the parcel was only going to be stored in the post office for 60 days before being sent back. The UK was due to leave the EU in January 2021, meaning that we would have to pay import tax if it got returned before we could sort this out.

We contacted the shoe company, based in the UK, and the British customer service representative was perplexed. She was happy to help change the name, but the Postnord website had no information in English, so I had to painstakingly translate the relevant pages. She informed me she would see what she could do, but with Christmas and New Years coming up, they were unlikely to be able to get it done before January.

We waited. January came and went, and the problem still hadn’t been resolved. With just a few days left until the parcel was to be sent back to the UK, I tried one last time to pick it up.

I had a thought – maybe if I took my UK passport with me, they would be able to hand over the parcel? Swedish driving licences have a barcode on the back which postal workers scan, automatically uploading ID into the postal system, meaning errors can’t manually be fixed by postal workers. My foreign passport doesn’t have this barcode – maybe they can change the data manually?

I stood in the queue, heart racing, feeling like I was about to do something illegal. I smiled and handed over my passport like everything was normal. The postal worker typed in my details and went to collect my parcel.

“Is this really happening?” I thought. “Have I gone through all of this when I could have just gone in with my passport instead?”

I still don’t know whether my name was updated in the system or whether she manually input my name as Becky instead of Rebecca.

One thing is certain though: my dad has never sent a parcel to me addressed as Becky since.

2. The baby gift addressed to my newborn daughter

You may have thought that was my only story – if only!

Another issue I had goes back to when my 18-month-old daughter was a newborn. One of my English friends had very kindly ordered a book addressed to me, my husband and our daughter.

Unfortunately, she had only written our first names on the parcel. This was an issue for a number of reasons: firstly, my newborn daughter did not yet have a passport, so there was no way of proving her identity.

Secondly, my husband’s last name was not on the parcel, so we couldn’t prove his identity.

Thirdly, it was addressed to Becky rather than Rebecca, meaning that my name didn’t match the name on the parcel.

Still waiting for your newborn’s passport? You’ll have to wait before you can collect their first post. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

Finally, me and my daughter were still waiting for our personnummer applications to be approved, meaning our names were not listed in the Swedish population register and therefore we didn’t exist on the postal service’s system.

I went down to the post office with my husband’s passport, my passport, our wedding certificate, my daughter’s birth certificate, wearing my daughter in our baby carrier. This wasn’t enough. They believed we were who I said we were, but their system wouldn’t let them hand over the parcel without valid approved ID.

We had the same issue as above – she had ordered the parcel directly from Amazon to save postage rather than sending it directly from the UK, so they were responsible for changing the names on the order.

Unfortunately, they were so slow to act that the parcel was returned.

We did get the book in the end though – we ordered it ourselves from a Swedish company instead and my friend sent over the money.

3. The wedding present addressed to the wrong last name

The final story for this article happened after my husband and I got married. I had chosen to keep my last name, something I had mentioned to family and friends in the run-up to the wedding. A woman keeping her name upon marriage is unusual in the UK, so most of my British friends and family had assumed I would take my husband’s name instead.

Despite this, my mum very excitedly sent a parcel to us after the wedding with some gifts from family. She followed British naming customs, meaning that parcels are addressed to Mr & Mrs, followed by the husband’s first initial and last name. Understandably, this confused the Swedish postal service.

Titles such as Mr and Mrs are uncommon in Sweden, and letters addressed to married women are not addressed to their husband’s name (quite rightly if you ask me), so they were confused as to why I was trying to explain to them that the parcel was addressed to me, despite the initial and last name not matching my own name.

Shes going to have to update her name in the population register before picking up any wedding presents. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/Scanpix

If this wasn’t bad enough, my mum had also misspelled my husband’s surname. By some miracle, the postal worker agreed to hand over the parcel once I produced my husband’s passport and explained that my British mum wasn’t particularly used to writing Swedish surnames, not without reluctantly commenting “I shouldn’t really be doing this…”.

Somewhat exasperated, I rang my mum and patiently explained that no, I hadn’t changed my surname and no, people don’t really use Mr and Mrs here, and yes, it is important that parcels match the recipient’s legal name.

All credit to her, she hasn’t done it again – although I do still call her before she sends a parcel just to make sure.

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