Snow clings to the pines beneath a blue sky as dusted field after dusted field flashes past the coach window. It’s beautiful, Sweden. Last time I was on this coach, in October, this enchanting landscape and the promise of free Wi-Fi led me and Joe to squeal with delight about our discovery (thanks Google) that wolves, lynx and bears could be lurking beyond these trees.
“This says brown bears don’t attack people!”
“Wow! A wolverine’s a real animal!”
But this time, I’m on my own. And the excitement I felt by seeing a new storybook land for the first time is now replaced by the sober realisation that this storybook land is now my home. This is my own reverse Brexit—to Europe.
I’m meeting Joe in Linköping: our new home city. He’s been here for five weeks, staying at an Airbnb not far outside the city. My mid February arrival owes itself to the fact that flats in Linköping are notoriously hard to come by, and only now are we actually able to move in to a flat we signed the contract for three months ago. And that was record speed. Before that, our jaws dropped when stories of 6 month to 1 year waiting lists reached our horrified ears.
“What do people do!?” I exclaimed, flapping like a distressed duck.
“Live in hotels, I guess,” said Joe.
“For a year!?”
“Yeah … it’s not ideal.” He folded his arms and looked positively un-phased.
Thankfully, our last Airbnb host was an angel in disguise, not to mention being fluent in English and Swedish. When we emailed him to confirm we were immigrating, he gave us some tips. Here they are for you:
Firstly, go to your municipality’s website and find a list of all the landlords. Correct, they’re all on there. In Sweden, the rent is regulated. That means no rich landlords who can charge through the roof for the roof … I’m thinking of no other places in particular …
Secondly, specify what you want. In Sweden, you don’t refer to properties by their number of bedrooms. The hallway, kitchen and bathroom are a given (thank goodness for that), and any additional rooms are considered the number you are looking for. For instance, I would like a two-bedroom flat with a lounge. In Sweden, that is a three roomer; you should ask for a 3:a (trea). A one-bedroom flat with a kitchen and lounge is known as a 2:a (tvåa), etc., etc., you got it professor.
Thirdly, sell yourself. Bolster your ego and brag about your ‘house-proudness’, your innocent lack of nicotine addiction, and your distain towards all things furry, yes, all things furry.
It’s just to paint a haloed picture. As soon as you’re in there, by all means, buy the dog, unload the fags, and only clean when you have guests. I’m joking, of course …
Returning to my wistful gazing out the coach window, I see hardly any people. Only a couple of dog walkers and a guy zipped full body in navy waterproofs, who’s land skiing across a field. He’s not doing very well, in fact, he’s making walking look underrated.
On my arrival in Linköping, I thank the driver with a word: tack, which my pronunciation of operatically declares, ‘I am an unversed-in-Swedish new Swede, attempting through my use of authentic Svenska to pretend that I am a real Swede!’ Now I’m here, however, I’d better stop blushing whenever I bring forth words from my mini repertoire of Swedish phrases. This reverse Brexit could be, like, forever! Forever … wait … forever? Beneath six layers of synthetic stuffing, my heart seems to slow. My eyes glaze over. I see my British hand floating away from its estranged European body. I watch home disappear, my other hand holding Joes and my feet standing in boots designed for the Himalayas. I can’t feel my fingers. I blink.
Rousing myself a little, I stare down the never ending street. It’s silent. Giant buildings blur. But in the distance, I see a black woolly hat bobbing at the top of a puff of jacket and breath. The stocky man is beaming, and in front of his rosy nose, he is jangling a tiny bunch of keys.