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Why I Left Sweden For The Netherlands

The Netherlands VS Sweden

In this blog post, I want to answer what I really think about Sweden and the Netherlands. Which country is the best for me to live in, and why?

Having lived in Sweden until 24 and the Netherlands until 31, I have gotten the chance to experience both cultures, and both have their own unique pro’s and con’s. And I’ll be frank:

I prefer Dutch cities and feel it’s easier to live a fulfilling, happy, and free life in the Netherlands. I love my vacations and hiking in Sweden. I think the Dutch job market is much more competitive and flexible. And I think it’s much easier to be a foreigner in the Netherlands.

First of all, I was born in Stockholm, grew up in Northern Sweden, Luleå, and moved to Uppsala after turning 18 years old. I know what it is like to be a child in Sweden, and a student, but I don’t know what it’s like to work in Sweden. I moved to the Netherlands after meeting a Dutch girl, and while we both debated on which country to move, in the end, after she got a promotion, we decided job prospects and opportunities in the Netherlands would be better than in Sweden.

Why I Prefer The Dutch Job Market

The feeling I had, as a 24 year old who had just finished university, was that there wasn’t any real job opportunities in the Swedish market. I was a humanist student and felt almost completely out of touch with the real world job demands. Almost every single job in Sweden demands experience and specific education credentials, so where do you begin? In the Netherlands, there’s paid internships, and programs, to offer starters a chance to enter the market. I didn’t need those in the end, and first landed a job in customer service, utilizing my skill in English and Swedish to my advantage, while I took on studies on the side to learn programming.

In general, salaries are higher in the Netherlands than in Sweden, due to a more competitive job market. And the Dutch taxes are slightly lower than those in Sweden. On top of this, the most appealing thing about working in the Netherlands to me was the flexibility offered. In Sweden, you’re hard pressed asking for a part time job, with full time being the norm. I always wanted to work less hours, because to me, 32 hours or less, gave me a chance to work on my personal creative hobbies more, such as blogging, or filming, or coaching.

The employment rate for people aged 15 to 24 in the Netherlands was 63.3% in 2019, compared to 53.7% in Sweden, according to OECD.

Why I Loved The Swedish Tax System

While Sweden’s taxes are on the higher end, ultimately, I think Sweden’s tax system is far superior to the dutch one. The dutch system is notorious for it’s complexity, and the tax agency is years behind on controlling incoming taxes, and massively understaffed. In Sweden, you can usually call and get a straight answer, but in the Netherlands, you’re hard pressed to find out what to do. “Uh, I don’t know, send us a letter and we’ll think about it.” is a common answer. And worst of all, it happened more than once that you’d get a letter 2-3 years later, saying you paid too little, and you need to pay extra for garbage, or whatever, and you have to pay it YESTERDAY.

These things never happened to me in Sweden. And we all remember the scandal a couple of years ago when the Dutch government said to the tax agency that they had to be more strict against cheaters. So they sent letters to all parents with foreign sounding names, and told them, we need proof of every time your kid went to the daycare, or you have to pay back your child allowance to us in full within a month. Not surprisingly, most parents could not produce this proof, because nobody was taking or keeping such documentation. This led to a scandal which caused the government to have to resign in shame.

Why It’s Easier To Be A Dutch Foreigner

Here’s the hard truth. People keep telling you that you don’t need Dutch to live in the Netherlands. But they are wrong, so wrong. English is enough to live in the Netherlands, but it’s not enough to feel alive in the Netherlands. You need strong dutch skills to really have a genuine chance of making deep and lasting connections in the country and to really experience the culture at full, or you’ll end up stuck in an international bubble, only meeting other foreigners, and only making casual social connections with the Dutch. It was only when the Dutch started recognizing me as capable of talking and speaking in Dutch that they thought I was worth the time to talk to and befriend.

Regardless, I think the same goes for Sweden. I think if you plan to settle in Sweden, you should learn Swedish. For your own happiness and well-being. And I do think it’s easier being a foreigner in the Netherlands than in Sweden. For one, there’s more internationals around, and yes, for business purposes, there’s lots of jobs in English too. And ofcourse, most websites and organizations and officials produce material in english. And I do think the Dutch are more open-minded than the Swedes, albeit, just a little more. Germanic cultures are notorious for being a little slow-to-warm up. They can appear cold and reserved to outsiders, but once you start getting to know them, they become more warm and friendly, and drop some of the informal politeness.

The thing that makes it easy to be a Dutch or Swedish foreigner is that most people in bigger cities all speak good english. But sometimes, that can be a bit of an illusion. While they can find it fun to speak to you in English for an hour or so, they’re relieved and happy to be able to switch over to Dutch, or Swedish, afterwards. Because your mother tongue always comes more easily. And you’ll have to note that it will usually stay at a more polite conversation. And while polite can feel nice and safe, it’s not the kind of conversation you’d have with a friend. It’s more controlled and less free and less fun, for the both of you.

Why I Love Living In The Netherlands

All in all, I love living in the Netherlands. It’s a green utopia. It’s accessible, making you feel like the entire world is within your reach, from the biggest airport of europe in Schiphol, to affordable and fast trains, able to take you from one side of the country to the other in less than three hours, and beyond into the rest of Europe. The cities are amazingly walkable and bikeable, allowing you to quickly, and easily get from one place to another. A lot of people are afraid of the bikes, and for you, there’s alternatives, with trams, busses, and a really good public transport system.

These are all luxuries compared to Sweden, which is a big country with low population density. Sweden has a hell of providing affordable public transport to all it’s citizens, many living spread out across large distances. It’ll take you around at least 22 hours to get by train from the southern point to the northern point by train, and it’s not always going to be a comfortable, timely ride. On top of this, prices in Sweden are far from affordable, and a single fare bus ticket in Uppsala can cost up to 8 euros, while one in Amsterdam is usually around 1-2 euros.

That said, I want to vouch so hard for getting and using your bike. Don’t get bike anxiety. It’s so limiting to rely on public transport to get around. The Netherlands is built for bikes. I can understand it feels intimidating to get on a bike highway, but people here are professionals, and don’t worry, soon, you’ll be too. Learning to ride a bike and signal properly and understanding the base rules is easy. And the freedom you get from using your bike is immense. Don’t be afraid to splurge on a good bike here either. It’s worth it’s money in gold.

I love the parks and the water here. I’d go on daily walks around the Sloterplas in Amsterdam. I found the Amsterdamse bos beautiful. I find all the houses and cities adorable, still today, I feel in love with the country and lifestyle here. It’s easy, simple, and enjoyable. The Dutch have put so much love into their cities, and it shows.

Why The Netherlands Can’t Compete With Swedish Nature

Still, the Dutch can’t compete with Swedish wildlife. And so, if you’re a mountain hiking enthusiast, who loves to traverse big, mostly untouched nature, Sweden is your choice. Northern Sweden’s only two seasons, Winter and Summer, offer you strong contrast between light and dark, and white and green. A swedish flower field and a bright summer day in July. A cold, snowy, and dark day in January. Only in the South do you get more chance for lighter transitions with autumn and spring, and more bearable darkness. I love summers in Sweden and enjoy spending time there during the summers. I enjoy the snow during the winter for a week, but after a week, the darkness gets to me. I start to feel gloomy, sleepy, and mostly want to stay indoors. So I’m happy with the Dutch climate.

There’s actually forests in the Netherlands, and hills if you go to the South. The Belgian ardennes are more than worth the visit, and just across the border. Don’t feel like you have to isolate yourself to the Netherlands if you come there. There’s so much to explore. Europe is at your door, with mountains around Switzerland, Germany, and France, sunny Spain a couple hours away, and not to mention the UK a 3 hour train trip away. While Dutch nature can’t compete with the Swedish wildlife and nature, it does have it’s charm. I’ve gone on many hikes aroud beautiful open, green areas, spotting plenty deer and birds, and the water and rivers all over the country are a welcome sight. I love living close to water. Always have. Water just makes me feel something. It’s like a mirror. But this Summer, I still made the trip to Luleå, and from there, I took the train to Tromsø, Norway. And what I saw there really made me awe. Yeah. The Netherlands can’t compete with Swedish nature.

High Crime Rates In Sweden, Vs The Netherlands

Yes, crime levels are considered 19% higher in Sweden than the Netherlands. Drug use is lower in Sweden than the Netherlands, but is said to have had a big uptick in later years. Murder rates are slightly higher in the Netherlands than Sweden. Sweden is said to have 312 times more police officers on the streets than the Netherlands, and is known for their unusually strong police force. Sweden is a country where people value safety and comfort highly, and laws are often more strictly enforced than in the Netherlands, as an example, drug use and prostitution is strongly prohibited in Sweden, potentially leading to an uptick in crime. Crimes are often reported more often in Sweden than the Netherlands. On top of that, suicide rates are somewhat higher in Sweden than the Netherlands. Violent gun crimes are more common in Sweden. These were some of the statistics I could find.

Personally, I felt mostly safe in both countries. I had two drunk, crazy men in the Netherlands harass me for being gay, though I’m straight, so I don’t know where they got that idea. I felt especially safe in Northern Sweden, living in a small city was relatively calm and peaceful. There were times when walking at night, I’d be worried about gangs of drunk guys potentially trying to beat me up for fun. But it never really happened, thankfully.

Eating Out In Sweden vs The Netherlands

First of all, people say the Netherlands is expensive, but that’s an exaggeration if you compare it to Sweden. Something I see very few people talk about is grocery store prices. I feel like vegetables in the Netherlands are almost half the price of vegetables in Sweden, barring potatoes and things that can survive the cold temperatures in the country. Dutch agriculture and access to food has really served to press down prices of most things. The produce feels more fresh and high quality too. As a person who enjoys vegetarian food, having access to this is a major bonus.

Now, restaurant prices in Sweden and the Netherlands are really not that different. I think you’ll spend the same eating out at a Swedish restaurant to a Dutch one. The exception is ordering a drink. Yes, alcohol is more expensive in Sweden. There’s one exception for eating out though. The Dutch offer more affordable asian alternatives, served through tokos, and the street food culture is far more developed. It’s relatively easy to find an affordable meal at a small restaurant, if you’re willing to slightly go down in quality. And I did, many times. I love the indonesian food in the Netherlands and never had a chance to expire anything like it in Sweden.

Sweden’s sushi and tacos are better though. I don’t know why. It feels more fresh. Sushi in the Netherlands is often offered in an all you can eat fashion, and restaurants feel less modern and clean, giving Sweden the edge. I’ve enjoyed so much good sushi and always make an effort to go for Sushi in Sweden. And with the tacos, I feel, Sweden does a better job with that. Love for tacos is in the Swedish culture. We eat it religiously every Friday. So it depends on what food you prefer, I guess. Dutch and Swedish cuisine feels almost the same, except the Dutch cuisine can sometimes go more German, with more fermented cabbages. I don’t personally see that as a plus. But it’s an acquired taste. Same as Swedens Surströmming.

Why I Miss Swedens Weather

High wind speeds, long days of pouring rain, the Netherlands is known for it’s bad weather. And honestly, the Swedish weather, in general, at least around the east coast, was just better. In Uppsala and Luleå, I enjoyed mostly mild weather, with few storms, and rainfall was less frequent. Living in the Netherlands has forced me to learn to love bad weather. It’s changed how I dress and act.

These days, I don’t care if it rains, I’ll still take the bike or enjoy a walk in the park. A mild drizzle won’t stop me. I still want to get some fresh air, and I can take a shower when I get home. I think that’s how you have to deal with Dutch weather. Just learn to not let it stop you. If you stay at home for a drop of rain, you’ll just be miserable. I see that a lot with people who come to the Netherlands from Spain and Italy. They complain about the awful weather here, and they stay at home, waiting for it to disappear. But what’s the harm? Just go outside. A little rain won’t kill you. You’re not made of sugar.

But yeah, if the weather gets to you, don’t be afraid to take a trip down south for a while. It’s true, it can rain here. Sometimes up to 15 days a month. But the Summers can be relatively dry. In June there wasn’t any rainfall for up to 40 days, and the grass turned yellow and dry. After that, the rain came, and everything just sprouted from the ground. Within 24 hours, there were big, bustling flower fields all over the city. It’s like the entire city came to life.

The Political Climate

The political climate is better in the Netherlands, with more interesting and fresh parties, with interesting ideas. The country is more liberal and egalitarian than Sweden. But the country is a lot less harmonious than in Sweden. There’s bigger debates and political divides, with more extreme parties on the left and right, and the country values freedom of speech highly, even when it’s impolite. Sweden’s political climate is slightly more stable, slow-moving, and while Sweden has a lot of tension between the left and right, their practical differences are not that many if you look at how they vote. It’s like they’re involved in a competition of who is the closest to the centre.

Sweden has a subtle consensus culture going for it, compared to the Dutch atmosphere, which is much more partisan. Honestly, both countries are struggling politically right now. But Dutch politics is better for me, as a white male in my 30s. I think as a parent, it would be worse. Sweden’s policies adore and coddle with parents, giving them generous freedom’s impossible in most countries. I sometimes play with the idea of raising my kids in Sweden, but studies also show, contrastingly, that Dutch kids are the happiest. There’s been complaints about Swedish schools and city life not being very friendly for kids. So perhaps not, after all.

The Cultural Divides

Dutch people are often described as rude and free-spoken. But that’s really an exaggeration and a misunderstanding. Being free-spoken just means being informal. When you’re relaxed, you let go of polite niceties, and just speak your mind. It honestly puts me at ease. I’m glad people are frank and real with me, and it allows me to let my guard down, and to just be myself too. It makes it easier to get to know people. So don’t take it personal. It’s just them being them. If they’d be polite with you, that’d just be a wall blocking the chance for the two of you to have a real connection.

I think in Sweden, there’s slightly more harmony though. It’s easier to just feel safe and comfortable. There’s less potential tensions and conflicts. But it can easily be a reassuring lie. Often, conflicts happen below the surface in Sweden. I like that Swedish people are so agreeable and compassionate. The Dutch are less agreeable, and slightly more cold and logical in their approach to life. But Swedes sometimes have to learn to speak up. And Dutch sometimes have to learn to listen and try to empathise more first.

These are some of my thoughts in regards to Sweden and the Netherlands. What do you think about the two countries?


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