Hi, everyone and welcome back to Global Village. 欢迎回来【小酒馆大世界】.
Today we have a new guest in the studio. He is a world traveler with many interesting experiences and perspectives to share. Welcome to the studio William.
Thank you very much, Lulu.
So William, could you give us a brief introduction of yourself, like where’re you from originally, and where are you living now?
I'm originally from Scotland, and after many years of traveling around, I’ve settled down in Sweden since 1999.
Okay, and we had a talk before this recording session, and you seem to have traveled to… really traveled all over the world. So how many different countries or cities have you lived in before?
I’ve lived in probably… for periods of more than a couple of years, I’ve lived in more than 6,7, 8 even, major cities. I’ve lived in China, in 大连, in 上海, I’ve lived in Australia, I’ve lived in States, I’ve lived in Switzerland, Dubai. I get around.
Apart from your home country, which is your favorite place to live so far? Sweden?
Well, my favorite place to live is in Sweden. There are some beautiful places in the world and beautiful people in the world, but I really like, I'm a nature person, I love the nature of Sweden.
So I guess you don't live in Stockholm then. You probably way out of the city.
I used to live in Stockholm, and then I found a wonderful island by accident, I was visiting a very famous restaurant there. I was there with a client for dinner, and I saw a posted note by the ferry. So there was a house for sale and I came back the next day and looked at it.
And needless to say, I didn't buy it. I didn't buy that house because there was some problems with the house, but there was another one, and I bought that one.
When you say a small island like how small if you could give us an idea?
It's extremely small. It's about the size of … I’ll tell you what, there's about 30 houses there.
And not 100% populated over the… all the time. Some are just the non-resident status..
I see, like there’re summer houses. And then how is it connected to other islands or the main … I don't know like the mainland?
My small island, which is called Oaxen, it’s connected to a larger island which is called M?rk? which means dark island.
It's connected by a small ferry which takes about 5 minutes, and we can put cars on that ferry. We can put about eight cars. And then once we get to the big island, there’s a bridge on the island which connects to the mainland and the rest of the world. It's a beautiful journey.
But it sounds like a very off-grid lifestyle though, isn't it?
It is kind of. I still have 5G internet and everything. It's a really nice mix of in the middle of the countryside and modern, it really is.
So speaking of your experience of living in Sweden, you said you moved to Sweden in 1999, right? From Scotland?
No, I moved from Switzerland, at the time I was living and working in Geneva. And I was dating a Swedish girl. And when her study visa ran out, we came to Stockholm. After being in Stockholm for 5 or 6 months, my girlfriend at the time she realized that she was better off from the job she was looking for, we going back to live in Switzerland. And she went back to Switzerland while I stayed in the lovely city of Stockholm.
So you came for the girl and then you stayed for the city.
But we are still friends. Yeah, I realized there were many more girls.
And then speaking of… you mentioned that your ex-girlfriend with the job that she didn't really like in Sweden. You know I often hear that Swedish people they get taxed a lot like I even hear things like in Scandinavia, income tax can go as high as 70% of your income, is that true?
That is certainly true, and depending on what kind of industry you're in, the rates can vary to from 50% up to about 70%. I'll give you an interesting word. The word for tax in Swedish is Skatt. And Skatt also means treasure. And the biggest employer in Sweden is the Skattemyndigheten which is the tax department.
And people in general are okay with being taxed 50-70%?
They are and they aren't. The middle range people, normal people, they are quite happy with the taxes because they can see their tax money working, the cities are in good condition, there’s good public transport which is quite well priced, things work, it’s relatively safe, hospitals are exceptional, education system is exceptional. So that they're reasonably happy. Nobody likes paying tax, but if you can see it working a little bit then that’s okay.
But not so much for the high earners, right? If you earn quite a lot of money then you get 70% of it taken away.
The high earners tend to earn high for a few years then say I’ve had enough of this, and then they move offshore, to countries where a little bit more conducive to that kind of lifestyle.
I see. Speaking about Sweden, Swedish people, I’m sure a lot of our listeners and actually anyone who's not Swedish would have sort of stereotypes of Swedish people which I’m sure you had before you moved to Sweden. What sort of stereotypes would you say people generally have of Swedish people like they're tall and blonde?
Yeah, exactly. My girlfriend was tall and blonde. So I automatically assume that everybody else was tall and blonde. And that's not true? and good looking. It's absolutely not true. I would say the majority are dark-haired and still good looking and inordinately tall. There's a lot of very tall people in Sweden.
I don't know, but I always have this stereotype of a Swedish or not just Swedish but Scandinavians, northern Europeans, they dress down, they sort of very casually dressed. Is that stereotype accurate?
No, I think maybe to the untrained eye, they might look casual, but you can be sure that those casual clothes are actually very chic. They're designed like that. And Swedish people, they don't like to stand out, they don't want somebody to say, Oh look at me, look at me. They are very herd mentality. They all do the same thing. They don't want to dress different in case they are considered to be different. But they do dress well.
So like very, very different from let's say southern Europeans like Italian, Spanish.
Absolutely. The predominant color in Scandinavian clothing recent years has been black or gray. You don't see the bright reds or the pastels you see in Southern Europe. Summer times you see a few things, but most of the time is dark.
I guess all these brands that are selling there are gonna go with the neutral and basic colors.
They certainly do, because they know that's what sells. There’s a few differences on the fringes of the fashion world there or the style world. But they tend to follow the same pattern.
The other thing is, I just, at least every Scandinavian I’ve met, speaks really perfect English. Is that true for the majority of the population? They'll speak flawless English.
It really is, and they’re like parrots. I’ve known people, two girls, girl friends of mine. They went off to study in the UK, in Liverpool. And when they come back to Sweden, they spoke English with a Liverpool accent which is ridiculous. It's ridiculous, crazy. They’re like parrots, they really are.
They just have this language talent. Then what about you? Was it equally easy for you to learn Swedish? I'm assuming you speak fluent Swedish now.
The way I learn to speak languages is I read about what I’m interested in and I listen to programs on TV or radio about what I'm interested in. There's no point trying to study nuclear physics and read a book in nuclear physics, but it's not interesting. I study things I like.
And I found Swedish to be actually not that difficult, it looks impossible, but it's not. It’s really quite simple. And there’s many incentives from the government to go free classes to go online.
I see. Then I’m sorry giving you all these stereotypes.
But the other thing that when we think about, especially for people who have never lived or even been to the Scandinavian countries, is that, you know, you hear so much about the equality there, not just gender equality between men and women, but also equality just among the general public, like you don't have a huge wealth gap. And to what extent is that real?
No. I think in any job, for instance, anybody, if there's a job advertised, it's not specific for a man or a woman, I mean, we have female doctors, we have female scientists, we have female company CEOs. There's no barrier. And the pay scale is not different if you're a man or a woman. Absolutely not, which is a good thing.
And you see a lot of women very high in the political world as well in Scandinavian countries, right?
Yes, very high. Especially Sweden and Finland at the moment both have a female prime minister, and everybody's fine with that. There's no stereotyping, nothing like that. Everybody's fine with it. They might not be fine with the person's politics, but they’re fine with gender.
So even if they comment or give negative comment of these head of states, they are focusing on what they do not on their gender.
One quite extreme case is, maybe extreme is not the word, but the idea of stay-at-home dads.
Because that you certainly see more in Scandinavian countries? Not saying they don't have those in other countries, but I would say, for example, in China stay-at-home dads even if the couples are okay with the arrangements, the dads are going to face a lot of peer pressure because traditionally they're still expected to go out to earn.
So you obviously you're from Scottish culture and then you went to Sweden, how would you compare these to when it comes to the idea of stay-at-home dad and then child care or child rearing responsibilities?
It's a huge difference. In the UK, and Scotland in particular, the man is considered to be the breadwinner and the woman is to stay at home, look after the kids, look after the house. In Scandinavia, that's a completely different scenario.
And in fact, it's the law in Sweden that the father whether you married or not, the father must also take time from work, a specific set time over a specific number of years to assist in rearing kid, that is a lot. And it's not seen as a chore, it's seen as a part of everyday life in Scandinavia. Just what you need to do. Especially in Sweden.
In today's Global Village, we talked to a new friend William about his life in Sweden; in the next episode, we're gonna continue the talk.
So until then.