Here in Stockholm we are having a nice time visiting with our close friends. These are folks that we’ve known for as long as we’ve known each other. Our kids are very close in age and play well together. It’s fun to get together and live collectively – sharing the cooking, cleaning and childcare and sitting and having long evening chats after the kids go to bed. Now we are living only a few hour train ride away. It is so nice to have such easy access to them but all the same it would be even easier if we were neighbors so we could hang out with them the way that we often spend summer (and some winter) evenings with our neighbors back in Montpelier.
I would say that one of the things I am missing most in Sweden is my neighbors and my community. We support one another. We depend on each other. We look out for one another. About a year and a half ago one of our neighbors experienced a tragedy. The police arrived at the house (no sirens or anything) and before they were even on the front steps, people had come running out of at least 4 of the surrounding houses to lend a hand. We pop into each others houses when we need an egg or to get our collectively owned lawn mower. We take turns watching each others kids and getting them to and from school and we take turns hosting potlucks. And in talking about all of this, I am really talking about the folks who live in the surrounding houses. Draw the circle wider and you’ve got a rich network of friends and acquaintances who are caring and intentional in building the relationships and establishing the institutions and organizations necessary to create the amazing community that is Montpelier, Vermont.
Sweden is a great place but so far it seems a lot less community-oriented than Montpelier. I think this goes back to the fact that the welfare system provides such good infrastructure, support, good schools and after-care, etc. that folks don’t need one another. I imagine there are pockets of community if, for example, you happen to have a few neighbors with kids the same age in the same school. But you don’t get the sense that people are looking for it.
Given that I am neighborhood-oriented and a bit of a busy-body when it comes to community life, if I were to be in Sweden long term, I think I would chose my living arrangements very carefully in order to maximize the potential of having neighborly neighbors. I think I would also get involved in some issue-based organizations (for example, local immigrant advocacy) that would get me plugged in a bit more.
Whatever I did, however, I don’t think I could ever top what I have back home.