From the “Taco” Country to the “Fika” Country – a Labor Survival Guide

Our newest employee is Carlos, originating from Mexico. At Scionova, we are proud of the fact that we are a multi-cultural company with employees from all around the world. If you ask us, this diversity makes our professional family dynamic and broad-minded. But how is it to “cut ties” and start working in a whole new country? Is there a big difference in the working culture? Fika, what is that? In this blog post, Carlos describes how he experienced his first time in Sweden.

When we decided to move back to Sweden after 7 years of living in Mexico with my Swedish wife and 2 years old kid, I was not really worried about living in the country of ABBA. I believed (so naively) that after two years studying my master in Jönköping, sharing my life with a Swede and years of working experience then I was ready for this working experience. I was so mistaken!

Therefore, we sold (almost gave away) what we could, we gave many things to my family, kept a few boxes at my parent´s house, packed only the necessary (in a record time) and then we flew to this wonderful country. We arrived in July when the weather was perfect (take a moment to remember the sunlight in your face and when you could wear shorts…. wonderful, right? now look out through the window). Well, here some situations I had to face that I was not really prepared for.

Summer break

One of the first shocks I got just when I arrived is that almost everything is closed (besides vacation places) in Summer. I was amazed by how Sweden dramatically slows down its working pace during the summer; almost everybody is on vacation enjoying the best part of the year. What happens to the projects, customers, deliverables, meetings, deadlines, etc.? What do you do with all the pendings? It waits too? And despite this summer-break, you still have a strong, healthy, innovative and prosperous economy. That is awesome! In Mexico you know it is summer because the weather is slightly nicer (all the year is nice hehe), schools are closed and you see kids around in “uncommon” hours; but work is the same, nothing changes and it is another day in front of the computer. In addition, you have the stress of what to do with your kids, in the scenario that both parents work. Difficult situation.

Dress Code

One of my first concerns was the dress code. In Mexico, if you work in an office you are expected to wear a tie and suit or at least formal pants and shirt. The first impression really matters in the MX zone. So I didn’t know exactly what to wear. I knew here is less formal, but to what extent? I didn’t want to be overdressed or too casual in my first days at work. I managed to wear casual pants and shirt and that was everything I needed to feel comfortable. My conclusion, first impression matters, but there are other things that are higher in priority.

 

Morning greetings

I was ready with the clothes, the next step was to enter the office and greet everyone. I know kissing on the cheek is not part of the Swedish culture, but shaking hands was still a doubt. In my home country, you kiss your female colleagues on the cheek even if it is the first time you meet them, not an option here. But then how to greet with a “good morning” in a proper way? I have to say that I only threw a “good morning” and took my seat, honestly, I felt so unpolite. But after a few days, I realized that there is nothing wrong and there is something called “the Swedish personal space” that might need another blog to write about. A common “hello, good morning” is appreciated and enough.

Fika and coffee

After 7 years in Mexico, I almost forgot this important event in Swedish life: the fika time. There is nothing like this in my country and I guess nothing similar in the world. In Mexico, you could make a pause to go to the coffee machine and come back immediately to your spot. However, if you take more than 5-10 mins you can be seen as unproductive and you don’t want that when your boss is somewhere around. But here, it is a convenient ~30 mins pause in which you give proper appreciation for your food, drink and your colleagues. Your boss is also there talking about the hockey game or the Eurovision song contest.

When I was getting ready to have fika, the first option was coffee. I don’t like coffee. Strange if we consider that Mexico is in the top 5 of the worldwide biggest coffee producers; on the other hand, Mexicans have a consumption of the only 1.2kg per capita, compared to the 8kg for a swede (6thplace as a coffee consumption per capita in the world). Lucky me there is always the tee option, but I had that feeling when you arrive at a dress up party and nobody told you, and hence you are the only who is not wearing one…. Do you know that feeling?

Vacations

I am not sure if Swedes have the same concern, but in Mexico when you get a job offer, one of the main questions is: how many vacation days are the company offering? Maybe you just take for granted a well-deserved 25 days vacation period (by law). But in Mexico, the companies are obliged to grant only (or a minimum of) 6 days vacation per year. Of course, there are many private companies that offer you a better vacation plan as a benefit. So when I knew I got 28 days vacation period here, I couldn’t believe it. But yeah…it is real!!

 

These are only a few of the situations I encountered different and in a certain way, challenging when I started working in Sweden. On the one hand, a new start is so exciting and refreshing. On the other hand, I can compare it like being a toddler at a grownups party: needing assistance, struggling to communicate and barely walking while grownups dance smoothly at a well-known Lisa Nilsson’s song.

// Carlos Salguero, Business Analyst