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An Australian Entrepreneur in Sweden
I enjoy being an expat and feel equally at home here as I do back in Australia. I am not sure you can ever stop being an expat once you have been one for as long as I have: you are never totally "in" no matter where you live, not even back in your home town or home country.
I think there is something about the Australian personality that makes us exceptionally willing and hardy expatriates. It could be our immigrant roots. Or it could be our family and friends abroad that help to make the transition smooth. Or perhaps it's just our spirit of adventure. Whichever way you look at it, it just seems as though we are somehow prompted to venture out into the big bad world.
Once we're abroad, I think our easy going personalities make adapting to the foreign culture less problematic and, of course, most Australians are highly desirable to potential foreign partners! If only our foreign language classes in school were better in the 1970s and 1980s, adapting to non-English speaking countries would be a lot easier.
I moved to Hong Kong in 1990 from Perth, and luckily had over thirty friends from university already living and working there. It was here that I met my Swedish wife and we started the adventure of life together.
Fast-forward through several more years and countries to Stockholm, 2001, and we find ourselves a more completed family of three. As most Swedes ask when you tell them you come from Australia: "Why do you live here?" Good question, really, given the long dark half year, cold temperature, high taxes and cost of living. But once you live here and get to understand the culture and language, the fabric and weave of society, you soon realise the real meaning of their question! And the answer that it is "fun to live in Europe" can sound rather vacuous.
Stockholm is one of the most beautiful cities in the world...during the summer! It ranks with Sydney and Vancouver for the sheer beauty of the city and its connection with water. Forget the Venice of the North, Venice is the Stockholm of the South!
I sometimes marvel that a botanist Swede was on the first fleet ship that anchored at Botany Bay in Sydney. So while Australia had not yet been settled by white man, the Swedes, under the guidance of Carl von Linnea, were classifying plants. So when I feel frustrated sometimes by the rigidity of the Swedish society, I also look at the great history and culture of this large country and how, through a single minded way of thinking, Sweden has become a very prosperous and comfortable country. Of course, it helped that Sweden was not burdened by the cost and losses of WWI and WWII, which put the rest of Europe back at least one generation if not more.
Australians also like to shake things up a bit, and I have done my best to do this within the government-controlled market for wine. Bristling at the need to indulge my passion to buy wine from the government monopoly stores (Systembolaget), I set up the first wine clubs (www.australianwineclub.se) and due to a recent EU court decision, now directly compete with Systembolaget, selling wine legally to Swedes with home delivery. It is fun to work with a product that makes people so happy, and to meet so many Swedes at our regular wine dinners. After having met thousands of our members at these dinners, I do believe that if you scratch a Swede you can find an Aussie just below the surface. Even better than scratching them, you can just give them a glass or two of Aussie Shiraz and they open up to reveal their true selves.
I love the honesty and sincerity of most people I deal with here. The level of trust in society is very high and people can be honest to a fault (sometimes some things are better left unsaid!). But it reduces the friction of doing business here that the bureaucracy of the public service does its best to grind to a halt. I have tried to find a better example of bipolar business-friendly countries .Hong Kong, Sweden, Cuba, perhaps? But I am yet to do so.
I finally became a Swedish citizen a few years ago, so now I can accompany the family through the same passport control lanes at the airport and, of course, vote. It also completes the circle of my family that moved from Europe pre- and post-war to Australia now my children and I are European again.
I enjoy being an expat and feel equally at home here as I do back in Australia. I am not sure you can ever stop being an expat once you have been one for as long as I have: you are never totally "in", no matter where you live, not even back in your home town or home country. My wife, having lived so many of her formative years outside of Sweden, also feels like an expat in her own country.
We try to make our children feel both Swedish and Australian, and they are both completely bilingual. At least I can give them two great gifts in life: an Australian passport and the English language.
But, as I often tell my best friends who also moved out of Perth to make their lives abroad, you can take the boy out of Perth, but you can not take Perth out of the boy!