I’ve been meaning to write this post for awhile, but am just now getting around to it.

Living in a small town in Sweden after living in a big city in Russia is… not a culture shock exactly. Going in the other direction would be a shock, going in this direction is like falling into a pile of feathers or something.

In St. Petersburg I felt like I always had to be on edge. I once had a wallet stolen, a very common occurrence in SPb, and another time had a knife pulled on me in a residential elevator. Here I feel like I could leave my wallet in a public place for a few hours and it would still be there when I got back.

To be fair to Russia, these things happen all the time in the U.S., too, particularly in Washington, DC, where I lived for 5 years. I had a bike stolen there once (though I found it the next day). Bike theft in DC is epidemic. You have to have at least one Kryptonite lock, preferably two, and make sure you lock both your wheels and take your seat with you if you have a nice bike.

In contrast, let’s look at a Swedish bike lock:

You swing this little pin around and it makes it so the back wheel can’t move. A thief couldn’t ride away on the bike without breaking the lock (which wouldn’t be too hard), but could pick it up and carry it somewhere. But they just don’t. Look at hundreds of bikes locked up in the town square in exactly this manner (and some of them not locked at all):

This isn’t just a small-town phenomenon either. My first time in Stockholm a few years ago I rented a bike and went biking with a local, and both bikes had these kinds of locks. If I had a really expensive bike in Stockholm I’d probably put a Kryptonite lock on it, and I did see a “lost bike” sign with a picture of a fancy bike here in Falun in September, but if you have an ordinary bike you don’t have to worry too much.

Now let’s look at the faculty mailboxes at the university.

All the locks have keys in them. Meaning, the keys are left in them, so they’re not locked. All of them. All the time. So faculty leave messages and articles for their students there. Anyone can just go into anyone’s mailbox. It was like that at my college in the US, too, but I think they’ve changed it now and anyway, there we had 300 students; several thousand students use this campus.

Of course, everything isn’t 100% perfect here. There’s a nice kitchenette for students with microwaves, so you can bring leftovers from home or buy a frozen meal from a vending machine and heat it up, if you don’t want to spend so much money on eating at the campus cafe.

There are also some refrigerators where people put stuff that they bring from home. One morning I put a yogurt in the fridge, and by lunchtime it was gone. I was traumatized. How could this happen in Sweden?

That was a minor incident, though, and overall I am thoroughly enjoying the absence of stress that comes with a culture of trust. Part of it is just a small-town thing, part of it a Scandinavian tradition. Like the people that put the following outside their house in September:

Every morning it was filled with apples for passersby. Since the passersby were mostly international students coming from the dorm, the sign was in English. Isn’t that nice?