If the city of Stockholm was a complicated woman…




I liken every city to a complicated woman. So what kind of woman is Stockholm? She is at times insecure, moody, but bursting with creativity. To me, she is a teenage girl. She is a teenage girl who has impeccable taste, an eye for design, and doesn’t judge other quite as harshly as she judges herself.

Let me explain Stockholm, Sweden as a woman…


She is overly critical of herself

stockholm-sweden-culture-identityStockholm has always been under construction (both figuratively and literally). After the world wars rocked the rest of Europe, everyone seemed to be rebuilding and modernizing except for the untouched, uninvolved Sweden. So she was feeling stale, out of date, and a touch less shiny than the other girls.stockholm-sweden-culture-identity Stockholm therefore decided to demolish the majority of their old and historical buildings to make way for modernity…what remains to this date is underwhelming architecture of the 50s and 60s. Only Gamla Stan (the Old Town) was preserved. Downtown Stockholm feels lacking in personality and character and this is what’s to blame. Those damn teenagers! Always thinking newer is better. Similarly…



She is Always Working on Herself



It’s hard to get a photo without scaffolding or a heinous orange crane cluttering the otherwise gorgeous view of Gamla Stan. While I appreciate and understand why so much is under construction, and especially in the summer, I kind of want to tell this girl to exhale and learn to love herself a little bit more. She’s like that already skinny friend you have who’s always on a diet. Stockholm is a city always working on herself.



She is Explosively Creative

stockholm-sweden-culture-identityWhen I hear ‘Swedish’ my mind jumps to tall, white-blonde-headed model types but also to design. That stereotype is not all that off base. Every street from SoFo to Ostermalm shines with innovation. Peeking into window displays of any Stockholm shop transport me to a utopian future where everything is both functional and beautiful. This is window shopping at its very best. The Swedish value creativity and they create opportunities for people to express themselves through a variety of artistic outlets and media. 

stockholm-sweden-culture-identityKulturehaus is a community center containing art workspaces, lessons in mixed media, a library for all, a chess room, a children’s library, and a rooftop patio and penthouse cafe for a fika break in between! I love the very idea of creating a safe space for all to create, relax, and congregate is so European at its core. And people sure do use it. It was teeming with people, even on a Wednesday afternoon. Teens from the suburbs even take the train in to hand with peers in this unique, super-cool space.


I’m not a teen (hopefully that’s obvious) yet I genuinely wanted to hang out in their space. Have you ever felt that way about a teen hangout before? There’s no way that spending an afternoon at the mall or watching Dawson’s Creek reruns sparked and enriched my creativity and artistic talent, in fact, I’d bet it did the opposite!

Stockholm’s innovation is unmatched by any other ‘women’ that I have met around the world (other than maybe Tokyo).


stockholm-sweden-culture-identity   stockholm-sweden-culture-identity

She is Moody. Troubled. Extreme.

stockholm-sweden-culture-identityHer summer sky shrouds the city simultaneously with stormy grays and golden beams of light. It seems that the clouds here always have something to say. They’re always making a statement; so much so that the whole city seems to project a mood, whether it’s dark and brooding or sunny and hopeful.


When the sun sets, eventually (in the summer months), the city rages into the night. Glamour, designer fashion, top shelf cocktails, and VIP guest lists know Stockholm all too well. Tailored suits are perfectly spritzed with high-end, designer colognes. Pale to golden locks are perfectly styled. Dresses are appropriately chosen for the season, the venue, the event, and the mood. Style is a way of life that bleeds into the estockholm-sweden-culture-identityveryday, not just the nights of bottle service. To sum things up, I stand out as unstylish when I wear cropped jean shorts or my scuffed converse, even in the hipster haven of SoFo. Only certain neighborhoods of New York can match it.

Stockholm’s moodiness couldn’t be more affected by her proximity to the Arctic Circle. Being summer, the sun technically dips down before the clock strikes 22:00 (10 p.m.) but twilight lingers till around midnight. In the summer, thick blinds at home are all you really need and you’re left with a long, summer day to overfill with fika chillin’ and outdoor adventures in Stockholm’s gorgeous archipelago network. However, winter is a real bitch.


Sweden has a suicide rate which is below the OECD average.[1] For much of the 20th century, Sweden had one of the highest reported suicide rates in the First World. That rate exceeded that of other nations on the continent such as the Netherlands, Norway, and the United Kingdom. However, that rate declined decade after decade as time went on.[2]

In 2011, 1378 suicide deaths occurred, which equates to a rate of 17.5 per 100,000 people. Individuals aged between 45 and 74 are most likely to take their own life, while individuals ages 15 to 24 are least likely.[3]

Men are also far more likely than women to commit suicide. In 2011, 962 male deaths occurred versus 416 female deaths.[4]

According to a 2011 article in The New York Times, “Numerous studies have shown that places like Denmark and Sweden that consistently score high on measures of happiness and life satisfaction also have relatively high suicide rates.” Said article also reported, “Some social scientists speculate that the trends are probably unrelated and can be explained by regional factors like dark winters or cultural differences regarding suicide.” (Wikipedia)”

In the peak of winter, Swedes only see the sun for FOUR HOURS a day…and it’s likely through an office window. That is deeply depressing. I can feel myself get a little more lethargic, anti-social, and lazy when the sun sets at 4 p.m. (16:00) in our New York winters, which are extremely mild by comparison!

And so, like any hormonal teenager, Stockholm ebbs and flows with extremes, and her mood affects all in her path!


She is for the people.


If you ask me, each generation seems to be a little more accepting of the “underdogs” of society than the generation before them. Sweden has a jump on many other countries, and certainly on the States. Not only has gay marriage been legal since 1995, but Sweden was a frontrunner in this positive social change we’ve seen slowly making its way across the globe.


Sweden is one of the most liberal countries in the world regarding gay rights. It was one of the first countries introducing civil unions and anti-discrimination laws. People in Sweden, especially in Stockholm, are quite open-minded and you might be surprised by how many hotels, cafes, restaurants, bars and clubs are explicitly gay-friendly.”   (Patroc: Gay Travel Guide Europe)

Sweden continues to be ahead of the curve on social issues and tend to give out rights rather than demand and restrict.

stockholm-sweden-culture-identitySweden signed on to take a large percentage of refugees in the recent European crisis after the conflict in Syria. I visited the church of St. Klara that is no longer used for typical Evangelical masses (Swedes don’t actively practice religion much anymore). Instead, they are using the space to help, support, and care for anyone in need. Refugees, addicts, homeless people, etc. are welcome.

They take whomever and provide food, water, coffee, tea, and shelter without judgement. A humbled woman, one of many who volunteers full-time at St. Klara, spoke with us briefly during the incredible Context Tour of Modern Stockholm I had the privilege of doing before the TBEX conference began. She asked to not be named or photographed but shared a heartfelt story.stockholm-sweden-culture-identity

The church altar was completely covered with sleeping bags as Syrian families arrived in masses and began resettling their lives after being violently uprooted. Stockholm and its citizens, as well as the rest of Sweden, accepted the newcomers with mostly open arms. The woman finished with us by sharing the powerful message they have sent to all of Stockholm, which was, “We care about every person. We will help anyone with what we have. We are always here. We will be here every day until we are no longer needed.”

Despite obstacles, Stockholm upholds strong liberal policies that any tween would cheer, “Yay!” for.




Stockholm. She’s hard to get to know. She’s moody and full of extremes. She believes in helping those who need it and also in supporting people no matter who they are. Despite her judgement-free ways, she can be too hard on herself. She never sits with contentment… unless it’s to have a fika with a friend at Urban Deli after school. Her creativity and style make her shine, but it can take more time than you think to get to know her true self.

When you get some time to spend with Stockholm, remember that she’s complicated. Once you understand that, you will enjoy getting to know the different nuances of her personality. I did!


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One observation on “If the city of Stockholm was a complicated woman…
  1. Andrew Scott

    Nice post, Heather! As you pointed out, Stockholm is a city with a complex identity. I hope you write more of these in the future. I’m thinking of how I would personify some of the places I’ve lived in the past; the extrovert, the bookworm, the dilettante?


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