In our occasional series about different national communities on the Coast, Patrick Middleton meets the Swedes. They seem to like living here ... but they've got some reservations
"A lot of Swedes dream of coming here," said Sweden's Consul in Nice, Ake Almroth. "Partly it's been a royal thing, you know. Our King Gustav V spent a long time here after the last war and this office is on a street named after him, and our present royal couple - King Carl Gustav and Queen Silvia - have a house in Sainte-Maxime. The real influx of Swedes started around thirty years ago although SAS has been flying in here since 1947. It was only when everyone began to take the plane that living here became a more practical proposition. The train journey could last two days or more." And that was a trip the young Almroth often made. "My family came here very early on and I grew up in Menton. I came back fifteen years ago."
"A very active lot"
How many Swedes are in the area today? According to the Consul, there are between eight and nine thousand living here permanently and maybe another four and a half thousand or so with second homes. "There's a big concentration in the Nice-Grasse-Cannes area but you find them everywhere, including in small back-country villages." Why are they here? "It's still true that a significant number are retired or semi-retired but that doesn't mean what it meant even twenty years ago. Many have retired early and even those who've gone on working into their sixties are now often impressively fit. The Swedes here, you'll find, are a very active lot. Golf, for example, is very big with them and so is tennis." All this was confirmed when I visited the Swedish Club at its attractive premises in Haut-de-Cagnes. Explained secretary Lena-Ulla Demanti, "Since we were set up in the seventies we've noticed that the community's got steadily younger and more active. They enjoy sitting down for drinks and a meal but they're also very keen on our country and seaside walks."
Next to the Club House is the Swedish Church Centre. Currently in charge is Pastor Lars Palmgren, a veteran of expat postings from Poland to Peru and including thirteen years in Paris. "It's the case that Swedes abroad turn to the church more readily than those living at home. They enjoy meeting each other and there's a lot of mutual aid going on - where to find an honest plumber, a good dentist or a really challenging golf course. On the other hand, Swedes do often have a more serious attitude towards their national church. That came out at the time of the tsunami disaster where so many of our compatriots died." Along with the Swedish Club, there are other organisations including a Swedish Business Group and a school where children can keep up with the language.
There's also a flourishing branch of the Swedish Women's Education Association (SWEA), an international expatriate organisation. Board member Irena Gellerstedt came to Nice with her management consultant husband three years ago. "I'd been a member of SWEA during our twelve years in London. Here I think - given the language problem - it's especially useful. But we do all we can to persuade our members to learn French. It's absolutely indispensable. France and Sweden are very different countries and people need help to adjust and adapt. There are a lot of mixed couples here - usually the wife is Swedish - and Swedish spouses exchange a lot of advice and experience. Having babies is a big topic, for example. By the way, I read the other day that in Sweden husbands do more housework than any other men in Europe. They've got something to teach the French!"
As Irena's comments indicate, there are some younger Swedes here, working and often raising families. Joakim Dahlberg from Lund came here, aged thirty, five years ago. "A new century, a new life," I said. "I got a job in my own field of medical electronics and last year I married a girl from Draguignan. We've just had our first child - we called her Brigitte. Birgit is a Swedish saint, you know." The young Dahlberg is too young still for the classroom but when I visited Mougins School recently I found that several Swedish couples had sent their children there (an example set by Consul Almroth). I talked to Max Finetto, 16, and Peter Boldt-Christmas, 13. Both seemed very happy to be in France. According to Max, "I find people of my own age in Sweden rather unfriendly compared with the students here."; Peter greatly enjoys the school which "is better organised and seems happier than the place I went to in Gothenburg". There are also young Swedes who come here specially to study. The International University of Monaco (IUM), a regular presence at the Stockholm Student Fair, is very popular with Nordic students. I met Swedes Josefin Sjölin and Richard Andmark. Said Richard, "Of course, we were attracted by the area but I'd heard from other students that IUM was a great place. We work in small classes and the courses are very practical." Josefin agreed, "And I'd add that it's ideal for people like us who are looking to work in international business. Teachers and students are from many different countries and you get to see other points of view."
"What they don't like ..."
If you ask Swedes living here what they like about the area they will offer a familiar list: sea and scenery, wine and food and weather - though many head North during the hottest months ("In summer," said Kjell Skoog, a long-term resident, "Sweden is best."). They are also ready, with refreshing Scandinavian bluntness, to say what they don't like. There's close to a consensus that the locals aren't always very reliable, have no notion of punctuality, don't know how to queue and are selfish drivers. Above all, both in administrations and commercial organisations, by Swedish standards, everything seems slow and inefficient. Irena Gellerstedt offered an explanation: "Sweden is a very organised place. From birth everyone has a personal number and it helps speed up all sorts of bureaucratic procedures that take a lot of time and bits of paper here." Student Richard Andmark was not wholly convinced: "That's true of course, but it doesn't explain why here even the fast food comes slowly ..."
Relevant Swedish contact details:
Swedish Business Club: 04 93 36 45 25
Swedish Church (Pastor Palmgren): 04 93 20 40 64 / http://skut.svenskakyrkan.se/nice
Swedish Women's Club (SWEA): 04 93 35 50 61
From Reporter 112