Living in Sweden is like living on another planet. But before I can get into my blog series on living, working and raising a family in Sweden, I have to first set the scene. So let me tell you a little bit about where I came from, Australia or ‘Straya as we like to say.
I grew up in a semi-rural part of Newcastle, but moved to Sydney as soon as I turned 18. Circa 2000. I was ready for the big smoke and couldn’t deal with the fact that there was no McDonalds in my hometown. I packed up my belongings and made way into the hustle and bustle of Sydney.
When Swedes learn that I came from Australia and actually hauled my ass over here from another continent, they are very surprised. They always ask wide-eyed, “What’s it like living in Australia?” and I give a typical sarcastic response such as, “Well, it’s consistently sunny and warm all the time but I moved to Sweden because the darkness matches my dark sense of humour.” And then we both awkward laugh and the moment is gone.
Living in Sydney has offered me plenty of opportunity in terms of my career, church and community. I have made life-long friends and built up my CV with all the
false advertising relevant experience you could ask for. In Sydney, I found my husband (in my husband, I also found Sweden!) and gave birth to my son, Elias and daughter, Lucy.
I am immensely grateful for everything that Australia has offered me and us as a family. Such as free delivery of both my babies, free Haemophilia treatment covered completely by Medicare and a wonderful daycare centre that gave Elias the best start in his early years. Australia is termed by many as the ‘lucky country’ and sure, from a distance it can certainly look that way. Sun, sand, surf and sausage sizzle in every backyard. However, if you’re an active user of social media, you’ll find there’s a parallel: Somebody’s life looks wonderful, almost mesmerising on the surface, but you have *NO IDEA* what’s really going on behind the scenes. Australia is very much like that.
Our national anthem “Advanced Australia Fair” features lyrical undertones of equal opportunity for all. I suppose it may seem appealing compared to say, South Africa, India and China. Some common Aussie lingo is “Fair go!”, “Fair crack of the whip, mate!” and “Fair dinkum!” which implies that Australians want to see fairness for all. Having grown up and lived in Australia virtually my entire life, I can say that Australia is no longer a country of equality. There’s a lot of tension and frustration building up among Australians and I can tell you why.
1. Toxic leadership
In the last decade, we’ve all been let down by really poor leadership. Our pollies have literally lost the plot. We’ve had seven Prime Ministers in seven years, from Kevin 07 to Malcolm Turnbull and just after I moved to Sweden in mid-2018, we moved onto the next. Whether you vote Labour, Liberal or somewhere in between, you can guarantee that the Federal and State Government is going to stuff things up big time.
Oxfam warned that governments were exacerbating inequality by under-funding public services like healthcare and education at the same time as they consistently under-tax the wealthy
Public funds coming from taxpayer’s pockets is spent on poorly planned projects, such as transportation and infrastructure that is about 20 years too late (and 20 times the cost) *cough cough* Hills District train line and Sydney City Light Rail. Pollies would rather line the pockets of overseas investors by selling off hot property and public assets, such as roads, hospitals, schools, daycare centres, medical facilities, universities and so on. I swear, if they could, they would sell off Gum Trees, koalas, kangaroos and every living creature if it meant a decent profit. Is economic growth a problem? Of course not. Is privatising necessities such as education and healthcare the right and humane thing to do, or is it really profit over people? You be the judge.
2. Cost of living
If you ever want to move to Australia and indeed, one of the capital cities, be prepared to bring cashola and lots of it, cos you’re gonna need it. The cost of living in Australia has gone through the roof, from insurance (health, home and contents, car, mortgage, pet – anything and everything) to school and even utilities. In Australia, if there’s profit to be made, it will be made – be clear on this! Here’s an example of expenses in Sydney per month in AUD:
Health insurance (inc. hospital cover) = $400-600 pm
Car insurance = $80-120 pm
Home insurance = $150-200 pm
Daycare – 1 children @ $110 per day = $2000 pm
Road tolls to commute to work @ $30 per day = $600 pm
Rent = $2500-5000 pm depending where you live
Mortgage = $3000 pm and upwards, also depending where you live
Utilities = $500 pm and upwards for water, electricity and gas
If you want to see the dentist, you’ll be out of pocket at least $150-600. If you want to have your baby in a private hospital, it’ll be at least $5000 for the OBGYN and $3000 for an epidural (minimum). Depression and anxiety is an increasing public health issue among Australians, which could be easily addressed with affordable access to mental health services. For a Psychiatrist, you’re looking at $200-300 and for counselling about the same.
If you live in a ghetto (which we did for a few years) and refuse to send your kids to the local public school because you don’t want them mixing with the wrong crowd (crime, drugs and alcohol) then you better pay up ‘cos they need to go to a private school. And that’s gonna cost you perhaps $6000 per year (for 12 years) and upwards to that amount per month (also 12 years). Alternatively, you can move into a better socio-economic area, but be prepared to pay extra $$$$ in rent or mortgage repayments.
3. Growing chasm between rich and poor
Now you can see why so much poverty exists in Australia. Families get stuck in a cycle and cannot get out. Kids go to schools that perform poorly in terms of academia and social development so they drop out, becoming unemployed or at least difficult to employ. They turn to other means to make money, such as drug dealing, petty theft and then the crime turns to serious offences, so they land in jail and when released, never get to reach their full potential. It is heartbreaking.
“We are seeing rich people running away with wealth and poor people sinking in poverty”
– Oxfam Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima
Oxfam recently conducted a study and the results are appalling. They cite that inequality spiralling out of control with 26 individuals having more money to themselves than the total wealth of 3 billion people. Citizens are becoming angry and frustrated as they see billionaires hoarding wealth and dodging taxes while working-class wages remain stagnant. Living in Sweden for only six months, it is shocking to watch.
I have family and friends who I know are being crushed under the incredible financial strain of mortgage stress, debt and the rising cost of living. The Reserve Bank Australia (RBA) reported that household debt is 212% of income, one of the highest in the world. Everybody seems to spend freely from their property equity (debt), credit cars, personal loans, car loans and afterpay. It’s like a ticking time bomb about to go off!
4. Capitalist mentality and greed
Where there is gross inequality, there will be a race to the top. Enter Capitalism. The mentality where the biggest, loudest and strongest wins. It’s never about what’s better for the greater good of all, but rather what’s in it for me. I remember working in two different companies that both operated with a capitalist mindset. It was all about self-promoting, climbing all over each other and cutting others down in order to get ahead.
Think about it, a lot of the way we behave with our children is a result of Capitalism. “Son, you gotta go to a good school and get good grades so you can get into a good university/college and get a good job and afford to live in a good suburb and have a big house with a double-garage and a few SUV’s, so you can raise a good family and happily retire.” Sound familiar? It’s the way we all talk and live, both in Australia and the United States. It’s all about getting ahead, because every parent is riddled with #fomo. A missed opportunity means you might fall behind and you gotta keep up with the Kardashians!
In the desperation to get ahead, people hoard money and possessions, work multiple jobs, join MLM’s to escape the rat race, start a side hustle, invest in property/shares and pretty much every money-making scheme out there. I find a lot of Aussies, at least in Sydney, are not content with their lives. They feel the need to acquire more and I think that’s a sad place to be. For 99% of us, we will never have “enough” money – whatever that arbitrary amount is. But beyond food, water, shelter and a sense of belonging, really, what more do we need?
The property market has taken a sharp decline and I’m not at all surprised. There’s so much greed – greed from the banks lending left, right and centre. Greed from investors, collecting properties like baseball cards. Greed from developers, promising investors a portfolio that will make them passive income. Greed from real estate agents, riding the buyer’s market and squeezing every penny of profit from property sales.
5. Gender inequality is rife
Yumi Stynes recently produced a documentary called, “Is Australia Sexist?” It doesn’t take a genius to answer that one, but I eagerly watched the program because I really wanted to see something that affirmed what I believed all along. Many Australian men are sexist without even realising it. Why? Because no one has called them out on their behaviour. Most men feel justified in catcalling, bullying and belittling women and if every guy is doing it then it might be right… Right? Wrong. Check out these stats:
- In the last 12 months 40% of women 18 – 25 years old have experienced sexual harassment in a public place
- 22% of men believe that women should take being wolf-whistled on the street as a compliment
- 86% of women say they do the majority of the housework
- 83% of women, but only 60% of men believe it is okay for boys to play with dolls
- 37% of women and 52% of men believe that feminism has gone ‘too far’
Gillette released a commercial that had men in uproar, a simple communication campaign that encourages men to set a good example for the next generation. It got a lot of thumbs down on YouTube, about 1 million but over 26 million views, which is an incredible way to start a conversation. Of course, a 90 second ad isn’t going to change the world, but at least it gets dialogue happening. People are becoming more aware of the current social issues that are affecting our children, so as parents, we need to ensure our sons and daughters treat each other with love, respect and compassion. We need to communicate that feeling anger, shame, jealousy, anxiety or sadness isn’t a sign of weakness or failure, but a symptom of emotional pain.
I work at a company in Stockholm that has a female CEO. Never in my professional life have I ever seen so much innovation, alignment between cross-functional departments, collaboration and cooperation. Women are rarely given opportunity to lead and thrive in organisations in Australia and they are most certainly paid less than men.
I believe Australia has a long way to go when it comes to politics, public access to healthcare and education and gender equality. We are a laid-back and friendly bunch, but something’s gotta give in order for Australia to be a better country for the next generation. Hopefully, they’ll look to the European model when it comes to social services, welfare and really taking care of its people. After all, Australia wouldn’t be Australia without its people.