We have been out in Stockholm enjoying yesterday and today – running errands, getting things taken care of, and so on. As a 50-year old hipster man zoomed by us on a long board in front of the most expensive department store in Sweden, we both laughed at the black and white differences between Hong Kong and Stockholm.
We went to a large playground on Södermalm, the epicenter of the cool and wannabe cool (and the “think they’re cool”). This is where trends are born in Sweden, and at first or second glance you could be amazed at the diversity in styles and appearance choices. But after a while, you see that everyone is so “different” that they are the same – after all, there is a set way to be different, you know. Anyway, we found ourselves feeling judged and analyzed by the other parents, probably because our son was not wearing pink or gender neutral enough clothing. Maybe because we did not look like we had never washed out clothes. Or maybe because we were all three playing together like a stereotypical family, and in Södermalm that is not cool. It was super strange. To be fair we did meet one nice family there.
Then of course we went to a few other parks in other parts of the city (Hammarby Sjöstad, Östermalm, another part of Södermalm, etc). These parks had a different vibe and were much more in line with our style of parenting and our family in general. There were a lot of people who are probably super nice, and there was no feeling of judgment.
The key differences for me are twofold. First, in Hong Kong, the playgrounds are clean. The ground underneath the equipment is covered with this soft padding stuff that if you fall means you will not get hurt as badly. A lot of the playground equipment is plastic. In Sweden, the equipment is rugged. Metal, wood, sand, stones, grass, mud. Oaaoohhaaa! (Sound of Vikings beating their chests). The kids will fall, they will get hurt, and they will be fine. For example today a 10-month-old started crying and when I looked over I saw that another child was pouring sand and little stones on his head. The moms had been busy talking and didn’t notice. This would never ever happen in Hong Kong for so many reasons.
The second reason things are different is the attitude of the parents at the playground. In Sweden I mentioned above a bit of the judgment we felt, but it is also just a little more isolated. Not much kid-to-kid interaction unless the kids or parents are friends. Basically it is “parent and child” isolation at the playground. In Hong Kong, the parents are a lot more open to interacting with other parents and kids, and seem to be more open to letting the kids become temporary playground friends with the other kids.
I should say that I am sure that as we get more used to things here, and we start going places regularly, we will surely fall right into place back here in Sweden. It won’t take long!