By Roxana Olteanu
I met Jan at the corporate IKEA office in Bucharest and we did the interview in a room with a wall-sized picture of Småland, the place where IKEA started, where Jan originally comes from. Småland is also the place which brought me to Sweden in the first place. Småland became my first home abroad.
Through the interview and discussion that I had with him I managed to find out more about the cultural differences and how a Swede perceives life in my home country, Romania as opposed to Sweden.
Interview with Jan Björkman – Business Developer Manager at IKEA, Romania
First of all, I will shortly give you a short background. I moved to and lived in Sweden for one year and eight months now. I did not know anything about Sweden from the beginning. I moved there in order to study my Master in Strategic Entrepreneurship, but later I fell in love with Sweden. I felt myself at home, and that Stockholm was the only place in the world I would like to live in, for the rest of my life. When I started to write my book about my life in Sweden I met Yvette Larsson, who lives in Helsingborg and is passionate about Romania. She gave me the idea and asked me to write this article for her during my stay there.
Now Jan, I would like to ask you a few questions about you and your life as a Swedish expat in Bucharest.
R: – From which city in Sweden do you come from?
Jan: – I come from Älmhult (small city in Småland, where Ingmar Kamprad started IKEA).
R: – What can you tell us about your career at IKEA?
Jan: – I have worked at IKEA for 29 years and my main specialization was logistics. I worked at the office in Småland but I was traveling a lot with my work. I had many business trips, but I very seldom got the chance to see something else than offices, airports and hotels. I had the desire to live outside the country in order to experience and to feel other cultures. I first moved to Vietnam for four years. These were four fantastic years of my life, but it was hard to keep in touch with our family because of the time gap. It was very difficult for us and our children to talk to their grandparents in Sweden. As a result, we thought it would be better to move to a European country, but it had to be somewhere new, so we chose Romania.
R: – For how long did you live in Romania?
Jan: – 3 and a half years.
R: – Did you know something about Romania before moving here?
Jan: – I knew about the Communism period, Ceausescu, Transylvania, bears, Dracula, and Vlad Tepes.
R:- Did you have any cultural shock in Romania? Which was that?
J: – I had a tough time when it comes to being accepted. I felt like people are hard to get to know, and they do not talk too much about themselves, but as soon as some trust has been built up another way of friendship is shown.
R: – It is very interesting to hear this because I have heard the same thing from most of the expats who moved to Sweden and I lived under the assumption that it is harder for a foreigner to be accepted in Sweden, but now I am starting to think that this might be a common feeling for many expats who move to another country, and they are entering another culture, which they are not acquainted to. This is why I think it might be very interesting for the readers to learn about the importance of traveling and meeting new cultures. It really contributes to the development of their adaptability, both in the professional and personal life.
R: – What do you think about people in Romania as employees? What about their education and knowledge?
Jan: – I think employees here have a high level of education and competence. They are hardworking people, target oriented and ambitious. However they are not as much used to looking outside the patterns as Swedes are. They work more according to standards and by the book.
R: – Which are the top three things that you love most about Romania? What disadvantages do you find in living here?
Jan: – The first thing I like most of all is the nature, especially in Transylvania. There is something very special about the nature there, which you cannot see in Sweden. The second thing that we love in Romania is the wine. This country has really good wines to offer and I think that nine out of ten wines that I usually drink are Romanian. Me and my family we love skiing so the climate, especially the winters with a lot of snow, it is something that we really enjoy in particular. That would be the third one. About the disadvantages I could mention the dogs and the traffic.
R: – Did you face any cultural challenges in Romania?
Jan: – I was not used with the seeing such big differences when it comes to people and social classes. In Sweden, we are all the same. Another thing that really surprised me was the fact that in Romania, comparing to Sweden where children in their 20s or even younger move away from their parents’ home, here they continue to live with their parents until a later age.
A challenge that I have faced is when I hear people talking about Romanians who move outside their country. Many people think negative things about them and they confuse them with the Romas. I do not agree with this as I lived here and I saw how people truly are.
R: – Are there any similarities between the local culture and your home country? What about the difference?
Jan: – Both in Romania and in Sweden people celebrate a lot during the high season, like Christmas for example and are family dependent. The difference is that religion plays a more important role in Romania. People are more religious than in Sweden, like for example during the Easter time. Another difference consists at the same time in the lack of obligation towards the family. As an example we can call our family and tell them that we have something else planned for Christmas or Easter and we could meet another day instead and that would not be regarded as disrespectful.
R: – Is the business environment different or what could you tell us about this?
Jan: – In Romania the manager has more authority and companies function according to a vertical hierarchy whereas in Sweden there is a more open and flexible environment.
R: – It is known that Swedes love to travel a lot. Many of them even move to other countries, and even though a few of them fall in love with the places and decide to relocate, Swedes love their country and most of them end up coming back to it. What about you? Are you planning to move back to Sweden? What do you think?
Jan: – I have talked with my wife a lot about this subject. What we came to conclude was that we could have two addresses: one in Sweden and one outside the country. We are traveling for a few weeks to Sweden about two times a year, but we are planning to spend a few months of the year in Sweden, once we will retire.
R: – I personally love Sweden and from my own point of view I consider Sweden the best country in the world to live in. But again, that is my personal opinion. What do you think, as a Swedish citizen, who has also lived abroad?
Jan: – I would say that Sweden is the best among the best countries to live in. If you want to pursue a good education, you are a smart person, good at what you are doing and you are earning good money it can be good to live in almost any country. But if you have a wider perspective, looking all the time at the possibility to become better and you compare yourself to the others in order to continuously improve yourself I would say that Sweden might be one of the best choice. Other countries which can compete with Sweden according to my knowledge are Norway, Finland, Denmark and Australia.
Roxana : I started writing this article while leaving towards Bucharest and finished it exactly when I was almost back home, on the airplane above Stockholm.
I could tag this trip as a nice short holiday and experience, during which I rediscovered Bucharest, confirmed the cultural differences and challenges between Sweden and Romania, which I already knew and discovered new ones. I met new people as well, and maybe this travel proved to have a greater impact for myself than I could have imagined.
But right now only by looking over Sweden at night time from above it seems like another world. The clouds, the sky, the light and the nature are different, with so much water and cities which look like gold jewelry among the forests. This is the only place where I want to be.