Why I love my northern Swedish village

Paul Connolly has lived in a rural Skellefteå village for 10 years and loves the strong community feel. But while his neighbors are all resourceful and DIY-minded, Paul has few (no) practical skills. Sometimes he can't even mow his own lawn...

Paul, totally in control of his cranky lawnmower.

Paul, totally in control of his cranky lawnmower.

Foto: Donna Richmond

Engelska2023-08-07 09:00

The horror! Our not-that-old ride-on lawnmower had suddenly stopped working. Our grass was getting dangerously long, especially after last Wednesday’s downpour. My girlfriend was actually panicking a little. “Our grass is too long - we need to cut it.” What could we do? 

One of the most significant differences between our life in the UK and Skellefteå life is the deep sense of community in rural northern Swedish villages. Everyone’s in it together; everyone helps out. 

If someone’s car gets stuck in the snow in winter (in our village that someone is almost always me), a neighbor with a tractor will pull it out. I once made the cardinal error of offering one of my neighbors some gas money for his many trips to drag my car out of a ditch.

Paul's car often ends up in a ditch.

He was gracious but made his point very clearly: “Thanks, but I find it important that we help each other within the village.”

Last year, we were all supposed to help rebuild the hut that houses our part of the village’s water supply. On the Sunday of the work one of my neighbors had to call me to rouse me out of bed at 8am to come help. 

Being a clueless immigrant, I’d totally forgotten about it. In the UK, someone from the water company or the local council would’ve done the job - not the villagers.

Also, everyone in my village is handy. Most of them can build a fence or a deck, revive broken-down machinery, and know the back end of a chainsaw from the front. 

This means I stick out like a penguin at a polar bear party. The village men are gods of practicality, while I’m the Antichrist of DIY. I could no more build a few shelves than I could polka-dance to the Swedish national anthem. In both cases it might be an amusing sight at first, but people would soon turn away in sheer embarrassment - “Surely, nobody is that clueless.”

But I am that incompetent when it comes to practical matters. My father was a stonemason, working mostly with marble. When I was 15 he took me to work with him on Saturdays. Well, two Saturdays. The invitations dried up after I quickly ruined around £200-worth (2,700 kronor) of marble (and marble is pretty tough - it's difficult to ruin). 

At school, I once made a jewellery box for my mum that had all the basic appearances of a rectangular box but actually looked like one of those MC Escher optical illusion drawings, where staircases criss-cross each other across different gravitational planes, creating an infinite loop of impossible geometry.

Paul's jewelry box for his mum didn't quite make sense, much like this MC Escher-esque construction

So, in a community that values practical skills, what use am I? I can offer the occasional translation for my village's Facebook page, but that's about it. I'm not so much a fish out of water as a beached whale.

Well, what we usually do is at least make sure our garden doesn’t look like a particularly lush part of the Amazon rainforest (with sky-high weeds replacing the trees), and give it the occasional trim. But how do we do that without a lawnmower?

Should we borrow a neighbour’s trailer and haul the poorly mower 20kms to our nearest lawnmower/snowmobile workshop? The downside here is that it would cost a small fortune, and by the time it would be fixed, our house would probably have been consumed by the overgrown garden, and we'd have to hire Indiana Jones to get us back inside.

Or do we borrow a neighbour’s lawnmower and risk wrecking that, too? Neither option was appealing.

Luckily, just then a neighbour popped round for a chat. We told him about the lawnmower. He looked at it for about three minutes, diagnosed the problem, took it away, and brought it back, repaired, in about an hour. 30 minutes later our grass was cut and we could relax.

How I love my northern Swedish village!