Neil Shipley is an intercultural trainer and lecturer from Stockton-on-Tees in County Durham, England. He has a B.A. in Literature from the University of Essex, Colchester, and an M.A. in Intercultural Competence from Donau University in Austria. In 1994 he headed to Sweden, intending to live there for a year before moving on. Seduced by the beauty of the countryside, the coolness of the cities, and the values of the people, he stayed. Today Neil is firmly rooted in Swedish society and is a leading expert on Swedish culture. He has lectured in more than fifty countries and has worked with many international organizations as well as the Swedish government, lecturing and providing seminars on Swedish culture and society. Since 2013 he has been writing a popular blog called “Watching the Swedes,” where he shares his perspectives on Swedish life. Throughout his years in Sweden Neil has witnessed many changes. What remains unaltered is his long-lasting attachment to this cool country in the North.
If invited home to a Swede, always make sure you are wearing presentable socks. Polite behaviour is to remove your shoes once inside the door. Although this might seem strange, it is a practical solution to not dragging the outside dirt into the home. If the idea of bearing your undergarments horrifies you, take a pair of clean ‘indoor shoes’ and switch into those on arrival.
Sometimes life offers you moments of beauty. One winter, I travelled beyond the Arctic Circle to the Ice Hotel in the Swedish village of Jukkasjärvi. Every year they build a hotel in this location carved out of icy blocks from the local Torne river. The year I was there, they had constructed not only the hotel, but a cathedral, an igloo village, a bar and a theatre. The theatre was a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on the banks of the Thames – a round open-rooved building with beams and a stage shaped out of ice. That evening, I went through the frozen theatre doors, dressed in thermal clothes and sat on reindeer skins thrown over blocks of ice. I was spellbound by the production of Hamlet performed in Sami and accompanied by explosions of dramatic fire. And as the play commenced, the fat snowflakes that had constantly fallen onto us from the sky above gave way to the magical glow of the Northern lights. This is a memory from Sweden that will remain with me forever – one of life’s moments of beauty.