COVER STORY: Love Without Borders

Posted April 27, 2015 in Arts, More

Panorama Test




words & images: daniela trujillo evb

from the editor: 

TS_038_002 copyCROP_editor

‘It takes bundle of courage. It requires an open mind, a will to adapt and, most of all, a romantic heart. As our world keeps getting smaller, there are an increasing number or people who are taking the bold step to uproot and move to another country for the sake of love. To leave family, friends and all they know behind them, disregarding the colliding cultures only to be with their loved one each and every day. 

Some of them have ended up here in Stockholm in relationships with Swedish partners. The fruits of backpacking trips, hiking expeditions in the Andes or binge-drinking holidays in the Ayia Napa sunshine. 

In this issue we sat down with four couples of mixed nationalities- half Swedish, half something else- to find out what makes these lovebirds tick, where the magic started and what bridges they had to cross to find themselves talking to a magazine in Stockholm. 

These newly-adopted Stockholmers might beg to differ and point at peculiar customs and cultural traits that annoy them to death, but we obviously feel they have drawn first prize in the lottery of life.’

Peter Steen-Christensen 


Cultural stereotypes, boundaries, differences and similarities – it’s hard to keep up, stay informed and not accidentally and completely violate the cultural norms of others. But is this any easier when we are in love?

Totally Stockholm sat down with a handful of bi-cultural couples to see how they met, fell in love; how they ended up in Stockholm and what it took or what it takes for them to be and stay here, together.

Josefin & Nick


First laid eyes upon each other in November 2011

Have been together since April 2013

Have been in Stockholm since August 2014

Josefin Palmgren is from Stockholm, an author and psychology student, 25 years old

Nick Vindla is from Melbourne, Australia, works at Bike for Sweden, 28 years old



Two years ago, ‘poly-amorous primary partners’ Nick Vindla and Josefin Palmgren met in Rishikesh, India during a four-week long yoga course. They soon realized they both held tickets for the same flight to Stockholm.



Tell me with greater detail about how you two met?

Nick: Well, it was one of the first days of the yoga course and they had us go around in a circle and introduce ourselves. When Josefin introduced herself and said she was Swedish, I decided I would introduce myself as the next stop on my trip was to work on a farm in Sweden.

Josefin: From there we realized we had tickets for the same flight and a friendship began developing. That was the year that Game of Thrones came out, and since I had been obsessed with the books, we started hanging out to watch the series.


You consider yourselves ‘poly-amorous’ as a sexual orientation or relationship preference. Can you tell me a bit about that?

Josefin: Sure. It was a discussion we had as friends back when we were in India. When I was there I was thinking a lot about my past relationships and how miserable I was in so many of them. I realized that I’ve never really quite felt so offended by ‘infidelity’ and that I was quick to forgive such things and always longed to be able to fall in love with someone else for a night or connect sexually with another person. I don’t believe in lying to a partner but I never understood why society says we can only be with that one person.

Nick: For years now I have been in poly-amorous relationships. The topic came up while we were in India and so when we became a couple, it was understood that that is what we wanted. We are each other’s primary partners and as opposed to some other forms of ‘open relationships’ we don’t hide anything from each other.





Based on your time together what inferences have you made about the Swedish or Australian culture?

Josefin: When I go to Australia I don’t understand half of what they say, haha. But I have noticed that Australians love making slang words for everything and for some reason they are always plural!? But Australians are pretty ‘happy go lucky’ people.

Nick: I feel like Swedes live in their own little shell. You have to do a lot of shell cracking here to really make some friends. And on that note, Swedes are quicker to go home with someone for an evening than actually make friends with a stranger and hang out. It’s pretty much the opposite in Australia. Sweden also has very firm, structured holidays and specific ways to celebrate holidays like, you eat this and drink that; you sing this and dance like that… that’s really weird.

Josefin: (giggling) You Australians don’t have any traditions! Well I remember one time in Australia I really wanted to take off my shoes in someone’s house, as we do here in Sweden, but the host insisted I keep them on. That was a little uncomfortable.

Nick: I think that because Josefin and I come from similar subcultural groups we have the same kinds of ideas about feminism and racism, and other socio-political topics. I like the social support network that is the government here. You don’t really feel it on an individual level, but collectively, it’s there.




What is the cutest cultural trait or habit your partner has and what is the most frustrating, annoying or difficult?

Josefin: Nick always says ‘See you later’. It doesn’t matter if we are on a layover and met someone for two hours that he is never going to see again! He always says it! It doesn’t make any sense! It’s both cute and annoying. He also insists on wearing Ugg boots inside or rather, boots with soles inside the house and it drives me crazy!

Nick: I think Josefin’s cutest Swedish trait is when she wears her hair all Swedish… You know, those braids like on Midsommar? The most annoying trait would have to be how she eats dinner for breakfast. Sometimes I look forward to eating our dinner leftovers the next night and then I realize that Josefin’s eaten them for breakfast!


Ashleigh & Sebastian


First laid eyes upon each other in November 2011

Have been together since April 2013

Have been in Stockholm since August 2014

Sebastian Camtrell is from Stockholm, is a business student, 29 years old

Ashleigh Becket is from Cathedral City, California, works as a receptionist at The Story Hotel, 32 years old




Sebastian Camtrell and Ashleigh Becket met four years ago for one night in a bar in Bali. Ashleigh thought Sebastian was ‘nerdy’ and it was Sebastian who made the first move and chatted her up. They left the bar, walked down to the beach and along the water, went ‘moon tanning’ (as Ashleigh puts it) and the next day, parted ways.


A year and a half after that one night in Bali you guys reunite?

Ashleigh: I wasn’t really nervous. I thought I was going to meet the ‘nerdy’ guy I had met in Bali. I also hadn’t gotten laid in a while so I was thinking that this guy might get lucky, but mostly because of his timing! I remember going to Brooklyn to meet him and his friend Magnus. The minute I walked up to them I realized that he wasn’t nerdy at all and that’s when I fell for him. I already knew he was funny and super intelligent, I just didn’t know he could look so good!

Sebastian: I was finishing a trip in the US and since Ashleigh and I were in contact via Facebook, we could meet up. I was pretty nervous. I was really traveling with a friend but Ashleigh likes to think I brought him along in case she and I didn’t hit it off.


So what happened?

Ashleigh: We met that first night in Brooklyn but I had work the following morning and I don’t drink so he and Magnus kept on partying that night. The next day I met them after work and we had an all-day picnic in Central Park. That night he came home with me and we sealed the deal five times! (giggling)

Sebastian: That’s about right! Ashleigh got some days off and we basically spent the entire week together. After that, I went back to Oslo where I was working and we kept Face-timing and in contact. Within a month we were flying to see one another about every four to six weeks. I would go to NYC or she would come to Oslo.

Ashleigh: One time I surprised him! It wasn’t too long after our relationship had started and a lot of my friends advised me not to surprise him, as it might scare him off… anyway, it was going to be a long gap in between seeing one another so I spoke with all of his friends and room mates in Oslo and they told me to ‘go for it’.

Sebastian: Yeah so one day I walk into my bedroom, coming home from work… I think I was eating a banana and carrying like four more in my hands and I just see Ashleigh there… lying naked in my bed! And I was just eating a bunch of bananas!




Based on your time together what inferences have you made about the Swedish or American culture?

Ashleigh: Don’t you say it! Don’t you….

Sebastian: (giggling) Americans are LOUD.

Ashleigh: God! I knew he was going to say that!

Sebastian: Sometimes they can be a bit naïve or ignorant when it comes to cultures and geography other than their own, but they have the most amazing social skills. Being with Ashleigh has been really good for me in that way: her American, out-going, individualistic, opposite-of-Jantelagen type of personality is really refreshing.

Ashleigh: Swedes are kind, very rule oriented and mostly stick to themselves.


Are their any customs or traditions of your partner’s culture you don’t understand or have to compromise on?

Ashleigh: Yes! I can’t understand why they celebrate Christmas or Easter a day before the actual holiday. Christmas is the 24th and Easter is on Saturday here? I don’t get it. Also, I think its cute how during the holidays, how for example, they set up the table but everyone has to get up and get their own food, like a buffet? Back home we just have the food on the table.




What is the cutest cultural trait or habit your partner has and what is the most frustrating, annoying or difficult?

Ashleigh: I don’t know how much of this is cultural though I do believe the gender equality in Sweden plays a part, but his cutest trait would be how caring he is. For example, he will cook and clean and make dinner if I am working late. His most irritating cultural trait would have to be how he always wants to plan things and never lets me sleep in! If we aren’t doing something he feels like we are wasting our time… I just want to sleep in and he sets his alarm to eight a.m. on the weekends! Who does that?!

Sebastian: Like I said, Ashleigh’s charisma is probably the most ‘American’ trait I admire about her. She is my girlfriend so I don’t want to say that she is ignorant (giggles) but sometimes I feel like I have to teach her a lot about the world. That might be the most frustrating and stereotypical ‘American’ trait she has.


Adrian & Lisa


First laid eyes upon each other in October 2007

Have been together for 8 years

Have been in Stockholm since October 2010

Lisa Svensson is from Stockholm, is a social worker/job coach, 30 years old

Adrian Utrilla Gutierrez is from Madrid, Spain, is an architect, 31 years old




Adrian and Lisa met while studying abroad in Slovenia. Lisa confesses that she thought of Adrian as a ‘sexy Spaniard’ and fast-forward to eight years later and the couple has recently welcomed their daughter Karla to their happy little Spanish-Swedish family.


Paint me a picture of how you two met.

Lisa: Well during our time in Slovenia there were a lot of activities put on for the students studying abroad. I specifically remember seeing Adrian at a dinner because he and some of his friends walked in late and I remember thinking that he was very good looking.

Adrian: Yeah, I remember after that dinner two groups formed. There was a group going to have coffee and the other was going to drink tequila.

Lisa: I wanted to go and drink tequila but I followed with the coffee group since that’s the group he was in!

Adrian: (giggling) Well, we ended up going to a big coffee house and sat at different tables at the opposite ends of the room. I remember we stared at each other the entire night. And then a couple of days later we ran into each other and I introduced myself.




Based on your time together what inferences have you made about the Swedish or Spanish culture?

Lisa: I think that for both cultural and socio-economic reasons, you can and do rely on your family more in Spain that here in Sweden.

Adrian: Time, food and sleep seem to be very different for us. I am usually running late and Lisa is always planning.

Lisa: Yeah I get very stressed and Spaniards seem to be more spontaneous and leisurely or slow with their schedules.

Adrian: Lisa likes to make plans and when I want to sleep in on weekends, she wants to wake up and do things. Swedes are also much more practical and they live up to the ideas of being trendy, fashionable and hip. I feel like Spain is behind in a lot of ways compared to Sweden.

Lisa: I think it works for us though. I am good at starting things, planning things and Adrian is good at finishing them and doing them well.




Are their any customs or traditions of your partner’s culture you don’t understand or have to compromise on?

Lisa: Oh, we have what we call the ‘Christmas argument’. We are not going to fight about it now but Adrian, why don’t you tell her?

Adrian: Lisa has basically forbidden us from spending Christmas in Spain.

Lisa: They have no tree, no Santa, no snow, and just talk about those three kings!

Adrian: Well maybe that’s more specific to my family but I think that with holidays a lot of the magic comes from the nostalgia of it all. For me Swedish holidays like Midsommar and Lucia will never be anything truly special. I may enjoy it but it’s more of a party than a holiday for me.


In what ways has or was being a bi-cultural couple changed your approach to the relationship?

Lisa: Hmmm. I am not really sure but in comparison to my friends here we are practically the last to buy an apartment and have a baby. For Adrian and his group of friends he is the first to do those things.

Adrian: If I were still in Spain I would most likely be living with my parents or living with a bunch of roommates.




What is the cutest cultural trait or habit your partner has and what is the most frustrating, annoying or difficult?

Lisa: For the cute one, I would have to say Adrian speaks Spanish in his sleep! His annoying trait is that he is always running late. Not being fluent in Spanish has been difficult, especially when I visit Spain.

Adrian: I guess sometimes Lisa can be bossy or wants to take my time and fill it with plans. I think the cutest thing is how she communicates with my parents. I think she has done a really great job with that.


Julie & Markus


First laid eyes upon each other in August 2011

Have been together since April 2012

Have been in Stockholm since November 2013

Markus Dahl is from Stockholm, is a kindergarten teacher, 30 years old

Julie Chou is from Tainan, Taiwan, works in sales with Taiwanese company, 31 years old



Julie Chou and Markus Dahl met in a hostel in Cairns, Australia in August 2011 and Julie tells me that he was drunk and she was sober. Surrounded by backpackers in a narrow hallway, they spoke all night about where they had been and where their travels were taking them next. They didn’t know it then and we all know it by now, their journey resulted with them engaged and in Stockholm.


After a year together in Australia you guys finally decided to make the move to Stockholm.

Julie: Yes, after that year we were sure that we wanted to be together for a long time.

Markus: During our time in Australia we travelled a lot, moved a lot and struggled to be together a lot. When it came time to look at being together in Sweden it just felt like, if we had already come this far, we could do anything. That’s how I felt.

Julie: We originally wanted to stay in Australia but because of visa reasons, we weren’t able to. Then realistically speaking, I knew Markus wouldn’t make it in Taiwan as no one speaks English in Taiwan. So Markus’ family suggested we moved to Sweden.


Compare & contrast where you’re from (Tainan) in Taiwan to Stockholm?

Julie: The main difference is the weather of course. Taiwan has long summers. And the people; in Taiwan people don’t really speak to strangers and that’s kind of the same here. Compared to the two years I lived in Australia, moving here almost felt like moving back to Taiwan. Oh and the food! The food here is quite boring and the fruit! It’s so boring! Apples and oranges… ONLY apples and oranges! You guys don’t have fruit!

Markus: I am sorry? Haha.


Based on your time together what inferences have you made about Sweden/ the Swedish or Taiwan/ Taiwanese culture?

Markus: The food is awesome! Most Taiwanese people I have met are really cool people and compared to Chinese people for example, Taiwanese people are much more open, friendlier and much more laid back.

Julie: The winter is really terrible and dark and people are very hard to talk to, really. People are cold.


What is the cutest cultural trait or habit your partner has and what is the most frustrating, annoying or difficult?

Markus: It’s everything. It’s everything about her. I like it all. But if I had to say something, she gets very protective of the kitchen when she is cooking – and she does all of the cooking. I am the one doing the dishes and I think she likes that! But if I come into her area she will look at me and ask, “Can I help you?” as if it is the first time we meet. That’s the cute thing. A frustrating thing Julie does is that she doesn’t clean entirely. She will grab the vacuum and just, half-vacuum the apartment!

Julie: Markus stands around a lot… I don’t know if that’s Swedish but it’s cute and he does it a lot. Markus cleans too much! That’s his annoying characteristic!




Are there cultural things you don’t understand about one another’s cultures?

Julie: It’s a big thing when you invite people over to your home in Sweden. In Taiwan you just talk and watch TV, hang out. Markus is always so stressed and I never understand. I am stressed over the cooking but here it’s kind of the whole charade. I think it’s weird.

Markus: I think about a wedding that I went to. It was in a parking lot.

Julie: It was an open space! (giggling)

Markus: Okay but it looked like a parking lot with a bunch of tents! But it’s more about the wedding… we arrived and the bride was still doing her makeup! I was just sitting there waiting and it felt really strange for me. There was no schedule, we were just sitting around and I was thinking, ‘What are we gonna do?’.

Julie: Planning and organizing, Swedes!

Markus: And it was the same at a funeral I went to in Taiwan! There were songs and some incense but everyone was sitting around on their phone, bored and I thought that was a little disrespectful and weird. You can do whatever you want to do. No one really cares.

Julie: I think he feels that way because my family isn’t very close and his is.


How has being a bi-cultural couple affected your approach to a having a relationship?

Julie: With a Taiwanese guy in Taiwan I would have a lot of family prejudices to deal with because in Taiwan you kind of marry into a family so I would become more focused on his family rather than mine and they would be judging me to make sure I was suitable or that they like me. My responsibility would shift to them.

Markus: I think things moved faster because of our circumstances. I think most Swedish girls who are in relationships are still playing ‘the game’. We didn’t have time to play games. All of our cards were always on the table: this is who I am, this is what I want, this is the good and the bad.


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