I’ve been living in Sweden for nearly two years now and I have a confession: I still don’t know my own neighborhood. Outside of four major streets or highways, street names are an elusive mystery to me. Having grown up in Queens, NYC, where every street is perfectly aligned with a ruler and numbered in order, I’ve never been very great with named streets. Naturally, I thought that was the problem – until yesterday.
Yesterday I had my first lone adventure in Sweden. I took the 8am train to Gothenburg all by myself so that I can get my fingerprints, photo, and signature taken for my new ID card (Permanent residence, yay!)
Even though I’ve been to Gothenburg a dozen times before, I’ve never had to think about where I was because I wasn’t alone – especially not trying to find an address. Even though I’ve been to migrationsverket one time before (two years ago) and I was using Iphone maps, I was having a hard time. And that’s when it hit me:
Street signs in Sweden suck. Sorry to be so harsh (it was partially for alliterations sake… I couldn’t resist the 4th ‘s’ word) , but they are so different than what I’m used to, I’ve never even NOTICED street signs in Sweden before. No wonder I don’t recognize any street names. (thankfully, and obviously, I don’t drive)
Let me compare:
Street signs in NYC are ALWAYS posted in the same exact spot on every street corner – sticking out from a pole on the corner, away from the buildings in clear sight of pedestrians trying to find their way – spottable and readable from more than a half a block away. These signs are also always at the same height, not to be missed or confused with anything else.
Street signs in Sweden can be anywhere. Yes, they are on the corner, but not always every corner. They are not always at the same height (from above store entrances/ signs to almost eye level). And worse of all, they are camouflaged into the surroundings – attached to the sides of buildings, sometimes nestled next to awnings or signs.
BTW, stumbling upon street names named after Norse gods (Odin and Frigga) was pretty awesome, I have to say.
While the street sign system is not my favorite, I do give partial credit to the addresses. The sorting of addresses on each block reminds me of how books are sorted in a library: each book shelf (block/street sign) indicating which books (addresses) you’ll find there. While I don’t think it gives a good indication of where that address will actually be, if you’re looking at the sign (if you can find it) then you’ll know if that block has the address you need.
In Queens a three part address system is used (xx – xx- xxx street), which seems confusing, but helps understand where in the neighborhood the address is located in relation to other streets. The first number being the cross street, the second number being the house number, and the third number being the street that the address is actually on. Without using cross streets in the address, dependency on a map (or knowledge of the area) is more crucial in Sweden – or so it feels for me.
Of course street signs are different everywhere, and it’s easy reading what you’re used to. This is simply not something I expected to have to adjust to. Now that I’ve noted the difference, I can start paying more attention and forcing myself to look for them – on the sides of buildings.