Maddy Savage - photo ©

Interview with Stockholm based expat Maddy Savage

Former BBC radio anchor Maddy Savage fell in love with Scandinavia when her first foreign assignment took her to Gothenburg ten years ago. She relocated to Sweden’s capital, Stockholm, in 2014, where she now works as a freelance journalist.

Passionate about her adopted home, she created The Stockholmer podcast to showcase the most inspiring voices emerging from the city’s creative, tech, food and wellness scenes. When she’s not busy chasing story ideas, you’ll find Maddy running around the city’s 14 islands, watching Nordic Noir or searching for Stockholm’s best cinnamon bun.

SEE ALSO: The ultimate guide to Stockholm on a budget

Thanks for chatting to me Maddy. What brought you to Stockholm?
I was fascinated by Scandinavia for about eight years before I moved here. My first ever foreign assignment for the BBC was to Gothenburg, when I was 24 years old. Sven-Göran Eriksson was the England Football manager at the time, so my editor asked me to go over to Sven’s old club IFK Gothenburg and his hometown in Western Sweden, Torsby, and report from that angle. As it was quite a long way to go for just one story, I also did a report on Snus (which is a smokeless tobacco, popular in Sweden), and a piece on bio-powered cars. 

I really enjoyed spending time in the countryside in Western Sweden. I sat by a lake and ate meatballs, walked through the forest (on the way to meet interviewees - there wasn't much time for chilling) and just thought, this is really cool, so I kept pitching stories to come back to Scandinavia, and really longed to become a freelancer out here. Everyone warned me against it, as it’s an expensive country to live in, and perhaps there weren’t enough stories to make it work. But then a job opportunity came up, for editor of 'The Local Sweden' which is Sweden’s largest English language newspaper. So I left my staff job at the BBC to take the job, which was a bit of a gamble. I’d also become interested in the start-up scene so Stockholm was appealing from that perspective. I learned a lot of skills from that job, which was essentially a news start up, I also earned Swedish during that time and it was a great introduction to working life in Sweden.

I went freelance a year ago and now I do a combination of things; my podcast The Stockholmer which profiles a lot of the inspiring people I was meeting in the start up scene, and I also do a lot of freelance work for the BBC and other global broadcasters because as it turns out, there are a lot of news stories in Sweden, and there has been a growing interest in the country both politically, and in the start up scene. 

So ultimately, I came over for a job, and I stayed to run my own business. I love the city, it’s everything I hoped it would be. There is an abundance of green space and water, which was something that drew me in, both in Gothenburg and Stockholm. You can have a city lifestyle, but still be so close to nature, which is the perfect mix for me.

Is there a big expat community in Stockholm?
There is and its quite a tight expat scene here. It is quite a small city, and you tend to run into to the same people at different events. And I think expats look out for each other, because there are a lot of unique factors around being an expat in Sweden; it is a very harsh climate, and although people are generally friendly and open, there is this perception that it can take a while to get to know Swedes. But on the other hand, it is a very easy place to makes friends in English, as Swedes are among the best in the world at speaking English. I’m now in a transitional phase, of my Swedish being good enough to spend an evening, speaking Swedish, but its not necessarily good enough to talk in depth about politics or business or personal issues. 

What made you start The Stockholmer?
Partly because there wasn’t a media vehicle that was focusing on the people that I was meeting at events for entrepreneurs and creatives. They weren’t necessarily big enough to be profiled on larger sites, but I felt they deserved a voice and there are only a few media channels operating in English in Sweden. Radio Sweden does produce podcasts, but they are news focussed, whereas I wanted to spotlight interesting people and topics and give those stories a platform. It’s also providing me with some of my income. I’ve had sponsorship for the first two seasons and I’m working on the third season now. 

Who is listening to The Stockholmer?
It’s aimed at 25-35 year olds - millennials, who have an interest in Stockholm and its startup and creative industries. My vision was to create a podcast that attracted people who live in Stockholm, for example expats who don’t necessarily have the skills to listen to Swedish podcasts, and also Swedes who might want a fresh perspective on their city.

Having moved from a very diverse city like London, Stockholm is not as diverse, although it is more diverse than people might think. There are a lot of interesting people here. A lot of powerful women, and a lot of expats here who are doing exciting things. So I wanted to give these people a profile, and also to give an insight to listeners in the UK and the US, where there is a growing interest in Sweden, plus potential listeners in other start up hubs such as Berlin or Paris who might be keeping an eye on the scene in Stockholm. The top three countries listening are the UK, the US and Sweden, and 60% of listeners are women. Many of the people I interview come from a business or tech background, but not the nerdy cliche type - it could be someone developing a fashion app, or new food product or a yoga trend.

With Maddy Savage in her lovely coworking space,  Sthlm Music House  - a space for media, music and tech entrepreneurs in Djurgården, Stockholm.

With Maddy Savage in her lovely coworking space, Sthlm Music House - a space for media, music and tech entrepreneurs in Djurgården, Stockholm.

What are the best things about living in Stockholm?
It’s very efficient. The transport is reliable and the city is compact. It’s also really beautiful, with the greenery, the water and the architecture. It boosts my mood every single day. Working in London, it can almost feel like a competition as to who has put in the most hours each week, whereas Stockholmers have a great focus on work/life balance.

There is an engrained culture within Swedes, that you should spend time by the lakes and in the forests, amongst nature.

There seems to be an emphasis in Sweden, on being outdoors, and utilising outdoor space. Is that an important part of Swedish life?
The majority of Swedes live in apartments, and the aspiration to own your own home, with a garden is not as prominent among people living in the city centre. It’s more aspirational to have a small summer house in the countryside, which is more affordable here than it would be in a lot of other countries. There is an engrained culture within Swedes, that you should spend time by the lakes and in the forests, amongst nature. 

Swedes are also very aware of the lack of sunlight in the winter, and the effect it can have on your body. For example, on a Sunday in November (when it is only light between 10 and 2), it’s almost like rush hour, when you go out. People head out, bundled up in warm clothes making the most of the light. Even though it’s freezing! In fact I’ve been out running in minus 13 before, as it’s just part of the culture, making the most of the day and getting that boost of vitamin D.

What do you miss from back home?
I miss the British sense of humour and banter. Which I think is very unique. And I also miss British foods like Marmite and Baked Beans, which you can buy here but they are very expensive imports. I also think that Sweden lacks convenient, prepared healthy food. In the UK you can buy peeled carrots, or packs of stir fry veg. There is a very strong ecological food scene in Sweden but it’s quite high end. My theory is, that as there is a better work/life balance, people actually have the time to cook, so the on-the-go convenience culture is less in demand

Tell me about your solo travel experiences
I worked at Euro Camp, straight after uni, in France for three months. I got a lot out of it. My parents also encouraged me to take part in activity holidays and school exchanges. They definitely helped to give me the opportunity to try adventurous trips.

The first job I had in national news really built my confidence and independence. I travelled around the UK a lot by myself to report on different stories. At the time though, I was also aware that, being in my 20s I should make the opportunity to take time out to travel. So at 26, I asked for a career break from the BBC. I went to Madagascar for two months as a volunteer, then on to Australia and New Zealand for a few months and finally spent some time in Japan on the way home. It was empowering. It can be stressful travelling on your own, you’re making all the decisions and there is no one to lean on, but those experiences made me realise how important they are, much more important than materialistic things like the latest handbag or stereo.

That spurred me on to then head to Nepal, to Everest basecamp on a solo trip in 2010. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. Wonderful people, jaw dropping scenery and an amazing physical challenge.

Have your travels influenced your life in Stockholm today?
Looking back, I wish I had taken a year out after uni, before I started working, but on the other hand my subsequent travels in my 20s boosted my confidence when I returned to work. I moved to Stockholm when I was 33. I wish I’d done it sooner, however it felt like a great age to move, as I had more confidence than my younger self, and was more established in my career. I’ve also made time to explore my new home country, I’ve visited Stockholm and Gothenburg's Archipelagos, Lapland and Sweden's largest Island Gotland and this summer I will go hiking in northern Sweden. One of my favourite trips was to Rögrund, a tiny island a couple of hours by boat from Stockholm. My friends and I had the whole island to ourselves and had a great time jumping from the hot Sauna to chilly Lake outside. A very Swedish experience!

Season three of The Stockholmer is out in September.