Not all cabbies fit the stereotypes. To start a new series, we speak to Andreas Eriksson, the first and so far only Swedish national to pass The Knowledge and become a London black cab driver.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Andreas Eriksson and I’m 38 years, and born in the central Swedish town of Västerås. I moved from Stockholm to London in 1999 because my wife who is from Barbados struggled greatly to learn Swedish to the level she felt was needed in order to get a decent job and build a meaningful career. Even though I had an accent back then, which was even more Swedish than my namesake Sven-Göran, I tagged along to London as I had learnt English in the state school since I was 11. After seven years in Battersea we moved to Worcester Park in Southwest London were we still live with our 11 year old daughter.
Why did you decide to take The Knowledge?
I worked for nearly 10 years for the Metropolitan Police answering 999 calls and on the police radio dispatching response cars. It can be exciting but it really is an endless stream of bad news and emergencies, which started to make me cynical and generally wear me down. I therefore already had a detailed understanding of most London areas, and I also wanted to start my own business. It was then that a Sergeant I worked with jokingly said I should become the first Swedish London cabbie. Little did he know!
How long did it take to qualify?
It took me just over four years from start to finish to complete the Knowledge. I was working fulltime shift work at the police as well, so that probably slowed it down for a year or so.
Is there any meaningful Swedish community in London, who regularly meet?
I would be lying if I said there was a Swedish or even Scandinavian scene to speak of. There are of course the usual stuff that any country or community have like a church, embassy, chamber of commerce etc that occasionally put on events. But generally the Swedes in London are very well integrated and fully part of the British society they’ve chosen to live in. We do have a sort of online meeting hub in www.londonswedes.com, where I write a weekly top 3 London recommendations thingy but that’s it. We’ve got no Chinatown, or Brixton like the West Indians.
There are lots of stereotypes about black cab drivers. It's perceived as a very British character type. Did you encounter any unusual reactions or comments while studying for the knowledge? And do your fellow cabbies treat you much as any other cab driver?
I find the stereotype is just that, a stereotype, and that the vast majority of drivers that I’ve come across are nothing like the general picture apart from the fact that 95% are British born and raised. And often right here in London which is not so common anymore, in this or any other major European capital. I’m treated very well by my colleagues on the ranks and in the tea shelters (green huts). The other drivers often ask why I’ve chosen to remain in England and not move back to Sweden, which they see as country with a somewhat higher living standard than Britain. The answer is that living standards in London are fully on par with, if not better than, in Stockholm. As well, London isn’t knee deep in snow for 10 months of the year and my wife still can’t speak Swedish properly!
We asked Andreas to pick five locations where Londoners can get a glimpse of Swedish culture.
1. IceBar, Heddon Street, W1
This is designed and built by the people behind the Ice hotel in the deepest north of Sweden (Jukkasjärvi). It incorporates reindeer skins, special thermo suites, and it is also heavily sponsored by Sweden's top export, Absolut Vodka. What’s not to like?
2. Totally Swedish, Crawford Street, W1
This is our one and only fully dedicated supermarket, which sells all the brands from home as well as the more unusual game meats like elk and reindeer — everyday staples of Swedish cooking.
3. Kosmopol Restaurant & Bar, Fulham Road, SW10
This is a very nice place owned and run by Swedish owners. Its menu is not strictly traditional but has Swedish and Scandinavian hints. The bar serves Mackmyra which is a Swedish whiskey.
4.IKEA, Volta way, Croydon
It would be wrong of me to leave this institution out. Swedes have been swearing over missing screws and unreadable instructions since the 1950s and this pleasure has long been available to Britons too. The restaurant offers our national dish, meatballs with mash and lingonberry jam, and it also has a Lidl style supermarket bit by the exit with low budget IKEA own-brand versions of some classic Swedish foods.
5. Skandium, Brompton Road, SW3
This is not solely a Swedish affair but it is nevertheless a very exciting store where the most innovative interior designers from all of Scandinavia display and sell their stuff. If you’re looking to introduce that special Scandinavian sparse and clean look to your home, look no further.
If you'd like to contact Andreas, he's happy to hear from you on Facebook.
We're looking for other London taxi drivers with international or unusual backgrounds. If that's you, and you'd like to share your story, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org