You have to be rather fond of someone to visit them in dreary, shoeless Gothenburg

This is the place to which the Beloved is committed.

That’s that, then. I’ve booked a ticket to go to Gothenburg in February. The generosity of parents over Christmas has ensured that I can cover the £100 return fare. I have been to Gothenburg before so I know what I’m letting myself in for: last time, the most amusing incident of the whole week was when the wife and I got stuck behind a Norwegian coach trying to do a U-turn in a car park. Our Swedish driver – it was arranged by a newspaper, so we were being given the works by the Gothenburg tourist board – launched into a string of expletive-laden remarks about the “f***ing Norwegians” and then, after a pause, sheepishly apologised, saying that the Swedes sometimes have a bit of a problem with Norwegians, who seem to have nicked most of Sweden’s coastline and therefore all of its oil and swan about the place like Scandinavian versions of Harry Enfield’s Loadsamoney, doing the kinds of things that Swedes can only dream of (such as buying a bottle of wine without taking out a mortgage).

The rest of the week was dull beyond any possible belief and the only interesting thing that happened did so at a hotel 30 kilometres outside Gothenburg and was unrepeatable in the newspaper for which I was writing (and also, as it happens, involved Norwegians). It was the only time I failed to complete a newspaper assignment.

And this is the place I am going to be seeing quite a bit of over the next three years, if all goes well. I think you have to be rather fond of someone, to put it mildly, if you’re prepared to go to Gothenburg for them on an even semi-regular basis.

I believe they have the cheek to call the city “Little London”, ostensibly on the grounds that 18th- and 19th-century British industrialists had a great influence on the place (although I have a dim memory of being told that these pioneers were actually Scottish) but also because they think that they’re very creative and wacky and because there is still one bar that can serve beer without having to serve food, too.

“It’s just on a much smaller scale,” writes one blogger, quoted in a piece in Metro that I have been looking at to get clued up on the wonders of the city, which, for all I know, might have changed beyond recognition since I was last there. That “on a much smaller scale” rather sounds the death knell, doesn’t it? Besides, London isn’t that bloody great anyway, not any more, not now that the super-rich are infesting the decent bits of it like maggots.

I might seem ungenerous but this is part of a proven strategy of thinking the worst about a place before I go there in order to be pleasantly surprised. Proven, but not infallibly so. Many is the place I’ve had a hunch would be ghastly and has turned out to be so (Stevenage, for instance), but then this is a phenomenon familiar to all. I am prepared to be pleasantly surprised by Gothenburg, although I will – unless I start doing some serious saving – be seeing the place with the pin-sharp vision of the completely sober, which rarely puts me in a benign and forgiving mood. (My oldest friends all know that it is best to avoid me before six o’clock.)

One thing that really is worrying me is that in Sweden it is considered extremely rude not to take your shoes off when you visit someone’s home. I suppose this is fair enough, given that the weather is so appalling over there, but I hate – absolutely hate – taking my shoes off in someone else’s home. Who do they think they are? The curators of a shrine or place of worship?

“We were thinking of taking our shoes off inside,” said one host to me not that long ago, anxiously and hopefully looking down at my Loake Chelseas, of which I am inordinately proud and fond. “I wasn’t,” I said, with what I hoped was a disarming smile, and the matter was closed, for which I am grateful. Had my host known about the state of my socks and my feet, he would have been grateful, too.

Yet this is the place to which the Beloved is committed. I think she has already decided that it might not be best for us to visit any of her colleagues; then again, the Swedes have a reputation for not being the most spontaneous of people, so she’d probably have to wait six years before being given an invitation. Of course, she might run into some Norwegians and then anything could happen. They might even let us keep our shoes on!

Photo: alan-light on flickr.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 15 January 2014 issue of the New Statesman, 1914 to 2014