Why Living Without Cars has Given Me Freedom

Louisa Leontiades Beastly & Beautiful, Cultural & Political, Swedish Living

Many grass fields on our island are cut manually with scythes. We’re not Amish. It’s a question of cost-benefit. The fields simply aren’t profitable enough to necessitate the purchase of a combine harvester. Likewise, the haystacks are hand made and the whole community mucks in. It’s a joy to see men and women in the fields making hay in a world which has forgotten the value of the land we live on. The way I see it, the use machines have disconnected us from nature. In a world gone mad, we’ve built a society which necessitates daily use of machines that destroy our planet. Like cars. And yet that didn’t mean that I wasn’t happy using them. My conscience was not as strong as my desire for convenience. When we moved here, my conscience got a break…

Cars, you see, are not permitted on the island. Or Buses. Or trains. I don’t drive or at least I don’t have a license (which hasn’t always been the same thing) and this in itself people find weird. But before we moved here, I was terribly used to being driven, be it by friends, by taxis, by trains or by buses.

So it was that I walked to our one tiny grocery store the other day in the pouring rain. I say that as opposed to cycled (which would be my other choice). In another life if it rained hard, either I didn’t go out, or I made a dash from the house to the safety of the car and then a dash from the car to the bustling commerce of the supermarket.

‘You can’t go out in that.’ I said pointing out into the mists of thundering rain, when we first moved to Sweden.

‘Why not?’ said my boyfriend.

‘Well you’ll get soaked. It’s raining cats and dogs.’ I said.

‘There is no bad weather, only bad clothes.’ said my Swedish boyfriend stolidly (it’s actually one of their proverbs).

‘You mean I have to go clothes shopping?’ I said, perking up. If anything was worth a trip to the mainland it was that.

‘Don’t you have a raincoat?’ he asked.

I do have a raincoat of course. I have several. A beautiful grey full length Macintosh. A lime green knee-length raincoat. A waterproof skiing jacket. But none of them are designed to actually go – and stay – out in the pouring rain for 20 minutes.

‘No, I definitely have to go clothes shopping.’ I said gleefully. He grimaced.

But as it turned out, it wasn’t any type of shopping that I could enjoy. Forget nipped in waists and shapely bosoms. This is shopping…for rain clothes. Rain clothes are loose, baggy and designed to

a) go over your all your other clothes (disguising any hint of a figure)

b) make sure other people see you in the gloom.

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My daughter and I in rain clothes I had to borrow from my Mother in Law when we first arrived. Carrie Bradshaw eat your heart out.

As I walked into the 4 aisle wide store where I do my grocery shopping, Anna one of the shop assistants greeted me by name and I said

‘This is the consequence of not having cars then. You have to get wet.’

‘Yes.’ she said. ‘But at least you’re breathing clean air whilst you get rained on.’

Just one more benefit.

On my first visit to the island, they told me to pack flat shoes. And I did. At least I thought I did. Because in London anything less than a 2 inch heel is flat. I’m a city girl. Cocktails and Stilettos. And when I got older, fine wines, dinner parties and rather stouter high heeled boots. Not anything that can be used in a place where many of the roads are still grass and the islands are made of granite and consequently don’t drain very well. My boyfriend usually walked by my side, but that holiday chose to walk behind me. There were several reasons –

  1. The paths were genuinely too narrow to fit two abreast
  2. He could gaze lovingly at my bum
  3. He could permanently snigger as I gamely tried to traverse the island falling off my ‘flat’ shoes every third step

After two years here, I only have flat shoes. Really flat.

The consequence of living without cars is freedom. It sounds surprising I suppose because cars are designed to give freedom. But in my case, it means freedom from anxiety. My daughter can run and play without fear of being knocked down by cars. I can relax if she rounds a corner out of my sight. It’s true that there is the occasional accident from a cargo moped, but more often than not in the summer (when the population temporarily swells from 800 to 5000) and by a guest on the island who isn’t used to the roads or the speed limit.

Living without cars means that you are forced to rely on your own manpower to get anywhere. You are forced to be fitter. You are forced to go to the shop more often (which is great because that’s where you meet people). And you are forced to wear flat shoes in order to do so. That’s also better for your posture. Apart from breathing clean air, you actually notice where you walk or cycle. You say hello to people in the street. There is no barrier between you and the nature, especially when it rains.

The impossibility of preserving a hairstyle due to constant exposure to the weather or of wearing clothes with any sort of fashion sense, is that you are forced to give up all image associated fripperies. I don’t carry handbag, I carry a rucksack. I don’t wear heels, I wear wellies. And in the summer, I don’t wear shoes at all. My clothes are practical, comfortable and nice looking, but certainly nothing Lady Gaga would go gaga about. But here’s the great thing. I forget what I look like, stop looking inwards and instead spend more time looking outwards. At people. At nature. At the Sea. Living without cars means freedom from conformity.

In fact living in a place with no cars, is one of the best things I could have chosen. Me, an excel-modelling, computer-addict champion of sofa-sitting and CSI-watching has been forced to actually move my arse. I am finally back in touch with the world, starting to get back in touch with my body and losing my focus on material goods. I am starting to feel my natural place in the cosmos all without the aid of Gucci. Tiny. Insignificant. And at the same time Magnificent.