The democracy of snow

Today the first major snow storm of the winter hit Stockholm. Roads were closed off, buses were cancelled, the tube was chaotic. During all this mayhem, I was reminded of an old realisation I had years ago.

Normally, I find snow in the city irritating. Your shoes get ruined, you slip and slide unelegantly around, your face gets battered, your hair gets mushed. In general, very irritating. But today, my perspective changed. As the snow tumbled down, I realised that snow is all about democracy.

No matter how ugly something is, when it is covered with snow it is beautiful.
No matter how dirty something is, when it is covered with snow, it is clean.
Now matter how shabby something is, when it is covered with snow, it gets a new, fresh start.

The snow kind of evens everything out.

Now if that’s not democratic, I don’t know what is.

Surviving November in Sweden

mörkt3

I’m looking out of my window into the blackness of the Swedish afternoon. It’s not even 4pm yet, and the weak rays of light that illuminated the day have long gone. It’s like somebody literally turned off the light on their way out.

This is November in Sweden – one of the darkest times of the year in Sweden. The night blanket roles in over the country mid afternoon and keeps its grip until mid morning the next day. Far up in the north of Sweden, the sun barely peeks over the horizon.

It can be a challenging time for those of us who live here – this period before the snow and the Christmas decorations light up the streets and windows.

Since language develops to describe our environments, it makes sense that in Swedish there are many words to describe the darkness.  Native Swedes can instinctively feel the difference between these words, but those of us who have Swedish as a second language have to resort to a dictionary to understand the nuances.

The word ‘svart’ is ‘black’ in Swedish. And there are several types of black – there’s ‘becksvart’ (pitch black), ‘korpsvart’ and ‘ramsvart’ (raven black) and there’s ‘kolsvart’ (coal black). I’m sure there are more, please let me know if you have any others.

But there are also lots of other words that describe the darkness. I’ve tried my best to translate some of these below.

  • Skymning – nightfall
  • Dunkel – dim
  • Skumrask – half dark
  • Sollös – without sun
  • Töcknig – misty darkness
  • Molndiger – cloudy darkness
  • Ljusfattig – poor light
  • Dyster – gloomy darkness
  • Grådaskig – dingy

With all these words in their vocabulary, some people complain about the darkness. And who can really blame them? It is a tough period to get through. The darkness can go a long way towards explaining the stereotypical Swedish melancholy.

So how to survive it? Maybe it’s about shifting perspective?

In the words of the well-used, and highly consoling Swedish expression:

‘Det är bättre att tända ett ljus än att förbanna mörkret.’

It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness!

5 things that are wrong with Sweden

When you’ve lived in a foreign country as long as I have, you become blind to the differences that were so obvious when you first moved here. That’s a natural development I guess. Call it emersion, or integration, or adaptation, or assimilation. Or in my case, Swedification.

However, there are still some differences in Sweden that I notice on a regular basis. Things so deeply ingrained in me from my cultural background that they still feel wrong in Sweden. Here are my top 5:

1) Front doors open the wrong way. Doors open outwards, instead of inwards. That means if you are visiting someone, ring their doorbell and stand on the landing, there is a big risk that you get smacked in the face as they open the door outwards, towards you. It’s just wrong!

2) Plumbing is often on the outside of the walls. Especially in bathrooms, and around radiators, ugly pipes are not hidden behind the plaster in the wall. They run up and down and side to side along the outside of the wall, visible to everybody. So ugly, and just wrong!

3) Driving. Swedes drive on the right side of the road. It’s just wrong.

4) The ‘tunnelbana’. On the underground (tunnelbana) in Stockholm, most people don’t wait for passengers to get off the train before trying to get on. As soon as the doors open, people pile in. At the same time people are trying to get out. The resulting caffuffle in the door opening is so unnecessary and just wrong!

5) Celebrating the Eves, instead of the Days. I’ll never get used to it. Especially at Christmas. Santa coming in the afternoon on Christmas Eve instead of the night between the Eve and the Day, is just wrong!

I know what you’re thinking. How unimportant all of this is.

And you’re not wrong.

I’m happy to live in a place where the only things that seem off to me are so minor. When it comes to values, structures, systems, behaviours, lifestyle and attitudes so much about Sweden is, for me, just right.

Take a breath – and speak Swedish.

Probably ‘antiestablishmentarianism’ is one of the most notorious long English words that exist. However, in general we don’t have so many long words in the English language. This is because we use the space bar to separate words. Unlike Swedish.

In the Swedish language, grammar rules allow many words that would be separated in English to be arbitrarily conjoined, making it one veeeerrry long word. This can be mind boggling for the new language learner trying to get a grip on the linguistic acrobatics of the Swedish language.

Here are some of the longest co-joined words in Swedish. Take a breath. And speak Swedish…

1) nagellacksborttagningmedel – nail polish remover

2) diskrimineringsombudsmannen – ombudsman for discrimination

3) realisationsvinstbeskattning – capital gains tax

4) hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliofobi – fear of long words!

5) blodsockerprovtagningsmaskin- blood sampling equipment

6) användervänlighetsundersökning – enquiry into user-friendliness

7) trafikavspärrningsarbetsupgifter – traffic barrier tasks

8) eurovisionsschlagerfestivalsfinalsdeltagare – eurovision finalist

9) korttidsanställdasommarlovspraktikanter – summer job workers with short term contracts

10) mindervärdighetskomplex – inferiority complex (what one gets trying to pronounce these words!)

And finally… try this one out. According to the Guiness Book of Records the longest Swedish word is nordvästersjökustartilleriflygspaningssimulatoranläggningsmaterielunderhållsuppföljningssystemdiskussionsinläggsförberedelsearbeten.

Sing in Christmas with Europe’s oldest gay choir

Did you know that Sweden has a very large number of choirs? Singing in a choir is in fact one of Swedish people’s favorite pursuits. That means that there are lots of choirs to meet various needs and interests: gospel choirs, political choirs, church choirs, integration choirs, indie choirs.

So, it’s not surprising then that the first gay choir to be established in Europe came out in Stockholm. 35 years ago to be exact, just a short time before London’s Gay Men’s chorus was founded.

As a conclusion of their 35 years’ celebrations, Stockholm’s Gay Choir is holding two Christmas concerts on Sunday 17th December at Playhouse Theater in Stockholm. Tickets can be bought via this link biljettkiosken.se/itschristmas or in the foyer an hour before the concert. Or find the choir on Facebook or their website.

Buy a ticket, support a good cause and contribute to Sweden’s diversity. And get a bit of Christmas gaiety at the same time! See you there!

Non-binary Swedish and English

For a while now the non-binary pronoun ‘hen’ has been used in the Swedish language. ‘Hen’ is used to refer to somebody who does not relate or feel represented by the established pronouns for he (han) and she (hon). Initially met with ridicule by some people in Sweden, the ‘hen’ pronoun is slowly starting to gain in usage amongst Swedes and in ordinary vernacular.

I have long assumed that non-binary pronouns do not exist in English apart from the neutralizing use of ‘they’. Imagine my surprise when I read an article today in the Huffington Post which proved me wrong. The article talked about the queering of language. The guide to English non-binary pronouns are presented in the table.

It’ll certainly take some getting used to to add new pronouns into the vocabulary. However, language is one of our greatest tools for celebrating diversity and increasing inclusiveness.

For that alone, I think it’s worth the effort.

100 years of Swedish actresses who conquered Hollywood

alicia and greta

It can hardly have escaped anyone’s attention that Swedish actress Alicia Wikander is currently the sweetheart of Hollywood. Receiving an Oscar, marrying film star Michael Fassbender, coupled with fantastic acting ability, grace and poise, has positioned her firmly as the actress of her generation.

As I read about Alicia, I became curious about other Swedish actresses who have conquered Hollywood. To my surprise, she is the latest in a list of Swedish actresses stretching back 100 years. I found that there was at least one Swedish actress who broke through per decade (with questionable exception of the 90’s) and who made the Transatlantic step from Nordic success to international recognition and fame.

Here’s the list,

  • 2010s – Alicia Wikander
  • 2000s – Noomi Rapace
  • 1990s – Urma Thurman (pushing it I know – she has roots in Trelleborg)
  • 1980’s – Lena Olin
  • 1970’s – Maud Adams
  • 1960’s – Ann Margret
  • 1950s – Anita Ekberg
  • 1940’s – Ingrid Bergman
  • 1930’s/20’s – Greta Garbo (dominated the 20’s and 30’s)
  • 1920’s – Sigrid Holmquist
  • 1910’s – Anna Q Nilsson 

Other internationally-famous Swedish actresses, past and present

  • Rebecca Ferguson (2010’s)
  • Sofia Helin (2010’s)
  • Malin Åkerman (2000’s)
  • Britt Ekland (1960’s)
  • Viveca Lindfors (1950’s)
  • Zarah Leander (1940’s – Europe, refused to relocate to USA)

Maybe you have a favourite that I have missed out? If so, who?