Singing Swedes – the phenomenon of the choir

Choir singing is an an extremely popular pastime in Sweden. In fact, it’s a bit of a national movement with an estimated 600,000 people singing in a choir. That’s around 17% of the population. I myself sing in a choir and I’d say it’s a challenging but cathartic hobby.

Why is choir singing so common in Sweden? Maybe it’s a nice indoor distraction to have during the long dark winter nights? Maybe it appeals to the Swedish collectivist spirit? Maybe it springs from a long history of hymns, folk songs, drinking songs and contemporary music?

Whatever the reason, it’s very popular! And it’s a brilliant way to make Swedish friends!

The oldest still-active choir in Sweden is said to be the church choir of Ytterlännäs with its almost 200 year history. The oldest academic choir is Allmänna Sången from Uppsala University with 160 years on record. Stockholm’s Gay Choir is not only the oldest gay choir in Sweden, but in Europe – founded in 1982.

According to the Choir Society, the average age of a choir singer in Sweden is 56.6 years. So it doesn’t seem to be a pastime for youngsters once they’ve left school. Part of the challenge for many choirs is the process of rejuvenation as more young people are needed to bolster the aging ranks and its harder to attract them. Choirs with specific focuses seem to find it easier to attract fresh blood – such as Stockholm’s Indie Choir, where the waiting list to get in is long.

One of the most well-known specific choirs in Sweden is, not surprisingly, the ABBA choir. Dressed in ABBA outfits they sing, well, ABBA songs at ABBA tributes. And they love it!

In Sweden, choir song is also a popular way to bring people together, such as in integration choirs. Established Swedes meet newly arrived people and they sing together. The Östersund choir ‘The Rocking Pots’ is a great example of this.

Which town in Sweden has the most choirs do you think? Well according to the statistics, the town of Sundsvall seems to have the most song birds!

Choir festivals are also popular, bringing together choirs from within Sweden and around the world.

One example of this is the upcoming choir festival ‘Queertune’ which on 27-29 September 2019 brings together 14 LGBTQI choirs from Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland.

If you’re interested in listening to the concerts, go to the website http://www.queertune.se to read all about it.

If you’re tempted to join a choir, a good place to look is http://www.sverigeskorforbund.se

Check it out and see what’s available where you live.

So join the Swedes and get singing!

Swedish expression – ‘to sit with your beard in the letter box’

As weird as this saying is, it’s quite a common one used by Swedes. Obviously describing a troublesome, embarrassing situation, it would equate in English to something like ‘to be caught with your hand in the cookie jar’ or ‘caught with your trousers down’. In other words, to find yourself in a difficult situation of your own making.

But where does the expression come from?

One common theory is that it is from a 1959 book called Bitter Pills. The Swedish translator translated the English ‘who will get hurt’ to ‘who will sit with their beard in the letterbox’. Rather an odd translation one might think but actually it was rather a clever one.

The translator based his expression on a nautical saying at that time – ‘to fasten with your beard in the block’. Apparently a block is a wheel that mooring lines run through on a boat. I guess it would be very unfortunate for a sailor to get their beard caught in it while wrestling with a wild boat. The theory is that the translator wanted to modernize the expression, and use a bit of humour. So block became letter box. The expression can also be ‘to fasten with your beard in the letter box’.

When Sweden lays down the law

The international spotlight has been shone on Sweden’s judicial system in recent weeks. An American rapper is currently being held in custody on suspected physical assault. The President of the USA has intervened and tried to get the rapper released on bail – to no avail. Consequently, Sweden has been accused of corruption and racism.

I thought in this blog, I’d quickly clarify a few things about Sweden’s legal system so that you understand the holding of the rapper is fully compliant with the law.

The Swedish system. Sweden has a civil law system based on Romano-Germanic law. Sweden’s criminal courts have three levels: The Supreme Court of Sweden (Högsta Domstolen), 6 courts of appeals (hovrätter)and 53 district courts (tingsrätter).

The Constitution of Sweden prohibits capital punishment, [1], corporal punishment [2], and “torture or medical influence aimed at extorting or suppressing statements.”[3] Searches and seizures are restricted under Article 6 of the Constitution of Sweden.

When somebody is arrested, police and prosecutors are responsible for conducting initial investigations to determine whether an individual should be prosecuted for a crime – and which crime. Prosecution is mandatory if guilt has been established through the investigation period.

A defendant is entitled to counsel as soon as reasonable suspicion is established during the investigation stage. The defense attorney may ask the prosecutor to conduct specific investigations on the defendant’s behalf.

Any witness may be interrogated for up to six hours. In some jurisdictions such as Gothenburg, the local municipal council hires lay individuals to attend and document interrogations.

No bail system. There is no bail system in Sweden, where somebody can pay a bond to avoid pre-trial detention. Bail is more common in the Anglo-American judicial systems and not the European continental systems. In Sweden, individuals are often detained while awaiting trial, although they can be released without detention and have their travel restricted by court order. If there is a risk of fleeing the country, suspects can legally be kept in police custody by court order until investigations are complete. This is common praxis when it relates to foreign citizens with no residence in Sweden.

Once the initial investigations are complete, a court of law decides what the individual should be charged with, and the trial proceedings commence.

Independent Court of Law. In Sweden, and Finland, the legal system is totally independent and free of influence from political leaders. Members of the government or cabinet may not dictate or interfere with the daily workings of a government agency, court of law or similar. While this is common practice in other countries, in Sweden, this so-called ‘ministerstyre’ is illegal.

When Donald Trump called Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, the Swede explained that the Swedish judicial system, prosecutors and courts are totally autonomous. Everybody is equal in the eyes of the law and that the Swedish government will not and can not try to influence the legal process.

Let’s see what happens. If the rapper has been held in custody incorrectly or if he is charged with a crime that does not warrant incarceration then he has a right to claim compensation.

What have Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Finland had – but Sweden hasn’t?

To date there is something that Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Finland has had, but that Sweden hasn’t. And it’s quite intriguing as to why. The UK has had two. India has had one. Norway has had the most of any country. Currently 27 countries have one. In fact, 76 countries in the world have had one.

Do you know what I’m talking about?

Elected and appointed female heads of state and government.

In the long history of Swedish politics, there has never been a female Swedish Prime Minister. There are female party leaders, mostly of the smaller political parties. Sweden currently has a female Deputy Prime Minister and a female Foreign Minister. But never the head of state.

According to Wiki, ‘Khertek Anchimaa-Toka, of the Tuvan People’s Republic, is regarded as “first ever elected woman head of state in the world” in 1940. The first woman to become prime minister of a country was Sirimavo Bandaranaike of present-day Sri Lanka in 1960. The first woman to serve as president of a country was Isabel Martínez de Perón of Argentina, who as vice-president succeeded to the presidency in 1974 after the death of her husband. The first woman elected president of a country was Vigdís Finnbogadóttir of Iceland, who won the 1980 presidential election and three others to become the longest-serving female head of state in history (exactly 16 years in office).’

So why not in Sweden? I don’t have a theory I’m afraid, but I do think it’s strange that a country that prides itself on leading the politics of equality has only had men as Prime Minister. White, middle-aged, assumably straight, men.

And it doesn’t look like there’ll be any change to that in the coming years. Not unless one of the three largest parties elects a female leader to replace the three men who currently hold those positions.

It’s been almost 100 years since the first woman was elected as a Member of Parliament in Sweden and currently, in the Swedish Parliament, 46% are women. Isn’t it time for a woman to also hold the highest elected political office in the country?

Then Sweden could show its equal par with Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Finland – and 72 other countries around the world.

Sweden’s Hollywood

Not to be outdone by Bollywood, Jollywood or Mollywood, did you know that Sweden has its very own film making centre?

Swedish film successes such as Jalla Jalla, Show me Love, and Tillsammans were filmed here. International films such as Dogville, Melancholia and Lilja 4 ever likewise.

In the nearby town there is a walk of fame containing gold stars embedded into the pavement. Names such as Stellan Skarsgård and Nicole Kidman are included there. The town has also lent its name to the film making centre.

The towns name? Trollhättan.

The Swedish film-making centre’s name?

Of course, it’s Trollywood!

How to meet Swedes and maybe even find romance

I met up with a good friend yesterday who has just got two puppies. We went for a stroll through Stockholm’s Old Town and out onto the harbour island of Skeppsholmen. These two little puppies are of the breed Daschund, and they were incredibly popular with passers by on the street. Countless times, we were stopped and chatted to by Swedes and tourists alike. It seems that getting a dog is a great way to get people to talk to you in Stockholm!

In Swedish there is a concept called ‘hundtricket’ (the dog trick) which basically is about getting a dog so that you can pick people up on the street. And it obviously works! It’s actually how another friend of mine met her husband.

Of course, this isn’t a specifically Swedish phenomena. It’s been proven to work on dating site Tinder. A UK company carried out some research recently into how attractive people are perceived to be if they have a dog with them in their profile picture. According to the research men got 38% more swipes if there was a dog with them in their picture. Women got 69% more swipes!

People with dogs are apparently perceived as more open, relatable and approachable. Having a dog seems to be a great conversation starter, whether you’re on a dating app or walking down the street.

So, you want to connect more easily with Swedes? Get a dog!

10 very confusing Swedish words

In an earlier post, I wrote how Swedish can sometimes be very clear. To the point of literalness. There are also cases where Swedish is very unclear, where you’re not quite sure what is being said, or referred to. Here are 10 very confusing Swedish words:

  1. Himmel – in Swedish this is the word for heaven and also for sky. So which is being referred to?
  2. Trappa – Swedish sometimes doesn’t distinguish between inside and outside. This is the word for stairs and also for steps. So, take the ‘trappa’ can be confusing.
  3. Tak – likewise, this is the word for roof and also ceiling. So, what does fixing the ‘tak’ actually refer to?
  4. Man – the word for man, is also the word for husband. Confusing…is he married or just a man?
  5. Ben – is the word for leg and also for bone. So if you break your ‘ben’, what have you broken?
  6. Kudde – in Swedish is the same word for pillow and for cushion. So, tidy up the ‘kudde’ means which ones exactly?
  7. Låna – the word for borrow, and also for lend. So what exactly do you want to do? Give – or take?
  8. Tidning – Swedish uses the same word to describe a newspaper and a magazine. So, pass me the ‘tidning’ means which one exactly?
  9. Lov – in Swedish the same word is used for permission, promise, duty and praise. It’s just all round confusing.
  10. Nöt – the most confusing of all. I know from my personal experience in a restaurant. This is the word for nut, and also for beef. So is the food vegetarian or not? Trust me, it’s an easy mistake to make.

Know any other confusing Swedish words? Please share!