It happens today at 17.32

At 17.32 today, we will experience the vernal equinox, when night and day are of equal length. From tomorrow, the days get longer and lighter. Spring and summer are on the way, and the temperature is rising.

This time of the year, it’s easy to feel that everyone is Sweden is either going away or has already been away on a long-haul holiday to the sun. Thailand is the favourite winter destination for Swedes, followed by the Dominican Republic and the Canary Islands.

But not everybody can afford an overseas holiday. Not everyone has the means or the state of health to sit on a plane and be catapulted to warmer climes. But there is a solution. In the Swedish town of Västerås.

At the care home for the elderly, ‘Södergården’, the staff have created a South Pacific room for the residents.

In the ceiling, there are infra red lamps which provide heat and solarium tubes which provide ultraviolet light. Electric fans provide a light sea breeze. The room is filled with sand, and projected onto the walls are images of a Hawaiian blue sky, sea and palm trees. These images can be changed so as to alter the theme of the room – for example to an archipelago scene or city view of Paris or Rome. The residents lounge in deckchairs or sit at the bar and sip exotic fruit cocktails.

This is such a fantastic idea to brighten up the existence of the residents in an old folks’ home. Apparently it hasn’t been proven yet, but experts believe that a room like this can lead to better sleep patterns, more energy and reduced anxiety for the old timers.

When all you hear are horrific examples of how old people are treated in residential homes, this comes like a breath of fresh air.

When I hear examples like this, it’s almost as though I’m looking forward to becoming old in Sweden.

Reflections over a frozen canal

Walking over the bridge on the way home from town today, I looked down at the frozen canal which is now in the process of thawing. Pools of water lay here and there on the surface and ducks were happily bobbing around in the open areas under the jetties.

I lingered for a while and looked down over the canal and over towards the city hall.

On the ice, I noticed thin track lines. The evidence from people on cross-country skis was now melting into the slushy surface. I also noticed footprints. Remnents of Stockholmers out for a walk one winter Sunday on the ice. The footprints had lost their sharpness, they had become diffuse, blurred at the edges. Slowly, slowly, they were disappearing as the canal reclaimed its watery surface.

I was struck by how temporary things are. Soon all proof of those skiers and those Sunday strollers will be gone. Any trace of their activities melted away.

Is this how it is for all of us? Our lives are temporary. We are only here for a fleeting moment. With all our activity, we leave a mark. And then gradually that mark dissipates and nothing is left to show we were ever there.

Are we all Sunday strollers on a frozen Swedish canal?

The longest Swedish word

A Swedish word you often hear this time of year is ‘vintervår’ or ‘vårvinter’. You hear it on the tv and the radio, read it in the newspapers, hear it on the underground.

Literally translated, it means ‘winterspring’ or ‘springwinter’. It is used to describe this time of the year, when winter slowly but surely crawls exhausted over into spring. It’s a word that boulsters the self-confidence of Swedes because it means that spring is on the way. It also acts as a way for Swedes to deceive themselves that spring is already here even though it still might be snowing.

This is also a great example of Swedish language structure. Putting two separate words together, in this case ‘spring’ and ‘winter’ to form a new word which has a new meaning. This is one of the reasons why Swedish words ofter seem inscrutable to the foreign eye. It also means that Swedish words can sometimes get very long.

According to the Guiness Book of Records, the longest Swedish word is:


Scary, huh?

It translates as something like “Coast artillery flight searching simulator area material maintaining follow-up system discussion preparation tasks of the Northern Baltic Sea”.

Still doesn’t really make sense, but then I’m not a translator.

By the way, did you know that the fear of long words is called ‘hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia’?

Now that’s just cruel isn’t it?

They dropped the bomb on Stockholm

Saturday night in Stockholm in March. Night has descended. The remnants of the winter snow are melting away leaving gravel and sand on the pavements and in the gutters. The wind whistles along the facades of the buildings, round the corners and away into the sky.

The streets are empty. They echo with isolation. Like a post-apocolyptic landscape, all sign of humanity is wiped out. It’s like the bomb has dropped. It’s as if all Stockholmers have died from a mysterious disease and all that is left is an abandoned shell of a city, the diffuse lights in the apartment windows and the blinking neon of the local pizzeria.

Stockholm is eerie like a ghost town.

But this vision is not unique to Stockholm. All over Sweden, in every town, on every street, the sight is the same. It’s Saturday night in Sweden. In March.

And it’s the final of the Swedish Melody Festival on the telly.

Lou Reed’s fear of Sweden

The other day I heard a interesting quote by Drew Curtis about Sweden. Drew is the founder of community website FARK and a popular lecturer in social media. He said ‘I love Sweden. The entire world should be like Sweden. They all like to drink and get naked, and the women are hot. I can’t think of a better nation on the planet.’ No reinforcing of stereotypes there then.

This inspired me to find other quotes from celebrities about Sweden. After extensive searching, I only managed to find 3 more. And here they are.

The legendary Lou Reed said,

‘Compared to New York City, Sweden is a very scary place’

I don’t know what national characteristics or behaviours he was basing this on. Then there’s New York Doll’s member Johnny Thunders who said,

‘I was in Sweden for 10 days. They put me on the front page of the daily papers eight days in a row. I did nothing to warrant any of the attention. It was ridiculous.’

Small country, ‘big’ international celebrity.

And, finally, my personal favourite from the very religious Sir Cliff Richard,

‘Sweden is just about porn and gonorrhea’

Suicidal Swedes

So, the newspapers are trying to paint a picture of a ‘Wallander curse’. A second Wallander actor, Emil Forselius, was discovered dead this morning in his apartment. He had committed suicide. A while ago, popular actor Johanna Sällström also killed herself – while in the middle of a Wallander film project.

The myth of Swedish suicide still has a strong hold outside of Sweden. When non-Swedes are asked what stereotypes they have of Swedes very many of them say ‘suicidal’. Why is this the case?

Is it because of the long dark winters and the problem we can have with seasonal adjustment disorder? Maybe. Is it the legacy of depressing, morose Bergman films that have painted a miserable and introspective view of the Swedes? Perhaps. Is it the lack of ‘godliness’, no real strong belief in religion, that means taking your own life is easier? Could be.

Combined, of course, with statistics.

According to statistics, Swedes have the highest suicide rate in the world. This is something that non-Swedes often love to refer to. But statistics are deceptive.

Most countries in the world do not even keep statistics of suicide, especially those countries with strong religious beliefs (which is most of them). When people commit suicide, they call it something else, in order to secure a place for the dead person in heaven or to prevent the family from being burdened with shame.

But in Sweden, suicide is not a sin. Suicide is a tragedy. In Sweden suicide is documented as what it is – suicide – as a reminder for the rest of us how fragile our existence is.

So, of course Sweden has the highest statistics, because Sweden is one of the few countries to actually keep accurate documentation.

I don’t believe that Swedes have a tendency to take their own lives more than other nationals. I just believe that when they do, the nation doesn’t try to hide it. It is hard enough for families to deal with their grief without having to also be weighed down with shame.

Ultimately, Sweden is a modern society where citizens have free choice to make decisions that influence their own lives. Suicide is, in its extreme, a way of exercising this free choice. It is of course a tragedy but it is not something we should ignore and hide.

As long as some people in our society feel that suicide is their only choice, it is our obligation to document and defend an open dialogue about it.