The Swedish summer shut-down

Summertime, and the living is easy.

Swedish culture and lifestyle is very much structured around having long vacations during the summer (and preferably also in the winter). Foreign companies who work with Swedish companies are often dismayed by the ‘Swedsih shutdown’ from the end of June to the middle of August when everybody seems to be on holiday. To the outsider, this seems very inefficient.

Swedes love their long vactions. In fact, it is legislated that an employer has to allow an employee four weeks holiday in a row, unless something else is otherwise contracted between the parties. It’s hardy surprising with the deep, cold winters, that Swedes want to make the most of the long, light and hopefully warm days. It provides an opportunity to totally relax, to stay at the country house, to go out in the boat, or to travel.

But is it effective or even good for us to be off work for so long? Well, if we are to believe some recent research, the answer is no. This research out of Holland shows that the benefits of being on holiday radically reduce after the first week. What this leads them to conclude is that there is no apparent benefit on our health to being off work for longer than 1-2 weeks at a time.

So let’s see if the Swedish government considers these findings. Will we see a change in holiday legislation? My guess is that any party that wants to be re-elected will stay away from this particular hot potato.

Politics week Swedish style

Once a year, at the beginning of August, there is a politics week in Sweden. The week takes place in an open-air park called Almedalen on the Baltic island of Gotland, and attracts heavy media coverage. Every day of the week belongs to a specific party that has a seat in the parliament. Quite conveniently there are 7 parties.

The Alemdalen politics week all started 40 years ago when legendary Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme spoke publicly. It was at the end of the 60s and the Social Democrats on the island took the initiative and asked Olof Palme to make a speech in Almedalen. Palme and his family had spent their summer holidays on the neighbouring island of Fårö for many years. The stage was a lorry platform at Kruttornet and there was an audience of a few hundred people.

Now Almedalen politics week attracts thousands of participants and is intended to involve the man on the street in politics and to protect the strong Swedish value of democracy. However, the concept of democracy has never been so strongly challenged as it is this year. Right wing, national socialist party Sweden Democrats won seats in the the Swedish parliament last year. This entitles them to their day at Almedalen. Despite strong criticism and outcry, today is their day.

Although giving a free platform to racists is a difficult thing to stomach, the act strongly reflects the Swedish belief in democracy. Although we don’t all agree with each other, we have to defend the right for each other to think differently. If we don’t do that, what’s left? What kind of a society do we have then? I am sure it would be a society that we wouldn’t want to live in.

At Almedalen politics week, we meet each other in debate. And in debate and discussion, we influence each other and our environment. And it is then, and only then, we can possibly change our society.

Defining Swedish

Back in June, I participated in a citizenship ceremony. Yes, I became Swedish. But does a Swedish passport really make me a Swede? The ceremony was attended by hundreds of people from all walks of life and all parts of the world. Africans, Asians, Middle Easterns, Europeans, Americans, Australians were participating to receive their Swedish acknowledgements and to drink coffee and eat cinnamon buns. But are we Swedish? And what is a Swede anyway?

A radio program the other day was discussing this issue. They were talking about the Swedish soul. The essence that makes all Swedes Swedish. One member of the panel was disturbed. She claimed that such discussions were bordering on racist. She suggested that Swedishness needed a new definition.

What is a Swede then? Well, it’s simply those who live here.