Reflections from a Swedish supermarket queue



Standing in a queue, waiting to pay. In front of me, there’s a woman in her late thirties. She has a baby in a pushchair, she’s dressed in exercise gear and she has loads of food. Manically, she unpacks her trolley and unceremoniously dumps her items onto the belt. She sees me standing behind her and, as I only have three items, she generously offers for me to go before her. 

I admit I am surprised by this uncommon offer. But I graciously thank her and say no worries – I can wait. The supermarket is playing a favourite tune and I’m actually enjoying it, I tell her. 

‘It’s nice to hear somebody isn’t Saturday-stressed’ (lördagsstressad) she mutters bitterly back at me. 

‘Saturday-stressed’ is a term I’ve never heard, I never am and I certainly never intend to be. 

Why do Swedes have a winter sport break? 

Around this time of the year, schools have a week’s holiday. Called Sportlov it’s a traditional time for a winter sport break. 

This tradition was introduced in 1940 and was initially a way to save energy. Heating up schools cost money and, due to rationing, councils were instructed to drastically reduce their heating expenses. To give the pupils something meaningful to do while the school was shut, the authorities organised various activities, many focused on being outdoors and exercising. During the 50’s, experts realised that infection spread less widely at this time of the year if schools were closed for a week. So the winter sport break became cemented and an official disease control method. 

Nowadays, many families head off to the mountains to go skiing, some head off to the Alps for the same purpose.

For those of us left in town, it’s sheer bliss. 

There is hardly anybody on the buses and tube, traffic is significantly thinner and less noisy and it’s easy to get a seat at lunch time. 

And the fact that there are hardly any children in town means the rest of us don’t get infected with kid flu bacteria on our way to work. 

Swedish snow champion!

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Many Swedes are great sport-lovers. And surprisingly for a country with a small population, they’re relatively successful. Right now, winter sports are in focus as Sweden hosts the World Championship in Cross-Country Skiing.

It’s hard to believe when you’re sitting in sunny, un-icy Stockholm that there is any snow elsewhere in the country. But there is and today, Sweden won gold! Popular skier Charlotte Kalla demolished the competition and won a gruelling 10km race in pouring snow. She won with a 41 second margin, which is significant in this sport and she slammed the Norwegians who normally rule the roost in cross-country ski sports.

A glimpse at the current media gives an indication of how important this is to Swedes and what an acheivement it is:

‘GOLD EXTRA! Kalla – a Dream come true!’

‘Kalla’s Gold crush – now she’s the best’

‘Charlotte Kalla’s magnificent gold achievement’

‘Gold! She crushed the opposition!’

‘Kalla crushed the competition at her favourite distance race’

With all this crushing, it’s easy to see that this is huge in Sweden – a victory on home turf – and in that moment Charlotte Kalla just became the nation’s powerhouse sweetheart.

Are Swedes masochists?

A quick look at a definition of ‘Masochistic Personality Disorder’ tells us that it is ‘A pervasive pattern of self-defeating behavior. The person may often avoid or undermine pleasurable experiences, be drawn to situations or relationships in which they will suffer, and prevent others from helping them’.

There are a few characteristics:

– they choose situations that lead to disappointment, failure, or mistreatment even when better options are clearly available
– they respond with depression, guilt, or a behavior that produces pain
– they incite angry or rejecting responses from others and then feel hurt, defeated, or humiliated
– they reject opportunities for pleasure

I don’t know why, but my mind jumps to Saturday nights in February/March. The annual torture known as ‘Melodifestivalen’ is broadcast as Swedes attempt to select the song to represent them at Eurovision. People compulsively throw themselves into their sofas and watch the drivel that spews out in front of them. One piece of questionable music after another. They watch attentively, they vote.

And then they complain. They complain about the overriding bad quality. They complain about the winning songs. They complain about the host’s dress or hairdo. They complain that the best song didn’t get through. They complain about the dance routines. They complain on social media, during brunch and when they’re out on their Sunday walk.

But yet, the following week they’re there again watching the next episode of this 6-week long debacle.

So are Swedes masochists? Hell, yes!!

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Stand up for Swedes

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Last night I went to see a hilariously funny stand up comedian called Al Pitcher. From New Zealand, this fast-thinking, quick-talking ironist talks about his family life in Sweden, what he finds fascinating about Swedes, why he loves them and how they dumbfound him. In his one man show at Rival on Mariatorget, he bounced between naked toddlers to poisonous ticks, from helping old ladies in a Stockholm suburb to his exploits in the isolated regions of Norrland. He even made the town of Flen sound semi-interesting by describing his dancing a jig to Swedish folk music when he was there.

It was a pleasure to spend a couple of hours in the company of Al Pitcher. If you get a chance to see his up-coming shows, I highly recommend it. You can get more information at http://www.alpitcher.se or likewise http://www.alpitcher.com You can also follow him on Facebook.

Swedes – look up!!

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I shared the bus journey this morning with ten other people. Of these ten people, 8 of them had their heads buried in their mobile phones. White headphones on, they were captivated by their little screens. Reading the news, playing a game, updating their statuses was more important than what was going on physically around them.

Outside the sun was shining, the sky was blue and Stockholm looked fantastic. It was a lovely morning, full of energy and light. But these 8 people completely missed it. Think what we all miss when we get sucked into our screens rather than observing the environment around us. Think of the beauty we do not encounter, or the opportunities we miss.

So I’d like to issue a challenge. Next time you’re on the bus, or the tube, or the train – look up! Who knows what you might discover.