Sweden’s Easter Art Drive


Soon it’s Easter break with 4 lovely days off for most of us. In Sweden, this is a time that many people go out to their country houses or travel abroad to warmer climes. If you’re still in Sweden, and looking for something to do, one suggestion is to head south to the county of Skåne, and the region within Skåne called Österlen. Every year, over Easter, this area hosts an Easter Art Drive, or ‘Open Studios Week’ where you can travel around and get a rare glimpse into the homes and studios of working artists.

This event started in 1968, when a few artists decided to open their studios to the public. Within six years, this had expanded to well over 60 artists welcoming people directly in to their places of work. Most of the artistic fields are represented – sculptors, painters, textile artists, glassblowers, silversmiths, ceramic artists, printmakers, handcraftsmen, wood and computer artists.

It is a fantastic experience. Driving through the beautiful Swedish countryside between villages, wandering amongst the studios built from renovated barns, drinking coffee in the temporarily opened out buildings and hen houses.  The artists themselves are usually there and it is easy to engage in conversation about their work and their inspiration. Everything is for sale, so you can also leave Easter week with a unique and reasonably-priced piece of art under your arm.

For more information, check out http://www.oskg.nu/english

Sweden Lesson 2: getting off a bus


You’re on a bus and you wish to disembark. You are however blocked by somebody sitting next to you, or standing. How do you get off the bus?

Two stops ahead of your preferred stop, start indicating with your body that you might want to soon make a move. Move your knees towards the other person, shift your weight to one buttock. As you approach your required stop, make a demonstrative move to press the stop button and hope that they see this. If they do not start to move, turn your body directly towards them. Look at the side of their heads. Under no circumstances speak to the person. Just look at them. If they still do not move, start to rise slightly in your seat. As they move out of the way, push quickly past them. Avoid eye contact. Do not say thank you. If they do not move, as an absolute last resort, say ‘ursäkta’. The person will then move. Do not make eye contact. Do not say thank you.

Cleaning up the Swedish language


Every year, SAOL, the Swedish Academy Ordlista (word list), is published. This list includes new additions to the Swedish language and removes or updates old words that are no longer in use. 2015’s list is due to be released next month, and this time, the Academy have made suggestions that clean up the Swedish language by suggesting that we do not use offensive and controversial words. 

Instead of ‘neger’ (nigger), they are suggesting Swedes say ‘black’

Instead of ‘Lapp’, they are recommeding ‘Same’

Instead of ‘zigenare’ (gypsy), they are suggesting ‘Roma’

For me, this is a no-brainer. It is extraordinarily old-fashioned and offensive to continue to use the three listed words above.  I would hope in 2015 that we had come further than this. There are people who will defend the use of these words by saying that they have the right to use what vocabulary they want. Of course, they are correct. That’s called freedom of speech. But having the right to do something doesn’t mean doing it. If by exercising my right I am violating or oppressing others, then I would suggest we make other choices. 

The sound of the city


Often when we travel, we return with stories of food, climate, people. But one of the things that strikes me when I’m abroad is sound. Each city, each place, seems to have its own sound identity. I love sitting in the evenings looking out over cityscapes and drinking in the melodies of the night. In Stockholm, there is the hum of boats or of water lapping gently against shores, wind blowing through trees. In Bangkok it’s the sound of the tuk-tuks and the tinkle of chimes. In Delhi it’s the distant voices from temples and markets and all night traffic. In New York, it’s the hum of traffic and people, the buzzing of neon lights and the scream of emergency vehicles. Here in Nairobi, where I am today, it’s the sound of traffic interspersed with drum beats and wailing music.  Distant voices carrying through the night full of woeful stories. 

As I sit and listen, I experience another layer of the city, another layer of the culture. With full respect to food and climate, it’s the sound of the city that rules the night. 

Associations of Sweden in Kenya

Sitting on the plane to Nairobi today, the Kenyan woman next to me asked where I had come from. ‘Stockholm’ I answered. ‘Oh, Germany’ she said. ”No. Sweden’ I said. ‘Yowww’ (or something similar) she said ‘it’s snowy there. I’ve never seen snow. The closest I got was the time my freezer needed defrosting”. 

Later in the taxi, ‘where you from?’ ‘Sweden’.  ‘Oh a little country of people who think they’re big’. 

Even later in the hotel bar. ‘Where you from?’ ‘Sweden’. ‘Aahh, Zlatan!!!!’ 

Associations of Sweden in Kenya. 

Segregation in Sweden – us and them

residential segregation

When I was in the UK a few weeks ago, somebody told me that he follows Swedish news and politics with interest. He talked about how he always held Sweden up to be a good example of a humane society and how it seemed like the Swedes had succeeded – especially when compared to the UK. But the rapid rise of the right, and the increasing racism in Swedish society concerned him, and the increasing segregation between people was a disappointment. He saw Sweden as a society based on equality, but it was proving to be otherwise.

A disappointment. That was the word he used. Sweden is a disappointment.

According to DN’s recent study presented today, segregation has been increasing in Sweden during the last 20 years. Rich areas get richer and more ‘Swedish’. And the less fortunate areas, often where ethnic minorities lives, get poorer.

On average, 46  percent of all immigrants in Stockholm have immigrants as their nearest 400 neighbours. This can be compared to 24 percent of Stockholmers with Swedish background who have immigrants as their nearest 400 neighbours. In other words, the so-called ‘segregration differential’ is 22 percent (46-22). In 1991, this differential was 14 percent in Stockholm, so the segregration in the capital city has almost doubled over this period.

In Sweden’s other two largest cities, Gothenburg and Malmö, the segregation differential has gone, in the same period of time, from 14 to 25 percent and 16 to 22 percent respectively.

The Southern town of Kristianstad can ‘boast’ the fastest change in segregation – since 1991, segregation has increased from 6 percent to 27 percent. ould it be a coincidence that Sweden’s right wing political party have a stronghold in this area of the country? I think not.

But is this necessarily a bad thing? Well, like everything, it depends on the perspective that you take. Looking at it negatively, with increased immigration, there is a real risk that society cannot keep up – accomodation isn’t built quickly enough, schools are not able to take in children, health systems do not have the capicity to process larger numbers. And with this lack of ability to handle increased pressure, society develops even more into a ‘haves’ and have nots’ and segregation increases.

But from a positive perspective, there are clear benefits for minority groups to live together with others who already have a  foot in Swedish society. Immigrants who are already integrated can help minimise a feeling of total isolation, can help with with work contacts, social issues, language and knowledge about Swedish culture.

This is obviously a complicated issue. And it’s an issue that’s not going away. Immigration is inevitable for a country like Sweden. Apart from the humanitarian perspective, Sweden needs new citizens to pay tax and support the social welfare systems.

It seems like the continuing challenge for Sweden isn’t immigration – it’s integration. And if we also are disappointed with the way politicians handle it, it’s up to us to act.

Swedish sunflowers


Sunflowers might not be the first thing you think of when you think of Sweden. But at this time of year, the place is full of them. Well, not really sunflowers per se, but a type of sunflower.

The fantastic thing about sunflowers, apart from their brash yellow colour and the flocks of butterflies that they attract, is the way in which they move. Their big, open faces look up at the sky, reaching for the light, and when the sun is out the sunflower moves its face to follow the its path across the sky. They really enjoy soaking up the rays of light and the warmth that the sun provides. It’s a fantastic sight to behold as you drive through the countryside in France or Italy.

But we’re not in France or Italy, we’re in Sweden. So what has this got to do with Sweden then?

Well, Swedes are like sunflowers.

Confused? Let me explain.

After a long, dark, cold winter, Spring eventually arrives.  This year, it seemed to arrive early. This week, temperatures soared to 14 degrees celcius, the sky was blue and people hit the streets and the parks. Everybody emerged from their winter hybernation.

They sat on park benches, on blankets, on window ledges, outside restaurants, on balconies. They leaned up against sunny walls. And as they sat there, they lifted their faces, just like sunflowers, to face the sun and to feel the warming rays of light on their pale wintery skin. Sometimes people just stopped randomly on street corners and lifted their faces up to the sun, eyes closed, to soak up the light.

So you see, Swedish sunflowers are the Swedes themselves. And you’d be hard pushed to find a more sun-worshipping, thankful population at this time of the year.

90 km on skis – a yearly Swedish challenge

Today, the world’s longest cross country ski race takes place in the county of Darlana in Sweden.  Called Vasaloppet, it entails participants skiing 90 kilometers from start to finish. It’s an extremely popular race, which can take up to 12 hours to complete, and which is broadcast live on tv. When tickets to participate are released, they sell out in 15 minutes – it’s that popular. 

The first Vasalopp was in 1922 and takes place annually, the first Sunday in March. It’s an amazing sight to watch, as more than 15000 mad skiers glide along, the swishing sound of ski on snow filling the air. The person who has completed the race fastest is Jörgen Brink, who in 2012 won the race in just over 3 hours 40 minutes. 

So why is this race called the Vasalopp? Well, it is to commemorate the escape to Norway through Darlana of King Gustav Vasa in 1521. Legend has it that he skied, but experts believe he more likely completed this escape on snow shoes. 

Modern day skiers don’t see the experience as an escape, they see it as a challenge and a rite of passage. 

And as you sit watching the TV comfortably from the sofa, with tea and toast, you take vicarious pride in their crazy achievement. 

Swedish umbrella etiquette 

In three words, it’s easy to describe Swedish umbrella etiquette. 

There. Is. None. 

If it’s not bad enough to get bashed into when walking down the street on a normal day, it’s worse when it’s raining. Armadas of umbrella-wielding Swedes emerge. And you walk along the street at your peril. 

Just a word of advice. If your umbrella is eye height for other people, then please tilt your brolly as you walk past them. The likelihood that you will poke out somebody’s eye is seriously reduced with this simple action. 

It’s sensible. It’s respectful. It’s safe. 

And it’s etiquette.