Sweden’s fickle weather Gods

aprilväder

Living in a country with such distinct seasons, the subject of the weather is always up for discussion. In Sweden, there is a concept known as ‘aprilväder’ or April weather. This term describes the unpredictability and fickleness of the Nordic weather gods in the month of April.

Just in the few minutes I have been sitting here looking out of my window, the sun has been shining, it has snowed, the sun has shone again, it has clouded over and got windy and then snowed again. A week ago it was around 15 degrees celsius. Now it’s around 4.

April is often a frustrating month for Swedes.

Periods of sunny, warming weather tantalise the nation and lull them into a false sense of security. Once people have put away their winter coats and folded their thick jumpers up onto the top shelf, the snow hits again and ice forms on roads. Cars with their summer tires slip and slide along and people in their short, thin spring jackets freeze, get a cold and have to call sick in to work.

You’d think we’d be used to it by now. But no. It seems to be an annual phenomenon. Maybe it’s a reflection of that most human of emotions – hope. Every year we hope that the spring has finally arrived. And usually those hopes are dashed in a flurry of snow and a plummet of the themometer.

And as I sit here and look out, it has started snowing yet again. The warm weather seems very far away.

But hope lives on and I console myself that with every snowflake that falls, we are one snowflake closer to Spring!

Swedish farts

Infart

One of the fun things about learning a foreign language are the words that are rude, or funny in your own language. Swedish has a few of them: slut, kräpp, plopp, kock. But the funniest one is probably the most purile; it is the ever prevailing ‘fart’, especially when you see it on street signs. This is the word that has most visitors to Sweden holding their sides with laughter.

Even after all these years, I can still have a little giggle when I think about the word ‘fart’ and its various usages in Swedish. In Swedish, ‘fart’ can mean a lot of things such as speed, drive, route, pace, spirit, vivacity, rate. But it is when it is put together with another word that it becomes amusing. Childish, I know…but here we go…

  1. utfart – ‘out fart’ – exit from a building
  2. uppfart – ‘up fart’ – driveway
  3. infart – ‘in fart’ (sounds painful) – entrance
  4. avfart – ‘of fart’ – exit from a motorway
  5. framfart – ‘forward fart’ (quite an accomplishment) – progress
  6. fartkamera – ‘fart camera’ (didn’t know these existed) – speed camera
  7. kringfart – ‘circular fart’ (also sounds painful) – causeway
  8. fartfylld -‘full of fart’ (know a few people like that) – speedy
  9. krypfart – ‘crawl fart’ – crawl
  10. luftfart – ‘air fart’ (the worst) – air travel
  11. fartrand – ‘fart stripe’ – go faster stripe on a car
  12. maxfart -‘maximum fart’ – top speed
  13. farthållare – ‘fart holder’ (dangerous) – cruise control
  14. blixtfart – ‘flash fart’ – flash speed
  15. fjärrfart -‘distant fart’ – transocean traffic
  16. halvfart – ‘half fart’ – half speed
  17. snigelfart – ‘snail fart’ – snail speed

And the one that they are currently building in Stockholm and which is written about in the media.

It’s the worst one of them all – the förbifart – the ‘passing fart’.

Or the ring road, if you prefer.

 

 

Why I am so proud to be watching the Swedes


A young woman with a pushchair walks past me and pins a pink rose onto the wire fence. She stops a moment to reflect, clearly taken by the gravity of the moment. A middle-aged couple huddle together holding tightly onto their teenage son. A woman wearing a hijab gently puts a consoling hand on a crying stranger’s shoulder as she passes silently by. 

There are tens of thousands of people gathered here on Sergel’s Torg Plaza in Stockholm but the noise level is subdued. A respectful silence hangs in the air. The sun is high and shines down on us on this, the warmest day of the year so far. 

A few meters from here, 48 hours ago, 4 people lost their lives in a terrorist attack, and many more were injured. Amongst the murdered victims were a Belgian tourist, a British man living in Stockholm and two Swedes, one of which was a 11 year old girl on her way home from school. 

Today, Stockholmers are gathered in a ‘Love manifestation’ vigil to pay their respects to the victims and their families. The place is packed with people of all ethnic, religious, political and social backgrounds. But today none of this matters, they are united as one. 

I have never been more proud to be watching the Swedes as I am at this moment. When faced with a national trauma, what do these people do? Do they meet it with fear? No, they meet it with love. It is almost palpable at this moment. And with their love, they beat terrorism. 

Minutes after the terrorist attack, the hashtag #openstockholm appeared on which people opened their hearts to each other. They offered sanctuary, support, a sofa for the night, a lift home, food to anyone who needed it. They responded with love, not fear. 

The day after, they went in their droves to the location of the attack and attached flowers to a fence and lit candles. They hugged emergency workers and covered a police car with flowers to show their gratitude. They responded with love, not fear. 

And today, they came in their tens of thousands to show that they are not afraid. They listened to inspirational speeches and moving music. They took back the streets and they did it with love, not fear. 

I’ve spent many years writing about these people – the Swedes. I write sometimes in despair, sometimes in frustration but often with fondness and humor. But today I write with pride. An immense pride. 

As I linked arms with a stranger, an old white-haired lady, and participated in a one-minute silence, I felt inspirited. I was a part of something larger than myself. I don’t know what it was, but it was significant: a meaningful moment in Sweden’s history that will affect the national psyche for a long time to come. 

One of the speakers at the vigil encouraged people to continue to open their hearts and their doors. Showing solidarity and keeping Stockholm an open city is a priority. But this is something we can only achieve if we do it together. 

The final quote of the vigil summed everything up. A quote from Martin Luther King – 

Darkness can not drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’



Terror on the streets of Stockholm 


At 2.30pm yesterday, a masked man stole a delivery truck from outside of a restaurant. The delivery man tried to stop the thief by standing in front of his truck.  However, the thief pushed over the driver, picked up speed and proceeded to drive zig zag down Stockholm’s main pedestrian shopping street, ploughing into people as he went. The truck’s final destination was one of Sweden’s largest department stores, into which it smashed in a billowing cloud of smoke. 

Like everybody else I was really shaken up by this act of violence.  I, and my nearest and dearest, were all in safety and my phone rang and beeped frenetically as we contacted and reassured each other. 

Stories reached me about friends being locked into their offices or hiding out in shops and restaurants. The streets were awash with armed police, and the whole city was shut down within 20 minutes – trains, buses and the underground were all stopped and roads were cordoned off as residents and tourists were rapidly ushered out of the city center. 

In the midst of the chaos, Stockholmers reached out to each other in support. People opened their homes to provide sanctuary to each other, cafes provided food and beverages, social media was flooded with people offering to help and offering protection. In this emergency, love prevailed – which was moving and heart-warming. I myself was in a gym, and the doors were locked. The staff went straight to action providing us with support and offering food and drink and unscheduled training classes for those who wanted a distraction. 

The latest news at time of writing this blog is that 4 people and 1 dog were killed, and 15 seriously injured. The driver has been arrested.  Another person is in custody believed to have some connection to the driver. Border control has been tightened up and there are still disturbances in local traffic. 

Stockholm now joins the long line of cities such as London, Berlin, St Petersburg, Paris and Nice, who have suffered under terrorist attack. 

No matter who is responsible for this act of violence, be it an organisation or an individual, we must never give into them.  The nature of terrorism is to spread fear by using intentionally indiscriminate acts of violence. It’s its indiscriminate approach that makes it difficult to predict and we are often powerless to influence it. Therefore we should do what we do best – not bow down to it but stand up and keep going. It is by living our lives in our open, democratic societies that we win.

I sincerely hope that Stockholm does not become a fearful, suspicious, closed city. This place that I love is a target because of its freedom and that is a freedom we should protect by continuing to live our lives. 

Terror will never win. It is designed to exploit our human fear. It is the ultimate act of intimidation. We must not let it win. My heart goes out to the victims and their families. Yesterday, we showed love to each other. Let’s continue to do that. We do not need more hate. 

We must prevail. 

Segregation on a Swedish school bus

school bus

In Sweden, the school system contains many independant schools run with a specific focus such as music, sport, art or specific religions. They should all follow the national curriculum and, in the case of religious schools, they should teach but not preach.

Yesterday, it was revealed that a Stockholm junior school with an islamic orientation has been segregating children on the school bus – boys go through the front entrance and sit at the front, girls go in the rear entrance and sit at the back of the bus. The headmaster of the school has claimed to be unaware of this. This act of segregation has caused a hot debate in Sweden about the ‘islamifying of Sweden’, ‘gender apartheid’ and comments such as it being ‘unSwedish’.

The Swedish Schools Inspectorate are planning on investigating the school further to see if any other ‘undemocratic activities’ are taking place. The Inspectorate has previously allowed segregated classrooms and gender-separated sport lessons.

What can we learn from this?

When this kind of occurance happens in society, it is a great opportunity to reflect on what we learn from it. What is our immediate reaction when we hear examples like this?

  • Do we run straight to the barracades and start defending our cultural heritage?
  • Do we condemn the occurance as, for example, undemocratic or unacceptable?
  • Do we weigh up the pros and cons and try to arrive at a balanced conclusion?
  • Do we think people are allowed to do whatever they want, so anything goes?

All of these are perfectly normal reactions, and one is not better than the other. Obviously, we react in different ways.

I think that these occurances in society provide us with a great opportunity to discuss intercultural competence. Being interculturally competent is generally defined as having an open mindset and the cultural sensitivity to see different perspectives so that one is able to flexibly adapt ones behaviours accordingly. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s about accepting that anything is ok. Intercultural competence can also mean balancing up the various perspectives and standing up for what one thinks is acceptable.

Intercultural competence differs significantly from racism and nationalism. Racism and nationalism focus on others being of lower value than myself or the place I come from. Intercultural competence is about accepting everybody’s perspectives are equally as valid – no matter how tough they are and even if I personally don’t agree with some of them.

So how do we arrive at this place of understanding that all perspectives are equally as valid? We can ask ourselves a simple, but complex, question:

‘What do they think is good about segregating boys and girls on a school bus?’

If we can arrive at the answer(s) to that question, we are becoming more interculturally aware and more interculturally competent. We are seeing the situation from their perspective and not only our own. We are presuming they have a good reason, from their perspective, for their behaviour, rather than immediately judging or condemning it.

Once we have reflected over that, we can decide what we personally think. Does it change our point of view? Can we accept their behaviour more easily? Or does it make me hold my view even more stongly? In that situation, we can say something like:

‘I understand why you think it’s good to segregate boys and girls. I understand your perspective. However, I disagree with it. And here in Sweden, we believe in equal treatment of all regardless of their gender, which is why that behaviour is not something we as a society can accept.’

Compared this to the more reactionary ‘the Islamists are trying to take over Sweden!’ and ‘this country is going down the drain’, you see how the ability to perspectives-take creates a more open, less fearful debate.

It is my belief that if we approach occurances like this in a more interculturally competent way, and try to perspectives-take, we can create a society built on mutual understanding and respect for prevailing values rather than a society built on fear and suspicion.

And that has to be a good thing moving forward, doesn’t it?

 

 

 

 

Top ten English words originally from Swedish

moped

As we all know, language is organic and we constantly borrow and interchange words between languages. The word kiosk is for example originally Turkish, restaurant is French, gnu is African Knoisan and alcohol is Arabic.

But what words has Sweden contributed with that have been adpoted into English, and even into other languages?

Well, there are a few…

  1. Moped – comes from ‘trampcykel med motor och pedaler’
  2. Smorgasbord – from the Swedish ‘smörgåsbord’ meaning buffet
  3. Gravlax – from the Swedish ‘gravad lax’ meaning cured salmon
  4. Ombudsman – a Swedish word meaning representative
  5. Orienteering – from Sweden’s ‘orientering’
  6. Tungsten – Heavy stone in Swedish
  7. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday – ok, technically Norse but partially Sweden!
  8. To glean – from the Swedish dialectal verb ‘att glena’
  9. Gauntlet – from Sweden’s ‘gatlopp’
  10. Canoodle – debated, but likely to be from Sweden’s word for fornicate – ‘knulla’

This list is probably incomplete. Any other words you would like to add?