Sweden’s Las Vegas on the Baltic Sea

Did you know that Sweden was once a great political power? The Swedish Empire exercised control over the Baltic region for over 100 years. The beginning of the Empire is usually taken as the reign of King Gustav Adolf in 1611, and the end as the loss of territories in 1721 following the Great Northern War. Sweden had control of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Denmark, Norway and parts of Germany. It is rumoured in Swedish history that King Gustav Adolf had an ambition to make the Baltic Sea a large lake inside Sweden.

This was all a very long time ago, and today things don’t look quite the same for Sweden. Today, the most common boats that travel over the Baltic Sea are ferries and cruise ships. These huge ships traffic, amongst other destinations, Stockholm, Helsinki, Åbo, Åland, Visby, Riga, Gdansk, Rostock and Tallinn. Today, they are not for invading Swedes but mostly for multinational tax-free shopping, city breaks, partying, cruising, transporting goods and touristing.

The specific party boats between Sweden and Finland are a Swedish classic. They are also a special case – they are a kind of ‘booze cruise’ and are an interesting study in how many varying levels of intoxication there are. It’s hard to say who wins the competition in being most drunk and going berserk – the Swedes or the Finns – but both nations give it a good attempt. These boats are notorious locations for partying and, like Las Vegas, what happens on the ferry stays on the ferry. It’s a fascinating sight to witness.

The boats have various well-used bars, nightclubs, cabaret lounges with tacky stage performances, a mix of good to production-line restaurants, basic and luxury cabins, spa, poker tables, slot machines, karaoke, bingo and tax free shopping. Everything is ambitiously designed to give passengers a fun night or two at sea.

You don’t have to party like crazy to travel these boats however. Lots of families, couples and calm groups of friends use the boats as transportation or as cruises and mini breaks. With an upgrade, you can experience nicer restaurants and better cabins. The view out of the window is also very pretty as the boats glide gently through the thousands of islands in the archipelago and out into the open sea.

So, whether you’re looking for beautiful scenery, a sociological study of the Swedes and the Finns, or wanting a wet party night, then jump on a cruise ship from Stockholm and venture out onto the Baltic Sea.

Swedes and their alcohol – a Swedish odyssey?

When visiting Sweden, people are often struck by the system for purchasing alcohol. In bars and restaurants everything goes as expected but if you want to buy a bottle of, for example, wine or whisky then this is done in the state-owned alcohol shops known as Systembolaget. These shops have restricted opening hours closing at 6 or 7pm on weekdays and 2 or 3pm on Saturdays. On Sundays and Public Holidays they are closed.

Sweden’s alcohol monopoly started in the 1800’s and the national company Systembolaget was formed in 1955.

Systembolaget has a retail network of circa 426 stores, around 25 in Stockholm. The company has an interesting mandate from the Swedish state – to help limit the medical and social harm caused by alcohol and thereby improve public health. This explains why access to alcohol is restricted through the number of stores, opening hours and retail rules, and why the corporation is aims not to maximise its profit. In other words, the alcohol monopoly is highly socio-political -its foremost aim is to stop people consuming alcohol, or at least to consume it responsibly.

Although strange for many visitors, it’s a concept that seems to work – Swedes consume on average 9.1 litres of pure alcohol per person annually, less than many other countries.

However, it is at times like Christmas that the restricted opening times become more obvious. This year, the shops are closed for 4 days from yesterday at 3pm. Up and down the country, long queues were reported. I saw this with my own eyes, and had a weird recollection of old pictures from the Second World War or Soviet Russia. People seemed to be in a good mood while they waited, though it meant waiting for almost an hour outside some branches.

I guess it’s the price you pay for lack of forward planning. Anyway, I hope everybody got what they wanted and that they have a boozy, woozy, snoozy Christmas worth queuing for.

Sweden’s longest night

winter solstice

Today, Friday Dec 21st is the longest night for people in Sweden and the rest of the northern hemisphere. At this time of year, it doesn’t get much darker than this. In Swedish, there’s an expression – now we’re moving towards brighter times – and it’s really relevant today, as from tomorrow the amount of daylight will gradually extend until June.

The winter solstice is the official start of astronomical winter, and this year it will be extra special. The winter solstice marks the exact moment each year when the Northern Hemisphere reaches its greatest possible tilt away from the sun, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It signals the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and the summer season in the Southern Hemisphere.

But this year, the solstice isn’t the only celestial show in the coming days. A full moon known as the Cold Moon will take place on Saturday. The moon will appear full for a few days. However, it is the first time it coincides with the winter solstice since 2010. It won’t occur again until 2094, by which time most of us will be dead. In addition to the full moon, a meteor shower will take place on Friday and Saturday nights, according to NASA.

So it might be dark and dreary outside, but look up to the sky. You might just witness something spectacular – and I don’t mean Santa and his sleigh.

Sweden’s most horrifying and thought-provoking monument

On the main square in the western Swedish town of Karlstad, there is a statue. A striking statue. A significant statue. A statue that was once voted the ugliest statue in the country.

The statue represents a strident woman holding a broken sword, with her left foot placed firmly on the decapitated head of a ghoulish soldier. It’s fairly gruesome. And it certainly has impact. But the message might surprise you.

Raised in 1955, the statue is actually a peace monument which commemorates the dissolution of the union between Sweden and Norway in 1905. Previously, the two countries were unified under the same monarch, and their separation could have led to bitter and bloody conflicts but it didn’t. It was carried out peacefully and paved the way for long-term cooperation between the two neighboring nations.

The statue has many nicknames amongst the town’s locals – ‘the old bitch with the wash paddle”, ”horror woman’ and ‘monument of horrors’.

Even if you find the statue unnerving, there’s no denying that it’s inscription is poignant. Using clever Swedish alliteration, the message reads:

Feuds feed folk hatred, peace promotes people’s understanding”

If you’re ever in the area, the monument is worth a look. She is a powerful representation of a significant moment in the history of Sweden and of Scandinavia.

50 Swedish words for snow

Last year, I published this list of words for snow and I thought since the snow has arrived in most of Sweden, it’s worth sharing the list again.

Not surprisingly when living in a country where it snows a lot, people start to see differences and nuances in the type of snow, whereas in English the word might just be an unsatisfactory ‘snow’. The Swedish language makes it easy to join words together to describe these nuances.

Here is a list of 50 Swedish words related to snow.

1) Blötsnö – wet, slushy snow
2) Drivsnö – snow that is blown into troublesome snow drifts
3) Aprilsnö – snow in April, according to suspicion signifies plenty of food for the coming season
4) Hårdsnö – compacted hard snow
5) Konstsnö – artificial snow
6) Kramsnö – squeezy snow, perfect for making snowballs
7) Julesnö – snow at Christmas
8) Klabbsnö – wet, warm snow for building snowmen
9) Kolsyresnö – frozen carbondioxide
10) Kornsnö – small white snow breadcrumbs
11) Lappvante – thick, falling snow
12) Lössnö – snow that can loosen and be dangerous
13) Majsnö – surprising and unwelcome snow in May
14) Modd – snow that has partly melted due to salt
15) Natursnö – real snow (as opposed to artificial)
16) Nysnö – fresh snow, crisp and white
17) Pudersnö – powder snow
18) Rekordsnö – an unusual amount of snow, breaking previous snow records
19) Slask – slushy snow mixed with rain and dirt on the ground
20) Snö – snow
21) Snöblandat regn – snow mixed with rain
22) Muohta – the Sami word for snow (it is said the Sami actually have 200 words for snow!)
23) Snörök – faint particles of snow that look like smoke
24) Yrsnö – snow being whipped around by the wind in all directions
25) Åsksnö – snow that pours down during a thunder storm

26) Snökanon – a sudden blast of snow that suddenly hits a place, and feels like snow has been dumped on you

27) Jungfrusnö – virgin snow

28) Snösmocka – a huge amount of snow

29) Snötäcke – snow on the ground

30) Sjösnö – snow over the sea that can roll in over land

31) Snöfall – snow in the air

32) Flingsnö – snow with larger crystals

33) Skarsnö – a crispy surface on a blanket of snow

34) Packsnö – thickly packed snow

35) Pärlsnö – snow like small pearls that hurts when it hits your face

36) Snöglopp – wet snow mixed with rain

37) Spårsnö – snow that allows footprints to be formed

38) Fjöcksnö – a light, fluffy snow

39) Flister – snow the consistency of salt that stings the face when it falls

40) Flaksnö – a sheet of snow

41) Upplega – snow on the upper side of a tree branch

42) Firn – liquid-like snow that can initiate an avalanche

43) Fimmel – sandy snow that falls at low temperatures

44) Själja – a thin layer of ice on top of the snow that resembles glass

45) Knarrsnö – crispy snow that creaks when you walk on it

46) Snöfyk – wet snow

47) Torrsnö – dry snow

48) Månsilver – a poetic word to describe the dusting of snow

49) Snöis – snow on cold water that forms an icy solid surface

50) Stöp – a mixture of snow and ice resembling porridge that forms on top of cold water

So, let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

Let the light in – Lucia morning in Sweden

A Chinese proverb says this,

‘It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness’.

Never was this more true than today. Lucia day. At the darkest time of the year, when we all are drained by the black mornings and afternoons in Sweden, Lucia pays us a visit. With candles in her hair and surrounded by her handmaidens and boys in a procession, Lucia shines light into the dark depths of our spirits. And slowly, slowly, the day awakens.

I love Lucia. Long live Lucia!

Lucia traditions are celebrated in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Italy, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Malta, Bosnia, Bavaria, Croatia, Slovakia and St. Lucia, West Indies. But where does she come from and why is she one of the few Saint’s days celebrated in Sweden?

Santa Lucia is believed to have been a Sicilian saint who suffered a martyr’s death in Syracuse, Sicily around AD 310. She was seeking help for her mother’s long-term illness at the shrine of Saint Agnes, in her native Sicily, when an angel appeared to her in a dream beside the shrine. As a result of this, Lucia became a devout Christian and refused to compromise her virginity in marriage. Officials threatened to drag her off to a brothel if she did not renounce her Christian beliefs, but were unable to move her, even with a thousand men and fifty oxen pulling. So they stacked materials for a fire around her instead and set light to it, but she would not stop speaking. One of the soldiers stuck a spear through her throat to stop her, but to no effect. Soon afterwards, the Roman consulate in charge was hauled off to Rome on charges of theft from the state and beheaded. Lucia was able to die only when she was given the Christian sacrement.

The tradition of Santa Lucia is said to have been brough to Sweden via Italian merchants and the idea of lighting up the dark appealed so much that the tradition remained. The current tradition of having a white-dressed woman with candles in her hair appearing on the morning of the Lucia day started in the area around Lake Vänern in the late 18th century and spread slowly to other parts of the country during the 19th century.

The modern tradition of having public processions in the Swedish cities started in 1927 when a newspaper in Stockholm elected an official Lucia for Stockholm that year. The initiative was then followed around the country through the local press. Today most cities in Sweden appoint a Lucia every year. Schools elect a Lucia and her maids among the students. The regional Lucias will visit shopping malls, old people’s homes and churches, singing and handing out gingerbread.

So, it might be cold and dark outside, but inside it’s light. And the light is always stronger than the darkness. Keep your light lit, and you will never feel the darkness.

Groan-worthy Swedish humour in the city of Gothenburg

Humour is one of the things that often doesn’t translate too well interculturally. Sarcastic, ironic humour is one example – which can be perceived as rude by other cultures. The British style of self-deprecating humour is often seen as incomprehensible by others who take it literally.

But the biggest type of humour that doesn’t translate is the pun. Because it is language based, it simply doesn’t translate linguistically.

In Sweden, the west coast city of Gothenburg is known for its puns. The humour is based on witty plays with words, the more groan-worthy the better. In English, we refer to these as Dad jokes – pun-filled quips that make every child’s eyes roll and every father’s heart fill with pride and accomplishment. No matter how bad they are, these jokes always manage to get at least a chuckle out of us. Maybe deep down we actually think they’re funny, or maybe we just love to see our dads smile because they made us laugh. Here are a couple of Gothenburg jokes, which simply don’t translate…

Which country has the cheapest meat?’

‘Ko-rea’ (Cow sale)

‘What noise comes out of a court?’

‘Rättsväsendet’ (Word for judicial system, but also translates as justice hiss’)

So, as these didn’t translate. Let me present you with some of the best English dad jokes that would make any Gothenburger proud.

1. ‘Why don’t crabs give to charity?’

‘Because they’re shellfish’

2. ‘I got hit in the head with a can of Diet Coke today. But don’t worry, it was a soft drink.’

3. ‘A ham sandwich walks into a bar. Sorry, says the bar tender, we don’t serve food here.’

4. ‘How do you make an octopus laugh?’

‘With ten tickles’

5. ‘My wife asked me to sync her phone. So I threw it in the ocean.’

And my own dad’s favourite joke that he used to say every time we went past a cemetery –

‘You know that’s the dead centre of town. People are dying to get in there.’

Do you know any Gothenburg puns? Please share them!