The colourful Swedish Easter tree

With Easter approaching, Swedes start pimping their homes. Yellow table cloths, yellow curtains and yellow tulips are common, as is something called a ‘påskris’. Pronounced ‘poskrees’, this is a Swedish Easter tree.

The Easter tree is a bunch of twigs and sticks (usually birch) in a vase with brightly coloured feathers attached to the ends. Some people also hang decorated eggs, colourful ribbons or festive chickens. The Easter tree can be seen all over the country this time of year. Outside shop entrances, in peoples’ living rooms, outdoors in the neighbours’ gardens. It is a very popular decoration, probably because it brings colour at a time of the year when most flowers haven’t yet bloomed in Sweden.

The Easter tree is an interesting cultural phenomena. In fact, all products of a society are. This is because they originate somewhere and, often, we have forgotten the origin but still maintain the product or behaviour.

What’s the origin and symbolism of the Easter tree then?

Well, some Swedes say that it symbolises the wiping away of the winter. The twigs represent a broom and the feathers get caught in the broom as we sweep.

Others say that it represents witchcraft. The twigs represent a witch’s broomstick and the feathers indicate flight. This could also be why Swedish kids dress up as witches at Easter and do a kind of ‘trick or treating’ for Easter eggs.

But, apparently the Easter tree has a completely different origin and symbolism. It dates from the 1600’s. Swedish people at this time were more pious, and used to take twigs and sticks and beat each other with on Good Friday – to commemorate the suffering of Jesus. In the 1800’s and 1900’s, they started to be decorated and became a symbolic decoration for Easter.

So, wiping, witching or whipping. Who would have thought the colourful Easter tree would have such a colourful history?

’Svennigt’ – what’s that?

The word ‘’svennigt’ is a slang term to refer to the typical, middle of the road Swede. Derived from the common surname Svensson, ‘svennig’ describes the lifestyle preferences and attitudes of the mainstream Swede.

Depending on the intention, the word ‘’svennig’ can be used endearingly, or even proudly, to refer to the ‘typical Swede’ or the typical Swedish. It can also be used as an insult. I often hear the word, laced with contempt, to undermine or criticize other people’s behaviours and choices. There is a definite class element to the term, where ‘svennigt’ implies lack of sophistication.

In American English, the closest comparison is ‘Average Joe’. In British English, there’s no real equivalent but ‘Joe Bloggs’ comes closest. However, in both of these, there is no element of ridicule, and they aren’t used as an insult; they are used just to describe an average person in the population.

Since ‘svennigt’ can have many different interpretations, I went onto social media and carried out some informal research. I asked people what was ‘svennigt’ for them. My hope was to get closer to an understanding. While there were some overlaps, I received a lot of differing inputs – positive, negative, and neutral. Most of the people who answered were themselves Swedish. Here are some of the perspectives:

Barbecuing

Being afraid of conflict but still whingeing

Being politically correct, but harbouring other opinions under the surface

Binge drinking at the weekends

Bingolotto

Consensus

Eating pickled herring at every national celebration

Eating Salty licorice

Eating TexMex on a Friday evening

Going to ‘After work’ on Fridays

Going to Golden Hits nightclub

Going on holiday in a Caravan/ Trailer

Going to the Canary Islands

Having a ‘Poodle’ hair-do

Liking Swedish dance band music

Loving the singer Carola and wondering why she hasn’t succeeded internationally

Open society

Playing car bingo

Quoting and laughing at lines from Swedish film Sällskapsresan

Reading Camilla Läckberg, author of crime fiction

Saying the vague, non-committal words ‘Jaha’ and ‘Nja’ when you actually disagree

Shopping at Ullared

Sweet loaves of bread

Talking about the weather

Talking about what is ‘typically Swedish’

Taking Löfbergs Lila coffee och Kalles kaviar fish paste when you travel abroad

Watching Lets dance/Strictly Dancing

Watching Melody festival

Watching TV4

Wearing Crocs

Wearing matching tracksuits

Wearing clogs

Working 9-5 and saying ‘Thank God it’s Friday’ at the end of the week

Worrying what other people think

As you see, these descriptions are very wide-ranging. It seems hard to nail down one particular attribute, attitude or behaviour that makes somebody ‘svennig’; it depends very much on the perception. Being ‘svennig’ is in the eye of the beholder. That said, judging by the responses above, it seems like we are all a bit ‘svennig’ now and again.

Please share this article and feel free to add your perspective on it.

Unpronounceable Swedish words: Corona version

Lots of new Swedish words have popped up during the virus crisis – new, or not commonly used. Some of these words are seriously long! And many of them are a major challenge for us foreigners to pronounce! Try getting your tongue around some of these words…

Fjärrundervisningsmöjligheter – possibility to deliver distance teaching

Folkhälsomyndigheten – Public Health Agency

Riskgruppsbeskyddande beteende – behaviour that protects those in risk groups

Ryktesspridning – the spreading of rumors

Samhällskritiska funktioner – key functions in society

Skyddsutrustning – protective equipment

Smittbärarpenning – social benefit for virus carriers

Smittskydd – disease control

Socialstyrelsen – the National Board of Health and Welfare

Statsepidemiolog – chief epidemiologist

Verksamhetskritiska resor – business-critical trips

But it doesn’t apply to me, right?

Out walking today, I passed through one of Stockholm’s biggest building sites – the Slussen renovation. As I approached, I saw a guard in a reflective vest and holding a red flag. He was stopping pedestrians from getting through, as the construction company was blasting into the rock to make a service tunnel. And he waved at me and told me to wait.

It was going to take 10 minutes to safely blast, so I stepped to the side and stood in the sun to warm my face. And waited.

From behind me, a middle-aged man approaches the guard and asks what was happening. The guard informs him of the on-going blasting. ‘But I need to get through’ the man says. ‘You’ll have to wait’ says the guard. ‘I can’t wait, this is very inconvenient’, the man replies. ‘You have to’ says the guard. The man folds his arms, and scowls in silence.

A few minutes later a young woman arrives. She walks right past the waiting crowd that has now formed. She approaches the guard. ‘I have to get through’. ‘You have to wait’ says the guard. ‘No I can’t do that, let me through’ replies the woman. ‘It is not safe’ answers the guard, ‘they are blasting and it is dangerous to walk past’. ‘I’ll be quick’ says the woman. ‘No,’ responds the guard, ‘you have to wait’.

Two minutes later, a voice on the guard’s walkie-talkie allows us to continue through. The middle-aged man stomps off, the young woman doesn’t move – swiping her mobile.

It often seems to me that some people have a hard time accepting instructions. Even if there are signs, or barriers or even a guard with a red flag, they seem to think they are not affected by it. Because they are in a hurry or it is inconvenient. It’s like saying ‘Yes, I understand, but it doesn’t apply to me, right?’

Might these be the same type of people who, despite strong recommendations from the government, nevertheless squeeze into public transport, hang close together in restaurants and still plan to travel away for Easter?

Just wondering….

When we DIE

A somewhat insensitive title in these times you might think and you might be right. Or not, once you understand what I mean.

You see I am not referring to death, but to a strategy that we all can apply to make our lives less stressful. It’s a strategy used commonly in intercultural situations, but has much more far-reaching applications.

I’ve spent my life trying to be an accepting and open person – to the best of my ability. I truly believe in live and let live. I try to see other people’s perspectives and have trained myself to look for an explanation behind behavior I might not understand. My choice of career in cultural competence and communication is a way to try and spread the word of tolerance and acceptance.

But recently I find myself becoming less tolerant. I find myself condemning the actions of people who do not follow the government regulations around corona protection. I find myself becoming irate at the ‘egoistic morons’ who are traveling to a ski resort over Easter. I don’t understand why they can’t be more self sacrificing and not prioritize their holiday over the greater good. I see an elderly person in the supermarket and think ‘wtf, why isn’t she at home, the old fool’. I think, in general, people are ‘stupid’ if they take the bus or sit too close to each other, or do anything that I judge to be wrong.

It isn’t untypical that we judge people and their behaviour. We hear it all the time – not least in social media. And I think in times of crisis or stress, we become even more judgmental and, even, moralistic. In these situations it would be good to DIE!

DIE is a strategy developed by cultural researcher Milton Bennett to help us mindfully withhold judgement. It stands for Describe, Interpret, Evaluate. Let’s apply it to one of the scenarios above.

D – describe the scenario as neutrally as you can. Ok, I saw an old lady in a supermarket buying food. She was carrying a small basket. She was not at home.

I – interpret – what are the various reasons why this might have happened and why she isn’t staying at home? Ok, she doesn’t have a tv and is unaware. She has short term memory loss. She is so sick she doesn’t care. She doesn’t trust anybody else. She is lonely. She has previously been tricked out of money. She has already had corona and recovered.

E – evaluate – what do you think of the situation now?

DIE is not a strategy that gives us any answers. However, it is a strategy that helps us to see the perspectives of others and remind us that we don’t understand everybody’s motives. It encourages us to stop negatively judging others, and instead to be more reflective.

Using DIE encourages us to foster self awareness of our assumptions and be more tolerant and accepting. And heaven knows the world needs more of that!

So the next time you find yourself judging or jumping to a conclusion – try to DIE the situation instead.

Oh those healthy Swedes!

With all of us currently questioning our health statuses at the first sniffle, Swedish sickness words like ‘sjuk’, ‘dålig’ and ’krasslig’ abound. So, I thought I’d flip the perspective. How many ways in Swedish can you describe someone as being in good health? I found 20! Can you think of any more? Please let me know and I’ll add them to the list. Enjoy the positivity of the words below, and stay healthy!

Bra – Good/well

‘En sund själ i en sund kropp’ – ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’

Frisk – healthy

‘Frisk som en nötkärna’ – literally healthy as the core of a nut, equivalent to ’healthy as a horse’

Hurtig – spry

Hurtfrisk – hearty

I bra form – in good shape

Kraftfull – vigorous

Kry – well

Kärnfrisk – healthy to the core

Pigg – bright /fit

‘Pigg som en mört’ – literally fit as a roach, equivalent to ’fit as a fiddle’

Rosig – rosy

Sund – robust

Stark – strong

Stråla – glow

Vid hälsa – in good health

Vital – vital, full of life

Välmående – healthy

Vältränad – fit

I have been given a new one by Lukus: ‘ vid sunda vätskor’ – literally translates as ‘in healthy fluids’ – dating back to the time when medicine was based on the four humours (body fluids): blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. Yuck.

Some more to add from Mia – ’i topp form’ – in great shape and ‘tipp topp’ – ship shape. Then Mia adds ’mår fina fisken’. Literally this translates as ‘feeling pretty fishy’ but that would be the wrong meaning! It means ‘to feel super good!’

And Pelle suggested I add ‘finemang’ which means great/excellent!

Fredrik suggested ‘prima’ and ‘mår toppen’ – both words describe how you are feeling. Feeling great!

Sweden under attack

I put out a picture of my local cafe yesterday and got the reaction from a friend in Germany ‘what!? Are cafes still open?! Everything’s closed here!’ It seems like most places in the world are on lock down. But not in Sweden yet. The Swedish authorities have chosen another route, and are being attacked for it from the international community.

Media in the UK and USA are calling Sweden’s approach ‘Russian roulette’ with the lives of the population. One neighbouring country said Sweden is making its worst decision throughout history. Italian press have said it’s beyond comprehension why Sweden doesn’t follow the way that Italy has gone.

In Sweden there is no lock down, or curfew. It seems like the government want to protect the nation – without totally destroying the economy. Restaurants and cafes are open. Shops are open. Schools are open. However, sport and cultural events have been cancelled, theatres and cinemas are closed, as are sports centres, swimming pools, many work places, some museums, universities and colleges. Sweden’s largest gym chain was closed, and has now reopened. Meeting in groups of more 50 people is illegal.

I’m not here to defend or criticize Sweden’s approach. I am not a doctor or a virus expert, and I am certainly not an epidemiologist. However, as a citizen, I am obliged to follow the recommendations put forward by the authorities:

Work from home if you can, avoid large groups, stand two meters away from other people, socially distance yourself, limit your movement, wash your hands and crucially – stay home if you show the slightest symptom: cough, sniffle, temperature, sneezing.

It seems like many people are following these recommendations, but some are not. For me, it’s about individual responsibility for yourself and the collective. If we all follow the recommendations now, the quicker it will be over. Makes sense, right?

But some people still crowd into public transport, or sit on busy restaurant terraces. Some old folks, the most at-risk in our community, still mingle amongst people and still go shopping. The ski resorts are still open, but not the after ski. With Easter approaching, swarms of people will descend upon these resorts. God forbid that they should miss out on their holiday.

Experts believe this is of little consequence as the virus already exists in society and cannot be eradicated. They are focusing instead on flattening the curve and not on preventing the spread of the virus. They are ramping up health care services and trying to delay the inflow of patients needing care. It seems like it is a question of when, rather than if, we all get infected. The vast majority of people will not be affected with more than mild flu-like symptoms. The main concern at the moment is our elderly. They need to stay home, and many aren’t. How the Government will approach this is the next big question.

When all this is over, we can look back and judge. Whose approach was the best?

With the benefit of hindsight, we might see that Sweden did the right thing, lives were saved and the economy survived.

Or we might see that not enforcing a lock down was the most devastating decision Sweden ever made.