Are Swedes Nordic or Scandinavian?

This question seems to confuse people in other parts of the world and the description ‘Nordic’ and ‘Scandinavian’ are often mistakenly used interchangeably.

Simply put, Scandinavia consists of Sweden, Denmark and Norway and is largely a geographical description. The Nordic region seems less clear but is a cultural description and consists of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland. The political organisation The Nordic Council also includes the autonomous territories of Faroe Islands, Greenland and the Åland Islands. So all Scandinavians are Nordic, but not not all Nordic people are Scandinavian.

Then, to confuse things slightly, there are the FennoScandinavian countries which include Scandinavia, Finland and Kerala, but minus Denmark. Then there are the Baltic States which are Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. So, although Sweden is on the Baltic Sea, it is not a Baltic State.

So, in summary, Swedes are Scandinavians, Nordics and FennoScandinavians but not Baltics.

Swedes and their dubious use of the English language

Swedes are generally good at English – but not always. Here are some funny examples people have shared with me:

A Swedish tour guide is on a study visit to an airport in the USA. Suddenly, he points up to the sky and says ‘oh look! A fish moose!’ (Seagull is ‘fiskmås’ in Swedish)

A Swedish visitor in the USA is impressed by the car he is travelling in and says ‘it must be nice to have a fart-controller in the car‘ (speed-control)

A Swedish woman wanted to explain to her English boyfriend why there were so many cars parked along the road side in a woodland area. ‘It’s bear-picking time’ she explained. (Berry)

On a sunny day in May, a conversation was overhead between a pilot and a Swedish air steward over Malmö airport. The pilot wondered what all the fields of yellow were. The steward replied ‘they’re rape fields‘. To which the pilot responded ‘oh you have special fields for that in Sweden?!‘ (it’s better to say rape seed).

A Swede and an Irishman met for the first time. The conversation went like this,

You’re not English are you?’

‘No I’m Irish’

‘Yes I could tell by your R’s’

The Irishman was confused as to how the Swede could tell this by looking at his backside. (Arse = backside in English)

A Swedish man stood at a hot dog stand in Trollhättan and was waiting for some new mashed potato to be made. Another customer arrived, who was not from Sweden. ‘You must wait for the moose’, the Swede informed him.

Two Swedish friends were drinking glögg at Skansen and they were approached by a group of tourists who wondered what they were drinking. ‘It’s warm red wine with Russians in’ said one of the Swedes. (Raisins would be the better word)

A Swedish tourist in a hotel was asked if everything was to their satisfaction. ‘It’s pretty fishy’ replied the tourist to the hotel representative’s confusion. (Pretty fishy means something is untrustworthy. The Swede wanted to say ‘fina fisken’ which means everything is really great).

And one that happened to me. When I was newish in Sweden and met my then mother in law, we were walking in Stockholm. She was telling me about the buildings in the city and she pointed at the city hall with its three crowns on the roof. ‘That’s the city hall’ she said, ‘that building with the three pricks in’. (Prick is dot in Sweden, but means penis in English).

Do you have any funny examples? Please share them with me!

If you liked this post, please share it!

Swedish Life Balance

It’s said that Swedes have an enviable work life balance and this festive season has been no exception.

Similar to many countries, Christmas and New Year are both bank holidays in Sweden. Similar to a few countries, today – 6 January – is also a bank holiday. In Sweden it’s called ‘Trettondag jul’ which translates as ’13th day of Christmas’. In other places, it’s known as Kings’ day, Day of the three magi, or epiphany.

Biblically it signifies the arrival of the three wise men and the baptism of Jesus. Secularly, it means another day off for most people.

In Sweden, it is the official end of the Christmas season, although the Christmas tree and decorations might stay up for a little longer.

This festive season has been a great opportunity for time off. By taking only 6 days’ holiday, workers have been able to be off for two and a half weeks.

A strong belief in work life balance is behind this. In general, Swedes work really hard and are dedicated. Coupled with the darkness at this time of the year, many people are exhausted by the time Christmas comes around. A long break is seen as a necessary way to recharge batteries, and regain motivation.

There’s a great Swedish word that you frequently hear after these long breaks – a person might describe themselves as ‘utvilad‘. This translates as ‘thoroughly rested’, and is essential to survive the long, dark winter season.

Who 20 Swedish airports should be named after

Naming airports after individuals is common – for example Paris’ Charles de Gaulle, or New York’s JFK or Liverpool’s John Lennon airports. But not in Sweden. No naming commercial airports after celebrities here. Who the hell do you think you are?

In Sweden, it is tradition to name commercial airports after the location they are in – so Stockholm is called ‘Arlanda’, Gothenburg is called ‘Landvetter’ and Malmö includes the village of ‘Sturup’.

There was loose talk about changing Stockholm Arlanda to Alfred Nobel, but the idea didn’t fly. So, I thought, who could the airports be named after? There are about 38 airports in Sweden – here is my name list for 20 of them:

  1. Stockholm – ABBA Airport
  2. Gothenburg – Ace of Base Airport
  3. Malmö – Zlatan Ibrahimovic Airport
  4. Linköping – Louise Hoffsten Airport
  5. Nyköping Skavsta – Tess Merkel Airport
  6. Östersund Åre – Henrik Lundqvist Airport
  7. Ängelholm – Jill Johnson Airport
  8. Borlänge – Mando Diao Airport
  9. Västerås – Tomas Tranströmer Airport
  10. Jönköping – Dag Hammarskjöld Airport
  11. Växjö – Vilhelm Moberg Airport
  12. Hemavan – Anja Pärson Airport
  13. Ronneby – Viktor Balck Airport
  14. Örebro – Prince Daniel Airport
  15. Karlstad – Selma Lagerlöf Airport
  16. Kristianstad – Axel Anderberg Airport
  17. Skellefteå – Stieg Larsson Airport
  18. Halmstad – Gyllene Tider Airport
  19. Visby – Josefin Nilsson Airport
  20. Umeå – Eva Dahlgren Airport

Sweden through the 2010’s – a retrospective

The Guardian newspaper describes the 2010’s as ‘The Age of Perpetual Crisis – a decade that disrupted everything but resolved nothing.’

Looking internationally it’s easy to see this. But is it the case in Sweden? Partially yes, but everything wasn’t bad.

Here’s a look back at the second decade of the century and a chance to remember some of the good and bad things that happened during 2010-2019 – in Sweden.

2010 – Crown Princess Victoria marries Daniel Westling, her former personal trainer. The last öre coin (50 öre) disappears from circulation. A suicide bomber blows himself up in central Stockholm – with no other casualties. Sweden accuses Julian Assange of rape, and issues an international arrest warrant.

2011 – Håkan Juholt replaces Mona Sahlin as leader of the Social Democrats, but it is very short-lived – he resigns a few months later. Over 50,000 people emigrate from Sweden – the largest ever exodus (as a percentage) in the country’s history.

2012 – Friends Arena opens in Solna and becomes Sweden’s national arena hosting 75,000 people. Loreen wins Eurovision with the popular song ‘Euphoria’ in Baku. Princess Estelle is born and thereby secures the future of the Swedish monarchy. Swedish Candy Crush Saga took the gaming world by storm.

2013 – Riots occur in Stockholm suburb Husby with at least 100 cars set on fire. A train derails outside Stockholm (Saltsjöbanan) and crashes into an apartment building. The man bun trend kicks off. The ABBA museum opens and quickly becomes a popular tourist attraction in Stockholm.

2014 – 80,000 refugees come to Sweden and one person sets fire to himself outside the Migration office in Karlstad. Suspected Russian u-boat in Stockholm’s archipelago. In a general election, sitting Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt loses to Stefan Löfven.

2015 – Måns Zelmerlöw wins Eurovision with ‘Heroes’. A rare earthquake occurs outside Gothenburg. Unrelated knife attacks in a school in Trollhättan and an IKEA in Västerås. Henning Mankell, author of the Wallander books, passes away. Passport control is introduced at Sweden’s bridge border to Denmark in an attempt to stem illegal immigration.

2016 – Swedish actress Alicia Wikander wins an Oscar for The Danish Girl. Singer Josefin Nilsson dies from the aftermath of domestic abuse. Sweden goes Pokemon crazy. A massive snow storm disables the capital. Henrik Stenson becomes the first male Swedish golfer to win the Open. The expensive and heavily-criticised New Karolinska hospital finally opens and receives its first patients.

2017 – Sweden’s population reaches 10,000,000. A terrorist attack on Stockholm’s main shopping street, Drottninggatan, kills 7 and scars the nation for ever. The MeToo movement sweeps over Sweden.

2018 – Sex scandal in the Swedish Academy with the consequence of many members resigning and no Nobel prize for literature being decided. Journalist Kim Wall is murdered in a submarine in Copenhagen. Using a mobile and driving at the same time becomes illegal. Swedish DJ Avicii commits suicide. Swedish legend Lill Babs dies. Massive forest fires devour Sweden.

2019 – 16 year old environmental activist Greta Thunberg sails the Atlantic, speaks at the UN and is named Person of the Year by Time magazine. The King makes symbolic changes to the Royal court. American rapper ASAP Rocky is arrested in Stockholm for assault. Sweden is rocked by a series of shootings and bombings throughout the country. Swedish Democrats become the second largest party in opinion polls. Swedes become more climate aware – the number of electric-driven cars increases and the amount of meat consumption decreases.

What sticks in your memory from the decade gone by?

Guardian article

Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar – Dec 24: Kalle Anka

Thank you for reading Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar. Today, we have come to the end. In Sweden, Christmas Eve, 24 December, is the big day for presents, food and festivities.

So here is the final word: Kalle Anka. This is the Swedish name for Donald Duck – a Disney character with a strong, and unexpected, connection to Swedish Christmas.

Traditional Christmas celebrations on Christmas Eve in Sweden get off to a slow start usually. It all begins with a Christmas breakfast, consisting of rice porridge, wort bread, ham and Christmas cheese, amongst other things. After breakfast, some people go for a walk, some go to church, others begin the preparation for the Christmas julbord.

When to eat julbord differs from family to family. For some, it’s at lunch time, for others it more towards late afternoon. One surprising time marker is Kalle Anka (Donald Duck).

Every Christmas Eve since 1960, the Disney show ‘From All of Us to All of You’ featuring Donald Duck and his friends has been broadcasted on Swedish television. Always at 3pm. Every single year. A very weird tradition for someone like me who grew up listening to the Queen’s speech on Christmas Day at 3pm. In the UK we have the Queen. In Sweden, Donald Duck.

So the discussion in Swedish homes is ‘should we eat before or after Kalle?’.

Today, Kalle Anka is watched as a sentimental tradition, or as background noise on Christmas Eve. But in the 1960’s when it began, it was the only time of the year that cartoons were shown on tv, so it was a Christmas treat. Since it’s been broadcast for almost 60 years, it is an integral part of what many Swedes associate with Christmas.

After Kalle Anka och julbord, it’s time for a visit from Tomten with gift-giving. This is followed usually by more food and drink. Some people conclude the day with a Midnight service at their local church.

Christmas is, like many places around the world, a time of overconsumption. Enormous amounts of food are left over and eaten during the following days. In Sweden, Christmas Day and Boxing Day are both Public holidays – and the official end of Christmas is January 13th. Then it is time to traditionally throw out the Christmas tree. The lights in the windows have usually disappeared by February.

And as the daylight slowly returns to Sweden, people start planning for lighter and warmer time of the year. And Christmas fades into memory…until next December.

Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar – Dec 23: Dan före dopparedagen

Welcome to the Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar. Every day, I will open a window containing a Swedish word that has something to do with Christmas and its approaching weeks.

Today’s word is ‘Dan före dopparedan‘ – which translates somewhat curiously as the day before dipping day. Or, the day before Christmas.

I always thought that the name ‘dopparedan’ (dipping day) for Christmas Eve was somehow a reference to John the Baptist.

But I was wrong.

It actually comes from the old Swedish tradition of dipping and drenching bread in the stock juices in which the ham has cooked, and eating it. This traditional practice was called dopp i grytan and originated in agricultural communities. People dipped their bread as a little snack while they made final preparations for the celebrations later in the evening. Some people still do this today.

Because Christmas Eve was called ‘dopparedagen’, the 23rd Dec became known as ‘dan före dopparedagen’ – the day before the day of dipping bread.

Today’s ‘dan före dopparedan’ is more to do with making the final stressful arrangements for tomorrow. Final baking is done, last-minute Christmas presents are bought, a visit to Systembolaget (alcohol shop) is made.

And then, darkness and calmness descends over houses and homes all around the country. The evening before Christmas Eve is called ‘uppersittarkväll’ and Swedish families traditionally gather to wrap presents, play tv bingo, play games and write Christmas present rhymes. It is also the evening when traditionally people put up final decorations and dress the Christmas tree, although this happens earlier for many families.

Once everything is finalized, hopefully there is a moment of relaxation to be had with a glass of warm glögg and a pepparkaka.

And then, it’s time to head off to bed in anticipation for the big day tomorrow – dipping day!