Today is UNESCO World Book Day, to celebrate books and promote reading. The 23 April is a significant day as it commemorates the death of many famous writers such as William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega.
Every year a World Book Capital is nominated. The first one, in 2001, was Madrid, Spain. This year it is Guadalajara in Mexico.
So today is a good day to buy a book, or to gift one. If you know anybody who is interested in learning about Sweden, or planning on visiting Sweden, then my guide book is a good match! I published it in 2021.
You can buy it on Amazon, Bokus, Akademibokhandeln and Adlibris amongst other online stores. Sweden, by Neil Shipley, published by Kuperard 2021. You can also buy it straight from the publisher at http://www.culturesmartbooks.co.uk
I still have a few copies left, so if you’d like to buy a signed copy, just let me know!
I was listening to a presentation the other day and the presenter kept saying that he would provide users with a ‘lazy dog’. In Swedish, the expression makes sense, but in English it makes no sense – it means literally a dog that is lazy.
The Swedish word ‘lathund’ or ‘lazy dog’, is the word for a quick reference guide, or a cheat sheet. If you need support to follow a process, for example, you can follow a ‘lazy dog’. It is designed to make life easier and for things to go faster.
The word ‘lazy dog’ has been around in the Swedish language since the 1600’s. However, at that time it was used as an insult to a lazy person – ‘you lazy dog’. In the 1800’s, it changed to its current meaning – but its implication is the same. A person who uses a ‘lathund’ is a person looking for quick fixes and short cuts – in other words ‘lazy’.
I’ll never forget how I learned the Swedish word for money. New in Sweden, I went to see a performance of Cabaret at the National Theatre. The musical was in Swedish but I figured it would be ok as I knew the story line. It was fairly entertaining but, to be honest, a bit boring. Until the song ‘Money makes the world go round’ came on. In this song, there’s a line that goes ‘money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money’. The singers pranced around the stage and sang ‘pengar, pengar, pengar, pengar, pengar, pengar, pengar, pengar’. It was repeated so often that I never forgot the word ‘pengar’ ever again.
However ‘pengar’ is just the formal word for money in Swedish. Like the US has its ‘buck’ and the UK has its ‘quid’, Swedish also has a lot of colloquial words for the Swedish krona (crown). Here are some examples:
Deg – dough – possibly related to putting food on the table in olden days
Lax – literally a salmon – meaning a thousand crowns. In the early 1900’s, the 1000 crown bill was pink.
Röding – literally a char – meaning 500 crowns
Selma – an old word for 20 crowns. The name is taken from the portrait of author Selma Lagerlöf on the 20 crown note.
Pix – meaning crowns
Kosing – cash
Stålar – cash – refers to steel/metal that coins are made of
Kova – cash. The expression ‘kova raha’ was on 1700’s money. This is Finnish for ‘hard money’.
Pluring – cash. Possibly related to the Latin ‘plures’ meaning many. The word ‘pluring’ was originally used to refer to large amounts of money.
Bagis – a crown. From an older word ‘bagare’ which means baker. Referring probably to the original silver coins that were as white as flour.
Spänn – a crown. Probably borrowed from German ‘späne’ which is slang for money, or English ‘spend’.
Flis – money. Flis also means small wood chips, so it may have originated in Swedish to mean small values of money.
I’m sure there are a lot more words! Please feel free to add them here!
Anyone who’s ever been in one of the 350 + IKEAs in the world, has experienced a tiny slice of Sweden.
In the stores, one thing that reflects Swedish and Scandinavian culture is the name of the thousands of products.
What many people don’t know is that there are strict rules for the naming of the merchandise. Fascinatingly, these rules were devised by IKEA’s founder Ingvar Kamprad because he struggled with dyslexia and had trouble remembering the order of numbers in item codes of the inventory.
So what’s the secret? Here are the guidelines:
Bathroom articles = Names of Swedish lakes and bodies of water
Bed textiles = Flowers and plants
Beds, wardrobes, hall furniture = Norwegian place names
Bookcases = Professions, Scandinavian boy’s names
Bowls, vases, candle and candle holders = Swedish place names, adjectives, spices, herbs, fruits and berries
Boxes, wall decoration, pictures and frames, clocks = Swedish slang expressions, Swedish place names
Children’s products = Mammals, birds, adjectives
Desks, chairs and swivel chairs = Scandinavian boy’s names
Fabrics, curtains = Scandinavian girl’s names
Garden furniture = Scandinavian islands
Kitchen accessories = Fish, mushrooms and adjectives
Lighting = Units of measurement, seasons, months, days, shipping and nautical terms, Swedish place names
Rugs = Danish place names
Sofas, armchairs, chairs and dining tables = Swedish place names
There are some exceptions to these rules where the product’s name is a Swedish verb reflecting the function of the item, eg a spice mill called ‘krossa’ (to crush) or a lamp called ‘böja’ (to bend).
Obviously, IKEA’s branders try to vet any words that are offensive locally. And with a few notable exceptions, they seem to succeed. More about this in a later blog.
Despite fear-mongering in the media about the awfulness of Sweden, things are actually going rather well for the country. Or at least that’s what a recent piece of research from Forbes would suggest.
For 11 years Forbes has graded 139 countries on 11 factors: property rights, innovation, taxes, technology, corruption, freedom (personal, trade and monetary), red tape, investor protection and stock market performance.
The aim of this to identify which countries are the best for business investment and business development. In other words, which is the ‘Best Country in the World for Business’
And in the latest results, Sweden has soared to the number 1 position, beating out other EU countries, USA and low cost countries. So, Sweden is the best country in the world for business. This creates jobs, generates income and attracts new talent to the country.
And if we take a look at some of the successful companies to come out of Sweden, it would seem easy to confirm this. The country is home to some of the most well-known brands in the world, including Electrolux, SKF, Ericsson, IKEA and H&M.
Skype was co-founded by Swede Niklas Zennstrom in 2003. Music site SoundCloud and file sharing site Pirate Bay are Swedish too. Tictail and iZettle are both Swedish. Sweden is also the home to companies that created three of the biggest games of this decade: Candy Crush Saga, Battlefield and Minecraft. The 1 billion dollar financial transaction company Klarna is also founded and based in Sweden. Not bad for a country of only 10 million inhabitants.
So this would suggest that Sweden is entrepreneurial and successful. And the constant development of new ideas attracts new investment which will keep the Swedish economy motoring on strongly into the future.
It’s common knowledge that Sweden has one of the world’s best systems for paid leave in connection with the birth of a child – thirteen months parental leave which can be shared between both the parents. The payment received is equivalent to about 80% of salary up to a certain level.
Now, Swedish company Spotify has announced an upgrade to this system for employees working in their company. Parents at Spotify are allowed to take free time, or parental leave, for 6 months at full pay. This is for either parent so is not gender, or role, specific. When the employee returns to work, there is also a ‘welocme back’ month where they can work part-time and from home to ease themselves back into the workplace and from their infant. The great thing about this is that it’s not just Sweden. It’s GLOBALLY! For all employees everywhere in the world.
It’s great to see private organisations taking responsibility for their employees. The government and the tax payer can only do so much, if they even do anything at all. The Head of HR at Spotify says
“This policy best defines who we are as a company, born out of a Swedish culture that places an emphasis on a healthy work-family balance, gender equality and the ability for every parent to spend quality time with the people that matter most in their lives.”
If you are Swedish, I would like some help from you.
I am carrying out some informal research into what Swedes perceive to be the best management qualities and behaviours. There’s a lot of research out there, but a lot of it is old. I’d like to get some contemporary and fresh input. And I need your help.
If you’d like to help me, please answer the following two questions in the comments field below:
1) What do you think are the most important qualities of a good manager?
2) What do you think are the most important behaviours of a good manager (in relation to you and your work)?
Sunny holidays. Weight loss. Healthy eating.
All of the above are currently hot topics in Sweden. Maybe this is not so surprising after the Christmas break, but there is another reason why this is interesting.
Are you familiar with the term ‘glocalization’? The term was made popular in the 90’s by sociologist Roland Robertson and describes the adaptation of a product or service specifically to each locality or culture in which it is sold. The goal of course is to make the product or service more attractive in order to sell more. The method of glocalization is a smart way to meet local needs and at the same time expand business globally. In some ways, it is the opposite of Americanization – which just applies one business model and product wherever in the workd it is. More and more companies are attempting to expand their business in the way of glocalization.
One example of glocalization is the dominant advertizing in a specific region or country. The advertized products or services that most appeal to the locals reflects what the locals perceive as interesting and important. The type and content of the adverts often reflect the attitudes and values of the society. One example I remember is when I was standing on an underground platform in Stockholm a while ago, and I was confronted by huge adverts containing lots of naked backsides, of all shapes, sizes and genders. In the UK, this would probably not occur, but in Sweden, there is a more relaxed attitude to and acceptance of nudity.
Glocalized advertizing is often seasonal. A short glimpse in newspapers, tv, Internet or billboards around Sweden tells us what the locals prioritize at this time of the year – holidays! Almost everywhere you look, there is an advert promoting a sunny break away from the dark and the cold of the Scandinavian winter. The second most common advert at the moment seems to be weight loss -an apparent necessity for getting into that swimsuit on that quickly-approaching sunny holiday.
Another illustration of glocalization is actual adaptation of products. For example, the way in which hamburger chain McDonald’s changes its menu and promotions to appeal to local tastes. In France, for example, they replaced their Ronald McDonald mascot with Asterix the Gaul, a local cartoon character. When in Spain a few years ago, I noticed that McDonald’s had McTapas on their menu. Currently, in Sweden, the food chain is marketing ‘fullkorn’ (wholegrain) burger bread. This clearly appeals to the Swedish consumers’ health interests and the prevailing trend of slow carbohydrates but I’m guessing that they don’t market this kind of bread in, for example, India.
What might we see next if McDonald’s takes glocalization to a Swedish extreme? The festive McSilvia Burger Royale? The homely McTastyMeatballs? The appetizing Mc Filet-of-Herring? or the absolutely delicious McPalt?