Book recommendation – how to adapt to Swedish culture

I have just finished reading Mustafa Panshiri’s 2021 book ‘7 Råd Till Mustafa’. If you understand Swedish, I strongly recommend you read it.

Mustafa Panshiri came to Sweden as a child from Afghanistan. In his book, he cleverly weaves his own experience of integration with seven pieces of advice he wishes he would have been given. This makes the book not only interesting to read, but very practical and useful. He has an non ‘Western-centric’ perspective which I found fascinating to read about and reflect over.

Aimed at readers who want to understand Swedish culture, and integrate into society, the book is also relevant to Swedes. Panshiri includes sections with advice to ‘Svenssons’.

Integration is a complex issue and Mustafa Panshiri does not claim to solve all of the problems. However, with this book, and his endless youth outreach work, he will clearly make a difference.

The book can be bought on line and at good book shops.

Provocative Swedish artist is killed

On Sunday, Lars Vilks, a controversial Swedish artist was killed in a car crash on a motorway in Sweden. Police are investigating the death for suspicious circumstances. It seems as if a tire exploded causing his car to break the central barrier and crash head on into an oncoming lorry. In the vehicle with him were two policemen – his protection.

Lars Vilks had 24-hour police protection as he was living under a fatwa issued by al Qaida. The price on his head was 100,000 USD and an extra 150, 000 if the perpetrator slit his throat.

The fatwa was a response to a series of drawings that Lars Vilks produced in 2007 in a local art show. His pictures depicted the prophet Muhammad, something that is considered blasphemous in anti-iconic Islamic tradition. To create double impact, Vilks depicted the prophet as a so-called ‘roundabout dog’ – a type of street art in Sweden. Depicting the prophet as a dog was deemed extra offensive. It caused such a local and international response that some newspapers in Sweden printed some of his drawings in articles about freedom of speech – causing even more fury.

The whole Lars Vilks case generated huge debate around issues of freedom of speech, respect, art, censorship, religious influence and terror. Throughout the years, he was the victim of many attacks and murder attempts, including bombing and arson.

The catalyst for Vilks’ work was the ‘Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy’ which began after the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 editorial cartoons in 2005. Most of the pictures showed Muhammad. The newspaper announced that this was a debate about criticism of Islam and self-censorship. Muslim groups in Denmark complained, and the issue eventually led to protests around the world, including violent demonstrations, deaths and riots in some Muslim countries.

Vilks saw the specific response to his cartoons as part of the artwork itself. All of the consequences, all the reactions, all of the outrage and all of the violence was an integral part of the art, and a political comment. By that definition, even this blog has become a part of the artwork.

One can, however, wonder if he thought it was worth it in the end.

Lars Vilks was 75 when he died, and he produced a great deal of other work during the decades. He was always conceptual and often controversial and the debate he contributed to will continue long after his death.

Swedish attitudes to birth control

Today, 26 September, is World Contraception Day, which hopes to spread the word and raise awareness about contraception and safe sex. The aim is to help each new generation of adults make informed decisions until every pregnancy in the world is a planned one.

Contraception is Sweden is widely accepted, as there is little or no religious or social stigma around the subject of birth control. Over 90% of women have used some form of contraception in their life time. Common forms of ‘female’ birth control are the pill, the coil and hormone rings. The condom is also very commonly used.

Like in many other countries, the pill was seen as a vehicle for sexual liberation of women in the 1960’s. However, today, it is used less frequently in Sweden than in other neighboring countries as emphasis has been placed more on its negative side effects. Approximately one third of women in Sweden regularly use this type of contraception.

Contraceptive counseling is free in Sweden, although contraceptives themselves are not. You need a prescription, except for condoms and emergency contraception, such as the morning after pill, which are sold over the counter.

Controlling unwanted childbirth has been successful in Sweden, although there is still work to be done. According to the Swedish Statistics Center, 512 children were born to teenage mothers in 2020. Compare this to 6,198 children born to the same age group in 1973.

The Swedish priest who refuses to marry heterosexuals


Swedish priest, Lars Gårdefeldt, is taking a stand against discrimination in the Swedish church. Since 2009, same sex couples have been legally allowed to marry within the relatively-liberal Church of Sweden.

However, there is a loophole. Priests are not obliged to marry a couple if they have conscientious objections to the union. Under this rule, clergy can turn away same-sex couples if they are morally opposed.

Lars Gårdefeldt sees this as bigoted and discriminatory. In response, he is refusing to marry opposite-sex couples. He says that if some priests can turn away same-sex couples, then he, by the same reasoning, can turn away heterosexuals.

He is regretful that he needs to carry out this action, but he wants to highlight the reprehensibility of the situation. He believes the only way forward is that the loophole is removed and that the Church of Sweden does not recruit anti-gay priests in the future.

On social media, Lars Gårdefeldt has been met by positive comments and a fair amount of criticism. Some of the negative comments, unsurprisingly, are hateful and extremely offensive.

Heterosexuals who feel violated by his decision are experiencing exclusion for perhaps the first time. Maybe, if they could take a step back from their own outrage, and reflect on how that feels, they could use this experience to understand what it is like to be on the receiving end of discrimination. Maybe they can empathize with minority groups who have to navigate discrimination their entire lives.

To quote Lars Gårdefeldt, maybe they could actually realise ’the absurdity of refusing marriage to two consulting adults.’

Sweden: the spiritual magic of ‘joiking’

We have all experienced moments of beauty in our lives. One of mine is something I experienced on a trip to the North of Sweden in an town called Hemavan.

The resort we stayed at had a restaurant at the bottom of a ski slope. One day when we were in there, a Sami man climbed up onto the small stage and began to sing an enchanting song. He was dressed in traditional blue and red Sami dress, and through the large windows behind him we could see reindeer high up in the snowy landscape.

It is a beautiful, serene image that is forever etched in my mind.

A contributing factor to the impact this had on me is how the man was singing. In fact, he wasn’t singing, he was ‘joiking ’. What, you might wonder, is joiking ?

Joiking is not a song as such, but a melodic sound that is integral to Sami culture. It is used to express relationships to people and nature. Traditionally, joiks have no lyrics, consisting of chanting, not unlike that found in some Northern American Indigenous cultures. They can also include mimicry of animal sounds.

Like in the restaurant, joiks are often performed for entertainment. However, they can also have a spiritual function. In past times, a noaidi (Sami shaman) could perform joik whilst beating on a Sami drum with bones to contact the spiritual world.

In Sami culture, most people are given their own melody, like a signature tune. This leads to the Sami saying that they are “joiking someone” rather than “joiking about someone”. Most joik melodies are about people, but also animals and places can have their own joiks. Animal joiks are often about wolves, reindeer, or birds such as ducks.

During the Christianization of the Sami from the 1700s onwards, joiking was considered sinful and was banned. But it survived and today is included as a frequent part of Swedish cultural events. Most recently, a Sami artist was televised joiking in a celebration of Crown Princess Victoria’s birthday in July.

If you’d like to experience some traditional and modern joiking, check out the links below. You will be captured by its melancholy and immediately transported to the mountains and plains of northern Sweden.

After snaps cometh headache

This time of the year is the traditional crayfish party in Sweden. These small red crustaceans are usually eaten with Västerbottens cheese pie. Of course, crayfish parties don’t have to involve alcohol, but the traditional approach is to wash it all down with copious amounts of snaps and beer.

Throughout the years, I’ve been to my fair share of crayfish parties. I was at one last night. The bon ami, the snaps songs, the silly paper hats and the noisy, messy slurping make it, for me, one of the best festivities in the Swedish calendar.

One thing is certain though. The day after a crayfish party, one feels a little….delicate. After snaps cometh headache.

A snaps is a small glass of ‘burnt wine’ – or brännvin in Swedish. Brännvin is a spirit distilled from potatoes or grain with a high alcohol contented at least 37.5%. So it is not the same as a shot! It can be plain and colourless, or flavoured with herbs and spices. Brännvin includes vodka and akvavit, but akvavit is always flavoured with caraway and dill.

Brännvin has been in Sweden since around the late 1400’s and is an integral part of Swedish custom. It has been given many different names throughout history. Some synonyms are: ‘eldvatten’ (fire water), ‘jodlarsaft’ (yodel juice), ‘hojtarolja’ (shouting oil), ‘polarvätska’ (polar liquid), and ’spånken’ (originating in the Latin and Greek word for mushroom – spongia).

If you’re ever here, you should try it. But take it carefully!

My Essential Guide to Sweden

In 2020, I was approached by the publishers behind the respected Culture Smart series to see if I would write a book about Swedish culture. I accepted and, finally, it is here! I am proud to join their staff of authors! Available soon to buy on Amazon, or via me. Just pm me if you’d like a copy. Today’s a good day!!!

The immigrant as burden. A Swedish masterclass in scapegoating.

The leader of the Swedish Moderate party aims to win the next election. To do this, he is taking further steps to the right to appeal to the conservative and nationalistic trend that is currently sweeping the country. It is his only way to grab the power he so desperately craves. This little man, with big ambition. In his most recent speech, he said that ‘immigration has become a burden for Sweden’.

What he really means is that immigrants have become a burden. Human beings. He isn’t talking about immigrants like his three adopted daughters from China. Oh no, they are raised as ‘proper Swedes’.

He isn’t either talking about white, privileged European immigrants like myself. Oh no, he’s referring to dark-skinned people, many who have had to fight for their survival, and who come to this country with nothing. According to him, it is these people of colour that are dragging the country down.

That is what he means. Make no mistake.

Racism, nationalism and fear are rapidly on the rise in Sweden, fueled by the lies of politicians like this man. His facts are wrong and his rhetoric exaggerated. Immigration is actually at an all time low in Sweden. The country currently has the strictest immigration laws it has ever had. But still this man and these ideas are gaining traction.

His party, and his right-wing lackies, supported by the media, have succeeded in associating Sweden’s current ills with immigrants: economic imbalance, crime, security. ‘Immigrant as criminal’ is not a new argument, it is a successful argument that echoes from our not-so-distant European history. It doesn’t seem to matter that it’s misleading and incorrect.

We humans seem to always want a scapegoat. This concept comes from the Bible’s Leviticus, in which a goat is designated to be cast out into the desert to carry away the sins of the community. Scapegoating can be traced as far back as the 24th century BC. We think we are so advanced in Sweden but we are not. We still fall for the lies of charismatic politicians and we still look for easy scapegoats. Blaming all the immigrants is the predictable option. A casebook example.

On Facebook, there is a group called ‘Nysvenskar i Sverige’ (New Swedes in Sweden). I urge you to join it. It is a refreshing counterbalance to the veiled xenophobia in main stream media and politics. The group is full of people who have moved to Sweden and who are telling their stories. Each person demonstrates how they are an asset to this country, and far from a burden on society. They work, they pay taxes to the Swedish state and they contribute. They end their texts with ‘I am not a burden’.

There are also Swedish-born people in the group. One person called Anna writes this:

I am plus 40 and was born in Sweden to Swedish parents. I have previously been unemployed for 6 months, I have been on sick leave due to cancer, several times. I have used the health care system to its max. I have three kids, all in state subsidized school. We receive parental benefit. Need I go on? NO!

I do not have to prove that I am a burden on society. Why should I also have to prove I am an asset? No. A handful of people have the need to call people a burden. We are ALL a ‘burden’ more than once in our lives. It is the blend of everything that makes us people. Nationality has nothing to do with how you are as a human. Those who think otherwise should educate themselves and go out into the world. Sincerely, A Human. Who happened to be born in Sweden.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Please share this post. Please join the FB group. Please make your voice heard.

The longest Swedish word

A Swedish word you often hear this time of year is ‘högsommartemperaturer’. You hear it on the tv, radio, and read it in the newspapers. Literally translated, it means ‘high summer temperatures’. It is used in weather forecasts to describe the hot sunny days and evenings that we experience this time of year.

This is also a great example of Swedish language structure. Putting separate words together, in this case ‘hög’, ‘sommar’ and ‘temperaturer’ to form a longer word. This is one of the reasons why Swedish words often seem inscrutable to the foreign eye. It also means that Swedish words can sometimes get very long.

According to the Guinness Book of Records, the longest Swedish word is:

‘Nordösterssjökustartilleriflygspaningssimulatoranläggningsmaterielunderhållsuppföljningssystemdiskussionsinläggningsförberedelsearbetensplanering‘.

Scary to read, huh? Well, try saying it. It translates as something like “Coast artillery flight searching simulator area material maintaining follow-up system discussion preparation tasks planning of the Northern Baltic Sea”. Still doesn’t really make sense even when separated into individual words!

By the way, did you know that the fear of long words is called ‘hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia’? Now that’s ironic isn’t it?

Plastic Sweden

Today, July 3rd, is International Plastic Bag Free Day. Plastic pollution is a man-made global catastrophe. Around 500 billion plastic bags are used on a global scale – most of them littering the planet and having a negative effect on the environment, wildlife and human health. Plastic bags can take up to 500 years before they decay properly.

A staggering 300 million tons of plastic are produced every year. At least 8 million tons of this ends up in the sea every year. Scientists estimate that more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic are currently floating in our oceans.

International Plastic Bag Free Day was introduced to encourage people to choose paper over plastic, to go on plastic bag scavenging outings and to recycle.

In Sweden, in May 2020, a tax was added to plastic bags in shops. After 8 months, the statistics showed a reduced consumption from 83 bags per person to 55. The EU goal is to reduce this number to 40 by 2025.

In November this year, Sweden will introduce additional tax to plastics intended for one-time use, such as food containers and mugs. In 2024, there will also be a total ban on cups and containers that contain more than 10% plastic.

So, think about anything small you can do to help today. Take a bag with you to the shop. Take a mug to your local cafe. Don’t put your fruit and veg in a plastic bag at the supermarket. Cook at home, don’t buy take away. Reuse. Recycle.