Singing Swedes – the phenomenon of the choir

Choir singing is an an extremely popular pastime in Sweden. In fact, it’s a bit of a national movement with an estimated 600,000 people singing in a choir. That’s around 17% of the population. I myself sing in a choir and I’d say it’s a challenging but cathartic hobby.

Why is choir singing so common in Sweden? Maybe it’s a nice indoor distraction to have during the long dark winter nights? Maybe it appeals to the Swedish collectivist spirit? Maybe it springs from a long history of hymns, folk songs, drinking songs and contemporary music?

Whatever the reason, it’s very popular! And it’s a brilliant way to make Swedish friends!

The oldest still-active choir in Sweden is said to be the church choir of Ytterlännäs with its almost 200 year history. The oldest academic choir is Allmänna Sången from Uppsala University with 160 years on record. Stockholm’s Gay Choir is not only the oldest gay choir in Sweden, but in Europe – founded in 1982.

According to the Choir Society, the average age of a choir singer in Sweden is 56.6 years. So it doesn’t seem to be a pastime for youngsters once they’ve left school. Part of the challenge for many choirs is the process of rejuvenation as more young people are needed to bolster the aging ranks and its harder to attract them. Choirs with specific focuses seem to find it easier to attract fresh blood – such as Stockholm’s Indie Choir, where the waiting list to get in is long.

One of the most well-known specific choirs in Sweden is, not surprisingly, the ABBA choir. Dressed in ABBA outfits they sing, well, ABBA songs at ABBA tributes. And they love it!

In Sweden, choir song is also a popular way to bring people together, such as in integration choirs. Established Swedes meet newly arrived people and they sing together. The Östersund choir ‘The Rocking Pots’ is a great example of this.

Which town in Sweden has the most choirs do you think? Well according to the statistics, the town of Sundsvall seems to have the most song birds!

Choir festivals are also popular, bringing together choirs from within Sweden and around the world.

One example of this is the upcoming choir festival ‘Queertune’ which on 27-29 September 2019 brings together 14 LGBTQI choirs from Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland.

If you’re interested in listening to the concerts, go to the website http://www.queertune.se to read all about it.

If you’re tempted to join a choir, a good place to look is http://www.sverigeskorforbund.se

Check it out and see what’s available where you live.

So join the Swedes and get singing!

When Sweden lays down the law

The international spotlight has been shone on Sweden’s judicial system in recent weeks. An American rapper is currently being held in custody on suspected physical assault. The President of the USA has intervened and tried to get the rapper released on bail – to no avail. Consequently, Sweden has been accused of corruption and racism.

I thought in this blog, I’d quickly clarify a few things about Sweden’s legal system so that you understand the holding of the rapper is fully compliant with the law.

The Swedish system. Sweden has a civil law system based on Romano-Germanic law. Sweden’s criminal courts have three levels: The Supreme Court of Sweden (Högsta Domstolen), 6 courts of appeals (hovrätter)and 53 district courts (tingsrätter).

The Constitution of Sweden prohibits capital punishment, [1], corporal punishment [2], and “torture or medical influence aimed at extorting or suppressing statements.”[3] Searches and seizures are restricted under Article 6 of the Constitution of Sweden.

When somebody is arrested, police and prosecutors are responsible for conducting initial investigations to determine whether an individual should be prosecuted for a crime – and which crime. Prosecution is mandatory if guilt has been established through the investigation period.

A defendant is entitled to counsel as soon as reasonable suspicion is established during the investigation stage. The defense attorney may ask the prosecutor to conduct specific investigations on the defendant’s behalf.

Any witness may be interrogated for up to six hours. In some jurisdictions such as Gothenburg, the local municipal council hires lay individuals to attend and document interrogations.

No bail system. There is no bail system in Sweden, where somebody can pay a bond to avoid pre-trial detention. Bail is more common in the Anglo-American judicial systems and not the European continental systems. In Sweden, individuals are often detained while awaiting trial, although they can be released without detention and have their travel restricted by court order. If there is a risk of fleeing the country, suspects can legally be kept in police custody by court order until investigations are complete. This is common praxis when it relates to foreign citizens with no residence in Sweden.

Once the initial investigations are complete, a court of law decides what the individual should be charged with, and the trial proceedings commence.

Independent Court of Law. In Sweden, and Finland, the legal system is totally independent and free of influence from political leaders. Members of the government or cabinet may not dictate or interfere with the daily workings of a government agency, court of law or similar. While this is common practice in other countries, in Sweden, this so-called ‘ministerstyre’ is illegal.

When Donald Trump called Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, the Swede explained that the Swedish judicial system, prosecutors and courts are totally autonomous. Everybody is equal in the eyes of the law and that the Swedish government will not and can not try to influence the legal process.

Let’s see what happens. If the rapper has been held in custody incorrectly or if he is charged with a crime that does not warrant incarceration then he has a right to claim compensation.

What have Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Finland had – but Sweden hasn’t?

To date there is something that Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Finland has had, but that Sweden hasn’t. And it’s quite intriguing as to why. The UK has had two. India has had one. Norway has had the most of any country. Currently 27 countries have one. In fact, 76 countries in the world have had one.

Do you know what I’m talking about?

Elected and appointed female heads of state and government.

In the long history of Swedish politics, there has never been a female Swedish Prime Minister. There are female party leaders, mostly of the smaller political parties. Sweden currently has a female Deputy Prime Minister and a female Foreign Minister. But never the head of state.

According to Wiki, ‘Khertek Anchimaa-Toka, of the Tuvan People’s Republic, is regarded as “first ever elected woman head of state in the world” in 1940. The first woman to become prime minister of a country was Sirimavo Bandaranaike of present-day Sri Lanka in 1960. The first woman to serve as president of a country was Isabel Martínez de Perón of Argentina, who as vice-president succeeded to the presidency in 1974 after the death of her husband. The first woman elected president of a country was Vigdís Finnbogadóttir of Iceland, who won the 1980 presidential election and three others to become the longest-serving female head of state in history (exactly 16 years in office).’

So why not in Sweden? I don’t have a theory I’m afraid, but I do think it’s strange that a country that prides itself on leading the politics of equality has only had men as Prime Minister. White, middle-aged, assumably straight, men.

And it doesn’t look like there’ll be any change to that in the coming years. Not unless one of the three largest parties elects a female leader to replace the three men who currently hold those positions.

It’s been almost 100 years since the first woman was elected as a Member of Parliament in Sweden and currently, in the Swedish Parliament, 46% are women. Isn’t it time for a woman to also hold the highest elected political office in the country?

Then Sweden could show its equal par with Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Finland – and 72 other countries around the world.

How to meet Swedes and maybe even find romance

I met up with a good friend yesterday who has just got two puppies. We went for a stroll through Stockholm’s Old Town and out onto the harbour island of Skeppsholmen. These two little puppies are of the breed Daschund, and they were incredibly popular with passers by on the street. Countless times, we were stopped and chatted to by Swedes and tourists alike. It seems that getting a dog is a great way to get people to talk to you in Stockholm!

In Swedish there is a concept called ‘hundtricket’ (the dog trick) which basically is about getting a dog so that you can pick people up on the street. And it obviously works! It’s actually how another friend of mine met her husband.

Of course, this isn’t a specifically Swedish phenomena. It’s been proven to work on dating site Tinder. A UK company carried out some research recently into how attractive people are perceived to be if they have a dog with them in their profile picture. According to the research men got 38% more swipes if there was a dog with them in their picture. Women got 69% more swipes!

People with dogs are apparently perceived as more open, relatable and approachable. Having a dog seems to be a great conversation starter, whether you’re on a dating app or walking down the street.

So, you want to connect more easily with Swedes? Get a dog!

11 hacks for surviving Swedish Midsummer

With Midsummer rapidly approaching on Friday this week, it is time to start planning for your survival.

Midsummer’s Eve is the craziest custom in the Swedish calender and the time of the year when Swedes go a little bonkers.

As a non-Swede, get ready to brace yourself. And follow this simple survival guide to make sure you make it to Midsummer’s Day in one piece.

Greet like a Swede. In Sweden it is considered polite to greet everybody individually, even if you plan to never speak to them again or remember their name. The appropriate way is as follows, shake hands and look direct in eyes, say ‘hej’ followed by your name. They will do the same. If you are feeling adventurous, follow it up with a ‘trevligt’ or even a ‘Glad Midsommar’. Job done. Now you can hit the booze.

Snaps is not the same as a shot. A lot of alcohol gets drunk on Midsummer’s Eve, especially beer and snaps  With the popularity of shots in recent years, it’s easy to make the mistake that Swedish snaps is the same thing. Believe me, it is not. Snaps can be up to 40% proof, considerably more than your normal shot. So, go easy and sip the snaps or see yourself slipping sideways off your chair before the dessert has even been put on the table.

Take tissue. Midsummer’s Eve is a looong day and you probably will need the loo at some point. The trouble is, so will everybody else – to the detriment of the supply of toilet paper. There’s a big chance you will be seeking relief in the woods so come equipped with the appropriate amounts of paper for your needs.

If shy, bring swimwear. Bathing in the icy June waters is a common activity at Midsummer. Swedes generally are not afraid of skinny dipping when they do this. If you are, then come prepared with swimwear and a towel.

Shelve your maturity. Part of Midsummer is dancing around the maypole, playing silly games, pretending to be a frog, participating in competitions. To survive this, it helps to conjour up your inner child and forget you are an adult for a while.

Protect yourself. Given the amount of alcohol consumed at Midsummer, it is no surprise that the most babies in Sweden are made on this day. If you don’t want to join the ranks of parents, remember to put it on before you put it in.

Throw in the thermals. It looks like it might be sunny and warm this Midsummer’s Eve. But it is good to be prepared. It is not unusual that temperatures fall into single figures and that pesky rain pours down onto the smorgasbord. So bring a jumper, a rain jacket and even thermals to enhance your experience.

Don’t expect culinary miracles on Midsummer’s Eve. The food is exactly the same as is eaten at Christmas and Easter, with a few small summery exceptions – strawberries, cream, dill and new potatoes.

Learn a drinking song. On Midsummer’s Eve, food and alcohol is accompanied by Swedish drinking songs.  Learn one in advance and shine at the table. Even better sing one in your own language and you are guaranteed to use those rubbers you packed just for the occasion. For me, ‘what shall we do with the drunken sailor’ works every time.

Argue over the rules. At Midsummer a popular Swedish garden game is called kubb. Involving the throwing of sticks, everybody seems to have their own understanding of the way to play. If you want to feel really Swedish, make sure you start an argument about the rules.

Take pills. Of varying types. Allergy pills are good because there are flowers everywhere: on the table, in the maypole, on peoples’ heads. Pain killers are good as a lot of snaps is consumed. Indigestion pills are good as the food is oily, fatty, acidic, smoky and rich. The after day pill is good, well… because…

That’s it! Follow this guide and you are sure to have a wonderous Midsummer’s Eve in Sweden. Glad Midsommar!

Please share this post to help others get ready for the big day!

In Sweden, parents curl. In the UK, they fly helicopters.


Recently somebody was telling me about one of his employees whose mother rang him to discuss her daughter’s salary. Another friend mentioned a man who brought his father to a job interview. I personally know a mother who does her 30-year old son’s laundry, cleaning, decorating and food shopping, even though he has his own apartment. And a 29-year old who asks his mother what he likes and should eat when they’re out at a restaurant. Teachers constantly witness about parents who demand them to increase their child’s grades. And a wave of protecting children from ‘hurt feelings’ is viral in Swedish schools, as though hurt feelings are the worst thing that can happen.

These are all clear examples of overprotective adults who don’t see that they are doing their offspring any favours in life by disempowering them by overhelping.

In Swedish, because it is so common, there is a word for these type of parents. They are known as ‘curling parents’ – a reference to the sport of ice curling. Just like in the icy sport, curling parents smooth the way for their children. They sweep away any obstacles and make life easier. They think they are taking their role as a parent seriously. Life is so difficult anyway that they should try to cushion the blows for their children. But what they’re really doing is robbing their children of the chance to develop essential life skills and feel a sense of personal responsibility and achievement.

This is of course not unique to Sweden – but rather more related to the anxious parenting style of the Baby Boomers and GenX around the world. In English-speaking countries, they are called helicopter parents, because they hover noisily over their children and look for difficulties ahead. Psychologists tell us that this form of parenting has coincided with an increased societal perception of child endangerment which has led to a base of paranoia. The age of the mobile phone has also contributed massively, one researcher referring to it as ‘the world’s largest umbilical chord’.

It is a difficult balance to strike, isn’t it? On the one hand, parents should love, guide and protect their children. On the other hand, they should equip their children to be independent, self-sufficient and capable adults.

Curling is not the solution. Links between overprotective parents and long-term mental problems in their children have been seen. Adult children of curling parents are often unable to regulate their own behavior.

Former Stanford dean Julie Lythcott-Haims, drawing from her experiences seeing students come in academically prepared but not prepared to fend for themselves, wrote a book called ‘How to Raise an Adult’, in which she urges parents to avoid “overhelping” their children.

So I urge all parents in Sweden and beyond to take a long look at themselves. Are you overbearing, overprotective and over-controlling? Do you oversee every aspect of your child’s life? Are you providing yourself with happiness and security at the expense of your children?

Are you raising an independent, capable adult?

Swedish students truck off


This time of the year, a common sight and sound on the streets of Sweden is students on trucks.

Dressed in traditional white caps, and bolstered with alcohol, the students jump up and down to the booming music from loud speakers concealed in the vehicle. They scream, sing and shout and, if it’s a hot day like today, they spray beer on each other and sometimes unsuspecting pedestrians.

Many of them have banners hanging on the side of the trucks. Usually these are just informative but sometimes they’re personal, political or funny. One I saw today said ‘we’re doing this for you Frida’. Another one reported in the media was ‘if Stefan Löfven can become Sweden’s Prime Minister, then there’s hope for all of us.’

These youngsters are celebrating the end of their school career. Most of them are 19 years old and have just graduated from Sixth Form College/High School. 

It’s not all fun and games though. Every year the media reports accidents and injuries, which is not entirely unexpected considering the mad energy with which the students jump and scream. And trucks have been banned from certain roads and areas in the towns. 

In Sweden, doing ‘studenten’, as it’s called in Swedish, is a major rite of passage into adult life. The youngsters finish their last day at school, come running out of the building to be greeted by waiting parents and families. They then climb aboard their trucks for their lap of honour. After that they go around to each other’s homes where each family usually arranges a reception to honour the newly-graduated student. 

It is a very common sight on the streets of Sweden this time of the year and a refreshing reminder of the hopefulness of youth.