A friendly conflict between Sweden and Finland

Neighbouring countries Sweden and Finland have entered into a friendly conflict. The subject? The Eurovision Song Contest.

On Saturday, artist Loreen took home the win for Sweden, just ahead of Finland. And the Finns weren’t happy, many of them saying the competition was fixed.

Now, when the televoting statistics have been released, it has become known that Finland was the only country to give Sweden zero points in the public vote. This is weird as the Finnish jury had awarded Sweden the maximum 12 points, and the song Tattoo is currently number 1 on the Finnish chart. One can wonder who was responsible for an attempt at fixing?

It has also come out that the Finnish tv commentator encouraged citizens to vote tactically in a message, something that viewers clearly did.

The issue isn’t an important one, however it is funny to observe as tensions rise between the two Nordic neighbours. It’ll probably run out in the sand, but will be interesting to see how Sweden enacts it’s revenge next year.

The Swedish Hour of the Wolf

In Swedish, there is a term ‘vargtimmen’, which translates as hour of the wolf. It is used to specifically describe the time between 03.00-04.00

Although it sounds like an ancient concept, it was actually coined by Swedish film director Ingemar Bergman in his 1968 film of the same name. Or so he claimed. He describes the ‘vargtimmen’ in the following way:

The hour of the wolf is the hour between night and dawn. It is the hour when most people die, when sleep is the deepest and nightmares the most vivid. It is the hour when insomniacs are hunted by their worst anxieties, when ghosts and demons are at their most powerful. The hour of the wolf is also the hour when most babies are born’.

Other academics believe the concept existed earlier than Bergman’s time, and that it refers to the fact that farmers would get up in the night to protect their wild stock from hunting wolves.

Whatever the origin, the ‘hour of the wolf’ has a definite mystical and almost terrifying implication. When was the last time you lay awake at 03.00 am and chased your demons?

Why is May 1st celebrated in Sweden?

In Sweden, and in many other countries, May 1st has been embraced as the International Workers’ Day. In 1938, May 1st became Sweden’s first non-religious public holiday and has been an important celebration of labourers and the working classes since then.

But why specifically May 1st?

The answer is found in a massacre in the USA. On 1 May 1886, laborers in Chicago went out on strike for an 8 hour working day. On 4 May 1886, Chicago police and the demonstrators clashed and 11 people died.

The event is called the Haymarket massacre. Seven of the demonstrators were sentenced to death, despite lack of evidence. To commemorate the massacre, the socialist organization suggested that 1 May should become day of demonstrations every year around the world.

In Sweden, traffic is shut off, huge flag-waving demonstrations are held and people gather to hear speeches from their politicians and representatives.

The demonstrations represent people from various parties. However, since most of them are from the political left, the streets are awash with bright red flags and banners.

Contrary to the stereotype, not everybody in Sweden supports left wing political groups. There are 8 political parties, of which only 2 have a self-proclaimed left-orientation. If you ask a Swede if they are demonstrating, you will either get a ‘yes, of course!’, or as I got yesterday when I asked someone, ‘Hell no! I’m not red!

This means that for many Swedes, today is just a day off work – an opportunity to perhaps nurse a hangover from the festivities of the previous evening or to relax, go for a walk and enjoy the day.

Walpurgis Eve – when spring arrives in Sweden

Today, 30 April, is Walpurgis Eve, called Valborgsmässoafton in Swedish, or ‘Valborg’ for short. The name Walpurgis is taken from the eighth-century Saint Walburga, and in Sweden this day marks the arrival of spring.

In a cold, dark country like Sweden, residents have suffered through a long, miserable winter. So it is no surprise that the arrival of spring is an occasion to mark. On the evening of Valborg, Swedes usually gather to celebrate together.

The forms of celebration vary in different parts of the country and between different cities. However, essential celebrations include lighting a large bonfire, listing to choirs singing traditional spring songs and a speech to honour the arrival of the spring season. Some of the traditional spring songs are titled ‘Beautiful May – Welcome!’ and ‘Longing for the countryside – winter rushes out’. You can see a clip below.

Walpurgis bonfires are an impressive thing to see and are part of a Swedish tradition dating back to the early 18th century. At Walpurgis, cattle was put out to graze and bonfires lit to scare away predators.

The weather is often unpredictable on Walpurgis Eve. It can be sunny and warmish, or it can still snow on 30 April! Today looks like it’ll be a cold one.

Despite bad weather, Swedes still shiver around the bonfires and ironically celebrate the arrival of Spring.

The colourful Swedish Easter tree

Just like at Christmas, many Swedes also pimp their homes for Easter. 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.

So, what is the origin and symbolism of the Easter tree then? Well, some Swedes say that it symbolises the sweeping away of the winter. The twigs represent a broom and the feathers get caught in the broom as we brush.

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, and more dubious, origin and symbolism. It dates from the 1600’s. Swedish people at this time were very 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.

Why Swedes celebrate on the ‘afton’ (eve)

In the UK, we celebrate ‘Days’ such as Christmas Day & Easter Day. In Sweden, these days are the bank holidays but there is also a tradition of celebrating on the Eve. In fact, it is the Eve ( ‘afton’) that is the big celebration time. Today, for example, is Easter Eve and it is typically today that families meet for the big meal.

There’s påskafton, Valborgsmässoafton, Midsommarafton, julafton, nyårsafton, trettondagsafton. Why is this? Surely it can’t just be to get extra holiday?

Well, actually it originates from a time before the mechanical clock. In that period, a new day began at sunset rather than at midnight as it does now. In the Medieval times there was an expression – ‘vid kväll ska dag leva’ – which means something like ‘in the evening, shall the day live.’

Scandinavians held onto this tradition even after clocks were invented, and this is why they celebrated their important days the evening before. Now the evenings have, for practicalities sake, become day time activities.

That’s why Swedes celebrate on the ‘Afton’. Oh yeah, and for the extra day’s holiday.

April, April! You stupid herring!

april-fools-day-2015

Playing April Fool’s jokes on each other on the first of April is a tradition in many countries – Sweden included. In fact it is an old tradition – the oldest written reference being in 1392 in Chaucer’s ‘The Cantebury Tales’.

In Sweden, when someone is tricked, the tradition is to say ‘April, April din dumma sill!‘. This translates as ‘April, April you stupid herring!’. This is however not as weird as it might sound. In many countries, such as Italy, France and Holland, April 1st is known as “April fish”. On this day, people try to attach paper fish onto the backs of their victims.

April Fool’s pranks are common in newspapers, with classics such as:

  • IKEA is getting into the airline business. Furnishing all the flights with Ikea furniture, the name of the airline is FLYKEA.
  • Swedish supermarket chain ICA introduced toothpaste with the taste of chocolate. It might be brown, but it makes your teeth white.
  • Burger King introduced a new burger for left-handed people where ingredients were rotated 180 degrees.

I had a look this morning to see if I could identify any April Fools tricks and I found one! The tower of Stockholm’s City Hall was apparently flown in from the far east under a blimp. This is a nod to the new Golden Bridge in Stockholm that was manufactured and shipped in one huge piece from China.

If you manage to find another one, please share here!

 

Sweden crowns their melody Queen

Last night, the final of Sweden’s ‘Melodifestivalen’ took place. The winner gets sent to the Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool in May. Many Swedes take this competition very seriously – the process of selection takes 6 weeks!

But finally, last night, the victor was crowned. The winner this year was Loreen – again. Loreen won Eurovision Song Contest in 2012 for Sweden with the fantastic song Euphoria.

After two failed attempts, she finally gets to once again represent Sweden 2023 with the song Tattoo. The song, along with her performance and the tv production is a very strong contender to take home the victory. Many Swedes are already feeling triumphant. But Eurovision is often an unpredictable animal – since musical taste levels between the competing countries vary drastically. What is popular in the Nordic countries is usually not as popular in, for example, the Balkans.

So the question remains, will Loreen deliver Sweden’s 7th victory and thereby equal the record for most victories currently held by Ireland?

On May 13, we will find out.

You can catch the song and her performance below:

Sweden’s vagina debate

In Sweden recently, a man accused of rape was acquitted by a panel of judges over a word. The victim, a 10-year old girl, accused the 50-year old man of putting a finger inside her ‘snippa’.

Reportedly, the judges were unfamiliar with the word and looked it up in a dictionary. In the dictionary, ‘snippa’ is defined as ‘the outside part of female genitalia’. Because if this, the judges freed the 50-year old man, as the Swedish definition of rape requires a physical penetration.

This has caused an enormous outcry in Sweden. A viral hashtag has appeared called #jagvetvadensnippär or ’I know what a snippa is’. The debate is inflamed in main stream and social media.

Although defined in one way in the dictionary, the word ‘snippa’ is taught and commonly used to mean vagina, and not only vulva. A 10-year old girl would definitely use this word to describe her vagina – and in this case she also clearly used the preposition ‘inside’. It is unlikely she would use the Latin word vagina, or the significantly more adult word ‘slida’.

This case casts a light on what can happen when a board of judges is out of touch with reality, or when the legal system does not use the same language as the general population.

It is a huge concern that a group of middle-aged men are incapable of equating the word ‘snippa’ and the proposition ‘inside’ – especially when expressed by a child. It seriously feels like they all need some education in female anatomy as well as in linguistics.

This case shows us, yet again, how the legal system places the responsibility to prove guilt on the victim of the crime and not the perpetrator – ‘she didn’t express herself clearly’, ‘she wore provocative clothes’, ‘she used the wrong word’, ‘she’d been drinking’, ‘she didn’t say no’.

We will see what the long-reaching consequences of this decision are. Hopefully an appeal will come, and hopefully a modernisation of the legal system. As they say, watch this space….

50 Swedish words for snow

A massive amount of snow has landed on Stockholm overnight – and it is still tumbling down. So, I thought it’s worth sharing this list again.

Not surprisingly when living in a country where it snows a lot, people start to see differences and nuances in the type of snow, whereas in English the word might just be an unsatisfactory ‘snow’.

The Swedish language makes it easy to join words together to describe these nuances.

Here is a list of 50 Swedish words related to snow.

1) Blötsnö – wet, slushy snow
2) Drivsnö – snow that is blown into troublesome snow drifts
3) Aprilsnö – snow in April, according to superstition, signifies plenty of food for the coming season
4) Hårdsnö – compacted hard snow
5) Konstsnö – artificial snow
6) Kramsnö – squeezy snow, perfect for making snowballs
7) Julesnö – snow at Christmas
8) Klabbsnö – wet, warm snow for building snowmen
9) Kolsyresnö – frozen carbondioxide
10) Kornsnö – small white snow breadcrumbs
11) Lappvante – thick, falling snow
12) Lössnö – snow that can loosen and be dangerous
13) Majsnö – surprising and unwelcome snow in May
14) Modd – snow that has partly melted due to salt
15) Natursnö – real snow (as opposed to artificial)
16) Nysnö – fresh snow, crisp and white
17) Pudersnö – powder snow
18) Rekordsnö – an unusual amount of snow, breaking previous snow records
19) Slask – slushy snow mixed with rain and dirt on the ground
20) Snö – snow
21) Snöblandat regn – snow mixed with rain
22) Muohta – the Sami word for snow (it is said the Sami actually have 200 words for snow!)
23) Snörök – faint particles of snow that look like smoke
24) Yrsnö – snow being whipped around by the wind in all directions
25) Åsksnö – snow that pours down during a thunder storm

26) Snökanon – the word for the snow canon that creates artificial snow on ski slopes has also come to mean a sudden blast of snow that suddenly hits a place, and feels like snow has been dumped on you.

27) Jungfrusnö – virgin snow

28) Snösmocka – a huge amount of snow

29) Snötäcke – snow on the ground

30) Sjösnö – snow over the sea that can roll in over land

31) Snöfall – snow in the air

32) Flingsnö – snow with larger crystals

33) Skarsnö – a crispy surface on a blanket of snow

34) Packsnö – thickly packed snow

35) Pärlsnö – snow like small pearls that hurts when it hits your face

36) Snöglopp – wet snow mixed with rain

37) Spårsnö – snow that allows footprints to be formed

38) Fjöcksnö – a light, fluffy snow

39) Flister – snow the consistency of salt that stings the face when it falls

40) Flaksnö – a sheet of snow

41) Upplega – snow on the upper side of a tree branch

42) Firn – liquid-like snow that can initiate an avalanche

43) Fimmel – sandy snow that falls at low temperatures

44) Själja – a thin layer of ice on top of the snow that resembles glass

45) Knarrsnö – crispy snow that creaks when you walk on it

46) Snöfyk – wet snow

47) Torrsnö – dry snow

48) Månsilver – a poetic word to describe the dusting of snow

49) Snöis – snow on cold water that forms an icy solid surface

50) Stöp – a mixture of snow and ice resembling porridge that forms on top of cold water

So, let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!