Currently, many places in Sweden are experiencing warmer summer-like temperatures. The sun is shining, the air is warm but the leaves on the trees are golden brown. Known in English as Indian Summer, this brief, warm spell in the autumn is, in Swedish, called a ‘Britt Summer.’ It has nothing to do with Britain as you might assume but something completely different.
To be an official Britt Summer, the warm spell has to roughly coincide with the 7th October. This date is known as Birgitta Day, or Britt Day in the Swedish calendar – hence the name. The day celebrates the canonisation of Swedish Saint Birgitta. Legend has it that Saint Birgitta thought the temperature in Sweden was too cold so she prayed for the citizens of the country. And the Lord answered her prayer by providing everybody with a few extra days of summer!
These warm, sunny days are very welcome – the last throws of summer, before we are plunged into darkness and winter takes us in its grasp.
Interestingly, and oddly, Britt Summer is also known as ‘Fattigmanssommar’ (Poor man’s Summer) and Grävlingsommar (Badger Summer).
If anyone knows the reason why, please share it with us!
Learning Swedish is tough for many because of the tricky pronunciation. Some words are very long, making them real tongue twisters. The same can be said for some place names – not necessarily long, but hard to say. Here are ten difficult-to-pronounce place names in Sweden:
1) Hjo. This small town positioned on the West Bank of Lake Vättern is actually pronounced something like ‘you’.
2) Ystad. This south coast town is a tricky one. It’s the ‘y’ sound that makes this one hard as it’s a vowel sound that we don’t have in English, and many other languages. It’s pronounced ‘ee’ but with the lips rounded.
3) Kristianstad. It might look straightforward to pronounce this town in county Skåne, but it’s not. It is pronounced something like ‘Krischansta’.
4) Jönköping. You have to know something about Swedish pronunciation to say the name of this town in county Småland. ’J’ is pronounced ‘Y’. ‘K’ is often pronounced as ‘Sh’ and ‘ö’ is pronounced like ‘er’ (as in her but without the ‘r’ sound). That makes this place name ‘Yernsherping’.
5) Örnsköldsvik. This is a town in the north of Sweden and is a tongue twister. Swedes often refer to it as ‘Övik’, just to avoid saying the full name. It is pronounced something like ‘ern-sherld-sveek’
6) Växjö. This is a town deep in the forests of county Småland. Pronounced ‘Veck-sher’ (kind of) it’s quite a tricky one.
7) Göteborg. The large west coast city of Gothenburg is a hard one to say in Swedish, which is probably why the name was changed to a more easily-pronounced English name. It is pronounced something like ‘yer-te-borry’.
8) Åmål. Once you grasp the ‘å’ sound, this one becomes easier. ‘Å’ is pronounced like the English ‘or’ but without the ‘r’ sound. So this town on the banks of Lake Vänern is pronounced ‘ormorl’
9) Skellefteå. This town in the northern county of Västerbotten is pronounced ‘Shell-efte-or’ (without the ‘r’ sound on the end).
10) Hamrångefjärden. This small village is outside the town of Gävle (also difficult to say). It is amongst the longest place names in Sweden, together with Skummeslövsstrand, Skinnskatteberg, Guldsmedshyttan, andHälleviksstrand. (Try saying those!). Hamrångefjärden is pronounced something like ‘Ham-wrong-e-fyare-den’.
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.
This summer holiday I was on the Baltic island of Öland for the first time. It is a fascinating place linked to the Swedish mainland by a 6 km long bridge. Interestingly, the name Öland translates as ‘Island Land’ – Ö being the Swedish word for island.
Öland lies outside the town of Kalmar in South East Sweden. The island is long, thin and mostly flat. This makes it windy and the landscape in the south of the island is barren. Made of limestone, the island is home to some unique flora and fauna that is found only on Öland. In the centre of the island is a large, open steppe called Alvaret. This vast, protected area is on the UNESCO Word Heritage List.
People have lived on Öland since 8000 BC, and the island has several Stone Age archeological sites as well as Viking settlements. The original settlers migrated across the ice bridge that connected the island with the mainland.
For a long time, the island was a royal hunting ground – which is reflected in the Öland coat of arms depicting a crown and a deer.
Today around 27,000 people live there permanently. During the summer months, the population multiplies drastically, with Swedish and foreign tourists descending on the island. This includes the Swedish Royal Family who have their summer residence on Öland. The island is a summer paradise, with its many long white sandy beaches.
The regional capital is a small town called Borgholm, and here there is a majestic ruin called Borgholm Castle. Dating back to the 16th Century, the castle stands on the site of an older fortress from the 1200’s. It is an impressive building with its panoramic view over the sea and any potential invaders.
Öland offers a unique insight into Swedish history and culture. It took me over 20 years to visit, but I hope to return again soon!
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!!!
Today, 16 April, is Patrikdag – Patrik Day in Sweden. Not to be confused with the Irish St Patrick’s Day and nothing to do with partying, drinking and dancing.
No, this day is to with agriculture, and crops. In Sweden’s old agrarian society, spring was an intensive time. It was important to sow at the right moment in order to have a successful harvest. In the southern-most county of Skåne farming calendar, Patrik Day was marked as being the last day to sow. If it was too cold, and the ground too hard, then the tradition was to sow inside the barn. In other more northern parts, this was the absolute last day to begin ploughing the fields.
The name Patrik comes from the Swedish tradition of giving each day a name. Yesterday was Olivia, tomorrow is Elias. And today is Patrik Day.
I woke up early this morning to the wonderful Spring sound of birds twittering outside the window. It made me think about how many birds are in Sweden, and what are the most common?
There are an estimated 140 million birds in Sweden, consisting of 275 different species, and numerous subspecies. The vast majority of these are migrating birds that nest in Sweden. Around 25 species pass through Sweden on their way to nesting sites on the Siberian tundra. Birds exist all over Sweden, from the southern-most coast of the country to the northern glaciers.
So what are the most common bird species? Interestingly, I’ve never heard of the first one on ornithologist Richard Ottvall’s list:
1) Lövsångaren – 16.4 million (Willow warbler)
2) Bofinken – 16.8 million (Chaffinch)
3) Rödhake – 7.6 million (Robin)
4) Kungsfågel – 6 million (Goldcrest)
5)Talgoxe – 5.2 million (Great tit)
6) Trädpiplärke – 4.8 million (Tree pipit)
7) Bergfink – 4.2 million (Brambling)
8) Taltrast – 2.8 million (Thrush)
9) Koltrast – 3.6 million (Blackbird)
In the winter, the Great Tit, the Pilfink (Sparrow) and the Gråsiska (Redpoll) are the most common. In my garden, the Domherre (Bullfinch), the Skata (Magpie), the Gulsparv (Yellowhammer) and the Kaja (Jackdaw) are frequent visitors. Maybe it’s one of them I can hear? Being close to the harbour, I also hear the hungry screech of the seagulls.
One thing this small piece of research has made me realise is how little I know about birds. We are outnumbered by them 14:1, and yet I pay little attention. Maybe I should buy a book and some binoculars and head out into the countryside?
Yesterday, 22 March was World Water Day. It was inaugurated in 1993 to focus on the importance of fresh water.
According to the UN, World Water Day ‘’celebrates water and raises awareness of the 2.2 billion people living without access to safe water. It is about taking action to tackle the global water crisis and support the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 6: water and sanitation for all by 2030.’’
Sweden contributes to this work via its Stockholm International Water Institute and, under normal circumstances, the annual World Water Week is held in the Swedish capital city. During the week, the organisation awards water prizes to researchers and institutes who work to improve water quality, accessibility and sanitation around the world.
Sweden itself is blessed with water. About 9% of the country is covered with water. Sweden is the EU country that has the most lakes – in fact, 40% of the EU’s lakes are located in Sweden. Lake Vänern, at 5655 square km, is the EU’s largest. Interestingly, Sweden’s total coastline including archipelago, is 48000 km, which is slightly more than a lap around the globe.
Much of Sweden’s freshwater is potable. Most Swedes have the privilege of uninterrupted access to drinking water, with occasional problems in rural areas during summer months. Even the water in the toilet is drinking water, not that anyone drinks from that particular vessel!