Swedish Saints, Souls and shimmering cemeteries

Swiping through social media channels, it’s clear to see that dressing up as witches, vampires and other ghoulish things has become increasing popular in Sweden. Halloween parties are scheduled, not just on the 31st October, but at any time over the few weeks at the end of October and beginning of November.

I’m casting no shade over the masquerade, but personally I am much more enchanted by the traditional Swedish way of celebrating this time of year – it is so serene and reflective.

In Sweden, the first Saturday in November is All Saints’ Day – not necessarily November 1st as in most other countries. In 1983, the Sunday after All Saints’ Day was given the official name All Souls’ Day to separate between the saints and the dead.

Since the 1800’s Swedes have, during this weekend, made pilgrimage to graveyards up and down the country to decorate the graves with candle light.

It is a beautiful experience to walk through the churchyards this weekend. In pitch black November, it is a shimmering reminder of those who have gone before us. Individual graves blink in the Nordic darkness, and memory groves blaze with the collective light of hundreds of flames.

If you are in Sweden today, go to a cemetery. If you happen to be in Stockholm, head for the Forest graveyard (Skogskyrkogården) for a specifically spectacular experience. 

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!

Bad Swedish summer

Last week I was in the Swedish county of Dalarna – where it was 3 degrees and hailed! That was extreme, but also fairly typical of this summer so far.

After last year’s mega warm and long summer, expectations were high for this year. These expectations have been crushed. Cold winds, low temperatures and rain have been the melody of summer 2019 and people are not happy.

There’s a great Swedish expression – ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes’. I wonder how many people agree with that saying at the moment. Summers like this are filled with reluctant book-reading and crossword solving and not so much sunbathing and swimming.

I guess it’s early days still. The weather can change and August could be amazing. That’s what we all keep telling ourselves.

And that takes us to another great Swedish expression -‘Hope is last thing to abandon us’.

10 Swedish words about the climate

The new words that arrive in a language reflect the main topics of the time. Thanks to the environmental issues that have taken precedence over the years, a bevy of new words has entered the Swedish language. Here are 10 of the newest Swedish environment words:

  1. Klimatångest – ‘climate anxiety’ – a sense of worry about the state of the climate and the environment
  2. Klimataktivist – ‘climate activist’ – someone who campaigns and fights for environmental issues
  3. Flygskam – ‘flying shame’ – the sense of shame that comes when travelling in a plane
  4. Klimatsmart – ‘climate clever’ – living in a way that is beneficial to the environment and climate
  5. Klimatkompensera – ‘to climate compensate’ – the extra fee you can pay when booking a flight that goes to research and development of more ‘climate clever’ solutions
  6. Plogga – to jog and pick up trash at the same time (combination of the Swedish words ‘jogga’ and ‘plocka’ which means pick)
  7. Klimatkollaps – ‘climate collapse’
  8. Plastbanta – ‘to plastic diet’ – the process of cutting down or removing plastic products from your home
  9. Klimatskuld – ‘climate debt’ – the debt that developed countries have to Mother Earth due to the overconsumption of natural resources
  10. Klimatavtryck – carbon footprint – the impact each and everyone of us has on the climate and environment

Do you know any other words that should be on this list?

If you’d like to check your carbon footprint, go to http://www.klimatkontot.se where you can answer some questions and see the result. The test is in Swedish and English.

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Sleepless in Stockholm

We are rapidly approaching Midsummer and the nights are getting lighter and lighter. Here in Stockholm, it is still daylight at 10pm and it starts to get dark towards midnight. For 6 weeks or so, we experience so-called ‘white nights’, where the sun is below the horizon for less than 6 hours. This makes it bloody difficult to motivate yourself to go to bed and, once there, to get to sleep.

Mind you, this is nothing compared to the northern town of Kiruna in Sweden, where from the 27 May to the 16 July the sun never sets and they have months and months of white nights.

Have you ever seen the movie ‘Insomnia’ with Al Pacino? Based on a Norwegian film with the same name, he plays a cop from LA who goes to Alaska to solve a crime. As time goes on, he suffers more and more from insomnia due to the day-round light and starts to lose his grip on reality. This time of year, I start to feel a bit like Al Pacino.

On week days, when you need to get up for work, nights are spent battling with the bright chinks of daylight that pierce the window shades and shine like an aura around the bedroom door. Effective sleep time is reduced to a few hours and, heavy headed in the morning, you climb into the shower like a zombie to try to bring yourself to life.

So how to survive this period of sleeplessness?

There are a few options:

  • Black-out blinds – sold amongst other places for a reasonable price at IKEA
  • Blindfold – stolen amongst other places from airlines
  • Sheet over head – not very comfortable and rather sweaty
  • Brick up the windows – probably not approved by the local council, or the residents’ board
  • Rain dancing – to try to conjure up dark clouds to block out the daylight
  • Get up and do yoga – no, just kidding
  • Drugs – always an option, but can bring on a whole new set of problems
  • Lavender under the pillow – supposed to relax you, just makes me sneeze and the bedroom smell
  • Take your bedding to the windowless bathroom and sleep in the bathtub – effective but tragic

Or alternatively, just suck it up and enjoy the white nights as an exotic natural Scandi-phenomenon. Reassure yourself that thankfully you don’t live in Kiruna, or Alaska.

And finally, philosophically remind yourself that this too will pass – and all too soon it will be day-round darkness.

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?

Today is a Swedish squeeze day

Today is a ‘squeeze day’ in Sweden. What, you may wonder, is a squeeze day?

– It is not a day when everybody goes around hugging each other.

– Nor is it a day when people pinch each other’s cheeks or rear ends.

– It is not either a day of drinking copious amounts of fresh citrus juice.

No, a ‘squeeze day’, or ‘klämdag’ in Swedish, is a day of the week that falls between a public holiday and a weekend.

In Sweden, when a public holiday occurs on a Tuesday or a Thursday, a common custom is to take the day between the holiday and the weekend as a day off. Sometimes this is subsidized by the employer. In English, this is called a ‘bridge day’ but in Swedish it’s cutely referred to as a ‘squeeze day’.

In Sweden, there are 11 public holidays (known as ‘red days’) and there are masses of squeeze days this year. New Year’s Day was a Tuesday this year. Yesterday, Thursday, was Ascension Day (which is always on a Thursday) and so today is often taken as a holiday. This year, there are many floating ‘squeeze days’. Next week, National Day on the 6th of June, falls on a Thursday, so the following Friday is also a day off for many. Coming up, this year Christmas Eve is a Tuesday, Boxing Day is a Thursday, and even New Year’s Eve is a Tuesday.

So, Swedes this year are having a lot of time off work. Add to this, the Swedish concept of the de facto holiday – the day before a bank holiday is taken off, either as a full day or a half day. Most employers recognise and allow for this.

It’s a good job that Swedes are so efficient when they do work – otherwise the country would grind to a halt!