Sweden’s Greasy New Year’s Day

January 1st is the day in Sweden when most pizzas are sold. Whether laziness, apathy or hangover cravings lie behind it, a pizza is ordered every second on New Year’s Day.

Fast food pizza company Onlinepizza has released statistics on the most sold pizzas in Sweden during 2018. Apart from personally designed toppings, the winner at almost 20% is the Kebab pizza – a dubious Swedish classic. Consisting of cheese, tomato and sliced kebab meat, the popular pizza is a real fat bomb. You can see it pictured above.

In second place is the Vesuvio with smoked ham, in third place comes the pineapple-strewn Hawaii pizza. Fourth is the hammy Capricciosa and fifth is the humble Margarita.

The top 20 list also includes the gross-sounding Gyros pizza, consisting of Greek giros meat and tsatsiki. There’s also a frightful pizza with taco sauce, ham and jalapeños called an Azteca.

Are you eating a pizza today? If so, what type have you ordered?

Swedes and their alcohol – a Swedish odyssey?

When visiting Sweden, people are often struck by the system for purchasing alcohol. In bars and restaurants everything goes as expected but if you want to buy a bottle of, for example, wine or whisky then this is done in the state-owned alcohol shops known as Systembolaget. These shops have restricted opening hours closing at 6 or 7pm on weekdays and 2 or 3pm on Saturdays. On Sundays and Public Holidays they are closed.

Sweden’s alcohol monopoly started in the 1800’s and the national company Systembolaget was formed in 1955.

Systembolaget has a retail network of circa 426 stores, around 25 in Stockholm. The company has an interesting mandate from the Swedish state – to help limit the medical and social harm caused by alcohol and thereby improve public health. This explains why access to alcohol is restricted through the number of stores, opening hours and retail rules, and why the corporation is aims not to maximise its profit. In other words, the alcohol monopoly is highly socio-political -its foremost aim is to stop people consuming alcohol, or at least to consume it responsibly.

Although strange for many visitors, it’s a concept that seems to work – Swedes consume on average 9.1 litres of pure alcohol per person annually, less than many other countries.

However, it is at times like Christmas that the restricted opening times become more obvious. This year, the shops are closed for 4 days from yesterday at 3pm. Up and down the country, long queues were reported. I saw this with my own eyes, and had a weird recollection of old pictures from the Second World War or Soviet Russia. People seemed to be in a good mood while they waited, though it meant waiting for almost an hour outside some branches.

I guess it’s the price you pay for lack of forward planning. Anyway, I hope everybody got what they wanted and that they have a boozy, woozy, snoozy Christmas worth queuing for.

Swedish ways to die #1 In the lift

There is one thing that unites us all. We all die. That said, there are many ways in which we can shuffle off this mortal coil. Just like our lives are unique, so probably are our deaths.

Living in Sweden, I am often struck by the many ways one can die. Perhaps not specific to this country, but at least very cultural.

Here’s the first way: ‘the careless accident in the lift’ – a tragic way to pop your clogs.

Many Swedish lifts don’t have inner doors. As the lift descends, the floors slide by visibly. If you have a large article with you, for example, a wheely bin, it can fasten on the edge of the lift. The bin gets stuck, the lift keeps descending and voila, you are crushed to death or decapitated. A very Swedish way to die.

Below, you see a sign on the door to the lift in my apartment building. It says ‘warning – risk of crushing. It is dangerous to transport goods in lifts without inner doors or gates.’

Sweden Pride

This year EuroPride comes to Sweden, being held in double cities Stockholm and Gothenburg. The whole concept of LGBT Pride has taken strong root in Sweden, and many towns up and down the country hold their own celebration. For example, today is Springpride in the midland city of Eskilstuna.

Currently there are 73 Pride festivals in Sweden during the year. From Arctic Pride way up in the north to Malmö Pride in the south, it is possible to celebrate throughout the year.

Swedes seem to have embraced the concept of Pride with open arms. There is, of course, a commercial benefit but the main reason seems to be that LGBT Pride resonates well with the societal Swedish values of equality, tolerance and acceptance. However, like everything, it has its opponents. Right wing groups occasionally organize counter demonstrations or, as in Eskilstuna yesterday, decide to put up homophobic, anti-Pride propaganda. Thankfully, these groups are small and as long as the majority of Swedes continue to stand up for Pride, they have little impact.

If you’d like to know where a Pride is near you, go to http://www.svenskapride.se which collects all the National events in one place.

Sweden’s history of LGBT rights is a comparatively progressive story. Changes didn’t happen automatically however. Thanks to the hard work of campaigners, lobbyists, and politicians, society can enjoy one of the most egalitarian legislations in the world. According to wiki:

‘ Same-sex sexual activity was legalized in 1944 and the age of consent was equalized in 1972. Homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness in 1979. Sweden also became the first country in the world to allow transgender persons to change their legal gender post-surgery in 1972 whilst transvestism was declassified as an illness. Transgenderism was declassified as a mental illness in 2008 and legislation allowing gender change legally without hormone replacement therapy and sex reassignment surgery was passed in 2013. After allowing same-sex couples to register for partnership in 1995, Sweden became the seventh country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage countrywide in 2009. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression has been banned since 1987. Also, since 2003, gay and lesbian couples can adopt children, and lesbian couples have had equal access to IVF and assisted insemination since 2005. Sweden has been recognized as one of the most socially liberal countries in Europe and in the world, with recent polls indicating that a large majority of Swedes support LGBT rights and same-sex marriage.’

Sweden’s Easter tree – wiping, witching or whipping?

In Sweden, they don’t only have Christmas trees, they also have Easter trees.

This Easter tree, known as ‘påskris’, is a handful of twigs and sticks (usually birch) installed in a vase with coloured feathers attached to the ends. People often hang painted eggs and other decorations such as chickens in their installation. The Easter tree can be seen all over the country at this time of year: outside shop entrances, in peoples’ living rooms, in gardens, in the middle of roundabouts.

The Easter tree is an interesting cultural phenomena – but where does it originate?

Wiping: Well, some Swedes say that it symbolises the wiping away of the winter. The twigs represent a broom and the feathers get caught in the broom as we sweep.

Witching: 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.

Whipping: But, apparently the Easter tree has a completely different origin and symbolism. Swedish people, in the 1600’s, used to take twigs and sticks and beat each other with them 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.

So, wiping, witching or whipping. Who would have thought the colourful Easter tree would have such a colourful history?

The worst day in Sweden

Tomorrow, the 24th January, could arguably be the worst day of the year in Sweden. Dark, miserable, cold and poor.

The month of January is notoriously an impoverished month, following the financial excesses of December. Many people struggle through January with their evenings in front of the telly, their long walks at the weekends and their packed lunches at the office. And as the 24th arrives, this deprivation reaches its pinnacle.

You see, most Swedes are paid on the 25th of the month. New, fresh crowns rattle into bank accounts up and down the country. Pubs and restaurants fill up and Ikea is like rush hour in Piccadilly Circus as the consumerism treadmill grinds into action.

But not tomorrow. Tomorrow, the 24th January, sucks. And as we put our leftovers into the fridge to be eaten for lunch, we can be happy that this misery is soon over. On Thursday, we can drink a latte, buy an expensive lunchtime sour dough toast, and knock back a few gin and tonics after work. And maybe, just maybe, be a little less provoked by the sunny holiday pictures on social media.

So hold on, there is light at the end of this long, dark tunnel.

Sweden: the day before New Year’s Eve

New Years Eve is tomorrow – a Sunday. That means that it is not possible to buy alcohol as the shops controlled by the state-run alcohol monopoly are closed. If you want wine or spirits to toast in 2018, today is the last day to buy it. On a Sunday – no way! All over the country, Swedes thronged to buy their alcohol which resulted in queues and serious congestion. Here is a picture put up on Facebook today. A normal queue for the day I’m guessing – this one in Bromma in Stockholm.

What would you have done? Stayed in line or stormed off in a new year’s huff?!

Photo: Kim Nilsson