How to be a parent in Sweden

Back in the days when we could fly, we all used to find ourselves sharing airport space with lots of other people. This led to me developing a specific skill. Wherever I was in the world, I could always identify the Swedish families. It wasn’t to do with language or looks or fashion style. No, it was to do with parenting.

If there was a child, or children, sprinting around the airport without the supervision of an adult – they were without a doubt Swedish. If kids were screaming at top volume without parental intervention – Swedish. If restaurant queues were building up because a kid couldn’t decide what to eat – invariably Swedish. In an airport, the Swedish parenting style was on show for everybody to see.

Swedish parenting is child-centric and comparatively free. It can be perceived as permissive and hands-off. Most parents adopt a communicative style with their children, which can seem to the untrained eye that this means there are no boundaries and no consequences. Children are from an early age involved in decisions that affect them, which is in contrast to a more authoritative and punitive style of parenting found in other countries. This leads to a population where self expression and independence is important

Here are 5 typical parenting behaviours in Sweden:

1) Egalitarian parenting. In Sweden, parents get 480 days of paid parental leave to share and, in heterosexual relationships, 90 of those are non-transferable days for fathers only. This is intended to achieve a more equal division of child-rearing responsibilities. This often extends into the division of duties in the home. So both men an women cook, clean, change nappies and stay home with sick children. For Swedes, it’s a no brainier.

2) Cosiness and cuddling. Friday evenings are reserved for family time. Called ‘fredagsmys’, or Friday coziness, it is when families curl up under a blanket, light candles and watch a film or series together—all while eating tacos, pizza, crisps and sweets. It is not unusual for kids to sleep in their parents’ bed until they reach double digits.

3) Right to Day Care. Every child in Sweden has a right to attend day care from one year old. Day care is subsidised and cheap. At Day Care, the kids spend most of their time playing—academia usually begins in earnest around 6 years old. The other reason for organised child care is so that parents can quickly return to the tax-paying workforce – and collectively finance child care and rest of the welfare state.

4) No spanking. Hitting a child is unthinkable – and illegal – in Sweden. Sweden was the first country in the world to ban spanking and all corporal punishment in 1979. As mentioned before, Swedes apply communicative style of parenting and discipline their children by talking and reasoning with them.

5) Go outside. Outdoorsiness starts early with parents leaving their children outside to sleep in their prams in sub zero temperatures. The crisp air is thought to be good for them. In schools, kids go outside and play every day—regardless of the weather. Some day care solutions are set outdoors with kids spending all day every day in the woods. In the summer, it’s not unusual to see naked kids on the beaches, reflecting Sweden’s relaxed attitude to nudity. Sports and being outdoors are highly prioritised in Sweden. Fresh air, and getting dirty, are considered healthy.

So back to those Swedish kids in the airport. Sure, they justifiably could be seen as unruly, disrespectful and unsupervised. But in equal measure, their behaviour can be a result of a flexible, free parental style that encourages independence and self sufficiency from an early age.

Sex working in Sweden

Today, June 2, is International Sex Workers’ Day. It is celebrated today because on 2 June, 1975, 100 sex workers occupied the Sant-Nizier Church in Lyon, France to express anger about their exploitative living conditions and work culture. The Church was brutally raided by the police forces on 10 June. This action became a national movement and the day is now recognised in Europe and worldwide.

In 1999, Sweden was unique in the world with the introduction of a ‘Sex Purchase Act’. The act makes it illegal to purchase sex but not to sell it. Under this law, it is the customer that is the criminal but not the sex worker, who is considered to already be in a vulnerable position. The law is based on the principle that prostitution is an act of violence against women. The ‘Swedish Model’ has been duplicated and adapted in the other Scandinavian countries as well as Canada, Ireland and France.

The Swedish Sex Purchase Act stands as a complete opposite to the laws in Germany and the Netherlands where the purchasing of sex services is legalized. Proponents of the Swedish law would at this is why Germany and the Netherlands have become European hotspots for sex tourism and trafficking.

However, many organisations, including Amnesty International, WHO and Human Rights Watch oppose the Swedish model. They suggest instead that legalization improves the sex worker’s access to health care, their ability to report crime and ability to organize themselves in, for example, unions. They also claim that the sex worker is not always a victim of the situation and that the Swedish law forces them into risky behavior and contributes to their poverty.

Despite the criticism, the Swedish law stands strong and does not look like it will be changed anytime soon. It seems that most Swedes agree with the law, based on the belief that nobody has the right to buy another person’s body.

What do you think?

Swedish hits 2: Lovefool

This series is about hits that you may not even know are Swedish and ones that are so Swedish, they almost smell of meatballs and aquavit. In the first post, we talked about Waterloo by Abba. This time we focus on Lovefool by The Cardigans.

This song, written by Peter Svensson and Nina Persson, was released in 1996 and marked the international breakthrough for this Swedish rock band. It was a massive hit in the UK and USA and was featured in the film Romeo and Juliet starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Tne Cardigans also appeared in an episode of Beverly Hills 90210 where they performed Lovefool at a graduation party.

The album which contained Lovefool sold platinum within three weeks in Japan, and gold in the US. The Cardigans were a very successful band selling over 18 million albums. They still tour occasionally today. They had several other hits such as Erase/Rewind and My Favourite Game but nothing achieved the huge global success of Lovefool.

Swedish museums

Today, 18 May, is Museum Day. While most are still closed down due to the pandemic, some are open with restricted hours and pre-booking. In total there are around 170 museums in Sweden, many with free entrance. Stockholm has over 100 museums, making it one of the most museum-dense cities in the world. According to statistics from Sweden’s Museums, here were the top 5 most-visited in Sweden in 2019.

1. Vasa Museum – the restoration project of a large galleon that sunk in Stockholm’s harbour in 1628. Amazing place, and my personal favourite.

2. Skansen – Stockholm’s open air museum depicting Sweden’s historical architecture and culture. Has also a zoo and a large stage for outdoor concerts.

3. National Museum – Sweden’s art and design museum, situated opposite the Royal Palace.

4. Nordic Museum – museum about how people in the nordics have lived, eaten, dressed throughout the centuries

5. Natural History Museum – biology and geology museum with a popular 760 meter dome shaped cinema screen.

All of the above are in Stockholm. Outside the capital, the most visited museums were Frilufts Museum in Linköping, Malmö Museum in Malmö, Wadköping in Örebro, Dunkers in Helsingborg and Gotland Museum on the island of Gotland.

There seems to be a museum for most things in Sweden. Some unusual examples are the Matchstick Museum, the Abba Museum, the Spirit Museum, the Lenin Spa Museum, the Newsagent Museum, the Thermos Flask Museum, the Amber Museum, the Leather Museum, the Cannibal Museum and the Video Game Museum.

Whatever your preference there is a museum to suit everybody in Sweden. Once the doors are open again, I strongly recommend a visit to at least one of them!

Christ Flying Day – a Swedish holiday

Today is Ascension Day, and it is a public holiday in Sweden. The Swedish word for today is Kristi himmelsfärdsdagen or Kristiflygare, which translates loosely as Christ Flying Day. Yet another example of the literalness of the Swedish language, this day signifies the bible story of Jesus Christ ascending (or flying) to heaven.

Unlike some countries that moved the celebration to the following Sunday, Sweden celebrates Ascension Day on the actual Thursday. This gives rise to another Swedish concept – the ‘squeeze day’. Since Thursday is a holiday, and Saturday is a work-free day for most, Friday gets squeezed between them and is also taken as a day off by most people. That makes this weekend a lovely long weekend, often signifying the beginning of summer. In previous times, today was also called ‘barärmdagen’ – or ‘bare arm day’ – as women started to wear clothes that exposed their arms.

This weekend is not religiously observed by most Swedes. Being a secular country, time is usually spent outdoors if the weather permits. Some Swedes go to their summer houses, or sail the waterways on their boats. Others meet friends, sit in outdoor cafes, or carry out sporting activities. In years when travel is permitted, this is also a popular weekend to fly off for a four-day break in, for example, Barcelona, Nice or Palma.

Swedish circus

Today, 17 April, is World Circus Day. all around the world, the grand old art of circus is celebrated and promoted. Given lock downs and restrictions, I’m guessing most of these celebrations this year are either digital or outdoors.

Sweden has a long history of circus, the first one taking place in 1787. French circus leader Didier Guatier became a Swedish citizen in 1830 and was given permission to build a permanent circus building on Stockholm’s leisure island of Djurgården. This burned down and was rebuilt in 1892. The building still stands there and is today a theater called – Cirkus.

There were at least 10 different circus troupes that travelled around Sweden before and after the Second World War. Today, there are two or three.

However, over the last twenty years, research into circus art has increased in Sweden. Driven by renewed interest, contemporary circus artists in Sweden have seized the opportunity to push the boundaries of their practice. Sweden attracts international attention as an environment that combines academic research with hands-on experimentation. One such centre for this is Karavanen in Malmö.

International Romani Day-Roma in Sweden

Today, 8 April, is International Romani Day. It marks the first World Romani Congress that was held in London in 1971, making today the 50th occasion it has been celebrated. The day exists to shine a light on the ongoing persecution and abuse that the Roma population of the world has been forced to endure throughout history.

The Romani originate from northern India. They are dispersed, and their most concentrated populations are located in Europe, and Western Asia, since around 1007. Nobody really knows why the Roma left India in the first place, as no records were kept. However theories abound: from early persecution based on caste, to banishment from angering the king, and religious war.

The estimated 12 million Roma are consequently a nomadic people with no land to call their own. Their mobility and the fact that they lived in temporary camps contributed through the centuries to associations with poverty and accusations of high rates of crime. The discomfort that others felt about their presence led to perceptions of the Roma as antisocial, unsophisticated or even dangerous. Partly for this reason, discrimination against the Romani people has continued to the present day.

Romani have existed in Sweden since at least the 1500’s and today they are classed as one of Sweden’s five national minority groups (together with Jews, Sami, Swedish Finns and Tornedalers). Romani chib has the status of official minority language.

Over the centuries, the people of Sweden discriminated against, marginalised and excluded its Roma population. For 40 years, Sweden had a legal policy of enforced sterilization of people to avoid ‘unacceptable offspring’. Much suggests that Roma women were particularly subjected to this abuse, and mostly it was involuntary. Sweden removed this law in 1976. The Pew Research Poll of 2016 found that 42% of Swedes held strong anti-Roma views (compared to 82% in Italy, and 37% in Holland).

A Romani political activist in Sweden was Singoalla Millon, who died in 2020, and spent her entire life fighting for education, housing and acceptance. Another was Katarina Taikon who dedicated herself to improving conditions for Romani people in Sweden. She tried to convince the Swedish government to see the Romani as political refugees. She died in 1995. Today, the politician Soraya Post has worked as an EU politician defending the rights of the Romani and other minorities.

In 2012, the Swedish government introduced an 20-year equal opportunities strategy for Roma people. The strategy includes objectives and measures within several areas such as schooling, employment; housing, health, social care, culture and language. Of course, discrimination and marginalization are still very real in Sweden, but this is at least a step in the right direction.

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

This Easter tree, known as ‘påskris’, is a handful of twigs and sticks (usually birch) installed in a vase with brightly-coloured feathers attached to the ends. Sometimes people put water in the vase, so that the twigs can bud and open. Påskris often includes painted eggs and other decorations such as chickens. Sometimes people replace the feathers, which can be seen as unethical, with colored wool, or paper.

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.

So, what about its origin?

Wiping: One theory is 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: Another, more mystical, theory is that the ‘påskris’ represents witchcraft. The twigs represent a witch’s broomstick and the feathers indicate flight. This theory is aligned with the tradition of 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?

A Swedish walk in the park

Today, 30 March, is International ‘Take a walk in the park’ Day. While some residents in some locked down countries might not appreciate the irony of it, here in Sweden it is fully possible to celebrate today by stepping out into one of the many green areas.

Take a Walk in the Park Day was founded to celebrate small excursions and the difference they can make to our mental, physical and emotional health.

In Sweden, there are thousands of parks and 30 official National Parks. What kind of park you prefer is of course a matter of taste. However, according to our friends on the internet, the three most beautiful parks in the country are Sofiero slottsträdgårdar in Helsingborg, Hagaparken in Stockholm and Boulognerskogen in Gävle. I’m sure there are a lot of people with other opinions.

Sweden also has a tradition of the ‘Folkpark’ which is a place for entertainment, cabaret, theatre, relaxation and enjoying the great outdoors. Folkpark’s had their heydey in the 1940’s-1960’s where artists would play on the stages and there would be party party and dance. The first Folkpark was built in Hällefors in 1796. Today they still exist, but have faced a lot of competition from festivals, arenas and other outdoor entertainment spaces.

For most urban dwellers around the world, the parks are the lungs of the city. And it’s the same in Sweden’s built up regions. Living in Stockholm, I am so lucky to have many parks and green areas within easy walking distance.

So, depending on where you live, and your time zone, it might not be too late. Put on your shoes and step out into your street, and go take a walk in the park. After all, today is ‘Take a Walk in the Park Day’.

Clocks forward in Sweden

Tonight the clocks go forward in many countries, Sweden included. In English, we say ‘spring forward, fall back.’ It’s a handy way of remembering that the clocks go forward one hour in spring, and back one hour again in autumn.

This pun doesn’t work in Swedish though. Instead they use a metaphor of a barbecue, or garden furniture. In the spring you ‘ställa fram grillen’ (literally put forward the barbecue, also meaning put out the barbecue.) And in the autumn you ‘ställa tillbaka grillen’ (put the grill back, meaning put it away.)